Gadget news from Akihabara

eBatty-san spent a couple of afternoons in Akihabara doing research on what's new on the gadget front in Japan.

The first item we feature is the "Shakuraikun" robot, which was released on Friday, and we were the first to buy one in the store we visited. So it's probably a fair bet that eBatty has the only one of these robots in the US once we get him back home. He's not a super hi-tech robot: basically his role in life is to pour beer, which he does with a certain style, though also with a lack of subtlety. He says various incomprehensible things in Japanese, either at random or when you you talk to him. When you press the button on his chest he tilts the can to pour into the waiting glass, and he stops pouring when you tell him to. Should be fun at parties ... much better than a malfunctioning champagne fountain :) .

The next item we picked up was a "Che-ez Spyz" miniature camera, to add to eBatty's growing digital camera collection. As you can see from the picture, it's very compact. Not very fancy, but it will take VGA pictures (640x480 pixels), and will work as a directly connected PC camera for videoconferencing or as a webcam, when plugged into a PC via a USB connection. I recently acquired a Minolta Dimage X digital camera (back in the US), which I've been extremely pleased with - will post a more detailed review of this shortly. I acquired a 512MB Secure Digital Card to use with this - have only seen these up to 128MB in the US up to this point.

Possibly the most impressive bit of gadgetry we came across was the Panasonic SV-SD80 portable MP3 player. It's incredibly small - barely larger than the secure digital memory card - and has excellent battery life. It was sold out in many places. While I hadn't seen it in the US, I discovered that it is available over there, and I ended up ordering one on the web which should hopefully arrive about the time I get home - when we finally found one here, they weren't sure that the software would work with English language Windows. Full review to follow. Another very cool gadget from Panasonic was the SV-AV10, which is a combined video and still camera (using SD cards), and also an MP3 player. It looks really cool. Again I found out that you can get it in the US, and the ones here were Japanese language only. Haven't quite decided whether to get one yet - looks very cool but duplicates functionality I have in other gadgets already.

Another curious gadget I bought was a "Miracle Boy" telescope, a cunning little spy gadget. It's a compact 8x telescope, but the novelty is that by twisting a little ring, it lets you look in a direction which is at 90 degrees to the direction you're apparently looking in ... so you can watch people without them realizing. Very James Bond-esque ... not sure I'll ever use it, but it's vaguely entertaining.

Another somewhat silly item I got for $8 or so is a fan that plugs into the USB port on your computer - will be very useful should I need to operate a fan on a plane.

Also checked out some of the latest laptops, including Sony's miniature U1. It's impressive how small they've managed to make it, but I wasn't convinced I'd want to use it unless I desperately needed extra portability - the keyboard was a little small. I like the Sony Picturebook of the current crop of small laptops. The latest one that's available here has a slightly higher spec than the one available in the US, plus Bluetooth connectivity, but nothing radically better.

Another thing that was impressive was the in car navigation systems, which had some very cool 3D style displays.

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