Mightier than the mouse: Historic, certainly; ideal means to facilitate communications between people and computers, less certain. Such is the likely verdict on the future role of the keyboard and mouse. Wacom has carved a market for itself by producing graphics tablets that provide the creative ability the traditional pairing lacks. The downside is the hefty price tags Wacom slaps on its innovative products. Local gadget-maker Green House is offering a bit of Wacom’s magic, at hopefully a considerably lower price, with its GH-PTB17-E. The new device is a 17-inch LCD screen paired with a wireless pen. Digital documents and photos can be viewed on the screen and then embellished with the pen. Green House offers the example of loading a map into the device, cropping it, scribbling a message on top and then e-mailing the result to a friend. Another typical use would be making handwritten notes on a Microsoft Word document. In effect it allows a user to indulge in the kind of creativity that touchscreens and other tablet devices serve up.

The GH-PTB17-E sports a resolution of 1,280×1,024 with the pen being capable of an impressive 512 different levels of pressure. It also has an 800:1 contrast ratio, 300cd/m2 of brightness and a 5 ms response time. A pair of 1W stereo speakers are built into the unit, along with a 3.5 mm jack for audio and USB. The tablet measures 395×375×55 mm and has the downside of weighing 6 kg, considerably more than even a hefty laptop. It works with both PCs and Macs.

Whether there is a market for the Green House tablet depends on two questions: The first is whether the idea of a simplified tablet product, essentially working like a large touchscreen, is appealing; the second is what price tag Green House puts on their device and when exactly it plans to bring it to market. A comparable Wacom concoction costs ¥40,000 or more. Green House would need to undercut its rival by a fair margin, but even a price tag of ¥20,000 or more would make it attractive. www.green-house.co.jp

Picture phone: Sharp is another local firm using touchscreen technology to build an interesting product. The JD-7C1CL/CW is a cordless phone, one of those land-line creations that seem to be living on borrowed time in this era of mobile-phone mania. Sharp is giving the concept an extra lease on life by combining the phone with a 7-inch touchscreen LCD. The screen is built into the base station with a regular-shaped handset standing alone in the popular cordless phone style. The screen acts as a phone book with pictures and does extra duty as a photo frame. It has a resolution of 800×480 and photos can be loaded via a memory card or direct from a mobile phone via infrared technology. Considering how slow infrared is, transfer via memory card looks like the better option.

The battery life is expected to be 200 hours of standby or six hours of talking time. When the screen is not displaying photos it can be employed to show a clock or calendar. The phone can also display incoming faxes onscreen. The base station includes 128 megabytes of internal memory, which is not going to hold many photos. The phone and screen combo will come in a choice of black or white when it hits the shelves Sept. 25.

Sharp deserves credit for designing an imaginative way of putting more life into a seemingly moribund type of product.

Also, at ¥29,800 the phone doesn’t cost much more than a regular 7-inch digital photo frame. Anybody in the market for a land-line phone could do a lot worse. www.sharp.co.jp

Back to basics: JVC is not following the crowd with its newest iPod dock, the UX-LP6. The norm for these hi-fi products is to craft an odd shape with a prominent slot for iPods slapped in the middle. JVC though has opted for the standard mini-hi-fi style of a rectangular centerpiece with all of the necessary controls flanked by a pair of similar-size speakers.

In keeping with its other stereos, the newest JVC product is stylish in a simple fashion with a basic white look, a few dashes of bright blue lighting and a symmetrical layout of buttons. The unit works with the full range of iPods, from the mini to the touch, including the photo and video models. It has a CD player and AM/FM radio to go with the pair of 30-watt speakers. It also plays music files, being compatible with CD-DA/MP3 and WMA files, stored on USB drives via a USB port. Moreover, load a video-capable iPod into the UX-LP6 and then hook it up to a TV and it can play iPod videos on the bigger screen.

The JVC is a bit of a throwback but the look was a classic for a reason. If nothing else, JVC knows how to make audio products that sound good. With a price tag of ¥29,800 when it is due to be released before the end of the month, it is an economical choice. www.jvc.co.jp


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