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 PAST ISSUES
774: Too hot to trot
770-71: High touch Nokia
766: Bone up on Nihongo the smarter way
762: Catch-up game
758: Pocket powerhouse
754: Corn Celly
750: Solar sensation
746: Branding boiled down
742: Virtually real
738: Assisted roaming
734: Apple attack
730: Miike mouse
726: Touch me, I want your data
722: Aargh—pirates scuppered
718-19: Movies on your Ninty
714: Red PSP
710: Sun trap
706: Battery-powered chat
702: Brave new world
698: New dog, new tricks
694: Unwired, unnecessary
690: SK Telecom hooks a whopper
686: Pioneer’s friends are indeed electric
682: Sony snapper shakes things up
678: Gotta hand it to Fujitsu
674: Gentlemen, take your pics
670: Scale speedster
666: In living color
662: Peace of mind
658: Samsung’s swollen snapper
654: Much more than ringtones
650: Where in the world
646: Where there’s a Will(com)
641: Buckets of bits
638: Sony’s small stunner
634: Sony coming back off the ropes
630: High def, high stakes
626: Fully loaded
622: Heavyweight handset
619: Greener and cleaner
614-615: All on board
610: Talkie Walkie
606: Gadgets, gear and good things…
603: Viva la Revolution
599: Bigger just rocks, K?
595: Double data dose
591: Turtle-tastic Takara
587: Spies like them
583: Remotely entertaining
579: Tick tock, ya don’t stop
575: Two-in-one
571: Camera superba
567: Tourist-tastic
563: Square eyes
558: Small screen
554: Muscle power
550: Fat off the lamb
546: Long lens
542: The Weird and the Wonderful from Japan's Gadget Gurus
540: Picture perfect
J Mark Lytle rounds up some good-looking gear-appealing MD players, attractive iPod companions, and a svelte little cellphone.
538: High spirits
J Mark Lytle hits the high-tech sauce once again.
536: Six of the best
J Mark Lytle gets half a dozen lashes of the high-tech cane.
534: Soup’s on
J Mark Lytle tucks into another feast of innovative concepts.
532: Worth its wait?
J Mark Lytle checks in with the electronics big boys.
530: Rich itch
J Mark Lytle checks out some financially demanding gadgetry.
528: Telly addicts
Televisual entertainment is never far from the hearts of the Japanese and the ledgers of the electronics big boys, so we’ve had a twiddle with a couple of the newest gadgets in the field and pondered a groundbreaking new recording medium. Elsewhere, music soothes the savage breast.
526: Future perfect
J Mark Lytle comes to grips with a few of the more out-there gizmos around.
524: Digital delights
J Mark Lytle cooks up a storm of high-tech desirables.
522: Chips with everything
J Mark Lytle does the rounds of the nation's smartest companies once more.
520: Coming soon…
J Mark Lytle rounds up the new and the soon-to-be-great of the gadget world.
518: Ides of March
J Mark Lytle plucks some fragrant seasonal flowers for your high-tech enjoyment.
516: Coming up roses
J Mark Lytle returns with a few new takes on familiar technology.
514: What you need
J Mark Lytle uncovers a hatful of gadgety gems for the pre-spring fallow season.
512: A kind of hush
J Mark Lytle shakes himself from the post-holiday slumber to get wired all over again.
509/10: Wrapping up 2003
J Mark Lytle gets all nostalgic and picks the cream of this year's crop.
508: All kinds of everything
J Mark Lytle reports on five products that'll get your tech-hungry heart racing.
506: Apple picking
With the launch of its first retail shop outside the US, a resurgent Apple takes aim at a market that loves its gadgets. Steve Trautlein goes shopping.
504: Cleaning up
Our latest gadget grab-bag includes some odd ofuro entertainment, the world's most losable MD player, and several ways to fill that USB-shaped hole in your life. J Mark Lytle reports.
502: Show and tell
The recent CEATEC show for the electronics industry produced a treasure trove of Good Things, including Sony's PSX do-everything machine and a credit-card-sized digital video camera. J Mark Lytle reports.
500: Corn-y for you
J Mark Lytle separates the high-tech wheat from the low-grade chaff.
498: Bits and pieces
J Mark Lytle delivers the latest and greatest from Japan's high-tech wonderland.
497: Gadgets ‘r’ us
J Mark Lytle brings you more of the best from the nation’s biggest and cleverest electronics manufacturers.
494: Talkin' 'bout a revolution
J Mark Lytle checks out all that's new in the ever-evolving world of high-tech consumerism.
492: The right stuff
J Mark Lytle gets the latest word on the street from the gadget paradise that is Akihabara.
490: Good to go
J Mark Lytle tracks down more of the latest gadgets that make our stay-at-home pals green with envy.
488: Summer breeze
J Mark Lytle rounds up five of the hottest new pieces of high-tech kit to keep you looking cool this summer.
486: Space odyssey
Carlo Niederberger combs the city for spots to visualize the future.
484: Air time
As three big wireless LAN projects race to hook up Tokyo, cable-free Internet connections are as close as a local café, hotel or train station. Martin Webb reports.
480: Keep your cool
Cathy Frances scopes out some high-tech devices for the dog days of summer.
478: All blogged up
Weblogs offer users the chance to post their lives online. Steve Trautlein checks in with the Tokyo bloggers.
476: Future Wave
Today's technological fantasies are fast becoming reality. Cathy Frances peeks at the wonders that wait just around the corner.
474: Small wonders
Somewhere between not-so-totable laptops and impossibly tiny PDAs, ultraportables offer an appealing alternative. Hanna Kite scopes out five of the latest miniature PCs.
472: Paws for thought
Cyber-pets are coming out one after another. Cathy Frances tracks down the home-entertainment companions that may give you a run for your money.
468: Photo finish
Digital cameras are getting smaller and packed with even more features. Sachie Kanda zooms in on the latest models.
466: Keitai kool
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464: Mini mart
On the 10th anniversary of the MD, a new generation is hitting the shelves. Sachie Kanda listens in.
462: Internet to go
Cybird is leading the mobile Internet content revolution with help from Star Wars and SIM cards. Chris Betros reports.
460: Green Machines
Used PCs are piling up in landfills and ruining ecosystems around the globe, but innovative manufacturing techniques and NGOs are here to save the planet. Hanna Kite reports.
456: Strange days
Gadgets are becoming increasingly communicational, multifunctional, technically advanced and environmentally friendly, right? Or “goofy,” as Cathy Frances finds.
454: Match point
Teachers and students are coming together for online education—and old fashioned community-building
452: Mobile classroom
Want to brush up your kanji skills but just can't find the time to knuckle down with a decent textbook?
450: Future space
Tokyo is teeming with high-tech showrooms and technology museums
448: Virtual battlefield
Mike Lloret finds out how to meet new gaming friends online and then get in a fight
446: Fair game
Highlights from the Tokyo Game Show.
444: Clothes encounters
Technology comes out of the closet with the latest generation of wearable devices
442: Back lighting
Akihabara's hottest deals have moved from the big stores to the side streets-and even online. Justin Gardiner shops on roads less traveled.
440: Get the picture
A snapshot of the best camera-equipped keitai and the increasingly international cellular maarketplace
438: ABU Robocon 2002
Humans and machines alike head to Tokyo for the first annual Asian robot competition
436: Thin is in
Steve Trautlein looks into plasma TVs, whose flat screens are cropping up all around town
434: Nihon-GO!
Feeling shut out because you can't rap with the locals? David Chester plugs you in with online Japanese lessons
432: Byte size
A new wave of handy little digicams enters the picture
430: Lost in translation
Your ISP has just sent you an email in Japanese. Is it a service announcement? Kristen McQuillin shows you three ways to find out
428: Robots on the pitch
While the World Cup stars battle it out, their future competitors gear up
426: Class action
ESL teachers stuck for a lesson plan can turn to the web for some fantastic classroom ideas and ways to boost student interest
424: Book binge
Techpert Kristen McQuillin picks the best titles on today's shelves
422: An Apple a day
Mac gadgets galore were on display at Macworld 2002
420: Geek speak
Two years ago this month, safe passage through Y2K and dot-com hype had tech-types celebrating Geek Pride with festivals and events
418: Hot commodities
Kristen McQuillin collects gadgets for spring.
416: Smart appliances
Kick your feet up with the latest in high-tech kitchen gadgetry
413: Internet on air
Tune into international favorites with streaming audio
412: Spy story
Sneaking around with the latest in undercover gadgetry
410: PDA Personalities
The Ins and outs of digital assitants
408: Design intervention
The top tech books
406: 2002 Tech must haves
Japan's new gadgets and gizmos
404: Broadband Business
Internet World Japan 2001
398: High-tech hospital
The university of Tokyo Hospital
396: Big game hunting
Tokyo Game Show 2001
394: Wire tap
wireless networking
392: You've got mail
390: School's in session
From earning an MBA to making a webpage, online classes
388: Diaries go hi-tech
Up-to-date diarists have chucked the avocado leatherette versions
386: Why Upgrade?
Kristen McQuillin explains when to upgrade
384: Gadgets to go
Get the goods on the latest mobile devices
382: Hot software
The season's best new releases
380: Peripheral vision
How to purchase computer toys in Japan
378: In safe hands
How to avoid repetitive strain injury (RSI)
376: Kill spam
How to minimize your junk email
372: In for repair
Computer repair options in Tokyo
370: Game for a laugh
Semi-annual Tokyo Game Show
368: Knowledge is power
Empowering women in technology
366: Generation next
Cutting-edge keitai
364: MacWorld
Exploring MacWorld Tokyo 2001
362: Online translation
Simultaneous E-to-J and J-to-E translation... online
360: DIY Star Wars
Recreate your own sci-fi epic at home
358: Network gaming
Play games with friends on your keitai
357: Bad it online
Japan's burgeoning e-commerce market
355: Robotic revelations
Japanese robots leading the way
352/3: Get the point
beenz.com - a new kind of points system
350: Talk is cheap
Internet telephone technology
348: Tsukumo
RoboconMagazineKan
346: Digital Stadium
Innovative computer-generated art on NHK
344: Tokyo Game Show
The latest releases at this fall's show
342: WonderBorg
The mechanical insect
340: Fun and games
There's a new game console in town...
337: Dream on
Tokyo Dream Technology Fair 2000

Back lighting

Akihabara's hottest deals have moved from the big stores to the side streets-and even online. Justin Gardiner shops on roads less traveled.

All too many foreigners visit Tokyo's self-proclaimed "Electric Town" expecting to find bargains lining the brightly lit shelves, but they leave either disappointed or having spent too much cash. The fact is, your neighborhood Kojima, Yamada Denki or Bic Camera will often have better prices than the vast multistory electronics stores that line Akihabara's main drag. This doesn't mean that there aren't bargains to be had, but shoppers need to do some legwork, both figuratively and literally, to find the best deals. For in addition to the big boys, Akihabara's myriad of back street stores and on-street vendors hawk everything and anything electronic, from custom-built computers to single diodes, and negotiating the maze can be intimidating for the unprepared.

Indeed, preparation is the name of the game when bargain hunting in "Akiba," as Tokyo's real geeks and gurus call the town. That's not to say that browsing can't be fun, but it's time-consuming and shoppers can get confused as to what gadget they saw where at what price. If a window-shopping tour is the plan, the best bet is to ride the escalators of the big stores on Chuo Dori, such as Laox, Tsukumo and Sofmap, where English-speaking staff can familiarize shoppers with the latest gadgetry.

 

Virtual comparison shopping
Once you've found your ideal machine, though, resist the temptation to whip out your plastic and instead get online: Kakaku.com, Japan's pioneering comparison shopping site, will guide you to the day's best deals on your favorite electronic plaything. Owners of PDAs or laptops equipped with wireless LAN cards needn't go far to check the site in Akiba, as both the Linux Café [see map next page: LC] and the local McDonald's [map: McD] are wireless hotspots, allowing customers to access their broadband connections for free. Now all you need is the ability to read katakana (or a friend who can), as Kakaku is available only in Japanese.

Flat-screen monitors at flat-rate prices

The folks at Kakaku check all the retailers in Akiba to find which have the best prices for a given product each day. On a recent visit, Chuo Dori's big stores all had the new Sony Vaio QR laptop on sale for ¥189,800. Kakaku listed five other shops, though, that undercut that price by over ¥30,000-a substantial saving (see chart).

Kakaku provides the contact details for the shops they list and, more often than not, a link to the store's homepage complete with a map to aid your journey. But before you hit the streets, cash in hand, pop into the Tokyo PC User's Group's newsgroups at www.tokyopc.org and discuss your proposed purchase. The readers and writers there may have some valuable tips or experiences to share with you regarding your choice. Finally, prior to your return to Akiba, some time on a Stairmaster may be advisable, as the cheapest stores are rarely at ground level, and usually in elevator-less buildings.

 

Build it yourself
If the shops don't have a computer with the precise specifications you seek at a price you can afford, there's no need to compromise. One street back from Chuo Dori, stores such as Two Top [map: TT] and Over Top [map: OT] have all the individual components necessary to build your dream machine and will offer a discount if you buy everything in one store. Should the prospect of assembling a PC yourself seem daunting, PC Success, Y2PC and others let you choose your ideal components online, which they will then put together for you and even deliver to your door. New PCs with CD-RW and DVD drives can be had for under ¥40,000 this way.

 

Pre-loved
Even cheaper, the back-street shops and road sides are cluttered with secondhand machines; Pentium 2-era desktops can be yours for around ¥20,000, while similar spec laptops still command prices double or three times as much.

Three extremely cheap pre-owned shops [map: 1, 2, 3], selling both older PCs and software, can be found around the corner from Two Top, but buyers beware: what you see is what you get, and the proprietors run a "No claim, no return" policy. However, some of the main street stores run more-reputable back-street used-PC outlets, which do have limited guarantees. Sofmap's No. 5, No. 6 and No. 7 stores [map: 5, 6, 7] have particularly good selections of both laptops and desktops.

 

Specialty stores
The sky is hardly the limit in Akiba

Sofmap No. 11 [map: 11] sells nothing but used Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) and related peripherals, while the store opposite is a two-way and ham radio Mecca. Other shops have more mundane focuses, like light bulbs or power adapters and transformers, and one, curiously housed in a log house, sells nothing but computer monitors. Delve a little further into the alleyways, and climb some of the more discreet staircases, and you'll find miniature cameras, bugs and phone tapping devices that would make James Bond's "Q" green with envy, not to mention a plethora of anime characters who provide another reason to call Akiba Tokyo's "adult toy shop." You name it, Akihabara has it, and while you're looking for it you're sure to come across some unexpected sites.

 

Know before you go:
Akiba's best prices: www.kakaku.com

Read others' experiences: www.tokyopc.org/cgi-bin/webnews/newsgroup?G=tpc.shopping

Sofmap stores: http://tenpo.sofmap.com/tenpo/shop/akihabara_area.htm

Two Top: www.twotop.co.jp/entrance/default.asp

Over Top: www.messe.gr.jp/overtop/

PC Success: www.pc-success.co.jp/

Y2PC: www.y2pc.com/


PC Chain store price Kakaku.com's best price
  Kakaku.com's best price Chain store price
Sony Vaio QR3S/BP 155,700 189,800
Sharp PC-MT1-5HR 193,500 228,800
IBM ThinkPad R31 2656-1PJ 174,800 224,800

Photos by Justin Gardiner

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