August's Coolest Gadgets

Despite Tokyo's sizzling summer heat the country's gadget makers aren't slowing down and we've seen some interesting products in the last few weeks.

The highlight has to be Toyota's Winglet, which is sort of like a shrunken version of the Segway transporter. Toyota let me take it for a test drive and it was a lot of fun. Despite a little nervousness getting on it the first time, it was soon a breeze to drive.

The potentially most significant news of the month was the consortium formed around Sony's TransferJet technology. While there are a few competing standards out there, TransferJet leaves the starting gates with a host of big-names behind. But frankly, whether its this or wireless USB or some other technology, I just can't wait to get rid of all the gadget wires in my life!

Toyota Winglet

It's not very often that we get to see something as futuristic as Toyota's Winglet! The Segway-like device was developed with engineers from Sony's robotics program and can scoot people around at about 6 kilometers per hour, which is the speed of a brisk walk. You ride by standing on it and steer by moving the handle. The rider pushes a handle forward to make the device move ahead, pulls back to reverse or stop and pushes the handle to the side to turn. Three versions have been developed with the smallest weighing 10 kilograms.

Toyota envisages the device will be someday used by people to travel around urban areas and is small enough for a commuter to carry with them on the train or in the trunk of a car, it said. However the company doesn't have any immediate plans to commercialize the device.

Sony TransferJet

Back at CES in January Sony unveiled a prototype short-range, high-speed wireless data system called TransferJet. Now that system has taken a big step towards commercialization with the launch of a consortium that will work on promoting it and ensuring gadgets are compatible.

TransferJet is a Sony-developed wireless system that can send data at speeds of up to 375M bps (bits per second) over distances of around 3 centimeters. It's designed to replace the cables that are typically needed to connect gadgets and its speed rivals that of USB2.0 and Firewire, the two dominant cable-based systems in use today. The 14 companies include some of the biggest names in consumer electronics including Panasonic, Nikon, Samsung and Toshiba.

Au Smart Sports

If you're like me then you need all the help possible to stay in-shape so new cell phones from Japanese carrier Au could be just the thing. The three Smart Sports handsets bring together a motion sensor and GPS (Global Positioning System) so that when you're running, the number of steps taken, distance, and calories burned are measured and recorded. When you're done the work-out information can be sent to a server and later your run can be mapped and analyzed through a PC so you can see just how well, or badly, you did.

It also hooks up with Au's "Lismo" music download service to grab some motivational tunes for your run -- all at extra cost, of course. Using the "Beat Run" playback mode, it will also match musical tracks and the pace of the exercise. To date 33,000 people have used it this month and burned 16 million kilocalories in the process. The phones are Japan-only.

Wii-Mote charger

A new charger developed by Sanyo makes replenishing the batteries in Nintendo Wii controllers as easy as placing them in a cradle. It consists of a rechargeable battery pack that replaces the batteries and battery compartment cover on an existing Wii remote control, and a charging cradle and AC adapter. In both the battery pack and charging cradle are coils of wire that, when brought together, enable energy to flow by induction from the cradle to the battery pack.

It takes four hours to charge a remote control. The basic set of the battery pack, charging cradle and AC adapter will cost around ¥5,500 (US$51). Additional cradles and battery packs will cost around ¥2,500 each. A single AC adapter can be used to charge up to four remote controls but they charge one-by-one. The charging system will go on sale in Japan on August 25. Sanyo doesn't have any concrete plans to put it on sale overseas at present.

Casio Exilim Zoom EX-Z150

Casio has expanded its Exilim digital still camera range with a slim 8-megapixel model. The Exilim Zoom EX-Z150 packs a wide-angle 28mm lens with 4X optical zoom so users should be able to get more into a picture than with many other digital cameras.

The camera is 2 cm thick, 9.7cm wide by 5.7cm tall and is the thinnest camera in its class, according to Casio. Other features include anti-shake, face detection and a 3-inch LCD (liquid crystal display) monitor on the rear. It also has a YouTube shooting mode that records video in a file format and resolution preferred by YouTube, so the videos won't be re-encoded by the site and should maintain their quality. Another handy feature is the date edit function, that allows you to go back and change the date and time on which a photo was recorded when it is taken. This means users can, for example, go back and correct pictures if they forget to change the camera settings when they arrived in a new time zone.

The camera will go on sale in Europe from August and cost around €200 (US$318). It will hit the U.S. market in September and carry a US$199 price tag.

Motorola updates the PEBL

There's a new version of Motorola's PEBL cell phone out in South Korea. At first glance the handset doesn't appear to have an external display but like some other recent phones from competitors it's hidden under the outside case. When buttons on the phone are pressed, the case appears to come to life with illumination. The so-called hidden display is touch-sensitive and can display pictures and be used for navigation and control of the phone's settings.

Features of the new WCMDA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access) handset include high-speed 7.2M bps (bits per second) data transfer, Bluetooth, a 2-megapixel camera and MP3 player. It's available now through SK Telecom in South Korea. Overseas launch details were not announced.

MSI Wind

Taiwan's MSI is offering its Wind mini-laptop with a far better, 6-cell battery, than the one currently on offer. You can still buy the current 3-cell model, which is lighter (1 kilogram vs. 1.2kgs), but the 6-cell battery offers potentially far better life. A 3-cell laptop PC battery normally provides around 2 to 3 hours of battery life, depending on how the laptop is used and on what settings. A 6-cell battery can offer 4 to 7 hours of run time. Of course, you pay for this better battery life. The new PC costs US$599 and is available now.

(Dan Nystedt in Taipei contributed to this report)

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