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It's true: The coolest gadgets often debut overseas--usually in Asia. Some are cell phones that double as music players or TVs. Others are supersmall yet powerful notebooks or handheld PCs. And some are just weird, like the world's most disturbing piggy bank.
Luckily (in some cases, anyway), you may not be totally shut out when it comes to procuring one. Though these devices aren't officially for sale in North America, some are available from gray-market importers such as Dynamism.com, or on eBay. Just make sure that you can obtain a service plan to support what you buy, if appropriate.
Panasonic Viera P905i
Think of it as the world's smallest "big-screen" TV. Panasonic's Viera Ketai handset boasts a 3-inch screen with a contrast ratio of 2000:1--comparable to that of many full-size LCDs, along with powerful image processing and a tuner for Japan's 1seg ("one seg") mobile broadcasting service. You can use it as a standard vertical flip phone to make calls, or turn it 90 degrees and flip the screen open horizontally to watch TV and play 3D games. High-speed broadband, GPS tracking, and a 5-megapixel camera complete the package.
Availability: Japan only; distributed by NTT DoCoMo.
Run, Baby, Run
Raon Everun UMPC
The diminutive Raon--7 inches long and just over a pound in weight--is for travelers who want their laptop to feel not much heavier than a densely woven doily. This Windows XP-based handheld sports a full QWERTY keyboard, a 4.8-inch touch screen that can shift between portrait and landscape modes, and your choice of either a standard 60GB hard drive or 6GB of energy-saving solid-state storage. Integrated Wi-Fi lets you log onto the Internet; a docking station, a car mount, and an external keyboard are optional. This ultramobile PC (UMPC) earns its name with a battery life rated by the maker at 7 hours for the standard battery and 12 hours for a larger, enhanced unit.
Availability: Korea (but at least the enhanced battery should last through the long flight back to the States).
Samsung 'Soul' SGH U900
Samsung's sleek new cell phone is thin and rich: The 13mm-thick handset includes a 5-megapixel camera with 4X digital zoom, image stabilization, and face detection, plus support for blazingly fast 7.2-mbps data connections. But the real innovation here is the interface: This slider phone offers both a numeric keypad and a touch screen that vibrates when you press it; meanwhile, the Soul's Thematic user interface displays only the icons relevant to the task at hand.
Availability: Europe, starting this month.
The Sounds of Silence
NEC ValueStar W
The W in this entertainment PC's name stands for "Water Silence" but "Whisper quiet" would be just as accurate. The Vista Media Center PC wraps a liquid-cooled hard drive in sound-absorbing material to produce ambient noise of just 25 to 30 dB--quieter than a nearby human whisper--so you can hear the movie, not the machine. The ValueStar W comes configured with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, a 22-inch LCD, and a combo Blu-ray/HD DVD drive (get 'em while they last).
Availability: Only in Japan.
Bot's All, Folks
Toshiba ApriPoko Robot
As if you needed another reason never to leave the couch. This 11-inch-tall robot--which looks like the love child of a bird Pokemon and the Pillsbury Doughboy--is actually a voice-activated remote control that incorporates artificial intelligence. If you pick up your TV's remote and start pressing buttons, ApriPoko will ask what you're doing and then memorize the IR codes associated with your actions. The next time around, you can just say "turn on the TV" and ApriPoko will take matters from there. That's the theory, anyway.
Availability: As yet, ApriPoko is nesting in Toshiba's research labs, awaiting its first solo flight.
Sleek, Not Meek
Sony VAIO G2
This superthin notebook breaks the 2-pound barrier with virtually no compromises, thanks to its durable yet lightweight carbon-fiber casing. Its 12-inch screen and full keyboard mean that you won't be forced to squint or engage in two-finger typing. You can choose a 100GB hard drive or a 64GB solid-state drive (SSD). Because they have no moving parts, SSDs are faster, quieter, and more power-efficient (though also much pricier, at least so far). If you and your flight attendant muff a drink exchange, spilling club soda on the drip-proof keyboard, the G2 shuts down automatically before anything gets fried.
Availability: Japan (and on Dynamism.com).
At last, there's a 3G cell phone that you can drop into the pool without taking a financial bath. Fujitsu's F705i is the slimmest, most sophisticated waterproof phone on the market--you can even wash its keypad with water. But the cool features don't stop at the marge of Lake Lebarge. Eight levels of zoom simplify reading e-mail in different lighting conditions, and the F705i's "super clear voice" feature automatically adjusts the volume of incoming calls to a comfortable and audible level based on the amount of ambient noise.
Availability: Japan only; distributed by NTT DoCoMo.
Aigo USB Dongle
It's a laptop! No, it's an HDTV! Actually, it's both--thanks to Aigo's USB Dongle, which uses Legend Silicon's LGS-8GL5 chip set to receive and decode high-definition TV broadcasts on the go. Plug it into any laptop's USB port to receive terrestrial signals from China's new mobile HDTV broadcast network, created specifically for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The dongle is one of dozens of portable high-def receivers that are being installed in buses, taxis, and public venues throughout China.
Availability: China only.
Three for One
LUI stands for "Life with Ubiquitous Integrated Solutions," and though we might have expected the acronym to come out as LUIS or maybe LwUIS, the underlying idea is simple: Store your digital media on NEC's home server (center), and then access it wirelessly via a nifty handheld device (left) or a slim 1.4-pound subnotebook (right). The server features two high-def tuners and a built-in DVR, and the whole system communicates via WiMax wireless. Just think--if the folks at NEC ever produce a miniaturized version of this setup, they can call it the Shrimp LUI.
Availability: Japan only; NEC plans to roll it out this year.
The Face Bank lets you put your money where its mouth is. Wave a coin in front of the bank's eyes (actually light sensors), and it opens wide to swallow your loose change. Afterward, it looks so pleased that you half expect it to emit a contented belch. The thing would be even cooler (and creepier) if it spoke with the voice of Vincent Price--but alas, no. Created by Japanese designer Takada, the $50 bank is available in eight colors and textures, from lemon yellow to brick red.
Availability: Primarily in Japan. (After we published this story, we were contacted by a company called AC Gears which carries the FaceBank online online and in their Manhattan store at 69 East 8th Street.)