PC Advisor’s man in Tokyo rounds up the latest cool kit that's hitting the streets this month - and finds out a few surprising home truths about the mobile phone market.
If you're not interested in cell phones you might want to stop reading here. With the spring models being announced by Japan's major carriers and South Korean makers wowing attendees at 3GSM in Barcelona, this month's pick of Asia's coolest new toys is heavy on handsets.
An overview of the new phones - and there have been many - reveals a few trends.
First of all: 2G is not dead. Carriers won't tell you that because they've all invested billions in new 3G networks and multimedia services, but look at many of the new handsets and you'll find they are 2G-only. Samsung's U100, detailed below, is all about being thin, and adding 3G support would only bulk it up.
The reluctance of consumers to rush to 3G networks is obviously irking carriers, and at 3GSM 12 of them in Europe and Asia disclosed plans to jointly promote the technology under the banner "3G for all". That's great, but make sure they give you a good deal when you finally decide to switch. After all, it's in their interests to get you on the new network.
Secondly: here comes digital TV. The launch in many countries of mobile digital TV trials or services means television will increasingly find a place alongside voice, SMS, web and email in high-end handsets. Here TV makers appear to have an advantage because they can use their established TV brand names to sell phones. Sharp has already been doing this with a phone that carries its Aquos LCD TV brand name, and now Sony is getting in on the act with a Bravia phone.
And finally: touch-screen. Apple made headlines with its iPhone last month and already two heavyweights, Samsung and LG, have look-a-like handsets of their own. There's some dispute as to who came up with the idea first but obviously no one wants to miss out on this developing trend. After all, Motorola stole a lead on others with its Razr phone and Apple has claimed more than a few scalps in the MP3-player market, so look for phones in the iPhone form factor to become common this year.
Packing both GSM and WCDMA, Samsung's touch-screen F700 handset will have people talking all over the world. In addition to its good looks the phone boasts a 5 megapixel camera and can play back a number of video formats including MPEG4, H.263, H.264 and Real Video, as well as the audio formats MP3, AACplus, eAACplus and Real. There's also a surprise for people that can't get enough of mobile email: a qwerty keyboard that slides out from behind the display. With such a feature-set some are already talking about Samsung's F700 as an iPhone-killer, but perhaps we should leave the iPhone killing until both are on the market. No launch or pricing details have been announced.
Before Samsung took the wraps off the F700, its cross-town competitor LG showed a stylish phone of its own. The KE850 was designed with Italian fashion goods maker Prada and is dominated by a large touch-screen display. Prada not only had input on the phone's exterior but also on key elements of the user interface, including the touch screen, ring tones and pre-loaded content. The tri-band GSM KE850 is 99mm long, 54mm wide and 12mm thick.
It will go on sale first in late February through Prada shops in the UK, France, Germany and Italy, priced at about €600. In March it will begin appearing in stores in Asia including Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore, LG said. A version for the Korean market is due out in the second quarter. LG has no plans to put it on sale in the US.
Sony Bravia Phone
Coming in June from Sony is the first mobile phone to carry the Bravia brand name used on its LCD (liquid crystal display) televisions. The SO903i has a tuner for digital mobile TV broadcasts and uses technology from the company's LCD TV line for a better picture, according to NTT DoCoMo, through which it will be offered in Japan only. Prices weren't announced.
Samsung Ultra 100
A phone so thin you can't see it? That's the silly claim Samsung made this month: "The Ultra Edition 5.9 (U100) is thin enough to disappear if turned on its side." Of course that's not true but it does give you an idea of how thin the U100 is. At just 5.9mm it's the thinnest mobile phone yet developed. It has a 3Mp camera and is compatible with the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) standard, but don't expect a 3G model.
The candybar phone was joined by three other new handsets in the Ultra range: the Ultra 9.6 tri-band GSM clamshell model, the Ultra 10.9 quad-band GSM slider, and the Ultra 12.9 tri-band GSM and WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access) 3G slider with HSDPA (high-speed downlink packet access). The phones are all due to go on sale in Europe during the current quarter. Pricing, as well as launch details for other markets, were not disclosed.
Canon Ivis HV20 Digital Video Camera
Canon has a new high-definition digital video camera to talk about. The Ivis HV20 features an image sensor that's more sensitive than that of the previous HV10 camcorder. The sensor, which Canon adapted from those used in its digital still cameras, can capture images in light conditions down to 3 lux. The previous sensor worked down to 5 lux. Other new features include an HDMI (high definition multimedia interface) output for direct connection to an HDTV and a cinema shooting mode, which records at 24 frames per second to produce video that gives a feel closer to that of film than of tape. The camera also has a 10X optical zoom and optical image stabilisation, and records to HDV tape. The HV20 measures 88mm by 80mm by 138mm and weighs 535g. It will be available first in Japan in early March for about ¥130,000. It will be launched in America in April for $1,099 and go on sale in Europe and Asia in April.
Toshiba HD DVD-R Laptop
In late February in Japan, Toshiba will begin selling its first laptop PC in the world with support for the write-once HD DVD-R optical disc format. The G30/97A will be an upgrade of existing models of Toshiba's hefty Qosmio G30 entertainment laptop. The computer is based on an Intel 2GHz Core 2 Duo processor and has a 17in widescreen display with 1,920x1,280-pixel resolution, which means it can show high-definition images from HD-DVD movie discs. The 4.8kg machine also features a 320GB hard-disk drive, digital TV tuner and HDMI (high definition multimedia interface) output. Toshiba hasn't announced a price for the computer, which will run the Windows Vista Home Premium operating system. International launch plans were not announced.
Sony Series 501 Audio
Sony is targeting consumers at or near retirement age with a home audio system that pairs high-quality sound with a relatively low price and small size. The "System 501" products consist of an amplifier, a CD player and a pair of speakers, and will be launched in Japan in March. Collectively they'll cost ¥234,150, which is much less than other products delivering the same audio quality, according to Sony. The amplifier and the CD player are both 28cm wide and 11cm high. The amplifier is 29cm deep and the CD player 27cm deep. That makes them suitable for use in small Japanese rooms. The audio products are expected to go on sale overseas later in the year. No international launch dates or prices were announced on Thursday.