15 great gadgets you can’t get in the U.S.

May 29, 2008 (Computerworld) As Americans, we think it’s our birthright to always have the latest computers, phones and electronic gadgets, but the simple fact of life is that there’s a whole world of digital devices out there that are off limits to us.

It’s ironic in this age of globalization, but it’s true: Some of the world’s best digital devices stay at home. Regardless of whether the maker is too small for exporting or vendors don’t think it will sell overseas, the result is the same: You can’t buy it here.

To show you what the world has to offer, we’ve rounded up our choices for 15 of the coolest (or strangest) bleeding-edge digital devices you can’t buy in the U.S. From a germ-proof notebook and super-secret hard drive to do-it-all phones and a variety of environmentally sensitive products, they cover the gamut of today’s mobile electronics.

A lighter shade of gray

If you absolutely have to have one of these devices, forget about Best Buy or Circuit City. Your choices are limited: You can either get on a plane with your cash in your pocket or you can try shopping at one of the gray-market Web sites that specialize in ignoring niceties such as international borders.

Be careful, however, because if you go the gray market route, your device may not come with local warranty or service.

There’s a thriving trade in gray-market gadgets that were meant for one country but end up being sold in others. Despite what major manufacturers may say, it’s neither illegal nor dangerous to buy from them. Just be careful, because you may not be able to use a device or get it serviced at home.

The big thing to make sure of is that the device works where you live. For a phone, that means a compatible network. For a TV receiver, it needs to conform to your country’s national broadcast standards. Plus, you’ll need to get a power adapter that works with a 110-volt outlet.

And do you think that it’s hard now to get tech support? Try getting a device fixed when you bought it overseas. Although some vendors will include their own warranty and send the device back to its manufacturer if necessary, in most cases you’re on your own.

Although tapping into the world trade in gadgets can open up new vistas of technology, there’s always the danger of getting stuck with a lemon.

Meanwhile, even if we may not be able to tap into the technologies represented by the gadgets in the following pages, we can certainly take note of them — and hope that they’ll be available via American dollars sometime in the near future.


In our increasingly mobile society, notebooks are becoming more and more important. Because of that, you would think that customers in the U.S. have access to everything we could possibly need in notebooks today: big notebooks, small notebooks, thin notebooks, rugged notebooks, expensive notebooks, cheap notebooks and everything in between.

Well, apparently there are more things than are dreamed of in our philosophy or at least, in the U.S. The five interesting machines listed here include notebooks made of cedar wood, notebooks that will protect you from stray germs and others that are just plain classy.

Virus-free computing

Lots of notebooks come with software to protect against computer viruses, but only Samsung’s NP-P200 goes after physical pathogens that can spread disease. You can finally put down that spray can of Lysol — the P200 uses Samsung’s Silver Nano technology, developed for its kitchen appliances, to can kill viruses, molds and bacteria on contact.

It won’t get rid of the cookie crumbs in your keyboard, but the notebook’s Silver Nano coating slowly releases silver ions that wipe out a variety of pathogens by suppressing their respiration. This sterile approach to mobility is available only in Europe.

Handful of computer

Ultrasmall computers are all the rage these days, but MIU’s HDPC takes the idea a step further. With its 4-in. screen folded over, it’s a handheld media player or Web screen, but flip the display up and there’s a thumb keyboard for tapping out e-mails and writing short notes.

The HDPC can run Linux, Windows XP or Windows CE, and at 12 ounces it has everything a traveler could want, including GPS, Wi-Fi and up to 60GB of hard drive space. Pricing starts at a reasonable $700, but you’ll need to convert your dollars to Korean won.

Little green machine

While most of the world’s computer makers talk about being green, Fujitsu is putting its notebook where its ecological mouth is. Created for an Italian furniture show, the WoodShell’s case is made of heavily grained cedar wood that’s been thinned from forests rather than clearcut.

Underneath this digital work of art is Fujitsu’s FMV-BIBLO NX95Y/D notebook, which replaces petroleum-based plastics with polymers made from corn starch to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. To help you avoid scratching its hand-polished finish, WoodShell has a canvas cover with carrying handles. All it needs is a wooden mouse, but that’s another story.

Joy to the world

From a distance, it may look like dozens of other mainstream notebooks with a 14-in. screen, but as soon as you pick up the BenQ Joybook R45, you’ll notice a big difference. The display lid has a brown soft-pebbled finish that gives the notebook the feel of a leather portfolio.

Under this sophisticated skin is a 2-megapixel camera and BenQ’s UltraVivid display that makes colors pop off the screen. Easily the most elegant travel companion around, the Joybook R45 will be sold in China, Taiwan and Russia, but not in the U.S.

The little notebook that could

If the Asus Eee PC and Everex CloudBook have piqued your interest in extra-small, inexpensive notebooks, Airis’ Kira 740 will make you want to jump on a plane to France or Spain. The 3-lb. notebook has a 1-GHz Via C7 processor, 7-in. screen, a gigabyte of RAM and a 40GB hard drive. But unlike many other minimalist notebooks that use Linux to cut costs, the 740 has a full version of Windows XP installed. Priced at

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