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Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2011

TECH_JAPAN

GADGETS

Ultrabook goes Zen; camera sees double


It will be interesting to see how far the 3-D bandwagon can chug along before it runs out of gas. Consumers don't seem too excited about 3-D TVs or 3-D personal computers anymore, but nevertheless, Panasonic hopes that its new Lumix DMC-3D1 camera will inject some enthusiasm back into the market.

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Being a 3-D-capable camera, the 3D1 naturally has two lenses and dual sensors — but cleverly the dual lenses also allow users to shoot in two modes at the same time. What this means is that users are able to shoot both still photos and video simultaneously, and shoot wide-angle and zoom in tandem. While it may be on the rare occasion that such functionality is actually needed, I'm sure many of us have been in situations where we had to whip out a phone to snap a photo while shooting video with a camera.

The 3D1 is a 12-megapixel camera that features 25 mm ultra-wide lenses, 4x optical zoom, and continuous shooting at up to 8 fps. The controls on the camera body aren't very complex, as functions can also be managed using its 3.5-inch touchscreen. It should be noted that the LCD display is not a 3-D display, but you can connect your camera using HDMI out to a 3-D TV, assuming that you have one. The 3-D video shooting function can also be easily toggled using a physical switch on the camera's body. Other functions include iA (Intelligent Auto) mode and Intelligent Handheld Nightshot, the latter allowing you to shoot and record in the dark without any need for a tripod.

Panasonic's 3D1 will hit stores in the United States in December with a price tag of $499.99, though a representative tells us there's no word on a Japan release date so far.

If you haven't heard the latest PC-industry buzzword, "ultrabook," you soon will. The term is a new classification for laptops, which was created by Intel to describe super-thin PCs weighing less than 1.4 kg that use SSD (solid-state drive) storage, have no optical drive, and have Core i5/i7 processors. And while tablets were all the rage over the past year, 2012 looks like it will be all about ultrabooks as hardware-makers try follow in the footsteps of Apple's Macbook Air.

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One of the early competitors in this newly created category is the Asus Zenbook UX21, which goes on sale this month in Japan. Just like the Macbook Air, the Zenbook is an immediate head-turner thanks to its stunning design. A shiny, brushed-metal aluminum finish gives it a distinctive appearance. In fact, I think Asus may have actually topped Apple's Air in the design department here (I say that as a fan of most things Apple), and that's not something you can say about many PC makers.

In line with Intel's ultrabook definition, the Zenbook UX21 features a Core i7 CPU, and 4 gigabytes of DDR3 memory. A glance from the side reveals a super-thin profile, 17 mm thick near the hinge tapering to a mere 2.8 mm at its thinnest point. The Zenbook will be easy to carry around as well, weighing in at a paltry 1.1 kg.

The Zenbook runs Microsoft Windows 7 and features a very snappy boot-up time. Customers can opt for either a 64 or 128 gigabyte SSD for storage, which is not a lot these days, but as a business PC (as opposed to a media PC) it looks like an attractive offering.

Among the other competitors in the ultrabook space are Acer's Aspire S3, the Toshiba Portege Z835, and Lenovo's Ideapad U300s. But come the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, it's expected that there will be as many as 50 ultrabook offerings.

However, compared to the previous PC trend, the "netbook," the lightweight ultrabooks come with a hefty price tag. The 128-gigabyte model of the Asus Zenbook hit stores in Japan on Nov. 3 priced at ¥99,800, and the 64-gigabyte model will start selling at the end of the month for ¥84,800. While those prices are comparably to Apple's Macbook Air, consumers should considering waiting out the holiday season to see what wonderful goodies CES brings in the new year. More patient buyers might want to hold out until Apple refreshes their laptop lineup, as there are rumblings that a superthin Macbook Pro is likely in the works. Stay tuned!

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


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