The recent Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies trade show and the streets of Akihabara, Japan, were filled with current and upcoming eye-catching technology.
Here's a handful of the products and technologies on display at the CEATEC consumer electronics show in Tokyo and in shops in Akihabara, Tokyo's technology center.
Sony NW-Z1000 Walkman
Sony's NW-Z1000 Walkman keeps the Walkman music player tradition alive, in the Android touchscreen age. The player runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread, though from what I saw, Sony has customized the interface to optimize for music playback. It's the latest in the trend toward Android app and media devices sans phone, along the lines of the iPod Touch.
The Sony Walkman player felt good in my hands, with a gorgeous 4.3-inch 480-by-800 display. Inside it has a 1GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 CPU, 512MB of RAM, and what Sony describes as its "S-Master MX" digital amplifier for improved audio quality. Sony claims the unit has a battery life of 20 hours for music, and five hours for video. It will come in 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB capacities.
It is expected to be available in December. At the IFA show in Germany, Sony said the 16GB model would sell $365 and the 32GB for $560.
Sony PlayStation Vita
Sony also showed off the PlayStation Vita, its upcoming handheld console that debuted at E3 this year.
The 5-inch OLED display looked gorgeous, but seeing it up-close, I found myself agreeing with PCWorld's Matt Peckham, and wondering about the long-term viability of the dedicated handheld game console. I'm sure the Vita will appeal to dedicated gamers; and I could appreciate the ease of using physical buttons, as opposed to the virtual ones I used on the Sony S tablet. But it feels as if one-trick devices have to have a really compelling distinction, especially with the popularity of Android and iOS games -- and the prevalence of those multipurpose devices.
Vita is due out in Japan in December, and coming to other markets in 2012. It's expected to sell for $249.
Sharp Galapagos Tablet A01SH
While we've seen hints of Sharp doing a tablet at CES -- the company has had prototypes at the annual Las Vegas show before -- this was the first time I saw a shipping model up close.
The tablet had a pleasing curved design, but it looked fairly run-of-the-mill, and at 0.47-inch thick, it's almost chunky by today's slimline standards. It weighs 0.86 pounds, which is reasonable. The 7-inch tablet runs Android 3.2, has a 1024-by-600 pixel display and runs Nvidia's Tegra 2 with 1GB of RAM. Little about its specs otherwise jump out (beyond the fact that it has a 5-megapixel rear camera with flash, a microSD card slot and micro-HDMI port).
What struck me most about this tablet is how it's being marketed as a content device. In Japan, the tablet has access to Tsutaya's digital content store. I doubt we'll see this tablet come stateside; none of Sharp's other tablet/e-reader efforts have hit our shores, and this one doesn't appear distinctive enough to make the leap.
3D HDTV from Panasonic and Toshiba
While Panasonic dedicated a large display to 3D, I was struck more by the minimal impact of 3D at CEATEC. Even in the cavernous Tokyo electronics stores, 3D is just another feature -- and one that felt like it was getting a minimal push. I noticed several displays in Bic Camera and Yodobashi, with demo glasses mounted so consumers could take a look at the devices, but clearly 3D hasn't taken the world by storm.
Toshiba showcased 55-inch glasses-free 3D TV, the Regza 55X3, with 4K resolution. The company has demoed 4K resolution before at CES, and has demoed glasses-free TV, but this was the first model combining the two in a commercially available product that uses Toshiba's Cevo-Engine Duo platform. The 4K is available for 2D playback; or, you get full HD with 3D playback.
The 55X3 will debut in mid-December in Japan; we should hear more about U.S. release plans at CES 2012.
Toshiba Regza DBR-Z160 and DBR-M190 Recorders
In Japan, it's hard to find a Blu-ray player that isn't also a Blu-ray Disc recorder. And Blu-ray Disc recorders with hard disk drives are prevalent. I've often queried manufacturers about the lack of recorders in the U.S., and been given the run-around about consumers flocking to cable provider DVRs. But really when was the last time there wasn't a quandary in your household about what to delete off the DVR to make room for new content?
The Regza DBR-M190, a 5TB Blu-ray Disc Recorder, boasts 4TB of hard disk space you can use to simultaneously record up to six terrestrial digital channels, for 15 days (at low-image quality, to achieve that spec). And you still get an extra 1TB to record other programs. It is due out in December in Japan.
Already, Toshiba offers the DBR-Z160, pictured above, which packs 2TB of disk space and a BDXL recorder; Sharp, Sony, and others sell such recorders, too.
Talk about a long-suffering yet intriguing technology. We've seen iVDR -- a hard drive cartridge technology -- demoed at CES plenty of times, and in the U.S., Maxell sells it as a professional video product. But it's nothing like this recorder box, introduced this summer and shown by Maxell at CEATEC.
The VDR-R2000 records television to removable hard disk cartridges, and records AVCHD video from digital television to cartridge card. Plus, it has various media streaming options, too. The box connects to your TV via HDMI.
Toshiba Regza Tablet AT700
At IFA in September, Toshiba unveiled its AT200 tablet. But at CEATEC, Toshiba was all about the AT700, a Japan-only (for now?) 10.1-inch Android tablet it bills as the world's thinnest and lightest. Well, almost. At 1.23 pounds, it rivals the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 in weight, but it also felt a bit bulkier and boxier, even though it beats the depth of Samsung at 0.3-inches deep, to Samsung's 0.34-inches.
I attribute that impression to the Toshiba's more squared-off design (Samsung, by comparison, has rounded edges). Due in mid-December, the timing again makes me think we'll hear more about Toshiba USA's thin tablet plans at CES 2012.
Toshiba Regza Tablet AT700 (Ports)
I handled this ultra-thin tablet, and found it light in the hand, though I prefer the curves of Samsung's Galaxy Tab. The tablet runs Android 3.2, and while it lacks the full-size SDXC card slot and USB ports of its Thrive cousin, it does have micro-USB, microSD, and micro-HDMI ports.
Fujitsu Arrows Tab LTE F-01D
The tablet craze is clearly raging in Japan. I just wish we got tablets like the Fujitsu Arrows Tab. This recently released 4G model runs a 1GHz OMAP 4 processor and Android Honeycomb, has a lovely high-resolution 1280 by 800 pixel display and a pleasing curved design.
The size isn't groundbreaking -- it stands 0.45-inches thick, just under the average, and thicker than the newest tablets like the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Regza Tablet AT700, but it weighs just 1.32 pounds -- about the same as the current iPad 2.
NEC LaVie Touch LT550/FS
This is another one of those nifty designs that we'll never see in the U.S. market. NEC introduced the LaVie Touch, a "two-way PC" as the company's marketing materials put it. The Touch is a Windows 7 10.1-inch tablet that pairs with a thin docking station that houses ports and a DVD burner. Together with a wireless keyboard and mouse, the LaVie Touch turns from tablet to desktop PC.
The tablet runs Windows 7 Home Premium, an Intel Atom 670 processor, 2GB of memory, and a 64GB SSD; along the edges, it has an impressive complement of ports -- SD card, USB, and HDMI. It also measures by 7.6 inches by 10.4 inches, stands 0.62 deep and weighs 1.6 pounds, among the lighter Windows tablets we've seen.
While the design was a bit boxy and squared off, it was pleasant to hold -- more so than many of the bigger Windows tablets I've tried. NEC says the battery will last 10.6 hours. The LaVie Touch's design is a compelling one, and this approach should be even more appealing when Windows 8 and its tablet-optimized operating system ship.
NEC Android Tablets
In addition to the LaVie Touch, NEC showed off several Android tablets. Among them, the LifeTouch W, a surprisingly lightweight (1.2 pounds) commercial version of a dual-display concept design shown previously at CES.
The LifeTouch W has an ARM Cortex A8, 1GB of memory, and two 7-inch 800 by 600 pixel displays. On board ports include SDHC card slot and micro-USB. The tablet runs Android 2.2, and has 4GB of built-in storage. I also liked the design of the Android, Nvidia Tegra-based Note LifeTouch NA75F; it wasn't new, but it had a built-in keyboard and a clamshell design, something we've not seen with the bevy of Android devices to hit the U.S.
NEC LifeTouch Communicator
I especially liked the NEC LifeTouch Communicator. This white Android 2.2 tablet has the same internal guts as the LifeTouch W -- Cortex A8 and 1GB of memory -- and puts physical navigation controls on the left side. It looks as if it's intended for use around the home. The best part? NEC showed this tablet communicating with and controlling an adorable robot that almost looked like a little cousin of "The Jetson's" Rosie.
NTT DoCoMo App Nutrition Service
Lots of interesting, useful items were featured at NTT DoCoMo's display, including a Geiger counter attachment for a mobile phone. My favorite tech demo was of a service that used the camera on an Android phone to capture a picture of your meal, communicate back with the servers, and then identify the nutritional information accordingly.
Panasonic Waterproof Tablet and Portable TV
Just in case you've been hankering to take your tablet into the bath with you, Panasonic has the solution. The company showed off its recently released waterproof SV-ME970, a portable 7-inch TV for the Japanese market that runs a Web browser and has a YouTube app.
The screen resolution was unimpressive -- 800 by 480 pixels -- so the tablet isn't necessarily the best place to look at your digital photos, even if it does have a high-capacity SDXC card slot.