Sneak peek: Japan's top tech for road warriors

comment The need is for mobility being fulfilled by the incredible shrinking electronics that consistently take root first in Japan.

commentary TOKYO--The dateline notwithstanding, I'm not a real road warrior. But I am part of a corporate class compelled to work whenever and wherever I can.

More and more, that need is being fulfilled by the incredible shrinking electronics that consistently take root first in Japan. The nation that popularized the transistor radio continues to lead the way in designing, manufacturing, and using tiny personal electronics. Cell phones, PDAs, and laptops--all seem to do more and more over there, even as they become less and less.

I came to Tokyo as part of a media and analysts' tour hosted by Sony Corp. In between briefings there, I had a chance to visit with Kotaro Yamagishi, the editor in chief of our sister site, CNET Japan. I spent the better part of an afternoon with him plying the city's Akihabara district, renowned for its throngs of electronics stores.

The nation that popularized the transistor radio continues to lead the way in designing, manufacturing, and using tiny personal electronics.
Thanks to Sony, Yamagishi-san, and the Akihabara sojourn, I was able to get my eyes, and sometimes my hands, on a host of cutting-edge devices that could soon be making their way to Europe and the Americas for sale. What follows is a quick list of the most intriguing products I encountered.

Sharp Zaurus C700
I recently told you about the Sharp Zaurus SL-5600 I've been toting. It's a Linux-based PDA with a rabid following among hardcore geeks. Some of these same geeks I know are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Zaurus C700 series from Japan. Think of the C700 as a palm-sized tablet PC. This new Zaurus line uses a new ultrasharp (no pun intended) display based on a new continuous grain silicon technology that we'll be seeing more and more in phones as well. Because it uses Linux, the whole Zaurus line, and this one especially, holds great promise for integrating with a host of corporate applications.

Panasonic W2
One of a growing number of "tweeners"--ultralight, yet full-featured notebooks with extended battery life. A Centrino machine, the W2 weighs only 2.84 pounds and comes in a sleek shiny shell. It breaks new ground by putting the DVD/CD-RW drive underneath the touchpad. You flip up a lid to get to it.

Sony Vaio TR1A
Another tweener--a three-pound Centrino machine. It comes with a high-contrast Xbrite display that's easy to see in broad daylight, and has a camera built into the bezel atop the display, allowing you to teleconference from your laptop. The TR1 will actually be introduced in the U.S. in the next few weeks; you can read our reviewers first take on it here.

Sony U101
The third in a line of what's being described as a "constant-carry" notebook. Weighing 1.9 pounds, it can be taken everywhere--to meetings, on your commute, home. Sony has reportedly kept its U-line at bay in the U.S. because Americans just didn't seem to take to the tiny keyboard. But I think it has potential in this market. I couldn't find a U101 in Akihabara. Reason: They were all sold out. What's that tell you?

Panasonic P2102V
Camera-equipped cell phones are all the craze around the world. Leave it the Japanese to take it one step further. This cell phone comes with not one, but two cameras. One, located at the end of a hinge, you use to shoot digital stills. The other, located above the display, lets you conduct a business meeting via videoconference--from the palm of your hand.

Camera-equipped cell phones are all the craze around the world. Leave it the Japanese to take it one step further.
Sony Ericsson SO505i
The problem with most camera-equipped cell phones is that, well, they're camera-equipped cell phones: They don't look or feel anything like a camera. But when the SO505i is folded up, it looks, feels, and handles like a real camera--one that takes 1.3 megapixel pix. If you really need to use a camera for work, this may be an excellent all-in-one device for you.

While these devices (save the Vaio TR1 series) aren't available yet in the U.S., there is a way to get them. One of the best sites for seeing--and buying--these products is Dynamism.com. Dynamism CEO Douglas Krone spends three months a year in Japan. I talked to him about the market before I made my visit and he provided me with some invaluable tips on what to look for.

I'll be watching to see if these products make it over here. Some most certainly will, and when they do, we'll be reviewing them, I'm sure. I'll keep you posted on these and other products as they make their way from Japanese stores to U.S. shores.

Patrick Houston is Editorial Director of ZDNet's AnchorDesk