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Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010

TECH_JAPAN

GADGETS

Sony shows off flexible e-paper prototype; Google's CR-48 is a glimpse of PCs in the cloud


At the Eco Products 2010 show last weekend, Sony proudly displayed a new 13.3-inch plastic substrate e-paper prototype.

News photo

While the company was not willing to disclose many details about the technology, it does use E Ink Corp.'s electronic paper technology. Unfortunately we have no idea when the company plans to bring this to consumers, though it is exciting to see Sony as one of the players trying to bring these thinner, flexible and ostensibly more durable displays to the masses.

Sony was also showing off next- generation e-reader mockups which could potentially be the form-factor that would house their flexible displays in the future. Among them were a tablet device, a foldable book-like reader, as well as an intriguing wristband display that wraps around the wearer's arm. As futuristic as these prototypes are, Sony has been showing them for some time now. They first made an appearance at CEATEC back in October 2009.

Sony could have really wowed the crowd last weekend by actually putting this new flexible display into some sort of device. But perhaps as these are all still "design mock-ups" then they're still likely a long way off from being realized.

The race to develop the best flexible display is an interesting one to watch, as Sony, LG, and HP are all working toward making such screens. TDK, with its transparent OLED film display unveiled just a few months back, is another fun player to keep an eye on.

With any luck the winner will (eventually) be consumers, as our frustrating days of cracked phone screens could very well be numbered.

Staying on the topic of technologies that aren't ready yet, the big newsmaker this past week has been Google's beta netbook the CR-48. Only a limited number were released to the public as a part of a pilot testing program for the Chrome OS operating system.

Many early testers claim the laptop looks and feels very much like a Macbook. It runs a N455 Intel Atom processor, and comes with 2 gigabytes of RAM and a 16-gigabyte solid-state drive. The CR-48 has a 12.1-inch display and has a built-in webcam and microphone. Currently only a select few U.S. residents have been given the netbook to test. But they get to enjoy 3G CDMA connectivity out of the box, with 100MB per month of data free on Verizon's network.

What's exciting about this laptop — or rather, about Chrome OS — is that once your enter your Gmail credentials, there's not much more to the setup. According to early reports from a variety of testers, the machine is "instant-on" with a very quick boot-up. If you're familiar with the Chrome browser, you should feel right at home in Chrome OS.

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ALEX HARDEN / CREATIVE COMMONS

Google scored a minor win in the press by removing the caps lock key, perhaps in the hopes of ridding the Internet of SO MUCH SHOUTING (sorry) — although you can reconfigure a key to work as a caps lock if you still want one. Where the caps lock key would normally be, the CR-48 has a "search" button instead.

One common complaint however is that Chrome OS does not give users any means of browsing local files, ostensibly because Google hopes that all your digital property will live in the cloud — their cloud. For users who live in Google Docs and other Google services this might not be an issue, but for those accustomed to the Windows Explorer or the Mac OSX Finder it may be a concern.

Just to be clear, the CR-48 is not going to be available as a commercial product, but rather it's a testing ground to gather user feedback before Chrome OS drops onto products from other manufacturers in 2011. Lets hope the big G can take what they've learned from this experiment and iron out major wrinkles in the months ahead.

Rick Martin is a contributor to Gizmag.com. Read more of his work at 1rick.com.


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