Here are our picks of the best products and services from the Consumer Electronics Show, the biggest show of its kind, which ended Sunday after a five-day run in Las Vegas. We cruised the show floor, press conferences, and parties and these were the most exciting offerings we found. Enjoy.
1. Que proReader, from Plastic Logic. This product — an electronic book reader with a plastic display — epitomizes what you can accomplish when you design a total solution. Plastic Logic did some fundamental work, starting a decade ago, on how to build a transistor on plastic. It raised $200 million and built its own factory to make lightweight displays that are less than a third of an inch thick. But the company also thought about targeting the business professional and exactly what that person would need, beyond the ability to read books.
The 8.5 inch x 11 inch product can display books, magazines, newspapers, Adobe PDFs, and Office documents. The display uses E-Ink to show books in black-and-white, but it also preserves the look and feel of magazines and newspapers. USA Today, for instance, shows up on demand every morning with its recognizable typeface. You can access your calendar, email or favorite documents from the well-organized Home page on the Que. The battery life can last for days. You can subscribe to numerous periodicals or buy books in the Barnes & Noble online store, where there are more than a million books to choose from. The Que is pricey at $649 for a 4-gigabyte model and $799 for a 8 gigabyte model with 3G connectivity. But we hope the price comes down in time. For now, no one else can match what the Que does. Watch out, Amazon.
2. AR.Drone quadricopter from Parrot. We move from the useful to the merely entertaining. This helicopter-like robot drone is like something out of a sci-fi film. You can control it remotely using your iPhone, making it move up, down, or sideways by tilting the iPhone. There are four rotors that keep the drone in the air. It has two cameras on board (one in the front, one on bottom) that can use a Wi-Fi network to beam you video of what the drone sees. The machine has built-in stabilizers that keep it hovering in the air, and it even compensates for wind.
It’s mesmerizing to watch it float in the air. The drone comes with two augmented reality games that make use of the fact that it can detect other drones and track markers on the ground. You can fight a gigantic robot that appears on the screen of your iPhone and circle around it to avoid its shots. You can also duel with other drones using your virtual cannons and missiles. It will be available this year. Price is to be announced.
3. Clickfree for BlackBerry from Storage Appliance. I never cease to be amazed at how useful small things can be. Under the Clickfree name, Storage Appliance announced it could back up 16 gigabytes worth of data to a tiny microSD card that can fit in your BlackBerry. You can use it to back up your entire laptop or desktop computer. Backing up is easy. You can put the 16-gigabyte card in the phone and then connect it via a universal serial bus (USB) port to the computer. By using this, you can back up your data while you’re on the road. You can also back up data to a 16-gigabyte or 32-gigabyte SD memory card.
Backup, as an industry, has grown 400 percent in the last few years, but the vast majority of consumers still don’t back up their data. With devices like this, now there is no excuse for failing to keep a copy of your important PowerPoint presentation or your precious family photos. Look for the product in April.
4. Intel Wireless Display from Intel, Toshiba and Netgear. Putting the images from your computer screen on the TV should be dead simple. Too often, its a complicated process. With Intel Wireless Display, or Widi, the process is a lot more intuitive. You can use it to make whatever is on your laptop screen appear on the TV. You can use it to play YouTube videos, watch TV shows on Hulu.com, or use Skype video conferencing. There is no need to get an Internet connection to your TV. Right now, you can only get it on a limited number of models, such as the Toshiba Satellite E205 laptop available at Best Buy stores. You’ll need a Netgear Push2TV wireless adapter that plugs into the high definition multimedia interface (HDMI) port of the TV. This $99 box, available later this year, can receive a signal from an Intel-based $999 laptop (with a new Core microprocessor) with a new chip set that has a special flavor of 802.11n wireless networking. So far, the Blue Label 2.0 laptops such as the Toshiba computer will have the capability to send data via the Intel Wireless Display.
5. Skype video calls for flat-panel TVs. Both Panasonic and LG will be putting Skype’s video conferencing service into their newest web-connected TVs. The TVs come with webcams on top and you can operate Skype via a remote control. If a call comes in, you get an indicator on screen and can answer it if you want. The picture quality will be dependent on whether or not you can get a good broadband connection to your TV. But for many people, this could be a great way to connect. Skype recommends a 1 megabit-per-second broadband connection — less than the speeds of most DSL phone and cable modem connections. The video resolution can be up to 720p, or enough for high-definition quality. But I didn’t see any calls that came in that well in the ones that I watched. Hopefully, in homes with decent broadband connections, the call quality will be good.
6. Casio Digital Art Frame. The Japanese camera maker showed off a 10.1-inch digital picture frame that can take your family photos and turn them into works of art. In its quest to turn cameras and picture frames into creative digital imaging devices, Casio will let you transform photos into eight different artistic images. The conversion is automatic, but the results can be very cool. You can upload them to a social network via built-in wireless networking. You can alter faces and expressions. The art styles include: Water Color Painting, Color Pencil Sketch, Pastel Painting, Pointillism, Air Brush, Oil Painting, Gothic Oil Painting, and Fauvist Oil Painting. The frame uses Adobe’s Flash Lite playback technology, which lets users display preset Flash content, such as clocks and calendars. The screens have two gigabytes of memory, an SD memory card slot, stereo speakers and a power-saving display that turns on when you approach. It will be available in the spring.
7. Lenovo Skylight smartbook. The smartbook is the latest gadget creation, a hybrid of a smartphone and a netbook (which is smaller than a laptop and is meant for cruising the web). Lenovo’s Skylight has a sleek industrial design that houses a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. It doesn’t have Wintel, but the machine may be enough to do the job for a lot of people. It has Wi-Fi networking, 3G connectivity, a full-size keyboard and touchpad, a 10.6-inch screen and a full web browser. It also runs for 10 hours on a battery charge, with active usage. It’s actually thinner than many smartphones and weighs less than two pounds. It has 20 gigabytes of flash memory instead of a hard drive, two gigabytes of cloud storage, and it has 18 preloaded widgets such as Roxio Cinema Now. It costs $499 and will be available in April. The whole idea is to use the machine on the run, without plugging it into a wall. If you sign up for phone service, you can get a discount.
8. Intelligent Loudness Control, from Motorola and Dolby. This will be a feature of Motorola’s upcoming DCX set-top box family. It will use the commercial noise reduction technology developed by Dolby Laboratories. Hopefully, it will put an end to the accursed loud sound volume of TV commercials. Advertisers have been cranking up the volume of their commercials in a desperate attempt to get viewers’ attention. The effect is jarring for viewers and ruins the attempts of parents trying to keep the noise down so they don’t want to wake the kids. Motorola will use Dolby Volume technology in its cable set-top boxes for the North American and Latin American markets. You can expect to see this one spread if it really works.
9. Liquid Image Wide Angle Video Mask. This mask almost makes me want to take up scuba diving. It has a video camera built into the face plate of a diving mask. It has an internal 16-gigabyte memory, or you can put a micro-SD memory card into a waterproof compartment of the mask. Then you can snap pictures or shoot video by pressing a lever on a side of the mask. It sells for $200 and will be available in June. It has a five-megapixel camera with a 135 degree wide angle lens and can record video with a resolution of 720p at up to 30 frames per second with audio. There are versions for skiers, climbers, and others. A 16GB card can record up to 5.33 hours of video or thousands of still images. It operates on two AAA batteries.
10. Sony Dash personal Internet viewer. This little gadget assumes that we all have our smartphones and computers and doesn’t try to do anything other than give you a stand-up screen to view Internet content. But it may still have a reason to exist because it enables casual use of the Internet. You can use it as a picture frame until you want to check something quickly without turning on your computer. You can use it to check the weather, the latest headlines, or your calendar. It has a 7-inch color touchscreen that can tilt like a photo frame. It also has stereo speakers; WiFi; and access to more than 1,500 apps from Sony’s Bravia platform, including YouTube videos, Pandora radio, Epicurious recipes, and Navteq traffic updates.
The apps are what really make the Dash more useful and customizable than a typical picture frame. It’s not the sort of device you take on the road, but it fits nicely in the living room. Sony plans to make the device available in April for $199.
Honorable mentions: Sony Bloggie, Samsung TicToc MP3 player, LG’s 6.9-millimeter thick flat-panel TV, the Yogen cell phone charger, and the Jaybird Blue Buds ear phones. Anthony Ha contributed to this story.
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