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GADGETS

A brand new touchscreen device for every pocket

by Rick Martin

It has been a rough year for Sony after its PlayStation Network security breach this past spring. But it has enjoyed a bit of a respite after rolling out its new pair of tablets this past month, as well as showing off its forthcoming handheld game device, Vita, at Tokyo Game Show.

Flying under the radar somewhat, Sony also launched its brand new Walkman Z Series of audio players, which are sure to make some waves in the music space.

Sony, which after three decades stopped selling its iconic Walkman cassette players just last year, now brings the brand into the future by powering it with the Android 2.3 operating system. And with access to the Android market, it takes advantage of the available apps in that ecosystem, perhaps most notably gaming applications. With a massive 4.3-inch, 800×480 LCD screen, the Walkman Z Series will be good for video and gaming on the go, putting it in direct competition with Apple’s iPod touch.

Driven by a 1 GHz Tegra 2 dual-core processor from Nvidia and 512 MB of RAM, the new Walkman is DNLA certified, allowing you to play its contents on any DNLA-enabled television. There’s also Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, a micro HDMI output, and even an FM radio for emergency situations. It comes in three storage options: 16, 32 and 64 GB, priced at ¥28,000, ¥33,000, and ¥43,000 respectively.

The Walkman also includes a dedicated ‘W’ button that allows you to control your music no matter what you’re looking at on screen. Anyone accustomed to carrying a music player in their pocket knows that this sort of tactile control is a must.

It’s notable, however, that there is no camera, which is regrettable on a device that looks otherwise primed to do video recording so well. But in the Walkman’s defense, the iPod touch didn’t get a camera until it’s fourth iteration, so perhaps we should give it some time.

And while it goes without saying, the Walkman Z Series is not a phone either, which means the Walkman is unlikely to be the only device you’ll be carrying with you when you go out. And given the large size of Sony’s new offering (134.4×70.9×11.1 mm), that’s certainly a disadvantage. Nevertheless, if you’re someone who prioritizes music and video above all else, then perhaps Sony’s new Walkman is for you. It’s set for release on Dec. 10.

Going back to cell phones, eMobile just started selling its very unusual Smart Bar handset. Like the Walkman Z Series, it also runs on Android 2.3. But the Smart Bar stands apart (for better or worse) with a very unusual candy-bar design that incorporates a numeric keypad as well as a 3-inch touchscreen.

And while this is not by any stretch a dream phone for otaku (obsessives), it does come with many of the modern conveniences of a smartphone (YouTube, Google Maps, Facebook, Gree, Mobage, etc). It may very well appeal to some older folks who don’t need all the bells and whistles of a supercharged Android handset. And given Japan’s aging population, perhaps this offering from eMobile makes sense in that respect.

The hardware is provided by Chinese manufacturer Huawei, and it sports an 800 MHz Qualcomm processor, as well as 512 MB of RAM. There’s also a 5 megapixel rear-facing camera and a microSD card slot. The Smart Bar features tethering support to share your 3G connection over Wi-Fi with up to five devices at a time — handy if you have, say, a Walkman Z Series in your other pocket.

The Smart Bar will be available in three colors — black, brown and white — and comes with a price tag of ¥29,800. It remains to be seen whether many consumers in Japan actually have an appetite for eMobile’s Smart Bar, or if they’re hungry for something “smarter.”

For more information, visit www.sony.jp/walkman/lineup/z_series and emobile.jp/sp/smartbar. Rick Martin is a contributor to Penn-Olson.com. Read more of his work at 1rick.com