For a peek at the future of handheld devices, take a look at the gadget highlights shown in Japan recently.
Both Sharp and Toshiba have recently rolled out smart-looking personal digital assistants that could prove irresistible for those bleeding-edge PDA fans. Also new is a collection of cellular telephone handsets, including one with a display that gives the illusion of three-dimensional images. And don't overlook the debut of a couple of portable optical disc players that do much more than just play music CDs.
Here's the overview--but be warned; many of these newest tech toys are now sold only in Japan, and not all of them are currently scheduled to make their way to overseas markets.
Zaurus Family Grows
Sharp 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 .44 inch keypitch, which means typing is possible, although you'll have to be more careful than normal. The landscape display has 640-by-480 pixel (VGA) resolution, which means less scrolling when you surf the Web. The device can also be swiveled around and folded down so the keyboard is hidden and it looks like a regular PDA. The C700 runs on a 400-MHz Intel XScale processor, and comes with 64MB of flash memory and 32MB of synchronous dynamic RAM. The device is equipped with slots for Secure Digital and Compact Flash cards. It's priced at US$500 and is scheduled for U.S. release in January.
Sharp's second new Zaurus, the B500, is an updated version of a model announced earlier last year. It also runs on a 400-MHz Intel XScale CPU, but has a sliding keyboard tucked behind a lower-resolution display, in a more typical PCA design.
The B500 is priced at US$420 and is expected to ship in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2003.
Toshiba's Pocket PC Plans
Just a couple of days after figures from Dataquest showed Toshiba gaining PDA market share worldwide, the company demonstrated why it is winning fans from so many users.
Its newest Pocket PC device, the 550GX, comes packed with 128MB of RAM--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 64MB of memory because that will be full after about 15 MP3 files.
Both devices are powered by Intel's XScale processor running at 400 MHz. The 550GX is priced at US$575 and the 550GS, at US$492. However, both are currently on sale only in Japan, and Toshiba has not announced any plans to sell them overseas.
Phones on Display
The latest cellphones from J-Phone feature several improvements in the displays. The J-T08 from Toshiba has a 2.2-inch Polysilicon thin film transistor LCD 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 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 US$390 and the Sanyo phone is US$290 (No details on Australian availability).
Panasonic's Portable Player
The latest digital music player from Matsushita Electric Industrial, better known as Panasonic, combines support for MP3 with Advanced Audio Coding and Windows Media Audio in a tiny 1.5 ounce package. The SV-SD50 has no internal memory but accepts Secure Digital memory cards, which are available in sizes up to 512MB. That means hours of music can be carried in your pocket. The player runs off an AAA battery which should provide enough power for 31 hours of music, said Panasonic. It will be available in early December for around US$125 (No details on Australian availability).
3D DisplayUsers of Sharp's newest cell phone, which is now available through NTT DoCoMo, could get a fright every time they look at the screen. The phone is the first to use a new 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 3.7 inches by 1.9 inches by .9 inches when folded and continuous talk time is about 135 minutes. It will cost between US$166 and US$250 (No details on Australian availability).
On the Go
Sony's latest portable optical disc player is just as comfortable helping you burn Excel spreadsheets onto CDs as 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, but 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 go.
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 (No details on Australian availability).
Realizing that Compact Discs aren't just about prerecorded music anymore, the folks at TDK 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 .7 inches thick and weigh 7.1 ounces. The player is available in three colors, black, red and silver, and goes on sale in late November for US$166 (No details on Australian availability).
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'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 memory cards. The camera costs US$250 and the face plates cost around $7 (No details on Australian availability).
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 and costs US$1000, which is cheaper than what 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 (No details on Australian availability).
Sharp Does Digital TV
When you look at the features of Sharp'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 80GB hard 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 US$1500 (No details on Australian availability).