TOKYO EDGE - May's coolest gadgets

Electronic paper, a wooden laptop, razor thin OLED panels, waterproof cameras and more

If the new products we've seen in the last few weeks are anything to go by, we're in for a great year gadget-wise.

In the portable world we've got the first Centrino Atom-based computer and a smartphone from Sharp that will go on sale in Japan. Sanyo's new model of its waterproof Xacti digital still camera has even clearer video and includes the ability to follow your friends' faces underwater! A lot more bulky but equally exciting is NEC's Lui PC. It combines a PC and digital video recorder and makes the entire system accessible over a home network or Internet so you can log into the base PC and access recorded programs or the PC desktop.

And from the research and development labs comes an interesting chip from Seiko Epson that enables e-paper to enter a whole new world: the chip can support a touchscreen, and means that it's now possible to make e-paper than can be written on -- digitally, of course. And finally, just as Sony's XEL-1 OLED TV blew people away with its thinness, the company has done it again with a pair of prototype OLED display panels that are just a few tenths of a millimeter thick. They could mean ever thinner TVs in the future -- definitely something worth staying tuned for.

NEC Lui PC and home media server

NEC has launched a new PC and home media server called "Lui." The Lui can tune into digital high-definition TV broadcasts, and stream both live and recorded programs to compatible TVs and computers. It also allows remote Windows desktop access from portable devices. It's akin to a digital video recorder and PC packed together into a single, large case and is intended to sit in the living room next to a television as a central server for multimedia content. The top-end model has a Blu-ray Disc drive and 1T byte of hard-disk storage for video built alongside a fully-fledged computer running Windows Vista Premium and based on a 2GHz Core2Duo processor and with its own 320G-byte hard disk drive. For this NEC is asking users to pay US$3,753. The two thin clients dedicated to accessing the Lui are also available. One model looks like a small laptop PC and has a 10.6-inch screen while a second looks more like an Ultra Mobile PC and comes with a 4.1-inch screen. The former will go on sale for US$858 and the latter for US$477. Their use is dependant on a network connection and link back to the home Lui server. NEC has no plans to sell the Lui PC overseas.

Sanyo waterproof Xacti camera

Sanyo has improved its waterproof Xacti digital still and movie camera. The DMX-CA8 has an 8-megapixel image sensor and the top still image mode outputs a 4,000 pixel by 3,000 pixel resolution image (an effective 12-megapixel image created using pixel interpolation). On the video side the frame rate has been increased to 60 frames per second, so you get smoother video during normal speed or slow motion. The face detection has also been tweaked and can keep track of up to four people while attempting to keep them in focus. The function also works underwater and can track people wearing all but the largest snorkeling or diving masks, said Sanyo. The camera is waterproof at a depth of around 1.5 meters, which means it should work well for snorkeling but not for scuba diving. The DMX-CA8 will go on sale in Japan in mid-May for about US$490. It will arrive in other markets around the world later, although precise dates haven't been fixed.

Samsung and LG stylish mobile phones

Samsung and LG have both launched their latest high-design mobile phones: the Samsung's Soul and LG Secret. The Samsung phone is 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. LG's Secret uses the same form factor as its Chocolate and Viewty phones -- a keypad slides out from beneath a touchscreen -- and its case is made from carbon fiber. Both support 7.2M bps HSDPA downloading. The Soul is already on sale in Europe for 400 euros and the Secret will be out soon.

Willcom/Sharp D4 Centrino Atom PC

Japanese mobile carrier Willcom was first to announce a portable computer based on Intel's Centrino Atom chip. The D4 is being manufactured by Sharp and will be available in June for US$395 with a two-year service plan costing US$20 per month, taking the total cost to US$861. The plan includes unlimited data. Willcom will not sell the D4 without the network service. It has a 5-inch widescreen display, 40G-byte hard disk, a slide-out 64-key keyboard and a monitor that tilts up slightly, making it easier to read when typing on a flat surface. It's perhaps a little bulky for making and receiving many calls so Willcom will also offer a smaller Bluetooth phone handset as an option. It will be targeted at business users and students, although Willcom also hopes it will appeal to more general consumers.

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Martyn Williams

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