Phones and Cameras Lead February's Gadgets

As 2009 starts to pick up pace, the attention of the big gadget makers moves from January's International Consumer Electronics Show to February's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Lots of new phones will be launched at the event and the market for handsets with full touch-screens that was ignited by Apple's iPhone is of particular interest to phone makers. Japan's Toshiba has an intriguing proposal in the TG01, while both Samsung and LG have another try at the market with new handsets.

Elsewhere it's been a good month for shutterbugs with interesting new cameras from Sanyo and Panasonic, although they are perhaps more notable for their high-definition video capabilities than their still image functions. We've also got an interesting -- and expensive -- new device from Sony that streams live video over 3G networks.

Toshiba TG01

It's thinner than the iPhone, has a bigger screen and a more powerful processor. Toshiba's TG01, which gets an official unveiling at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, has created a bit of a stir in the mobile world not least because it's the first device based on Qualcomm's SnapDragon processor that makes it run "noticeably faster than any other mobile device around right now," according to PC World. It's 4.1-inch display has VGA (640 x 480 pixel) resolution and there are all the functions you would expect in a 3G smartphone, including GPS, Wi-Fi, and HSDPA connectivity. The TG01 will run on Microsoft's Windows Mobile 6.1 software with a new graphical interface and a special little feature is called shake-to-answer, which does what it says! Look for it first in Europe from the middle of this year. No pricing has been announced.

Samsung Ultra Touch

Another phone battling for the full touch-screen end of the market is Samsung's Ultra Touch. It's a slider-type that has a 2.8-inch OLED (organic light emitting diode) display with 240 pixel by 400 pixel (WQVGA) resolution. As with all sliders, the bottom half of the phone's body can be slid down to reveal a keypad. On the Touch Ultra it's a basic 10-button number keypad. There's also three function buttons underneath the main display on the phone's face. One of its main features is an 8-megapixel camera with LED flash and smile mode that snaps a picture only when people are smiling. The WCDMA handset also supports most major video and audio formats and should be out later this year. No precise launch date or price has been announced.

LG Arena

The Arena is the new flagship model in LG Electronics' range of cell phones. The Arena KM900 handset features a user interface based around the concept of a cube: home screens can be switched within the three-dimensional interface by turning from one face of the cube to the next. Underneath the main display are four icons that provide quick access to functions such as phone calls, contacts and e-mail. Specifications, launch dates and pricing are due soon.

Sanyo Xacti HD2000

Sanyo's Xacti line of digital cameras is getting a refresh with 2009 models that include the top-end DMX-HD2000. The camera can shoot 8-megapixel images but its special feature is a video recording mode that lays down high-defintion (1920 by 1080 pixels) MPEG4 H.264/AVC video at 60 frames per second -- that's as good as it gets for current high definition video formats. Of course the lens isn't nearly as large as on a dedicated video camera so it won't replace those, but its small size makes it a potentially interesting choice for people who don't have to shoot a lot of video or just have simple video needs, such as YouTube. The camera can also shoot pictures while recording video.

Sony Location Porter

It's always been the case that if a TV station wanted to broadcast live news they needed a truck full of equipment and antennas or a satellite dish to get the signal back to home base but miniaturization and the increasing speed of 3G cellular technology is changing all of that. Sony has developed a device called Location Porter that plugs straight into a DV camcorder and streams live H.264/AVC video over a 3G network (via attached cell phone) or wireless LAN to a similar box sitting anywhere on the Internet. Streamed video is at 352 by 240 pixel resolution at up to 15 frames per second. There's also a voice back-channel so the receiver can speak to the cameraman. The device will go on sale in Japan on March 18 and will cost around ¥1.6 million (US$17,710). For now it's Japan-only.

Panasonic Lumix TZ7

With a 10-megapixel image sensor and 12X optical zoom the Lumix TZ7 is the latest member to Panasonic's digital camera range. In the new camera Panasonic has managed to increase the optical zoom from 10X and use a wider 25mm lens but keep the camera smaller and lighter than previous models. It also shoots video at high-definition but what's special here is that it uses the AVCHD Lite mode, which is related to the AVCHD high-def mode used by most dedicated hard-disk video camcorders. It will hit Japan on March 6 and follow in most other markets.

Coming Up

The month also brought a few hints of new portable gadgets from Sony. Speaking in Tokyo, Sony CEO Howard Stringer said Sony will launch the devices as part of its strategy to deal with the economic crisis. "We will tap our unique strengths in gaming, entertainment, digital imaging and telephony to fast track a line-up of next-generation mobile devices," he said. No other details were announced or available but it's worth noting that Sony has committed to making 90 percent of its product categories network enabled within the next couple of years.

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