We spent hours combing the floor of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to sleuth out the most compelling tech trends and the most exciting new products of the coming year.
Now that we’ve returned from Vegas, pounded enough Emergen-C cocktails to get us back into a semblance of health, and compared notes, we’ve settled on this list of the show’s top products.
Read on to see the most promising hardware that will be hitting store shelves in the coming months.
10. Samsung Galaxy Note
Less a technological breakthrough than a form-factor experiment, the Galaxy Note is notable primarily because, well, it actually works.
Up to now, phone and tablet manufacturers have been careful to separate their lines: Phones have 4-inch screens or smaller, while tablets have 7-inch screens or larger. The embarrassing failure of Dell’s 5-inch Streak confirmed the wisdom of that approach.
But in truth, there’s little difference between a tablet and a smartphone, other than size, and for those of us who habitually use 3×5 cards or similar-sized pocket notebooks, a 5-inch diagonal screen is actually just about perfect for holding in one hand while jotting notes with the other. By adding a stylus and some note-taking and handwriting recognition software to the Android OS, that’s exactly the use that Samsung has in mind for the Galaxy Note.
And yes, it’s too big for a pants pocket. It might be more attractive to female customers, who can stash it in a purse, or to more stylishly dressed men, who could put it in a jacket pocket. We spent some time with the Note on the CES show floor and came away favorably impressed.
One downside: It’s running a sadly outdated version of Android (2.3, aka Gingerbread).
It will be coming to AT&T Wireless later this year, and should be a strong contender of AT&T and Samsung give it a decent price and find the right audience for their marketing message, which is basically that writing and drawing are still fun. –Dylan Tweney
9. Gear4 Sleep Clock
If you sometimes wake up feeling drained, the Gear4 Sleep Clock may help you. The clock uses an iPhone app, a dock and Doppler radar to sense your sleep pattern and wake you up at the lightest point in your sleep cycle.
The radar senses your movements and determines exactly when you fall asleep. It also senses if you wake up during the night and detects your breathing so that it can figure out if you are in a deep sleep or not. When you wake up the next day, you can see the results on your iPhone app. It will tell you exactly how many hours and minutes you slept. And it will say how long it took to fall asleep and how many times you woke up. After you use it for a while, it will come up with averages and recommendations so you can get better sleep. You don’t have to wear anything on your wrist, as you do with rival solutions from Basis Science or Jawbone. The Gear4 device will go on sale soon for $199. –Dean Takahashi
8. HP Envy 14 Spectre Ultrabook
The distinctive feature of this Ultrabook is its cover. It is made out of black Gorilla Glass, a damage-resistant glass from Corning that is normally used for screens. It certainly makes this laptop design stand out amid a sea of Ultrabooks at CES. The machine carries the Envy brand established by Voodoo PC, which HP acquired. It has a high-definition HP Radiance display (1600 x 900) with 300 Nits of brightness. It has nine hours of battery life and a row of connection slots. It also has an HD webcam and HP’s Beats Audio technology. The Spectre also has an analogy roller control for changing the sound volume and it has a mute button on the side for when you have to stop the music fast. It comes with 128 gigabytes of flash memory and Intel’s Rapid Start technology. The height is 20 millimeters and it weighs 3.79 pounds. It will cost $1,399 and will start selling on Feb. 8. –Dean Takahashi
7. OLPC XO 3.0 tablet
This tablet has been in the works for a long time and its true cost remains to be seen. But One Laptop per Child has done a good job of researching what children in developing countries need and then tailoring it for them. It’s not just an iPad with a different label slapped on it. It has a dust and waterproof cover. It has its own Linux operating system (and it can also run Android) and its Sugar user interface has been adapted for touchscreen use. You can charge it with a wall outlet, a solar panel, or a hand crank. And the screws for the cover line up as power pins when you are getting power from the solar panel. And it has an eight-inch display that works inside or outside in bright sunlight. That’s a lot of innovation in a small tablet whose target cost is around the $100 mark. Overall, the OLPC XO 3.0 has an appealing design that promises to reach a wider market than previous OLPC XO laptops. –Dean Takahashi
6. Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook
Dell showed up late to the Ultrabook party, but it has a cool design that has been in the works for more than two years. The laptop has a 13.3-inch screen, but its footprint is small because the glass goes straight to the edge of the laptop. It’s also light at 2.99 pounds and is only 6 millimeters thick at its thinnest and 18 millimeters at its thickest. It is lighter in part because Dell used a carbon fiber base for the machine. The palm rest is also made of carbon fiber, so it doesn’t feel like cold metal. The “warm steel” color could be more vibrant, but you don’t have to spend all of your time shining it get rid of the palm grease, thanks again to the carbon fiber. It uses Intel processors and integrated Intel graphics. The display has Gorilla Glass for durability. The battery life is about nine hours and it has a full range of ports and 128 to 256 gigabytes of flash memory. The machine costs under $1,000 and will ship in February. –Dean Takahashi
5. Samsung Ultimate TV and LG 55-inch OLED TV
There’s no doubt that OLED (organic light-emitting diode) displays are the next big step for HDTVs beyond LCD and plasma displays, the only question is when they’ll finally be available. This year we saw some of the first large-screen OLED HDTVs from LG and Samsung, and they’re so eye-bleedingly gorgeous that they may make you drop-kick your current set to justify an upgrade (first-world problems, we know).
Both LG and Samsung had 55-inch OLED models at the show, though pricing and actual release dates were nowhere to be found. The sets are expected to be released some time this year, and expect them to cost a mighty premium compared to similarly sized LCD HDTVs.
But for those that can afford it, they’re in for a treat. Since the OLED displays don’t require a backlight, they’re impossibly thin (LG’s display is only 4 millimeters deep with a 1mm bezel). They’re also capable of a richer color palette, dark-as-night blacks, and brightness beyond the capabilities of LCD sets. OLED also features fast response times (it doesn’t have the fast motion issues that LCD does), as well as extremely wide viewing angles.
OLEDs also offer a nice green benefit: they draw much less power than any other type of HDTV. That alone could save you hundreds every year in electricity bills. –Devindra Hardawar
4. Fujifilm X-Pro1
Every year, CES sees a slew of mostly forgettable camera announcements. This year, Fujifilm blew us away with a camera whose capabilities and styling are both amazing.
Capitalizing on the hipsterish and cameraphile preference for retro-styled cameras, the X-Pro1 looks a bit Leica-like, and that’s one of its big attractions. Everyone likes to hold a camera that looks, well, serious and artsy.
The camera also give photographers easy access to more creative controls: Like the Canon S100 and the Olympus Digital PEN, it’s a point-and-shoot with dials to provide quick access to settings, like shutter speed and exposure control, that can help elevate your photos out of the category of mere snapshots.
Also extremely promising is the set of interchangeable lenses that come with this camera, including a 35mm lens with a really fast, F1.4 aperture (almost unheard-of in low-cost lenses for digital cameras), a 60mm F2.4 and an 18mm F2.
We haven’t got our hands on this camera yet, so check out DPReview’s first look for an in-depth overview. It will ship in February, and will probably cost way too much, but we want one. –Dylan Tweney
3. Makerbot Replicator
No, we don’t know exactly what we’re going to use a 3-D printer for, but who cares? The fact that Makerbot is delivering fully-assembled, working 3-D printers (you used to have to assemble your own Makerbot, from a kit) for just $1,700 is an amazing step forward for small-scale manufacturing.
The simplicity of the device is inspiring: It’s just simple wooden box with a couple of spools of plastic line on the back, feeding into a jig that melts the plastic and layers it onto the surface of the object you’re making, one tiny slice at a time. But the complexity of the objects it can produce is almost unlimited, and (as with any 3-D printer) you can create things that are physically impossible to build in any other way.
Makerbot Industries, the company behind the device, is also an impressive creation. Just a couple of years ago it was little more than a project cooking away in one of New York’s creative but grotty hackerspaces. Now it’s a full-blown company with $11 million in funding and over 75 employees — but the founder, Bre Pettis, is still as down to earth as ever. We like the odds on this maker-centric company. –Dylan Tweney
2. Droid Razr Maxx
As our smartphones get smarter and more capable of doing just about anything, our batteries can barely last a day on a charge. But at CES, the Droid Razr Maxx from Motorola debuted with a massive 3300 mAh battery that claims 21 hours of continuous talk time and will help keep the phone alive when using Verizon’s battery sucking 4G LTE data. The phone ends up being a bit heavier that its sibling Droid Razr, but the added heft might easily be worth it for those who never make it a day without having to plug in their phone. (It’s the phone we most needed at CES, as we scrambled from power outlet to power outlet.)
Besides its downright amazing battery life, the Droid Razr Maxx also sports some great specs that heavily mirror the Droid Razr. It features a 1.2-GHz dual-core processor, a 4.3-inch Super AMOLED screen with 540-by-960 resolution, an 8-megapixel camera with flash, a front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera for video chat and 1080p HD video recording.
The only downside to the phone is that it is running Android 2.3.5 Gingerbread, which looks much less sophisticated next the Samsung Galaxy Nexus running Android Ice Cream Sandwich. But because Motorola is now literally in bed with Google, we fully expect the phone get the Ice Cream Sandwich update in 2012. –Sean Ludwig
And finally, our top pick for the #1 product of CES…
1. Lumia 900
There were plenty of phones at CES this year, but few were as important as Nokia’s Lumia 900, the company’s first Windows Phone. And most importantly, it’s the first must-have device on Microsoft’s upstart mobile platform.
We previously thought that task would fall to the Lumia 800, which was announced last fall, but Nokia wisely has offered up an even more competitive model with the Lumia 900.
We could go on about the Lumia’s specs, but honestly what matters the most is its boldly innovative design, which is based on the fetching polycarbonate design of the Nokia N9. It certainly doesn’t look like the dime-a-dozen Android phones on the market (which previous Windows Phones resembled heavily), and its rounded screen and contoured shape almost seems like a direct assault on Apple’s iPhone 4 design.
But of course, the Lumia 900 was also helped by the fact that it stood almost alone at CES, which this year was surprisingly devoid of many other drool-worthy smartphones and tablets. –Devindra Hardawar