Sharp has announced its next-generation Zaurus this week - a machine that goes the farthest yet towards bridging the gap between a PDA and personal entertainment computer.
Like several other PDAs on the market, the new Zaurus MI-E1 includes an MP3 player, but Sharp has gone one step further by also including an MPEG-4 video player in the device.
A companion digital video recorder allows users to store up to 2 hours of MPEG-4 video onto a 64MB memory card. Once recording is done, the card can be removed and inserted into the Zaurus for viewing. The technology is still in its early days - at 10 frames per second the picture will appear jerky and the maximum resolution supported is only a quarter than of conventional television - but this new application provides a tantalizing glimpse into what future PDAs may offer users.
The new Zaurus is also the first in Sharp's line to include a keyboard. Hidden under a sliding panel beneath the machine's 3.5 inch LCD (liquid crystal display), the Qwerty keyboard is around 7cms wide, which means it needs a little practice and small fingers in order to be truly useful.
The keyboard was included to make it easier to type email messages, Sharp said. Another new addition to the PDA for email use is a timer that allows email messages to be received automatically when the main power is switched off. An audible tone and an indicator light lets users know when new messages have been received.
The device also includes dual memory card slots - a Secure Digital (SD) card slot for video and music data files and a Compact Flash (CF) card slot for adapters such as those needed to connect to a mobile phone. It features a 3.5 inch reflective LCD with 240-x-320 pixel resolution and support for 65,536 colours.
Sharp says the built in battery provides enough power for 10 hours of normal use or 1 hour, 40 minutes of video playing when the display frontlight is switched off. This falls to around 4 hours of normal use and 85 minutes of video playing when the frontlight is switched on. The frontlight is needed to illuminate the LCD when light conditions are not sufficient to allow the screen to be seen.
The Zaurus MI-E1 will go on sale in Japan from Dec 15 at around 50,000 yen (around £320), while the companion digital video recorder will hit the street at around the same time and carry a retail price of 35,000 yen (around 230). Sharp said it is currently studying plans for sale of the PDA outside of Japan.