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GADGETS

Japanese companies aspire to take a bite out of the e-reader apple

by Rick Martin

With so many competitors in the tablet and e-reader market these days, it’s getting harder and harder for manufacturers to differentiate themselves from similar offerings. Apple’s iPad held 68 percent of the worldwide market share in the second quarter according to Massachusetts-based research firm IDC, while Samsung and Amazon claimed second and third with 10 percent and 5 percent respectively. While it can be hard for newcomers to get a foothold, there are a few new offerings from Japanese companies that aspire to take a bite out of the e-reader apple, so to speak.

Casio Paper Writer

For people who still prefer to jot down ideas with a pen and paper, Casio’s new lineup of Paper Writer tablets incorporate more of a hybrid approach to note-taking that may prove popular. Powered by Google’s Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and a 1.5 GHz processor, Paper Writer tablets feature a paper notepad in the devices folding case so that users can use a pen and paper to write down notes. Subsequently, those notes can be captured using the tablets camera and then organized via software on the device, which is a very clever idea.

With a shock resistant design, the 10.1-inch tablets feature 16 gigabytes of onboard storage, although you can add more via microSD and SD card slots. NFC support and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity are built in. The Paper Writer line comes in four models with similar specs: the V-N500-WJ and V-N500-J support a business card reader function, which lets the user read key information from standard business cards, while the V-T500-WJ and V-T500-J primarily use the camera for still images. The WJ models have support for Docomo’s high-speed Xi Crossy LTE network.

Consumers still have a while to wait before these hit shelves, however, as they are scheduled for a September release in Japan, and no specific prices have been disclosed. But for office folk who are reluctant to go paperless in this new digital age, this might be a good way to make that transition.

Kouziro Frontier FT103

As unique as the Casio Paper Writer is, Kouziro Frontier has an even more intriguing offering in its 21.5-inch FT103 Smart Display. I call it a display, but it is a fully functioning Android tablet, and perhaps the largest Android tablet you’ve ever seen. It runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, has access to Google Play, and is designed with a stand on the back like many photo frames are.

The specs for this behemoth are not super impressive, with a 1 GHz Texas Instruments OMAP 4428 dual core processor, and 8 gigabytes of onboard storage (although it can be expanded via a microSD card slot). And this is certainly not a tablet that you’re going to be taking on the road with you, because weighing in at 5 kilograms, the FT103 will be — if nothing else — a slave to inertia.

For consumers in the market for a new tablet, this might not be the way to go. But if you’re looking for a new display, this full-HD multi-touch screen suddenly becomes an interesting alternative. There’s a 1.2 megapixel camera and microphone that makes it handy for Web chats, and using the two USB ports on its right side, you can plug in a mouse and keyboard using USB-host mode. The size of this “tablet” will definitely appeal to anyone who frequently enjoys or subscribes to Internet television. And you can also use it as a monitor for your existing PC, accepting output via a HDMI connection — although touch input cannot be used at the same time.

Kouziro Frontier’s FT103 is now on sale in Japan for ¥34,800.

Sony Reader PRS-T2

Of course, a screen that big is not going to be the best solution if you’re in the market for a portable e-reader. And here in Japan, the upcoming e-reader showdown between Amazon’s Kindle (not yet released, but said to be “coming soon”) and Rakuten’s recently launched Kobo has been much talked about. But Japanese stalwart Sony would certainly like to be a part of the consumer e-reader/tablet conversation as well.

Sony has been in the e-reader game for some time already now, having sold its Portable Reader Systems since 2006. Now the company is aiming to reach more bookworms in foreign markets with its new Reader PRS-T2. The 6-inch device features touchscreen controls and glare-free e-ink for easier reading than on LCD tablets. It also delivers access to e-books from local public libraries via a dedicated “Public Library” icon.

The Reader includes two built-in English dictionaries and four translation dictionaries, which can be used by tapping and holding on any given word. The device also has options for various fonts sizes as well as smoother zooming and page turning in comparison with Sony’s past e-readers. With 2 gigabytes of storage, there should be plenty of room for your e-book library, although if you need a little bit more, the device is expandable via a microSD card slot.

Interestingly, one of the touted improvements of the PRS-T2 over the previous PRS-T1 is its ability to share passages of what you’re reading with your friends on Facebook. Personally I’ve never really been a fan of such social-reading functions in the past, as they often seem to be more in the vendor’s interest than in the reader’s. But if you enjoy sharing such excerpts, Sony’s reader lets you do so along with the cover, author, and title. It’s available via Sony’s online store (store.sony.com) for $129, but it’s not yet available in the Japanese store.

Rick Martin is an editor at TechInAsia.com. Read more of his work at 1rick.com.