Summer lovers in Japan are just counting down the days now. The rainy season has begun, and that means that summer will kick off in a few weeks with the virtual assurance of blue skies and high temperatures for the next couple of months.
June has also brought us the World Cup and memories of four years ago when Japan co-hosted the tournament with South Korea. In Japanese, you write the letter “W” and then the Chinese character for cup. It’s the second of the two characters that makes up the word “kanpai,” which means “cheers.” So cheers to this month’s coolest gadgets!
When the new UMPCs were being unveiled at Cebit in Germany in March, who’d have guessed that Sony had the neat, little UX50 up its sleeves? The diminutive computer is the smallest Vaio computer yet and runs Windows XP. It’s about the size of a paperback book and has a touchscreen display and full keyboard. It looks great, but our early tests reveal the keyboard is pretty difficult to use because there’s almost no tactile feedback. Similarly, the 4.5-inch widescreen display is bright and crisp, but everything’s so small that you end up squinting at the display. It’s on sale now in Japan and will hit the United States in July. It will cost around US$1,800.
Another month, another batch of high-definition laptops. In the past month, Sony has taken the wraps off the first Vaio computer to feature a Blu-ray Disc drive, while Acer has unveiled its first HD DVD laptop. The Sony machine, the Vaio VGN-AR70B, has a 17-inch display and can burn Blu-ray Discs. A single-layer Blu-ray Disc can store 25GB of data, or about five times that of today’s DVDs, and can be used to store both computer files and video. Acer has gone all-out with its HD DVD laptop. A model in its Aspire 9800 series, the machine features an impressive 20.1-inch display and has an equally impressive weight of almost 8 kilograms. It will be on sale this month and will cost about US$3,000.
Never mind the apparent unshakable lead of the iPod. Lots of companies keep coming up with competing players. One of the latest is Sharp’s MP-B200/B300. The players have 512MB or 1GB of built-in memory, respectively, and can be expanded with a MiniSD cards. Sharp’s particularly proud of the thickness of the players, which at 8.9 millimeters beats other devices in the same class, the company says. There’s a liquid crystal display on the front along with control buttons and a built-in FM transmitter so songs can be heard through an FM radio. It’s already on sale in Japan. The B200 costs about 16,000 yen (US$139), and the B300 costs around 21,000 yen ($183).
Matsushita Electric Industrial (Panasonic) has announced its SDHC memory card and a compatible camera to go with it. If you’re not familiar with SDHC, it’s an updated version of the SD card format that extends the maximum theoretical storage capacity to 32GB from 2GB. Panasonic’s first SDHC cards out of the gate are 4GB models. The SDR-S200, a compact digital movie camera with 3 CCD (charge-coupled device) sensors, records directly to MPEG2. It has a 10X zoom lens and will be available in early July for about 100,000 yen (US$870). There’s no word on overseas sales.
Summer’s coming to Japan and people will likely be out taking pictures in parks, beaches and on overseas vacations. Sony’s Picture Station photo printer connects directly to many cameras, enabling pictures to be printed quickly without the need for a PC. The device accepts PictBridge connections via USB or Secure Digital or Memory Stick memory cards. In addition to straight prints of pictures, it can tile several photos onto a single picture and has templates for things such as calendars. There are also a number of built-in features like red-eye correction. The DPP-FP55 Picture Station will go on sale in Japan in late June and will cost about 18,000 yen (US$156). It will be available in the United States in July for around $150.
In South Korea, a digital terrestrial TV receiver (referred to as DMB locally) seems to be the latest must-have feature in many a portable gadget. One of the latest products to get the DMB treatment is an MP3 player from LG Electronics. The FM35 packs a 2.4-inch widescreen display and supports the MP3, WMA, OGG, AVI and ASF audio formats. There are 2GB of built-in flash memory. Users can listen to up to 55 hours of music or watch four hours of DMB broadcasts on a single charge, according to LG’s figures. It’s only for the Korean market.
In Japan, the threat of a major earthquake is always present, so it pays to be prepared. Stores have entire sections of earthquake-related goods, and soon Sony’s ICF-B01 portable radio will likely join the displays. The radio has a large hand-crank on the front so that you don’t need batteries. Turning the handle for a minute (about 120 turns) will power the radio for an hour on an AM station or 40 minutes on an FM station. There is also an LED light that will run for 15 minutes on a minute of cranking and a charger cable for cell phones. This latter feature lets users charge their cell phone batteries through the radio’s handcrank. It’s on sale now in Japan and costs approximately 6,000 yen (US$52). It won’t be available outside of Japan.
Seiko Epson has developed a prototype electronic-paper display that offers the world’s highest resolution, the company said. The 7.1-inch screen that Seiko Epson has developed is approximately the same size as an A6 piece of paper (105 by 148 millimeters) and has a resolution of 1,536 by 2048 pixels. E-paper screens are made on sheets of plastic and so are flexible and thin like a piece of paper, hence their name. Developers envisage that they could be used as foldable or rollable displays instead of newspapers. Because they are digital, the news could be updated in real-time or even include video. Don’t expect to see the Seiko Epson screen in a product soon. Commercialization is several years away, the company said.