Your new chum: Gadgets are by definition small mechanical or electronic devices with a practical function that typically are thought of as novelties. Widgets, on the other hand, have until recently been merely hypothetical gadgets, handy for illustrating hypothetical examples.
What then would you name a gadget with the sole purpose of operating widgets? If you answered “Chumby,” then chances are you work for a San Diego company with the same name.
The Chumby looks like the kind of stylish electronic travel clock that they sell in airline magazines. But this is no ordinary alarm clock. The Chumby is in fact a small Internet terminal that operates the modern definition of a widget — those handy little programs that pop up calendars, stock market information, weather updates, news headlines, etc.
Chumby owners can choose from more than 1,000 widgets and download them from the Internet to play music (from portable media devices connected to it via USB), look at news and photos and receive weather forecasts. It can also play video in the Flash Video (flv) format employed by YouTube.
The heart of the Chumby is its 3.5-inch, 320×240-pixel-resolution touch screen. The user navigates around this way instead of by a keyboard and mouse. Wrapped in a soft leather case, the Chumby can rest in your hand like a mini beanbag. Since it’s an always-on device, the Chumby must be plugged into an AC outlet.
The Chumby connects to the Internet via wireless LAN and must have such a connection available. It includes 64 megabytes of flash memory and a pair of 2-watt stereo speakers. It also has three USB 2.0 ports and a 3.5-mm stereo headphone plug. Rounding out its abilities is a three-axis acceleration sensor and a second sensor that tells the gadget when it is being held. The combined use of the sensors makes it possible to play video games with the Chumby, although it would undoubtedly be one of the strangest game controllers in existence.
The use of Linux as an operating system for the Chumby is a bonus for the tech savvy, who can concoct their own personalized widgets. While the Chumby is a modest technological performer, its combination of amusing originality and cuteness has caused it to create quite a stir overseas that is just now reaching Japan.
In the spirit of the finest gadgets, it doesn’t do anything you can’t either live without or find on another device. But there is nothing quite like it and it has addictive appeal.
The problem for Chumby’s maker will be to get consumers to buy it in the first place, since devices that can access the Internet are routine and its screen is barely larger than that of a cell phone.
But if you crave a gadget more for its fun factor than functionality, then the playful Chumby, modestly priced at ¥29,400, is more than a handful. www.chumby.com
Cinematic twist: Restoring conventional entertainment service is Cima Laboratory with its CPDP-730 portable DVD player. The player’s 7-inch screen offers 480×234-pixel resolution and can swivel around 180 degrees on its base.
It has a pair of 1.5-watt speakers and supports DVD+R/RW discs. Apart from playing DVDs, it can also display JPEG photos from any other device that can be connected to it via USB and it can similarly play MP3 files.
A built-in rechargeable battery can power the CPDP-730 for up to about three hours of playback, or it can be run via an AC adapter. Recharging takes about four hours. The unit weighs a fairly lightweight 980 grams and it measures 204×169×40 mm. The design is utilitarian black and white, which won’t garner any design awards.
The timing of the CPDP-730 is a bit behind, with the market pushing video entertainment for iPods and cell phones, but the price is in the right range: Available now, the player costs ¥16,800. www.cima.co.jp
Point and share: To get an idea of the explosiveness of the YouTube revolution, consider this: The once-denigrated video-sharing Web site has been online for only three years and within that short time, video-camera makers have already started marketing so-called YouTube- friendly functions.
Two just-released camcorders from JVC, the GZ-MG840 and GZ-MG880 in the Everio lineup, boast their key selling point as allowing users to upload their video to YouTube easily and quickly, without having to muck about with reformatting the footage. Up to 10 videos can be uploaded simultaneously to the video-sharing site.
Each model sports a 1.07-megapixel CCD, a 2.7-inch LCD screen, a 32x optical zoom and image stabilization. The 840 has a 60-gigabyte hard disk, enough for up to 14 hours and 20 minutes of video at the camcorder’s ultrafine setting (720×480 pixels). The 880 ups the capacity to 120 GB (recording time of more than 29 hours.) And each can also record to microSD or microSDHC cards. Weighing a paltry 350 grams including battery, each model fits nicely in your hand.
Other camcorders provide better image quality and more features than the JVC pair, but often at much higher prices. The GZ-MG840 will retail for about ¥70,000, with the GZ-MG880 carrying a price of ¥75,000. JVC chose to release the 840 in a choice of three colors — red, blue or silver — whereas the 880 comes only in black.
The more serious YouTube moviemakers may lament the lack of a viewfinder as the flip-out LCD view-screens are not ideal in bright sunshine.
The Everio camcorders are smart devices and have the specs to do a decent job. Whether the YouTube friendliness is enough to sway your purchase depends on just how addicted you are to the wave of Internet exhibitionism. www.jvc-victor.co.jp