A handful of handhelds

A handful of handhelds are among the gadget highlights coming out of Japan in the last month. Both Sharp Corp. and Toshiba Corp. rolled out smart-looking PDAs (personal digital assistants) which, once you see them, could prove irresistible. Also new this month were a collection of cellular telephones, including one with a display that gives the illusion of 3D and a couple of portable optical disc players that do much more than just play music CDs.

Sharp Zaurus

Sharp Corp. has unveiled two new members of its Linux-powered Zaurus PDA family and they just keep getting cooler. The C700 has a landscape display and small QWERTY keyboard with 11mm keypitch, which means typing is possible although you'll have to be more careful than normal. The landscape display has 640-pixel by 480-pixel (VGA) resolution which means less scrolling when you surf the Web. It can also be swiveled around and folded down so the keyboard is hidden and it looks like a regular PDA. All in all, a pretty cool package that is sure to turn heads. Sharp's second new Zaurus, the B500, is an updated version of a model announced earlier last year. The devices cost around '60,000 (US$498) and '50,000 respectively and will go on sale in Japan in December. Overseas launch dates have not yet been set. Web: http://sl.ezaurus.com/index.html(Japanese)

Toshiba Genio e550GX/GS

Just a couple of days after figures from Dataquest showed Toshiba Corp. gaining PDA market share worldwide, the company demonstrated why it is winning fans from so many users. Its latest Pocket PC 2002 device, the 550GX, comes packed with 128M bytes of memory -- that's double the nearest competitor. It's designed for business use while a second model, the 550GS, is aimed at consumers and comes bundled with a pair of headphones with inline remote control. It's slightly disappointing that Toshiba only fitted out this model with 64M bytes of memory because that will be full after about 15 MP3 files. Both devices are now on sale in Japan priced at '70,000 and '60,000 respectively. There are no plans at present to sell them overseas. Web: http://www.genio-e.com (Japanese)

J-Phone cell phones

The latest cell phones from J-Phone Co. Ltd. feature several improvements in the displays. The J-T08 from Toshiba Corp. has a 2.2-inch (5.5-centimeter) Polysilicon TFT (thin film transistor) LCD (liquid crystal display) has a resolution of 240 pixels by 320 pixels (QVGA resolution) and can display 260,000 colors -- both a resolution and color record for a J-Phone handset. Meanwhile, the J-SA05 from Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd. has a 1.8-inch main display and 1-inch sub-display on the outside of the case. Sub-displays have been popular for some time and are used to alert users to new e-mail, display the identity of incoming callers or even show their pictures! The Toshiba phone will cost '47,000 and the Sanyo phone is '35,500. Web: http://www.j-phone.com (Japanese)

Panasonic SD audio player

The latest digital music player from Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd., better known as Panasonic, combines support for MP3 with AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) and WMA (Windows Media Audio) in a tiny 42 gram package. The SV-SD50 has no internal memory but accepts SD (Secure Digital) memory cards, which are available in sizes up to 512M bytes meaning hours of music can be carried in your pocket. The player runs off a AAA battery which should provide enough power for 31 hours of music, said Panasonic. It will be available in early December for around '15,000. Web: http://www.panasonic.co.jp/products/audio/sd/index.html (Japanese)

Sharp 3D cell phone

Users of Sharp Corp.'s newest cellular phone, which is now available through NTT DoCoMo Inc., could get a fright every time they look at the screen. The phone is the first to use a new liquid crystal display (LCD) developed by Sharp that gives the illusion of 3D. To support this function, the phone can also convert still images recorded with the built-in 310,000 pixel camera or downloaded to the handset into 3D-like images. The main display is a 2.2-inch 65,536-color TFT LCD and it also has a 1.2-inch sub-display. The SH251iS has a clamshell design, measuring 95 millimeters by 50 millimeters by 24 millimeters when folded and continuous talk time is about 135 minutes. It will cost between '20,000 and '30,000. Web: http://www.nttdocomo.co.jp/p_s/products/keitai/251i/sh251is/sh251is.html(Japanese)

Sony portable CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive

Sony Corp.'s latest portable optical disc player is just at home helping you burn Excel spreadsheets onto CDs and it is playing your favorite DVD movie or CD while you are on the move. With headphones, the MPD-AP20U looks like a conventional portable CD player however the USB cable that retracts from its body gives the game away. The device can also double as a CD-RW and DVD-ROM drive making it a great companion for computer users on the move. In addition to audio CDs, it supports MP3 and WAV audio files. The drive will write CD-R at 24X, CD-RW at 10X, read CD-ROM at 24X and DVD at 8X and the interface supports USB 2.0. There's also a MemoryStick slot. It is available now and costs just under US$300. Web: http://www.sony.jp/products/Consumer/Peripheral/CRX/ (Japanese)

TDK Mojo CD player

Realizing that Compact Discs aren't just about prerecorded music anymore, the folks at TDK Corp. have bundled support for MP3 and WMA into their stylish new Mojo portable CD players. The players support both CD, CD-R, CD-RW and copy-control CDs and are just 17 millimeters thick and weigh 200 grams. The player is available in three colors, black, red and silver, and goes on sale in late November for '20,000. Web: http://www.tdk.co.jp/tjaah01/aah36900.htm (Japanese)

Toshiba Sora digital camera

Now that companies are promoting small digital cameras that can be carried anywhere, it makes sense that people will want to change to look of their cameras to match their moods, clothes or the season. Toshiba Corp.'s Sora T15 camera allows you to do just that. A selection of 24 face plates, including several featuring that Japanese favorite 'Hello Kitty', are available to clip onto the front of the device. The camera itself is a 2 megapixel model that has a 1.6 inch LCD monitor and accepts SD (Secure Digital) memory cards. The camera costs '30,000 and the face plates cost around '800. Web: http://www.toshiba.co.jp/mobileav/camera/index_j.htm (Japanese)

Yamaha DVD-Audio/SACD player

The price of combination DVD Audio and Super Audio CD players seems to be getting cheaper with each new model. The latest offering comes from Yamaha Corp. and costs '120,000, which is cheaper than similar players were selling for a year earlier. Despite the price, the larger question of whether there is anything more than a niche market for such formats remains. With many consumers apparently happy with the quality of MiniDisc, MP3 and Compact Disc, it looks like it will be a hard job to get either format adopted widely. Yamaha will be producing 20,000 units per year of the player. Web: http://www.yamaha.co.jp/news/2002/02103101.html (Japanese)

Sharp digital HDTV recorder

When you look at the features of Sharp Corp.'s latest digital video recorder, you almost wonder what they didn't put in the machine. This packed gadget boasts the ability to record video both to a DVD-R/RW disc or to a built-in 80G-byte hard disk drive. Use the two together and you can copy video from DVD to the hard disk and then back to another DVD. There is also a built-in satellite tuner that supports Japan's digital high definition TV and a D4 output on the recorder enables video to be watched on a compatible TV in the maximum possible quality. There's also a PC Card slot so you can view JPEG image files taken with a digital still camera on your television. The DV-HRD1 goes on sale in early December priced at '183,000. Web: http://www.sharp.co.jp/corporate/news/021114-2.html (Japanese)

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