How Come the Rest of the World Gets to Have So Much Fun?
Sometimes the kids in Asia and Europe seem to get all the best toys. Though that isn't really true, you can find some wicked-cool gear over there (such as the high-design headphones pictured above) that you simply can't get here--at least, not yet. We've selected ten of the most cutting-edge gadgets available west and east of the continental United States. Some will be arriving stateside shortly. Others you may be able to order from specialty importers. But the rest you'll only be able to dream about.
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'Wind Recognition': Pantech's IM-S410 Cell Phone
Pantech's "Sky Whooo" phone might just blow you away. (Unfortunately, all of the company information about this handset is in Korean, but you can see two additional photos of the IM-S410 phone.) The IM-S410 is the first device of any kind we've seen with "wind recognition" built in. Just pucker your lips and blow into the phone's air sensor to make on-screen leaves fall, butterflies flap their wings, or windmills churn. You can also play games, transmit emoticons during video calls, or snap photos with your lungs--and then blow the pictures away to make room for new ones. When you're done spreading spittle all over the screen, you can watch DMB television broadcasts, peruse subway maps, find your location through GPS, or use its electronic-wallet app to (ahem) blow all your money.
(Although Pantech's IM-S410 is the only dedicated phone we could find that has "wind recognition" built into its software, several iPhone apps involve blowing into the phone's microphone to create effects. If you have the iSteam app, for instance, blowing into the microphone will make photos on the iPhone steamy. And if you install Ocarina for the iPhone, you can blow into the microphone and play music; you can see a YouTube video of the app in action. Both apps are available at the Apple App Store.)
Available: The windier regions of Korea
Unwired for Sound: AKG K 940 AFC Wireless Headphones
Want to strap on wireless headphones made by the company that builds professional sound gear for Kanye West, Gwen Stefani, and Mick Jagger? Tough luck. These bad boys, available in Europe from Harman International's Austria-based AKG subsidiary, use the 864-MHz UHF frequency (not approved for use by the FCC) to broadcast clear, powerful audio signals up to more than 300 feet away. The 12-ounce headphones are built for comfort as well as aesthetics, and adjust to fit virtually any head. When you're done listening, drop the K 940 back in its storage/charging cradle; its nickel-metal hydride batteries are good for 20 hours of play between charges. The good news for statesiders: An entire line of in-ear AKG headsets will be coming to the U.S. later this year.
Available: Europe only
Mobile Media Mogul: Motorola's Au Box Set-Top Device
I love my TiVo, but I still lust for the Au Box set-top box. Besides the usual stuff (electronic programming guide, DVR, video on demand), the Au Box lets you rip tunes directly from your CD collection and sync them to your cell phone--no PC required. It also plays DVDs and lets you connect a digital video camcorder to transfer home movies to your phone. Want to refresh your music or video collections? A Linux-based Web portal lets you surf to your favorite sites and download to your hard drive's content. Practically the only thing the Au Box can't do is fly across the Pacific and install itself in your living room. Built by Motorola, it's distributed exclusively by Japanese telecom giant KDDI.
The Facebook Phone: INQ Mobile's INQ1
Think your Facebook posse is huge? It's actually small enough to fit in your pocket--if you have one of INQ Mobile's handsets, such as the INQ1. This low-cost 3G phone integrates directly with the popular social network, adding your Facebook buddies to your address book and automatically alerting you when pals update their status or when someone asks to be your friend. A 3.2-megapixel camera makes capturing pics and sharing them with your peeps easy. You can also use Windows Live Messenger to chat in real time, cut your cell bills by making free calls via Skype, and groove to tunes from Last.fm. Best of all, the INQ1 is available for a song--but only if you live in one of the five countries where it's currently offered. U.S. customers will probably have to wait until next year.
Available: Australia, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, United Kingdom
Reach Out and Touch: Sharp's Mebius NJ70A
You know what they say: Two screens are better than one. In addition to the 10-inch widescreen LCD of the Mebius, Sharp's nifty little netbook features a 4-inch LED optical touchpad that lets you navigate between programs, play games, scroll through photos, zoom in on Web pages and documents, input handwriting and translate it to spoken text, and tickle the virtual ivories via a touch-sensitive piano keyboard. The 3.2-pound device runs Vista Home Basic on an Intel N270 processor and comes standard with 1GB of RAM, a 160GB hard drive, and a 1.3-megapixel camera. Though it's officially available for sale only in the Far East, you can preorder one from Chicago-based importer Dynamism.com for just shy of $1000.
Available: Japan, and via Dynamism.com
The Display Is Watching: Eizo's FlexScan EV2302W-T
Ever get the creepy sensation that while you're staring at your monitor, your monitor is staring back at you? If you have an Eizo Nanao FlexScan monitor, you may be right. This 23-inch high-definition LCD uses an infrared "human presence sensor" to determine whether anyone is sitting in front of it. If not, after 40 seconds the screen automatically powers down to conserve energy. It can even distinguish between moving objects (like humans) and stationary ones (like furniture). The 1920-by-1080-resolution monitor consumes just 18 watts at full power and 0.7 watts in standby mode, and it weighs 40 percent less than previous models, making it both lean and green. Fortunately, it won't tell the boss how often you're not at your desk.
Living La Vida Viliv: Viliv's S5 Mobile Intelligent Device
It's a GPS unit for your car. It's a portable media player for your pocket. It's a mobile Web tablet that works on Wi-Fi or 3G. It might even be a floor wax and a dessert topping. It's the Viliv S5, a 6-by-3-inch mobile intelligent device (MID) that weighs less than a pound but is heavy with features. Powered by an Intel Atom Silverthorne CPU, the S5 can play back HD video in 720p on its 4.8-inch touchscreen. You enter data via an optional Bluetooth keyboard or on the S5's haptic-feedback on-screen keypad. Viliv claims that the S5 can go from standby to Windows XP in 5 seconds, and that it can play 6 hours of video on single charge. Seeing is believing, though that may require buying a plane ticket to Asia. (At press time importer Dynamism.com was taking preorders for a limited number of the $600 units.)
Available: Hong Kong, Korea
Tubes for the Tub: Panasonic's Viera SV-ME850V
Ever wanted to watch a little TV in the bath? Panasonic's waterproof Viera SV-ME850V lets you do exactly that. This 5-inch-wide portable LCD features a 480-by-272-pixel widescreen image, stereo speakers, and a tuner for receiving Japan's 1seg TV broadcasts. Pop in an SD Card filled with MP3s or WMA files and use the Viera as a portable music player, or do the same with digital photos. You can even record TV shows to an SD Card and use the Viera's internal DVR to schedule recordings; a 32GB card can hold more than 170 hours' worth of entertainment. Finally, the Viera's 5.5-hour lithium ion battery lets you either soak until you're a prune or keep watching your shows uninterrupted as you get dressed and head out the door.
If Looks Could Kill: Toshiba's Qosimo G50 Laptop
Netbook, schmetbook. Toshiba's Qosmio G50 is for the discriminating traveler who wants it all--and who wants it to look as good as it possibly can. With an 18.4-inch 1080p widescreen display, an Intel Core2 Duo processor, 640GB of storage, and two TV tuners, the G50 is a multimedia monster, weighing in at a shoulder-straining 10 pounds. It's also the only machine available anywhere that employs Toshiba's SpursEngine video chip, which sharpens the edges on blurry Web video, brightens the colors, darkens the blacks, and makes Flash-based sites like YouTube easier on the eyes (but only if you're using Internet Explorer). All that beauty comes at a price, however: 340,000 yen, or around $3400, plus the cost of a plane ticket to Japan--first class, naturally.
'Apple Who?': Samsung's I7500 Android Phone
Put a little Google in your pocket with Samsung's long-awaited Android phone, the I7500. It’s the first Android phone from Samsung, one of the world's top handset manufacturers. Naturally, the I7500 sports a gaggle of Google apps: You can send Gmail, sync your Google Calendar, manage voice mail via Google Talk, and watch YouTube videos. An integrated GPS antenna gives you an all-access ticket to Google Maps and its people-finding app, Google Latitude. Surf at near desktop speeds on a blazingly fast 7.2-megabits-per-second HSDPA network, or connect to the Web via Wi-Fi. With 8GB of internal memory (plus a 32GB card slot), the I7500 has plenty of room to run the hundreds of apps available from the Android Market, play music, and store photos snapped with its 5-megapixel camera. The I7500's gorgeous active-matrix OLED touchscreen and slick interface could make you forget that other phones even exist.
Available: Europe, starting June 2009
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Contributing Editor Dan Tynan writes about all things geek at his blog, Tynan on Tech. Follow him on Twitter, if you dare: @tynan_on_tech