Phones

June's Coolest Gadgets

Every year it happens: as the summer approaches in northeast Asia and the weather heats up, the gadgets get hotter too. I was lucky enough to get my hands on HTC's Touch Pro smartphone the day it launched in Taiwan. The phone is a business-oriented sister handset to the Touch Diamond that was announced last month and is quite an impressive phone. Read on for a hands-on report.

Also this month: innovations in PC gaming as Asus brings Wii-like motion-sensitive control to Windows and innovations in car navigation as Panasonic links its networked home appliances with a car navigation system for remote control. To top it all off, the future looks bright too as Toshiba and Sony both promise some pretty cool-sounding TVs before the end of next year.

Hands on with HTC's Touch Pro

The strongest impression I took away from HTC's Touch Pro was of the bright, crisp screen on the Windows Mobile 6.1 handset. From the front the phone looks much like the Touch Diamond that was launched last month but with the two in my hand it was obvious that the Touch Pro is thicker. The reason is a slide-out Qwerty keyboard that appears from the back of the phone and makes for much easier typing. Each of the keys is beveled so that there's an obvious distinction between each one -- a handy feature on a keypad that's relatively small.

In spite of its small size, the well-contoured keyboard and predictive text input system meant that the first sentence I typed on the Touch Pro came out perfectly -- something that can't be said for every smartphone I've tried. The keyboard has been improved from previous models with a fifth row of number keys above the main keyboard. Personally, I hate having to hold down a shift or function key to tap out numbers on smartphones, so the number row is a welcome addition.

The phone felt solid and well-made and the phone's body slid smoothly when the keyboard was pulled out. It wasn't so heavy that it weighed on my hands when typing -- another occasional problem on smartphones that restricts use. HTC said it weighs 165 grams. The 2.8-inch LCD (liquid crystal display) screen was a pleasure to look at. It has VGA resolution (640 pixels by 480 pixels) so the images appear very sharp and text looks superb. Strong colors enhanced the screen image. It should be available from August in major markets worldwide. No price was announced.

Samsung Slow-Mo HMX20 videocam

Samsung has launched a high-def video camera that can also snap high-resolution digital photos and take smooth slow-motion video. The HMX20, which was shown as a prototype at CES in Las Vegas in January, can manage 1080p full HD (1,920 by 1,080 pixels) video and 8-megapixel images. It's also capable of snapping pictures while video is being recorded -- a feature that is becoming popular on cameras but is still not standard. A special feature is the 300 frames per second (fps) shooting mode for slow-motion video. Video is usually recorded at 30 fps and becomes jumpy when slowed down, but by recording at 300 fps it can be slowed down by as much as 10 times and still appear smooth. Data is recorded onto the internal 8G bytes of memory or SD or MMC memory cards. The camera has been announced for South Korea where it will cost 899,000 won (US$857). Launch details for other markets have not been set.

Asus Eee Stick

Taiwan's Asus is bringing Nintendo Wii-like wireless gaming to the PC. Eee Sticks are a pair of motion-sensitive controllers that gamers can use to bowl, slash swords and play other games on a PC. Initially, Asustek plans to bundle the controllers with its popular Eee PC low-cost laptops and the desktop Eee Box and will be available in mid-August. Next year, the Eee Sticks will be sold in packs with five to eight games for around NT$2,000 to NT$2,500 (US$66 to $82). So far, Asustek has only inked licensing agreements with a handful of game companies for their games can be used with Eee Stick. The company plans to talk with more game developers, including Electronic Arts, to expand its offerings.

Sony All-glass Sountina Speaker

Fashioned entirely out of glass, Sony's Sountina cylindrical speakers emit sound in a "circle" of 360 degrees, allowing listeners to hear in equal fidelity regardless of their location. Apart from the tweeter, the Sountina, also known as the NSA-PF1, includes a 13cm woofer and a 7cm mid-range speaker.

The speakers pack quite a punch, as Sony demonstrated at a launch event, when music traveled at least 100 meters in the open space around its headquarters building lobby. In the dark, the Sountina can also contribute to the ambience with illuminations. Under dim lighting, the glass resonates with colors that alternate between blue, amber and purple making it something like a sleeker and more modern version of a lava lamp. The Sountina is tagged at ¥1 million (US$9,600), and is set to go on sale on June 20 in Japan. Sony has plans to release it internationally but there is no precise schedule.

Panasonic Strada Car Navigation

Panasonic's new Strada F-class car navigation system gives drivers the power and convenience to operate home-based devices from remote location, as long as they have a cell phone signal.

Commands from the navigation system are sent to the owner's mobile phone over a Bluetooth link and then back to the home via a cellular Internet connection. A home unit receives the commands, which are input through the car's navigation system screen, and follows the instructions. The gadgets at home need to be capable of network control.

Additionally the F-class models can also link up with Panasonic home network cameras. While it's only possible to get a still image and not streaming video, it is enough to give owners a clear picture of what's happening at home. And the system can also be used to program a digital video recorder to catch TV shows, as long as the recorder is from Panasonic. The Strada F-class HDD (hard-disk drive) car navigation systems will go on sale in Japan this June at retail price of ¥354,900 (US$3,380). There are no plans to sell them overseas.

Sharp 108-inch LCD TV

The world's largest LCD monitor can now be yours -- if you have a deep wallet. Sharp has finally launched the 108-inch LCD monitor that was first unveiled in January 2007 at CES in Las Vegas. Now it's available to customers worldwide, built-to-order, for ¥11 million (US$102,000).

The Full HD (1,920 pixels by 1,080 pixels) monitor comes with a wide array of input sockets. There's analog RGB and DVI computer inputs, 3 HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) inputs, two composite video inputs, two sets of component video inputs and one S-Video input. The entire set weighs an impressive 195 kilograms and consumes 1.1 kilowatts (kW) when in use.

Samsung Omnia

Bearing more than a passing resemblance to the iPhone, the Samsung Omnia has a prominent 3.2-inch display that takes up almost the entire front panel of the phone. Underneath the otherwise clean front surface are three buttons. The screen has 240 pixel by 400 pixel resolution (Wide QVGA), which makes it lower resolution than the iPhone or other likely competitors like the HTC Touch Diamond.

The quad-band (850/900/1800/1900MHz) phone will operate on both WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access) and GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) and supports 7.2M bps (bits per second) HSDPA (High-speed Downlink Packet Access) and EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution) data networking. Great for mobile video fans is the format support: DivX, XviD, H.263, H.264, Windows Media Video and MP4. The camera has 5-megapixel resolution and other features include GPS (Global Positioning System), Bluetooth and FM radio. It measures 112 millimeters by 57mm by 12.5mm and will go on sale in Asia this month and in Europe in July.

Toshiba's Cell-TV, Sony's Bigger OLED

Get ready TV fans! Two cool new sets are coming soon! Toshiba plans to put a TV powered by the Cell processor on sale before the end of 2009. The Cell TV will use the chip for some heavy-duty graphics processing to allow for real-time upscaling of standard-definition TV to high-def, and to display multiple video streams simultaneously for quick navigation of many TV channels.

Meanwhile, Sony said a 27-inch OLED TV will be here soon. Prototypes of the set have already been shown but CEO Howard Stringer recently confirmed at a U.S. conference that it's heading towards becoming a product. "Within the next 12 months, we haven't given a date," he said when asked to be more specific on timing.

(Additional reporting by Dan Nystedt in Taipei and Chiara Castañeda in Tokyo)

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