Crank up the music: Giving electronic devices mobility is the easy part. Empowering them to function for any length of time before you have to recharge them is quite another challenge. Local gadget whiz Thanko is helping out with its functionally titled Cranking MP3 Player, a new digital- music player that you can recharge with a hand-crank. One minute of physical exertion earns you 10 minutes of playing time. The otherwise routine player can also be recharged using conventional means: AC adapter or via USB. The player supports MP3 and WMA files and includes 1 gigabyte of internal memory. It also has a flashlight. The unit is available for ¥5,980, with details at www.thanko.jp/crankingmp3/

Electrons and ink: The art of applying ink to paper is not dead yet, and some of the more creative tech types are still trying to bring pens into the digital age. Computer-peripherals maker Taxan, a subsidiary of Tokyo-based Kaga Electronics Co., has come up with the KG-DP1, a digital pen that allows you to transfer your handwriting directly into a digital document. While reminiscent of the innovative Bluetooth Anoto Pen released in 2000, the Taxan instrument uses infrared and needs no special paper or tablet. The writer’s pen strokes are sent to a small communications hub that is connected by USB to a PC running Windows 2000, XP or Vista. The pen, which looks like a fancy, rubber-gripped ball-point, can do extra duty as a stylus mouse or drawing tool. It comes out April 15 priced at ¥14,800. www.taxan.co.jp/info/index.htm

A handful of knowledge: The Quicktionary 2 Kanji Reader may look like an oversize digital thermometer, but this straightforward tool developed by U.S.-based WizCom Technologies Ltd. and Japan21 Inc. promises to help you breeze through translations. Run the tip of this hand-held scanner/ electronic dictionary over a word or line of text and it gives you a translation — Japanese-to-English or vice versa — on its small LCD screen. It can handle romaji, hiragana, katakana and more than 3,000 kanji, but it works best on machine-printed words, so handwriting may throw it off. It will read out English words as well, offering an on-call pronunciation aid. Two models will be released April 10: the Quicktionary Genius 2 costs ¥31,290 and offers 95,000 translation entries; the Quicktionary EE Pro 2 costs ¥36,750 and handles 200,000 entries. More information at wizcomtech .jp21.jp/product/qt2j.html

Rolling around: Sony is adding color and bling to its eccentric Rolly SEP-10BT robot music player. The gadget looks rather like a football, and apart from playing tunes it also gyrates to the music. Previously available in white, Sony is adding a black version. It is also offering accessories, including pairs of colored “arms,” in a choice of red, blue or silver, to attach to the ends of the Rolly. It will also sell a cradle and carrying case. The robot itself will sell for ¥39,800, with the arms expected to sell for ¥1,500 each, the case for about ¥2,000 and the cradle around ¥4,000. All of the items hit the stores April 19, with more details at www.sony.jp/products/Consumer/rolly

Musical spin: Perhaps even more distinctive in the music-playing stakes is the i-spin robot from Sega Toys. Like Rolly, it is round (this time like an egg), but the Sega gadget stands upright on little legs, with a pair of long floppy ears and a stubby tail, and dances according to the music that it plays. But this is not a stand-alone device; rather it is a hyperactive “smart speaker” that connects to a music player via a cable. Measuring 95×80×160 mm, the i-spin runs on three AAA batteries. Out now, it comes in blue or pink and costs ¥5,250. Spin over to www.segatoys.co.jp

Staying cool: Going from the entertainment side of electronics to the practical side are a trio of notebook cooling stands just released from Elecom. The smallest, the white-colored SX-CL04WH, packs two USB-powered fans and expands in width from 18 cm to a maximum 28 cm. Weighing 470 grams, the unit will sell for ¥3,150. The bigger SX-CL05SV (635 grams, ¥5,670) deploys three fans and expands from 17 cm to 25 cm wide. The third unit, the aluminum SX-CL06SV (860 grams, ¥8,820) is less versatile, with a fixed width of 26 cm, but it features sturdier construction for its two fans. It offers a beefed-up construction, accounting for its heft. Get the chilling details at www.elecom.co.jp/news/200804/sx-cl04wh

Mobile zoom factor: Burnishing the functionality of routine technology is, of all things, a telephoto lens kit from GreenHouse. Priced at ¥8,800, the optical enhancer is intended for attaching to cameras in mobile phones and offers an 8x zoom factor. Unfortunately, the lens is not going to improve the chronically limited image abilities of most keitai (cell phone) cameras. It does come with a tripod, a must for reducing blur, and a universal mobile-phone holder. Available in black or silver, the add-on lens can be bought direct from GreenHouse at www.green-house.co.jp/products/mobile/ml8/index.html


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