November's coolest gadgets

Wireless communications technologies are making cables a thing of the past in electronics

Glance through the gadgets covered in this month's column and you'll see they are all portable. There's no doubt about it: cords are bad news in electronics today and are on the way out.

Wireless communications technologies like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are making cables a thing of the past. Take Canon's Ixy Digital Wireless, for example, which uses Wi-Fi coupled with Pictbridge printing to let users send images directly from the camera to a printer without a PC or cable.

But no matter how portable your product is, it still has to come down to earth once every few hours of use to get recharged. Fuel cells hold out some hope for extending this battery life, and Canon drew attention with a prototype a hydrogen fuel cell. But fuel cells are still a few years off, so until then we have to rely on conventional battery technology.

And if it's disposable dry-cells you're using to power your gadgets that's not such a great thing. Around 40 billion dry-cells are disposed of worldwide each year, according to figures from Sanyo Electric, and many end up in land-fills where they leak and pollute the earth. Sanyo hopes to change this with its new Eneloop battery.

Sanyo Eneloop Battery

A battery might not seem exciting, but Sanyo's Eneloop is worth a look. The basic technology has been refined so that the battery is better at keeping its charge when not in use. That means Sanyo can charge them at the factory and they're ready to go as soon as you buy them -- no more charging up for three hours before they can be used. Sanyo hopes this will eliminate one of the final barriers towards mass adoption of rechargeable cells. Eneloop will be available in Japan from November. A pack of two AA batteries will cost ¥1,155 ($10). They will also be available in packs of four and eight, and also with a recharger. AAA-size batteries in the same range will go on sale in Japan on Jan. 21, 2006, and cost ¥945 for two. Eneloop will go on sale overseas but no firm details have been decided.

Web: (Japanese)

Sony DSC-T9 Digital Still Camera

Sony's latest digital still camera, the DSC-T9, has something for people who seem unable to take a clear picture. The camera incorporates two anti-blur systems: one to compensate for the effect of unsteady hands and one to capture fast moving objects clearly. About one-third of compact-class digital still cameras on sale in Japan include an anti-blur system of some type and that number is growing, Sony said. The credit-card sized camera shoots at 6-megapixel resolution and has a 2.5-inch LCD (liquid crystal display) panel. It will go on sale in Japan on Nov. 18 for around ¥47,000 ($406). It will be launched in Europe, Asia, and Australia before the end of the year and in the U.S. in January, said Sony.


Canon Ixy Digital Wireless

The Ixy Digital Wireless (Canon also uses the Ixus brand in some markets) is Canon's first camera with built-in Wi-Fi and will offer users the ability to automatically transfer pictures to a personal computer via the wireless link as the pictures are taken. Wireless printing is also possible with a printer via an adapter that will ship bundled with the camera. The camera and adapter will come pre-programmed to work together so users will be spared the tedious task of setting up the Wi-Fi link between the two devices. The camera has a 5-megapixel image sensor and 3X optical zoom lens. It will be available in Japan from December and will cost about ¥50,000 ($433). Canon plans to put it on sale in Europe, the U.S. and Asia, although launch dates have not yet been decided.

Web: (Japanese)

Sanyo W33SA Cell Phone

Sanyo has unveiled Japan's first cell phone that's compatible with terrestrial digital TV. It promises to bring crystal-clear TV images to users while they are on the move and -- perhaps best of all and unlike 3G video-on-demand services -- is free to watch. Japan, South Korea, and several European countries are all testing such services, so we're sure to see similar handsets launching in the coming months. There have been a few cell phones for analog TV in the past and battery life was always the problem -- how useful is TV when the battery is dead after an hour? But Sanyo has done better and claims 2 hours 45 minutes of reception on a full charge. This technology doesn't come light. At 150 grams it's a good deal heavier than most phones on the market. It will be on sale in Japan only from December. The price hasn't been announced.

Web: (Japanese)

Takara Music Visualizer

Takara Co. has developed a low-cost unit that's intended to bring your music to life on a television screen in a similar way to the visualizers built into some music playback software applications. The Music Player Television (MPTV) device connects to the headphone socket on any music player and to a TV through standard yellow, red and white RCA jacks. It will produce visualizations based on the track playing and also pass through the audio for playback through the TV speakers. It will be launched in Japan in January or February of next year and will cost ¥3,980 ($34). While a launch date hasn't been decided, the company is already making plans to launch the MPTV in the U.S., it said. It will likely be priced at a similar price to the Japanese market.

Web: (Japanese)

Shanda EZ Mini

It's not often that we cover gadgets from China, but Shanda Interactive Entertainment Ltd. unveiled a handheld game console in Beijing recently that's worth a look, if only for its uncanny resemblance to a slightly more famous gaming device. At first glance, the EZ Mini resembles Sony's successful PlayStation Portable (PSP) console. Like the PSP, the EZ Mini has a central LCD (liquid crystal display) flanked by groups of buttons that control movement and other functions. Few technical details were available but it's equipped with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and can play Windows Media Audio files, display electronic books, and play videos in DivX, MPEG 4, and Microsoft's Windows Media Video format. It's expected to be on the Chinese market at the end of this year or early next year and won't be available overseas. The price isn't yet finalized.


Samsung SCH-V8400 Cell Phone

Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.'s latest cell phone, the SCH-V8400, is its thinnest slider-type handset yet. The phone follows a trend for thin phones that was kicked off with Motorola's Razr. But unlike the Razr, which was a clamshell, the new Samsung handset is a slider type. Despite the change in style, the new phone is much the same size as its clamshell competitors. It's 15.9 millimeters deep, thicker than the Razr's 13.0 mm. It is also slightly longer at 101.5 mm, compared to 98 mm for the Razr, but it's in the width where the new slider scores. The phone is 45.4 mm wide, which is less than the 53-mm wide Razr, and at 92 grams it is also lighter. The phone is designed for use on South Korean CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) networks so don't look for it overseas. Features include a 1.3-megapixel resolution camera, an MP3 player, and the Picsel file viewer software for PDF, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and text files. It costs between US$700 and $800 in South Korea.

Web: (Korean)

R&D Corner: Canon Hydrogen Fuel Cell

Canon has unveiled a prototype hydrogen fuel cell it has developed to power portable electronics products such as digital still cameras. The prototype, which is the result of several years' research, was shown in Tokyo in October fitted inside the extension battery pack for Canon's EOS Kiss Digital N professional digital still camera. At present, the fuel cell provides about the same amount of power as a rechargeable Lithium-Ion of the same size, but Canon's goal is for the fuel cell to offer three to five times the amount of power, Canon said. While many of Canon's domestic competitors are also working on fuel-cell technology there's a difference between the device Canon showed and many of those shown to date. Fuel cells produce electricity when hydrogen reacts with oxygen through a catalyst, and most companies are working on fuel cells that derive hydrogen from methanol fuel. Canon's prototype uses hydrogen as the fuel. It's not expected to become a commercial product for several years.