February's coolest gadgets

A new feature is making its way into a number of recently launched cell phones in Japan and South Korea: motion sensing. The capabilities of the handsets vary a little but the basic idea is that moving the phone through the air translates into actions and inputs on the screen.

The latest handset to offer such a function is the V603SH, produced by Sharp Corp. for Japan's Vodafone KK. Three similar handsets have already been announced in South Korea: Pantech Co. Ltd.'s PH-S6500, LG Electronics Inc.'s SV360 and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.'s SCH-S310.

Looking at the four phones, gaming appears to be the main beneficiary of the motion technology. There are a couple of games for the Vodafone handset that rely on the system.

The first, 'House of The Dead Mobile,' is a zombie shoot-em-up game from Sega Corp. The screen shows the game scenario from the character's point of view, and as the player turns around with the phone, so does the character in the game. In 'Full Swing Golf,' from Taito Corp., the player holds the phone as if it were the golf club and swings it to hit the ball on the screen. A warning before each shot reminds the user to avoid hitting people when swinging the phone.

Similarly, the Pantech handset comes with a fishing game that requires the user to swing the handset like a fishing rod, and a racing game in which the handset becomes the steering wheel. LG's phone, which actually looks as much like a portable gaming device, includes a skiing game that uses the motion technology.

Not only games use the movement technology. Users can dial with the Samsung phone by drawing the numbers in the air with the handset, for example, or end a call by shaking the phone twice. Other functions include a sharp move to the right or left to tell the built-in MP3 player to skip forward or back a track. Vodafone's handset can be programmed to perform similar functions when it is moved in different ways.

The Pantech phone is already on sale in South Korea for 451,000 won (US$440). Vodafone will begin selling the V603SH from mid-February, while the LG and Samsung phones are due on the local market in March or April. Prices for those have not yet been announced.

None of the handsets are based on the widely used GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) standard and they won't be available outside their home countries immediately. However, Samsung will consider adding the function to international models if it is well received in South Korea. Aichi Steel Corp., which is making the motion sensor for the Sharp phone, has already begun offering it to other companies for use in their products, increasing the chance that it will make its way overseas.

Sanyo HDR-B5GM hard-disk drive voice recorder

Add voice recorders to the list of portable gadgets that include hard-disk drives. Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd.'s HDR-B5GM includes a 5G-byte, 1-inch drive that provides a maximum recording time of 693 hours in the lowest quality MP3 recording mode. There are four quality modes and recording time drops to 57 hours with the highest of them. The device doubles as a music player and plays Windows Media Audio (WMA) and MP3 files. In addition to the hard-disk drive, there is an SD (Secure Digital) card slot and the recorder can copy files from the card to the hard disk, freeing up the card for re-use. It will go on sale in Japan in early March for around

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