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Smart money: Japan’s old-fashioned notions about money are evaporating one innovation at a time. Although people are getting used to carrying around cash that they can’t see, managing those funds often involves a trip to a convenience store or a bank. Sony Corp. will relieve some of that hassle next month when it releases the PaSoRi RC-S330 smart-card reader/writer.

The updated Sony device works with FeliCa-system electronic money devices, which Sony developed. Now available in some cell phones but most commonly used in card form, FeliCa is a contactless RFID system that encompasses among others in Japan the Suica and Pasmo public-transport cards and Edy and Nanaco e-money cards. In order to have money (or shopping points) added or subtracted, the card or mobile phone must be brought close to an appropriate reader/writer, such as at a ticket gate.

The PaSoRi acts as one of these reader/writers, connecting via USB to a PC. A FeliCa user simply places their card atop the PaSoRi and can then securely carry out online transactions, such as Internet shopping or recharging their train pass or e-money cards. Information such as maps can also be transferred to a FeliCa-capable mobile phone via the PaSoRi. As well, it can be used with PlayStation 3 game consoles to pay for online gaming.

The PaSoRi is barely larger than a credit card and weighs just 35 grams. It works with the Windows XP and Vista operating systems, including the Media Center Edition, and needs Internet Explorer version 6 or 7. Mac users are left out in this move toward a cashless society.

The PaSoRi RC-S330 hits the market Jan. 21. Officially it will be open-priced, but it is expected to retail for around ¥3,000. www.sony.co.jp/SonyInfo/News/

Cruise control: Eneloop is making its mark as an environment-friendly brand for Sanyo. So far, Eneloop has been known mostly for rechargeable batteries that power small electrical devices, and their chargers. But Sanyo is pushing the brand into a bigger world with its new Eneloop Bike, a power-assisted bicycle.

The Eneloop bike looks like a standard, run-about-town cycle with a basket in front and a storage rack in back. A box attached to the frame under the seat houses the battery and 250-watt motor, which powers the front wheel (human power on the rear wheel). The bike’s 25.2-volt, 5.7-Ah battery is partially self-charging and provides a cruising range of up to 100 km on a full AC-power charge (3.5 hours).

For electrical assistance, the bike’s power-up mode takes the sweat out of cycling with a 1:2 assist ratio, meaning the bike provides 70 percent of the effort needed to keep the wheels turning. Assistance is boosted for speeds between 0 and 15 kph, and reduced between speeds of 15 kph and 24 kph. The bike comes in 24-inch, 26-inch and 27-inch models and has color choices of white, black, dark blue and dark green. Prices for the bike will range from ¥91,140 to ¥136,290 when it hits the streets in February. www.e-life-sanyo.com/eneloopbike/

Fast starter: Laptop shrinkage is moving in two contrary directions. One side of the coin is the Asus Eee PC and its army of copycats. These netbooks are diminutive portable computers that economize on cost as much they do size and performance. Flip the coin and you get the likes of Apple’s MacBook Air, which in addition to being slender is powerful and correspondingly expensive.

Lenovo, known in a previous ownership life as IBM, has just added its IdeaPad S10e to the netbook market. The “Idea” part of the title is apt for this model, as Lenovo makes it stand out in the crowded market with a clever bit of design.

While the S10e runs on Windows XP Home Edition, it also sports a handy quick-start button. Pressing this button starts the machine in a few seconds, but only with an abbreviated list of key features. This separate Linux-based system allows such functions as Internet browsing, playing music, viewing photos and making Skype Internet phone calls on the move without having to wait through the full Windows startup.

Beyond the quick-start ability, the IdeaPad is a decently equipped Intel Atom netbook. It has a 10.1-inch screen, 160-gigabyte hard disk and 1 GB of RAM along with wireless, ethernet and optional Bluetooth to round out the package. It also utilizes a six-cell rechargeable battery, which suggests a better-than-usual battery life. White is the only color option so far, but the fashion conscious will soon also have blue and pink to pick from.

Netbooks are designed to put the “mobile” back into mobile computing, taking maximum advantage of an online software framework to economize on weight and power. No sensible person should try to replace their desktop machine or notebook with one of these. But with the unit base-priced at ¥54,800, one could hardly be blamed for trying. www.lenovo.com

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