Tokyo Edge: March's coolest gadgets

We're already a quarter of the way into 2009 and the gadgets are coming thick and fast despite the recession that is gripping many countries. This month it was time for new digital cameras with the PMA show in the US and a couple of follow-ups from Panasonic and Sony in their CES announcements from back in January. Mobile World Congress in Spain also proved a springboard for some new cell phones, among which were a couple of interesting prototypes from Samsung and LG. Both phones, which are detailed below, made use of solar panels to charge the battery. Green gadgets are definitely going to be a theme this year so watch out for similar prototypes and products as 2009 rolls on.

  • Sharp Aquos Blu-ray recorders: The vendor's Blu-ray Disc recorders feature more space for storing programs and higher compression to further increase the video you can squeeze inside each model. The top-of-the-range BD-HDW40 has an impressive 1TB of hard-disk space in addition to dual digital tuners. Using MPEG4 AVC/H.264 compression the machine can cram 30 hours of HDTV onto a dual-layer Blu-ray Disc, which is about seven times that of the basic Blu-ray recording length when using standard MPEG2 compression. For users this all adds up to more record-and-delete temporary recording space on the hard disk and the ability to archive more content to a single disc so you can buy less blank media. It's out in Japan on March 27 and will cost around ¥210,000 ($US2123). It's unlikely to be launched overseas.
  • JVC Everio GZ-X900: This is the latest addition to JVC's range of compact, flash memory-based camcorders. Equipped with a 9 megapixel image sensor it shoots video in the AVCHD format at high-def 1080i quality. That translates to 2 hours and 40 minutes of video on a 32GB SD memory card when using the highest quality recording mode. Recording time can be extended to almost 15 hours using EP mode but the recording rate is about a fifth that of the top quality mode. This new model is pocket size, at 37mm by 66mm by 124mm, and weighs just 298 grams. It includes a slow-motion shooting mode that records 2.4 seconds of video over 24 seconds and can fire six full resolution still images per second. Pricing and launch date have not yet been announced.
  • Sony CyberShot HX-1: Sony brought us a refreshing new digital camera, the DSC-HX1, as part of its PMA line-up. Refreshing because it has ditched the megapixel race -- where camera makers pitched higher and higher resolution image sensors as the main feature -- in favor of some potentially more useful functions, such as the ability to stich pictures together to make panorama shots or improve images taken in low light. The latter twilight mode takes six images and combines them to create a single optimized image with lower noise levels while the former shoots a burst sequence while you swing the camera horizontally or vertically to create an extra-wide, high resolution image. The camera has a 9.1 megapixel image sensor and 20X optical zoom. It will launch in the U.S. in April for US$500 and follow in Europe in May.
  • Sony touchscreen OLED Walkman: This unit a 3-inch display that, like other OLEDs, is sure to look crisp and bright. The use of a touchscreen means most buttons are gone from the small device but a few, such as the basic start, pause and volume controls remain. It also means the display takes up most of the front panel of the device, which is just under 10 centimeters tall, 5 cm wide and 1 cm thick. It will play popular formats including MP3, Windows Media and MPEG4 AVC/H.264 and there's also a podcast player and it will run YouTube video, both of which are loaded into the player via a computer. The screen has 432 pixel by 240 pixel resolution, which is widescreen QVGA resolution. Exact launch dates haven't been announced but via Amazon U.K. we know the device will launch in two configurations, 16GB and 32GB, in Great Britain for £214 and £283 (US$295 and $390) with shipping in "one to two months."
  • Panasonic portable Blu-ray Disc player: Panasonic's portable DMP-BV100 Blu-ray Disc player, which we saw as a prototype at January's CES, makes its retail debut in Japan in March. The 1.7kg player has an 8.9-inch display and will handle Blu-ray, DVD and CD playback. The screen has a 1,024 pixel by 600 pixel resolution, which is less than high-def quality but on a screen this size it probably won't make too much of a difference. Playback time is given as 2.5 hours, so you should be able to watch almost any movie on a single charge. For good measure it also includes a tuner for Japan's mobile digital TV service. It hits shelves in Japan on March 15 and will cost around ¥90,000 (US$910). Launch details for other markets have not been announced.
  • HTC Touch Diamond2: HTC's iPhone-attacking Touch Diamond is getting a refresh with a larger screen -- it's now a 3.2-incher -- and a 5-megapixel camera. That new screen offers two noticeable benefits right away. The touch function works much better than on the older model and HTC's 480x800 wide-screen VGA resolution, the same as on many laptop PCs, is stunning. An unusual feature on the camera, for cell-phones at least, is a mechanical auto-focus, which means you can snap pictures much faster. It's based on Windows Mobile 6.1 and comes with HTC's TouchFLO 3D user interface. The device will be available in Europe and Asia early in the second quarter of this year, with North America to be included later in 2009. Pricing has not been announced.
  • Solar-powered cell phones: Among the most interesting prototypes from the month was a pair of solar-powered cell phones from Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics. Samsung's phone is called Blue Earth and is a touchscreen model with rounded corners designed to look, said Samsung, like a "well-rounded pebble." Continuing the environmental theme, the phone is made from recycled plastic and doesn't include harmful substances like brominated flame retardants (BFRs), Beryllium and phthalates. The solar cells on the phone occupy most of the rear of the phone's case. LG didn't release much information about its prototype phone, but it appeared to be a version of its KF750 Secret handset with solar cells covering the rear of the phone's case. There's no word on when they might make it into products.
  • MSI X-Slim laptops: Micro-Star International is beefing-up its X-Slim laptop line with new X340 machines that feature a more powerful processor than previous models. The X340 Pro laptop is based on Intel's new 1.4GHz ultra-low voltage Core 2 Solo processor, which should make it more suited to multimedia applications than its predecessor. A second new laptop, the X340, has a 1.3GHz chip. Both have a 13-inch wide-screen display with 1,366 pixel by 768 pixel (WXGA) resolution. Other features include HDMI and monitor ports, Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and optional WiMax modules. The X-Slim laptops typically turn heads because they're about the same size and thickness as Apple's MacBook Air but run Windows. Even with the upgrade, the Apple machines still pack more powerful processors. Launch dates for the X340 have not yet been fixed. It is expected to retail for between US$700 and $1,000.
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