Sharp faith: Belief in resurrection is not restricted to religion. Sharp has a real faith in the power of bringing gadget ideas back from the dead. Its new PC-Z1 looks like a reborn version of Sharp’s Zaurus brand of PDAs. The PC-Z1, marketed under the NetWalker brand, is a clamshell device with a 5-inch widescreen 1024 × 600 resolution LCD, shrunken QWERTY keyboard and optical mouse. Apart from the physical likeness to Zaurus, the PC-Z1 also emulates its predecessors by running on an ARM-based processor and Linux operating system.
The OS is Ubuntu, a Linux version fit for a desktop that can be found in other much larger netbooks. Sharp claims Ubuntu allows the PC-Z1 to power up in three seconds. This speed advantage gives it a usability advantage over other netbooks. The edge is sharpened by the unit’s ultra-portability, weighing just 410 grams and measuring 161 × 109 × 20 mm. Sharp also claims it has a 10-hour battery life, up to three times that of many netbooks. The NetWalker also comes with Wi-Fi, a 800 MHz Freescale processor and 512 megabytes of memory, and boasts 4 gigabytes of SSD storage, which can be supplemented via microSDHC cards.
Some might view the NetWalker as a new direction for netbooks. However, it is not so much a redefinition as a reinstatement of the PDA in a more modern guise. In reality, it is in competition with mobile phones as a take-everywhere means of Internet access. Also, at ¥44,800 it is only marginally cheaper than bigger netbooks.
Radical lite: Copying might be the highest form of flattery but it is not clear whether Panasonic admires Olympus. Panasonic’s new Lumix DMC-GF1 compact camera with interchangeable lenses might not have come from the same design table as the much talked-about Olympus E-P1, the two cameras diverge too much in looks, but they stem from the same thinking. Both have the same small rectangular bodies and lack of optical viewfinders of the average compact digital camera but sport the ability to use interchangeable lenses like DSLRs. Panasonic was the first to bring such a micro four-thirds camera to market, but its early models had the bulky bodies of a DSLR. Olympus brought the idea of interchangeable lenses in a small camera to fruition with its E-P1. In fairness to Panasonic, it may have always planned something like the GF1, but Olympus beat them to the punch months ago. Panasonic does benefit from coming second, though.
Unlike the E-P1, the GF1 has a built-in flash, and unlike its rival, it includes an external add-on electronic viewfinder as part of the package. The Panasonic also has a faster auto-focus system than the one its rival gets criticized for. Apart from the better innards, the GF1 opts for a modern look in contrast to the retro appearance of the E-P1.
The GF1 comes with a 13-megapixel sensor and can take still photos and shoot video at 720p in AVCHD codec. Because of this, it’s no substitute for a digital camcorder, but nonetheless a capable video tool. It also has a 3-inch LCD screen and sports the usual easy-to-use scene modes beloved of compact camera shooters. The camera weighs 48 grams with battery and Panasonic’s new 20 mm lens. The latter is something of a “pancake” design and is intended to accentuate the GF1’s svelte nature.
The GF1 looks like the camera that Panasonic should have had the courage to launch with the radical micro four-thirds system. While this camera is a quality bit of kit, it has a high price. It costs ¥69,800 just for the body and an extra ¥20,000 if you can’t resist the 20 mm prime lens or the more traditional 14-45 mm zoom lens. At that price, you’ll get either a top-drawer compact and still have some change, or a low-end DSLR. Of course, your neck might notice the difference.
Sound effects: Headphones offer one great asset — they effectively shut out the world and create a private environment. Increasingly, consumers are being offered the chance to take customized sound effects a step further with noise-canceling technology. Pioneer claims its new SE-NC70S headphones can cut down outside noise by 20 percent, or 15 dB at 300 Hz.
The device also has SRS headphone sound enhancement technology to boost the quality of the sound that you want to hear. It has 40-mm sound drivers, a frequency response of 20Hz-20kHz, a maximum output of 103 dB and impedance of up to 52 ohm. The headphones also have a 1.5-meter cord and use a 3.5-mm audio plug. The device runs on a pair of AAA batteries and weighs 200 grams.
The SE-NC70S will cost ¥8,800 when they go on sale late this month, a sizable premium on a decent pair of standard headphones. unless ambient noise poses a real annoyance, it is hard to justify the extra cost. But if you do want the extra, the SE-NC70S is a decent combination of price and product.