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Ahead to basics: Pentel is not ready to write the eulogy for the humble pen. Rather than killing off the ages-old device, it is intent on bringing it into the digital age. Its latest effort is the airpenMini digital pen.

It looks like a regular writing implement and is used in much the same way. When the airpenMini is used to write on a regular piece of paper, rather than only leaving ink on paper, pen strokes are transmitted wirelessly to a small receiver. When this receiver is connected to a computer, proprietary software transforms the written words into electronic form, looking like they were written directly on the screen. The receiver has 2 megabytes of memory, which can store the equivalent of 100 A5-size pages of writing. The pen can also record hand-drawn diagrams and turn them into JPEG or BMP files.

Pentel has included a special pressure-sensitive tip for the pen, so that the force required to use it is similar to that for a regular pen. The receiver is recharged via USB when it is hooked up to a computer, with the pen itself powered by two SR41 button cells. It measures 10.5×145 mm and weighs around 20 grams. The pen is compatible with Windows 2000/XP/Vista operating systems. This leaves Mac users out in the cold, a too-frequent and surprising omission. The device went on sale Nov. 28 and costs ¥14,800.

This kind of device is effectively a bridge between traditions. Rather than typing out an e-mail, you can give it the personal touch of handwriting, but with the convenience of doing it on a computer. www.airpen.jp

New-wave devices: Kenwood products have a tendency to stand out in a crowd, and in the world of iPod docks, that crowd is becoming more like a peak-hour commuter train every week. In truth, most of the growing ranks of iPod docks do an unusually good job of maximizing on style, but Kenwood still manages to raise the game a further notch.

Kenwood’s CR-iP500 is more than a dock. And it’s design is a stunner, shaped like a horizontal oval with a black face that features two dashes of bright red color on each end and a minimalist amount of information displayed in the middle. The control buttons are positioned discretely along the top of the oval with a CD slot and the iPod dock. The dock works with fourth-generation iPods, the iPod mini, nano, classic and touch. The oval includes a USB 2.0 socket, to play back WMA and MP3 audio files from USB memory sticks. Another nifty feature is that the FM radio has 30 station presets. Also, the small remote control does nothing to detract from the style.

For audio specification, it delivers 23W of power with a pair of 80-mm full-range drivers. The bit rate for recording audio files can be set at 256/192/128/96 kbps. Weighing 2.9 kg and measuring 371×175×187 mm, the unit can be moved around the home easily enough. The CR-iP500 is due out early this month and should cost around ¥27,000.

Including an iPod dock in stereo systems initially made manufacturers seem as though they were riding Apple’s coattails, but it makes sense. The key virtue of the iPod units is that they make listening to music super-convenient, popularizing the idea of carrying your whole collection in your pocket and making it easy to access whatever song you want. Why shouldn’t that ease of use extend to your stereo?

For now, the Kenwood is a great- looking example of a still-budding audio accessory, and considering the quality of the brand, the price is surprisingly small. www.kenwood.co.jp

Talking on sunshine: Links International’s new iCharge eco DX is the right mobile accessory for those with a green conscience.

As its name hints, the solar-powered charger works, via adapters, with many of the various iPods, from the shuffle to the touch and of course the iPhone. It includes a range of other adapters that make it compatible with many mobile phones, the PlayStation Portable, and the Nintendo DS and DS Lite.

The iCharge delivers a current of DC 5.0 to 5.5 volts at 600 mA and comes with a 1,350 mAh lithium-polymer battery. The device takes 15 hours to recharge via its solar panel and, when either patience or sunshine are lacking, its AC adapter will bring it back up to speed in 3.5 hours, or five hours via a powered USB connection. Measuring 107.5×51.5×15.3 mm and weighing 80 grams, it is smaller than an iPhone or iPod touch. Giving the utilitarian device an iPod nanolike fashion touch, it comes in a choice of black, green, white, red, pink and blue colors. It is on sale now for ¥9,800.

It is something of an indictment on mobile devices that a market exists for rechargers. This suggests very clearly that these wonder gadgets still don’t pack enough power to make you feel confident enough to leave the AC adapter at home for more than a day or two. But if you do need extra juice, the iCharge gives you a reasonably compact and environment- friendly option, albeit one with a need for 15 hours of sunlight.

Any potential buyer would want to peruse the Links International Web site first to check whether it is compatible with their device. Then they should start looking for some place to keep its plethora of adapters. www.links.co.jp

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