TOKYO EDGE - February's coolest gadgets

Fragrance-suggesting mobile phones, a handheld Bravia TV, Sony's Alpha DSLR cameras, and a monkey that can control a robot

If you want a demonstration of the speed at which the technology industry works these days just consider Sharp's thin TVs. The first time we heard about them was when the company unveiled prototypes in the middle of last year. At that time Sharp talked vaguely about them hitting the market sometime before the end of the decade. They seemed a little way away.

A couple of months later at the Ceatec show in Tokyo a couple of Sharp's competitors had their own thin TVs and at CES in January in Las Vegas still more thin sets appeared from competitors. Thin is apparently in and TV makers were starting to get bullish on the new designs.

Fast forward just a couple of weeks after CES and Sharp has shown its first commercial sets and set an aggressive launch schedule of March in Japan. With the speedy move Sharp, which was the first TV maker to fully embrace LCD technology, is determined to get a lead on the competition.

That this all happened in the space of six months is impressive to say the least and points to the fast pace at which new technologies are appearing on the market. Sometimes consumer will put off purchases a few months to wait for a particular feature to come to market but all too often when the desired feature is finally available there's another even better feature just around the corner.

It's how companies are getting us to spend money and replace products faster than ever before. For example, back in the 70s and 80s TVs lasted 10, 15 or 20 years but can you imagine keeping an LCD TV set for 20 years today? The set might work fine but will look hopelessly out-of-date after just a few years. When it comes to buying technology it pays to remember, there might never be a good time to buy but there's also never a bad time to buy.

Sharp thin LCD TV

Just a few months ago Sharp impressed with prototype LCD TVs that were just a few centimeters thick. Now they're products and coming to Japan in March. Sharp's new X-series models come in 37-, 42- and 46-inch screen sizes and are just 3.44 centimeters at their thinnest point and fatten slightly to 3.85 cm at the thickest point. That's less than half the thickness of sets in two other product lines that Sharp also introduced Thursday. Sharp has also separated the tuner unit into a VCR-sized box thus furthering helping keep the TV thin. Prices will range from US$4,520 for the 46-inch to US$3,290 for the 37-inch set. Sharp will be putting thin sets on sale overseas but it doesn't have a concrete plan at present, it said. Appearances will be further improved with the use of an optional wireless video transmitter than means just a power cable needs to be fed to the set. The wireless kit, which includes a transmitter and received, will cost US$845.

Sony Bravia handheld TV

Sony is packing its Bravia technology into a new handheld TV it plans to put on sale in Japan on April 10. The XDV-D500 has a 3-inch screen and includes the "mobile Bravia engine" digital image processor that seeks to improve the picture's color, contrast and brightness for an overall better image. The device can also record up to 10 hours of TV programs and comes with an AM and FM radio. It will cost US$355. By putting the Bravia name on the set Sony is hoping the device will get a sales kick from the substantial brand it has built up around the Bravia name. Sony will also sell a second portable TV set on the same day but it doesn't include the Bravia technology. The XDV-G200 has a 2-inch screen and will cost US$281. The OneSeg TV service is based on the ISDB-T standard that is only used in Japan so the sets won't work overseas.

Samsung fragrance-suggesting mobile phones

Samsung is unashamedly promoting calorie counting, shopping lists and fragrance prediction as killer-apps in three new mobile phones aimed at women. The phones are designed to appeal to women by being both stylish and functional -- functions defined by these three features. While the workings of the shopping list and calorie counter are obvious, the fragrance function works by suggesting a suitable fragrance through the user's favorite food and beverages, said Samsung. The L310 and L320 are tri-band GSM clamshell handsets and also have a 2-megapixel camera and Bluetooth. Both go in sale in February. The L310 will initially be available in Russia and Hungary and cost US$350, the L320 will be on sale in Russia and CIS and carry a US$321 price tag.

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Martyn Williams

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