Electronic Design

For Consumer Electronics, The Holidays Start In July

As an editor with a major electronics magazine, I’m invited to industry events all the time. Come July, though, I start receiving invitations from public relations folks for events that are really outside the magazine’s coverage—events that show the hottest consumer electronics items for the coming holiday season. I can’t resist the temptation. Could you?

Samsung Electronics recently held its Holiday in July at a venue in New York City that I had never been to before, 723 Washington Studio in the West Village. As much as I tried to pass it up due to its odd location and consumer focus, I was lured by the fact that Samsung Semiconductor, a company we regularly cover, would be there. As it turns out, the venue is a multi-level 11,000-square-foot townhouse, and Samsung filled most of the rooms with great electronics.

I got a chance to speak with Steve Weinger, marketing manager for NAND flash for Samsung Semiconductor. He showed me two 128-Gbyte solid-state drives based on multi-level cell (MLC) flash. One drive had a 1.8-in. form factor that looked like a PCMCIA PC card, and the other had a 2.5-in.form factor that looked very much like a standard hard drive. The new drives have data write speeds of 70 Mbytes/s and read speeds of 100 Mbytes/s.

These drives aren’t new, as they were introduced at the International Consumer Electronics Show in January. But until the 256-Gbyte versions show up, they’re still at the forefront of solid-state disk technology. Steve went to great pains to tell me about their speed, reliability, and longevity.

They’re still an expensive proposition, about four times the cost of rotating media. Yet Steve thinks Samsung can make an economic case for the drives over the long term, especially to companies who care about the downtime caused by failures in rotating media. If successful, we may see these drives make it into the mainstream one day.

Continuing with NAND flash innovation, Steve showed me some neat flash-based products that are just coming to market. One was particularly intriguing, a smart writing pen called the Pulse from a company called Livescribe.

The Pulse comes with a built-in computer that records everything you hear during a presentation, seminar, or class and automatically links it to the notes you have written. The notes and accompanying recordings can be easily transferred to a desktop or notebook for a quick search on words within notes.

The pen comes in two versions. A $149 model contains 1 Gbyte of Samsung NAND flash memory, which can store more than 100 hours of audio recordings. A $199 premium device comes with 2 Gbytes of NAND and can store more than 200 hours of audio. The Pulse also includes a rechargeable lithium battery and a tiny organic LED (OLED) display screen. Steve said the pen records videos too, but he didn’t show any to me.

Powered by a Samsung ARM 9 processor, the Pulse connects to a PC through a USB port via a charging cradle that comes with the pen. The Pulse Smartpen is currently available through the company’s Web site at www.livescribe.com, and it will be available exclusively nationwide at Target stores. Steve also showed me special notepaper you can buy for the Pulse that will play the corresponding recording when you touch the pen to the notes you took. It’s quite amazing.

To punctuate the fact that NAND is showing up everywhere and is relatively inexpensive nowadays, Samsung gave me an unusual press kit as I left the event. Typically, the electronic versions of press kits come on USB drives, but this one came on a Samsung S2 digital audio player (see the figure).

This 1-Gbyte MP3 player looks like a stone and connects to the computer via a jack that has a USB plug on one side and an audio jack on the other—no wire in between. When plugged into a USB port, the device works just like a USB drive, so I was able to download the press release and photo.

Naturally, the S2 can play music, too. On the back of the device are five buttons to control the music. I don’t know if this player will give the Apple iPod Shuffle a run for its money, but it sure is a conversation piece. Let’s hope no one picks it up at a picnic and tries to skim it across a lake.

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