Separate Keitai: Meet Japan's sexiest new handset (videos)

For years, Japan was the innovation leader in the cell phone industry, until South Korea and the US started catching up rapidly. If you look back at what Nippon’s mighty carriers have released in the past few months, you mainly see super-powerful handsets with large OLED screens, 12MP cameras, Blu-ray recorder connectivity, double digital TV tuners, etc.

But the form factor never really changes, as the majority of Japanese consumers still demands clamshell phones with jog dials enabling them to conveniently thumb-text emails. But if a country churns out 100 different handsets per year, there have to be some exceptions. And the most notable exception (that now has been priced and dated) is Fujitsu’s F-04B featuring the world’s first separable two-module body.

In other words, the so-called Separate Keitai (Keitai means handset in Japanese) breaks into 2 parts that can be used separately (a keyboard section and a display slate). One part is a 3.4-inch touchscreen with a 12.2MP camera (there’s also an inner camera), acceleration sensor, Blu-ray recorder connectivity, e-wallet function etc. The other part is a full numeric/QWERTY keyboard with a geomagnetic and an acceleration sensor.

The parts are joined by a magnet and connected via Bluetooth. Fujitsu says the main idea is to enable users to send or receive mails while talking on the phone. During video calls, users can keep the keyboard section to their ear while holding the display slate at a distance. When horizontally attached, the touchscreen will switch to character entry mode or display a “virtual” game pad so that users can write emails or play games (the keyboard can be used as a game controller, too).

In areas with weak signals, for example in a house, users can put the display section near to a window and go inside to talk via the keyboard part (up to 10m away). Fujitsu claims the Separate Keitai offers superior battery life, too, as users can expect 2,000 hours of standby and 500 minutes of continuous talk, basically tripling the battery life of conventional Japanese cell phones.

I first saw the Separate Keitai back in October 2008 when it made its debut as a prototype at the CEATEC exhibition near Tokyo, and thought it’s a great concept. Fujitsu already plans to offer Bluetooth accessories for the device, for example a mini projector that could be remote-controlled with the keyboard section.

As part of NTT Docomo’s winter lineup, the phone will hit Japanese stores in either March or April for $660.

Here are some videos showing the Separate Keitai in action: