TOKYO EDGE - March's coolest gadgets

Eee PC gets an update, Sharp's terabyte video recorder, a prototype methanol fuel cell and more

We kick off this month's review of cool new products from East Asia with a welcome update to the Asus Eee PC. This is the miniature laptop that impressed at least year's Computex show in Taipei with its neat design, good looks and low price. Now there's a new version on the way with a bigger screen and more storage space.

There's also a cool new monitor from Samsung using the USB connection, and among prototype products this month, a glance at a working methanol fuel cell. It's promised on the market from next year.

Asus Eee PC

Asus is back with a new version of its small-size, low-cost Eee PC. The Eee PC 900 model sports an 8.9-inch screen -- a couple of inches larger than the 7-inch display on the original computer -- and more storage space. It has a 12G-byte, solid-state disk drive (SSD), which is 50 percent larger than the highest capacity drive available on current machines. Other features of the new computer include 1G-byte of memory, an Ethernet connection, 802.11b/g wireless LAN, 1.3-megapixel camera and a card reader for MMC, SD and SDHC memory cards. About 3.5 hours of battery life is expected from the computer's 4-cell battery, said Asus. The machine is due on the market in the middle of this year and will cost US$613.20.

Panasonic Skype phone

The arrival of Skype phones from major consumer electronics companies like Panasonic really goes to show how far VoIP (voice-over-IP telephony) has come. Panasonic's KX-WP800 phone comes with a companion wireless LAN router that connects straight to a broadband line, so no PC is required. Better yet, the handset can be taken outside of the home and used to make and receive calls on access points that are part of the Fon network. The phone and base station both support WPA2-PSK encryption to prevent eavesdropping. It will be available from late March in Japan only and will cost US$306.

Samsung monitor with sub-display

Samsung is continuing its aggressive push of USB monitors and has shown off a new 22-inch LCD monitor with an additional 7-inch display. The SyncMaster 2263DX's sub-display can be attached to any of the four sides of the monitor or set alongside the main screen on a desk. Samsung envisages the sub-display being used for applications such as monitoring instant message conversations, displaying video or keeping track of stock prices. It would mean you could run a main application full-screen and not have to juggle windows as is the case now. There's no word on price or availability but look for it soon.

Sharp terabyte video recorder

Sharp's new DVRs (digital video recorders) come in three capacities, with the top-end model offering a terabyte of memory. A terabyte might seem like an awful lot of recording space, but with high-def TV it can fill up fast. The DV-ACW90 has a number of neat features like the ability to always offer the latest news bulletin from your favorite channel. Just tell it where you prefer to get your news and the recorder makes sure fresh headlines are on offer. On-screen fonts have been redesigned to make reading easier, and two styles of electronic program guide are now available, with the channels listed either vertically or horizontally. They are perhaps not big spec changes, but in an age when the hardware is getting more and more alike such software-based features can make all the difference. It's available in Japan only in late March and will cost about US$1,233.

Sony second-gen Mylo

Sony's second-generation Mylo pocket-size computer is out and comes with a few goodies lacking in the first-generation device. One of the most glaring omissions was support for Flash video but that's now in Mylo 2, so compatibility with YouTube and other flash video sites is assured. The new model has 802.11b/g wireless networking and in the U.S. comes with free Wi-Fi access through more than 9,000 Wayport hotspots until the end of 2010. Other features include a 3.5-inch screen, QWERTY keypad, 1G-byte of internal memory and support for Windows DRM10 encoded files. The Mylo is available now in Japan and the U.S. It costs about around US$300.

Samsung Soul cell phone

The latest edition to Samsung's Ultra range of handsets, the "Soul" was unveiled this month. It's a slider-type handset that has an eye-catching touch panel under the display. The panel displays navigation icons that change according to the current application being run on the handset. For example, in camera mode icons such as zoom and brightness appear while music player functions appear in music mode. The quad-band GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) handset supports data downloads of up to 7.2M bps (bits per second) over HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access) networks and also has Bluetooth 2.0 wireless networking. Other features include a 5-megapixel camera with face detection and image stabilizer, FM radio with RDS (Radio Data System) and a music system based on technology from Bang & Olufsen. The phone will be available worldwide and hit Europe in April.

Prototype: MTI Methanol Fuel Cell

After so much talk about methanol fuel cells it's nice to see some prototypes that look close to production. MTI delivered at a recent show in Tokyo with prototype DMFC that included a sleek model fitted to the back of a Samsung BlackJack smart phone and one packed into a battery grip of the size already used on digital SLR (single lens reflex) cameras. DMFCs produce electricity from a reaction between methanol, water and air. The only by-products of the reaction are a small amount of water vapor and carbon dioxide, so the fuel cells are typically seen as a much greener form of energy than traditional batteries. A big advantage of DMFCs is that they can be replenished in seconds with a new cartridge of methanol. MTI also has a prototype recharger device than can replenish USB-powered devices from its internal DMFC. That will hit the market in 2009, it said.

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Martyn Williams

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