With the new year comes a lot of buzz from the phone industry. Not only are regular mobile phones improving by getting smaller, smarter and lighter but a host of new network services, such as higher-speed data transmission, are making them more useful. There's also a new breed of handset packing digital TV reception, and you can find examples of these in this month's round-up of hot gadgets. Looking ahead to the rest of the year we're sure to see more advanced phones with features such as VoIP (voice over IP) telephony too.
What's hot and what's not in Japan
Like 2006, the coming year will also be marked by fierce competition among vendors. In some cases that means the products you want will be cheaper, while in other cases the price will remain unchanged but the number of features will increase. It's been happening for the last couple of years and, to the dismay of gadget makers, looks set to continue as they battle to become king of the digital age.
Samsung TPEG mobile phone
Samsung Electronics has developed a mobile phone capable of receiving real-time traffic information using a new system called TPEG. The SPH-B5800 phone can receive and decode the information broadcast using the Transport Protocol Experts Group format, which was developed in Europe in the late 1990s and is already in use in South Korea.
The phone updates travel information every five minutes and can also display the TV stations broadcast through the country's Satellite DMB system. It went on sale in South Korea in December for around £310 and includes a 2Mp (megapixel) camera, 330,000-word dictionary and 2in colour TFT LCD screen. There are no current plans to offer it overseas.
Toshiba Gigabeat V-series
Toshiba's out to impress with the new Gigabeat V-series models. Available in both 30GB and 60GB models, the hard-disk drive players have a 3.5in QVGA (320x240) resolution display that occupies most of the front panel. It will play a host of music and video formats including Windows Media, WMA9 Lossless, MP3 and WAV audio files including those encoded with Windows Media DRM10. It can also show Jpeg images.
The video playback is a little disappointing as it's limited to Windows Media Video files. Also included is a tuner for Japan's mobile digital TV service, called 'OneSeg' and the device can record TV shows off-air for later viewing. It's been on sale in Japan since late November for £215 (30GB) and £260 (60GB).
Samsung Yepp T9 Music Player
The latest addition to Samsung Electronics' Yepp T9 line of digital music players is a model with 8GB of memory. That's double the capacity of the previous top-of-the-line model. Like the earlier models it has a 1.8in LCD, is 11mm thick and has a Bluetooth wireless link to headphones. It costs £210 in South Korea. There's no word on when it will be available internationally although lower capacity models are already out, so it shouldn't be far off.
Canon Network Camera
If you need to monitor somewhere that's handy to an ethernet connection then network cameras such as Canon's new VB-C300 are great. They plug into an ethernet connection and stream video to a computer at the other end. Features include a 2.4x optical zoom and autofocus. Canon has added a day and night mode which switches automatically to provide a better picture at the respective time. The camera is mounted on a bracket that provides for 170 degrees of pan in each direction and tilt of 25 degrees in one direction and 90 degrees in the other. Security sensors can also be connected, as can a speaker, so a real-time audio feed can be broadcast by the camera to the area under surveillance. It will be on sale in Japan in March and will cost around £630.
NEC HSDPA mobile phone
Japan's NTT DoCoMo has just launched its HSDPA (high-speed downlink packet access) network providing downloads of up to 1.8Mbps and uploads of 384Kbps. To coincide with the launch NEC has launched its chunky-looking N902iX mobile phone. The handset also supports the DCMX service, which means it can be used to make credit payments in some shops. It is available now and costs around £85, although the price depends on carrier incentives and discounts.
Sharp Aquos mobile phone
Sharp's latest mobile for Japanese carrier Softbank Mobile proudly carries the Aquos badge that the company uses on its LCD TVs. The phone packs a 3in widescreen display panel based on the same technology used in the TV sets and includes a tuner for the mobile digital TV service, so it's almost like having an Aquos TV in your pocket. Other features of the handset include dual-mode WCDMA/GSM (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access/Global System for Mobile Communications), Bluetooth, 2Mp camera and a browser for conventional websites.
R&D corner: Hitachi colour e-paper
Commuters in Tokyo got a chance in December to experience some cutting-edge display technology – but they had to look hard to see it. Three commuter trains each carried one advertisement panel in which the traditional paper was replaced by a 13.1in e-paper panel made by Hitachi and Bridgestone. However, the displays, while technologically advanced, proved difficult to read during a demonstration.
Inside each display is an 8MB memory that can hold 37 advertisements, which cycle. So it's early days for e-paper, but with a little more work the displays could be at the point where they start replacing traditional adverts, and that could save some big money for the railway company. Each of the trains carries 1,414 advertisements and, with the exception of 96 that are on LCD displays, the rest are all paper and need to be changed by hand.