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Charging ahead: The promise of fuel-cell technology has conjured visions of cars powered by hydrogen. This promise also offers the ability to “recharge” batteries in your gadgets without a power point. Toshiba is bringing this part of the dream to life with its new Dynario, a methanol fuel-cell recharger for gadgets. The palm-size generator is loaded with methanol via a specialist cartridge. Once fueled, the Dynario immediately starts generating electricity, which is fed into a lithium-ion battery for storage. The device is connected to a gadget, such as a mobile phone or digital media player, via a USB cable and recharges the gadget. Each shot of methanol empowers the Dynario to recharge the equivalent of two average mobile phones.

Innovation did not extend to the design of this device, which looks like a throwback to the age of transistor radios. The unit measures 150 × 74.5 ×21 mm and weighs 280 grams. The Dynario is small enough to be portable but it’s not going to squeeze into the pocket of your jeans.

It has a fuel tank capacity of 14 ml, which means that combined with the fuel cartridges, each storing 50 ml of ethanol, users will get 3 1/2 refuels out of each cartridge. While the cartridges weigh just 92 grams each they are not much smaller than the Dynario itself. Toshiba has put the generator on sale at ¥29,800, with the cartridges costing ¥3,150 for a pack of five.

Methanol-powered fuel cells for gadgets, unlike their mercurial hydrogen cousins, are not out to help the environment. The motivation is to give mobile phones and other devices greater portability, without worrying about where the plug socket is. The Dynario does this but the price means it is a last resort rather than a mainstay. Toshiba itself seems wary of the size of the market for this technology, as it is only releasing 3,000 of the Dynario. They must be ordered from its online shop at Shop1048.jp with delivery having started Oct. 29. http://www.toshiba.co.jp/about/press/2009_10/pr_j2201.htm

Child safe: Mobile phones can be dangerous, just try navigating stairs with people standing immobile in your path because they are incapable of walking and talking simultaneously. Kyocera may not have had human obstacles in mind when it crafted the Mamorino, but it certainly was thinking of other telecommunications hazards. Consequently, its mobile phone for kids can only place outgoing calls to a choice of three preprogrammed contacts with the electronic censorship intended to keep the child users from finding trouble. Getting found is the idea behind another feature, a built-in GPS tracker that parents can use to check the phone’s location. It also has a location alert for the child user to inform their parents of where they are. Capping off the safety features is an emergency alert that projects a loud alarm. Considering the phone’s target market of children under 10 the last feature could be put to unintended uses.

Beyond the unusual features, the phone is tailored for its market by being simplified. It doesn’t have a full number key pad, just a 2-inch LCD screen and three one-touch keys, each one is linked to one of the contacts. It also has a call-end key, a button to activate the location alert and a second to turn on emergency lights on the sides of the phone. Pulling a string on the top of the phone activates the alarm, including sending a call for help to security staff. Emphasizing its child friendliness the phone comes in a color choice of bright orange or blue.

KDDI announced the phone this month as part of its latest AU lineup, with the Mamorino to hit the market in January. Although the price has not been disclosed it’s to be hoped it won’t be high. Regardless of the price tag, the concept is nifty, although it is fortunate the target market is so young. Today’s text-happy kids are unlikely to be clamoring for a product so deliberately hamstrung. www.kyocera.co.jp/news/2009/

Audio flair: JVC is one of the few companies to craft an iPod dock that emulates the design kudos of Apple’s iconic product. The XS-SR3 resembles a set of bull’s horns with the business ends cut off. The iPod sits in a cradle in the middle, above a circular base with the unit’s controls flanked by 4-cm, oval-shaped speakers at the end of the “horns.”

Unlike some rival docks the JVC product caters to the full range of iPods, including the older versions of Mini, Photo, Video and Classic, as well as the Nano and Touch. The speakers at 2.5 watts each, are not overpowering but sufficient to do the job and the unit includes Virtual Dolby Surround sound ability. It also has both analog and digital external inputs and a remote control to aid couch potatoes. The XS-SR3 measures 390 × 103 mm in height, has a depth of 136 mm and weighs 550 grams. It will come in a choice of black or white when JVC puts it on the market late this month with the price tag expected to be ¥17,000.

JVC deserves kudos for creating a product that does its job and serves as something of a work of art, while not pricing it out of the market. It is a pity that it doesn’t cater to the iPhone.

Consumers who are looking for a more heavy-duty audio product will also need to look elsewhere to satisfy their needs, but then again the XS-SR3 is meant to be compact. www.jvc-victor.co.jp/audio_w/home/xs-sr3/

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