CES) in Las Vegas, January 7-10, 2008 (and some pre-show events on the 5th and 6th), I managed to take a good look at, and/or have a good chat with -- i.e. spend five to ten minutes with -- probably around a hundred, and spend a shorter time with up to twice that... plus have lots of walk-by's and ten-second stare-at's for maybe an equal number. Here's a partial summary, sorted by product category, with a few more comments (We'll be following up with "Dern's Picks of CES 2008." soon.). Issue"> TechRevu What Daniel Saw at CES 2008
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What Daniel Saw at CES 2008 by Daniel Dern
Review by Daniel P. Dern
TechRevu Article  ISBN/ITEM#: DD012408CES
Date: 24 January 2008 /

Of the thousands of exhibitors at this year's International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, January 7-10, 2008 (and some pre-show events on the 5th and 6th), I managed to take a good look at, and/or have a good chat with -- i.e. spend five to ten minutes with -- probably around a hundred, and spend a shorter time with up to twice that... plus have lots of walk-by's and ten-second stare-at's for maybe an equal number. Here's a partial summary, sorted by product category, with a few more comments (We'll be following up with "Dern's Picks of CES 2008." soon.).

Computer-Unrelated Stuff

Consumer electronics isn't just about computers, of course. Here's a few of the things that, while they may have computer chips in them -- like your watch, any of these probably has more power than existed during World War II -- aren't directly computer-related. (Or are, but still feel they fit into this category.)

  • Zero-Emission 'Lectic Scooter: Vetrix's all-electric zero-emissions "maxi-scooter" (motorcycle), for commuting and recreational. At 11 grand, not cheap, but nifty if you can afford it and want it. I don't think I need one, and know I can't afford one. (And I don't have a motorcycle license...)

  • The Guitar That Tunes Itself: The Gibson Robot Guitar tunes itself within seconds, to any of half a dozen pre-set or custom tunings. The initial run of 4,000 sold out instantly. At $2,500-ish, it's not for everybody -- but for musicians and enthusiasts (I'm neither, I know four chords and "Blackbird"), a new must-have.

  • Yes, Friends -- Powered Shoes!: What do you get when you cross roller skates with a Segway? Answer: iShoes -- rechargeable battery-powered wheeled twelve-pound pair of shoe accessories. A charge takes you two to three miles, at up to 13.5 miles/hour. About $599. And at a show like CES, lots of us could have used these, I'm telling you.

  • SMS From Some Flounder: The Underwater Digital Device (UDI) -- the world's first underwater text messaging/SOS device from Underwater Technology Center, allowing up to 56 divers to be in contact up to 1,000 yards apart. Arm-mounted. Costs over $1,000, but likely to become a popular safety and communications item.

  • Infrared Video Cameras: Flir's new infrared video cameras are a good add-on for vehicles (BMW's mounting them below the headlights) to let you see obstacles you'd otherwise not detect in time, also for security applications.

Low(ish)-Cost Ultra-Sub-Notebooks & Related Devices

Good ultralight (3 pounds and under) notebooks still cost $1,500 to $2,500... but there's a growing number of interesting lower-power/featured devices available in the sub-$500 range, along with some nifty things in the $1,000 zone. The main stipulation here is that the keyboard be big enough for attentive ten-finger touch-typing.

  • I finally got several good looks at the Asus Eee -- under two pounds, diskless (up to 8GB flash storage, built-in WiFI, $299-399-ish depending on model (e.g. how much RAM and flash-disk), and accessories (e.g., extended-life battery). Comes with Linux, but it is Windows-compatible. I'm eager to try the Eee; this could easily be my next travel-gear computing device.

  • Equally tempting is the Everex CloudBook ultra-mobile PC -- similar form factor and price as the Asus EEE, but with hard drive (30GB is what I saw) instead of flash RAM, DVI output, camera, and media readers. It's running gOS Rocket, a Linux derivative. (I and others suggested they should also offer Windows, for Windows users willing to pay more to run in an environment they were more familiar with.)

  • If I had and used a "smart phone" (Windows Mobile), I'd be considering the REDFLY Mobile Companion from Celio Corp -- similar in size to the Asus Eee and the Everex Cloudbook, but the Redfly is a display/keyboard/mouse peripheral for your smartphone. Unlike Palm's never-brought-to-market Folio, which was a freestanding Linux sub-notebook, the RedFly is nothing but a peripheral; it doesn't have its own apps, storage or processor (other than the chips to drive the components); all the data, apps, and connectivity are in the phone itself. Pricey at $499, unless, as TabletPCTalk.com-meister Chris De Herrera commented on seeing it, "you live in your phone."

  • Another entry blurring the line between big Internet-enabled cell phones and small cellular-broadband enabled notebook computers, the HTC Shift is a mobile 3G cellular device running Vista Business, with a 7" display, 30GB (or bigger) hard drive, tri-band, quad-band, WiFI and Bluetooth, in a two-pound package. I'm curious to try this.

  • While the price is higher -- around $1,000 -- and the keyboard smaller, Fujitsu's 1.5-pound ultra-ultra-light Lifebook u810 Mini-Notebook PC is also something I'd love to try, especially now that they've added in cellular broadband (priced separately).

Power, Batteries, Chargers, Et cet.

For our offices, there's always a need for more UPSs with more power and features, surge protectors with better-arranged outlets, and other protection and backup. Outside the office, we need recharge power in our pockets, and minimized-size/weight power adapter/chargers... and, of course, batteries that hold more charge, for longer. I saw some things that promise to solve some of these problems -- although I'm not convinced that all of them deliver on these promises, or are the best solution.

For handheld/mobile devices, AA cells are the closet thing we've got to a standard; rechargeable AA's can also be used in "power packs" for recharging devices.

Double-A's Are Double-OK

  • The one that impressed me most was $30-ish NABC's UltraLast Energy Charger Station charger kit that includes 4 AA Hybrio rechargeable cells (which come pre-charged, and hold 85% of their charge for up to a year). The charger also has a USB port; with charged batteries in it, can be used as a mobile power source to recharge cell phones, iPods, etc. (I can't find the kit on NABC's site, but here's a good reseller site with picture and info).

  • Duracell and Energizer also continue to improve their 15-minute 4 AA-cell chargers -- the power brick still makes them a bit bulky and heavy, but if time is precious, you'll pack them anyway -- as well as their slower but far sleeker four and two-cell versions.

Charge It! Power Packs!

  • Xantrex, now working with/through Duracell, has nifty mobile chargers and power devices, ranging from the smallest third-party power "brick" for notebooks, through their $99 PowerPack 300 lead-acid-based home/auto 12Ah 300-watt battery/inverter and air compressor combo suitable for, among other things, jump-starting a car.

  • Duracell was also showing their 130V and 90W PowerPro Universal Power Adapters, which are the smallest power "bricks" I've seen to date -- available through retail around April.

  • Lots of vendors had rechargeable LiON power packs with USB ports and/or charging tip sets, including IOGear's GearJuice and Techsonics GoGo PowerPack mobile chargers. APC and Xantrex also had very useful-looking portable power packs.

What's Up With UPS

Recognizing that some peripherals don't need to be on when the computer's off (and often don't have power switches), APC's adding "slaved" outlets that turn off when the device plugged into the "master" outlet is turned off or "goes to sleep", on devices including its MSRP $99 Back-UPS ES 750 (1 master + 3 "slaved" backuped outlets, plus 4 other power-backed and 2 surge-only outlets), and its Power-Saving Surge Arrest, MSRP $39, 1 master outlet, 3 "slaved," 3 additional.

Speaking of power monitoring and saving, PC International had both their MSRP $49 KillAWatt EZ single-out power monitor, their KillAWatt PS Power Strip (MSRP $99), which displays how much power is going through them. And they will be introducing a wireless monitoring unit that can send its information to a display (which will monitor up to 8 remote units).

On the consumer mobile fuel-cell and other alternative chemistries front, there were several players -- including one or two that actually have, or will soon have, a product available for sale. Medis Technologies says its 24-7 Power Pack consumer-class disposable fuel cells will finally be available. In late 2008 watch for PowerAir's ThinkZinc portable power pack packs 40WaH -- about 40 AA cell's worth -- of power into an easily-pocketable shell -- $30 including cable and USB adapters, additional adapters $2.99 each, and ZincAir refill packs $20 each.

It's Chemistry, Baby

Lithium-Ion cells may have competition soon, too: ZPower's silver-zinc rechargeable batteries will be challenging LiON for use in notebook, cell phones and other portable electronics; the vendor claims they'll provide 40% more run time in the same factor as LiON cells.

And if they ever become available, the HydroPak fuel cell is a portable power generator that can provide up to 14 hours of power with a single disposable cartridge. The $20 cartridges are water-activated, and have a shelf life of several years. They say they've got a mobile Mini as well. With luck, expect HydoPak initial product runs in mid/late-2008, and more in 2009.

Meanwhile, get several sets of rechargeable AAs, and a good quick-charger, and a shell to let you use the AAs to recharge your mobile doohickeys.

Audio and Video

I didn't get to see any of the big-as-a-wall and other huge and presumably irresistible flat-screen television displays. Ah well. Maybe I'll win one.

But I did see at least one compellingly cool -- and affordable -- gadget: Sling Media's SlingProjector. (I can't tell whether the SlingProjector is a separate thing from their SlingCatcher, or one way of using the Catcher.)

In any case, the SlingProjector will project anything that's playing on your computer screen directly onto a television. Wirelessly. E.g., streaming video, movies and clips already on your hard drive. If you watch video on a computer, e.g. catching up on TV episodes via the web, you want this... it connects your computer to a TV, so you can watch on your big(ger) screen. Around $250. I'd spend my own money for one of these... and may. I'm certainly ready to try one.

I also saw lots of "sneakernet for video" devices, including:

  • Pinnacle Systems's new Pinnacle Video Transfer, a handheld device to record analog video onto any USB storage device -- no PC needed. E.g., from TV, DVD, PVR, set-top, directly to USB storage or handheld devices. MSRP $129.99. This is just what I need to digitize and archive my vast (well, 10 or 15) archive of laserdisks before my player dies, in particular, my copy of Mike Jittlov's stop-motion animation classic The Wizard of Speed and Time. (Although I download links, including one alleging better-than-laserdisk quality -- all OK'd by Jittlov, so there's no illegality involved.)
  • Going in the other direction, Sandisk's new Sansa TakeTV PC to TV Video Player lets you, like the name implies, move video from a computer and play it directly on your TV (using the connector cradle). Convenient. The $99 model holds 5 hours, the $149 holds 10 hours.

    For audio listeners, Audio-Technica's new AT-LP2D-USB LP-to-Digital Recording System (MSRP $229) is a USB turntable plus software, providing an easy way to start digitizing those LPs (record albums) and 45s (singles). (I'm overdue to get this done...) And it includes the connectors and pre-amp so you can connect it directly to your stereo.

Want to listen to Internet radio stations (i.e., streaming audio) away from your desk, without toting your WiFi-enabled notebook around? (Or at your desk without having to crank up a media player, or whatever.) With Com One's $249 Phoenix Wi-Fi Radio, you don't need a computer to listen to Internet radio stations. (You'll need WiFI, of course -- and a computer to do some initial set-up.)

It's been a few years since I've had to do any voice recording, e.g. to capture the phone interviews I do in writing my articles. I've been looking at some of the nice ultra-slim digital voice recorders from Olympus, in the sub-$150 range, if I recall correctly. At CES 2008, I saw some even more impressive digital recorders, intended for professional and podcast capture:

Storage and Backup, Mobile/Portable and Desktop

High-capacity hard drives keep getting cheaper and smaller, which means there's no excuse for not doing backups -- other than the effort to get started, and to keep doing it.

Make Backup Clicklessly Automatic

Rebit has put an interesting backup spin on USB-powered pocket drives -- their software makes it a dedicated backup appliance (you can read and copy from it, e.g. via Explorer, but you and your apps don't write to it, only Rebit's software can), and it's doing no-click backup -- what could be simpler? Rebit's software automatically does byte-level CDP, including for Outlook files. Easy and automatic, which makes it ideal for people who want to do backups but not think about it. (That includes me.)

Password-Protecting External Flash and Hard Drives

With external drives, especially pocketable mobile drives, more security is always good (as long as you don't forget your passcode or lose your authentication token). On the USB flash drive side, Corsair's Flash Padlock puts a PIN-entry keypad right on the drive case.

And it's now gotten easier to password-protect an external hard drive. The Data Locker external USB hard drive includes a touchscreen PIN pad, which adds password protection to the drive's boot sector -- i.e., removing the drive from the case won't bypass the password protection. $99 for barebones case, $129 with 80GB drive up through $299 with 250GB drive.

Double Your Protection With (Or Without) RAID

Only a few percent of hard drives fail... but if your business depends on that data, that's a few too many. For the severely paranoid mobile user who need external storage, e.g. professional photos and videos, Norazza was showing its Pocket RAID portable RAIDed disk storage (sample pricing, $499 for 2x80GB). Not cheap, but easier than bringing a pocket DVD burner.

RAID has the reputation of being hard to do, especially if you're going to be swapping drives in an out. (I'm overdue to put this to the test.) Data Robotics $499 Drobo claims it will provide RAID-like desktop external storage redundancy without the management hassle, letting you mix-and-match any-capacity drives as an external USB device. Adding a $199 Drobo Share lets you put your Drobo on the network. (I'd want to know more about, try, and compare Drobo to two-bay SOHO RAIDable NAS devices like D-Link's and LinkSys', along with NetGear's pricier high-featured four-bay ReadyNAS line.)

Whack-a-Drive

One way to make sure nobody recovers data from your old hard drives is its Hard Drive Destroyer, which punches holes in a hard drive's platters, rending them unreadable. At $8K, the disk destroyer's not for (most) end users, but maybe you'd pay a buck or two for walk-in access? (I've also seen hard drive shredders.)

Another Terabyte Optical-Disk Hopeful

DVDs are getting up into the 10s of gigabytes range, but compared to the amount of data that, say, a medical lab or a financial firm can crank out, that's nowhere near enough for near-line and archival storage. Mempile says that its not-yet-available TeraDisk technology will fit up to a terabyte of data onto its CD/DVD-sized disks -- write-once, good for archiving and compliance, e.g. health care, financial services. Prototype hopefully by end of 2008 and commercial products a year later. If the cost is reasonable, they could easily sell lots of these, I'm predicting, especially if they can come up with a jukebox-style library that hold a few hundred disks in a few-U device, like the ones already available for CD/DVD storage.

Online Backup Services

I've become a big believer in online backup this year -- even though I haven't (yet) had to recover a lost file, it's worth it for easy access to files when the computer they're on is off, or when I'm not near that computer. (I'm happily using Data Deposit Box, FYI.)

I saw at least two interesting additional players at CES 2008:

  • Tilana Systems has added another business model to online backup -- a one-time charge of $2/GB for your data, and $19.95/month for access to it. Backup is CDP (Continuous Data Protection) of files. Too pricey for consumers, and a little expensive for SO/HO's with less than 5-8GB (since Data Deposit Box charges $2/GB/month), but worth looking into, especially depending on how Continuous their CDP is. (Data Deposit Box is currently "when a file is closed.")
  • Sandisk is adding a auto-backup service to some of its Cruzer Titanium Plus flash drives, via BeInSync online backup using Amazon Web Services. The first six months of the service are free; $29.99 per year afterwards.

Networking

Want 802.11n speeds on your local WiFI -- without replacing your router? Or add WiFi to your wired router? Try TrendNet's $49 300Mbps Wireless Easy-N-Upgrader -- priced to be less expensive than buying a whole new router.

Phones, Bluetooth Headsets

I'm still happily using my Aliph Jawbone Bluetooth headset, but there's always interesting new ones to try.

Invisio was showing its consumer line of Bluetooth headsets -- small! I'm curious to see what they sound like (at both ends). The Invisio G5 includes a charging case that can recharge the headset five times before itself needing a recharge. The Invisio Q7 will use bone conduction technology.

Joby, the folks who brought us the GorillaPod flex-leg camera mini-tripod, was showing its Zivio Bluetooth headset, featuring a telescoping microphone boom intended for environments like high-noise public areas and moving automobiles which have traditionally tasked headsets to provide clear audio.

Want to try out a mobile phone before buying? Try the TryPhone site, which has virtualized versions of a growing number of models, along with links to reviews, demos, how-to help (and, of course, buy-me's).

VoiP That Tells You What's Up: Want VoIP at home, in your small office, or on the road, but having trouble telling whether it's working? Vonage's new V-Portal router, with two RJ-11 (POTS) phone jacks, plugging into any broadband. It's got an LCD for install, calling, and troubleshooting info, and is small enough to be part of your portable tech kit.

Z Boost Personal -- a "personal cell phone booster" that repeats and amplifies a cell phone signal, e.g. so you don't have to lean out a window to get another bar. Consumer priced below $200, for consumers and home-offices who currently can't make calls inside the house.

Business/Prosumer Peripherals, Luggage, And Other Computer Sundries

Print Your Own Postage: In addition to cool mobile peripherals like their CardScan business card scanner (which I brought to CES and faithfully fed each night), Newell Rubbermaid now offers postage-printing devices with features like no-monthly-fee, your graphics (e.g. pix) as stamps, and (I believe), a version that includes a USB postal scale. I don't really need these at the moment, but it's good to know about -- any month now, I may start trying to eBay-purge my basement.

A Comfy-Looking Computer Backpack: Wenger's best-known product line is Swiss Army Knives, but they also do other stuff, like their new Ibex computer backpack, MSRP $89. No wheels or handle, but very impressive padding against the back.

Get a (Camera) Grip: The $9.95 CamGrip, like the name suggests, is a hand-sized grip that screws into your camera or camcorder's tripod socket, to hold it more steadily -- particularly helpful with the smaller cameras available today.

And that's some of the stuff I saw and found interesting at this year's CES.

-- TechRevu contributing editor Daniel P. Dern (dern at pair dot com) is a freelance technology writer. His web site is www.dern.com, and his blogs are Trying Technology and Dern Near Everything Else.

For more Dern @ CES2008, follow these links to his blog, where he posted his semi-live and post-live CES reports:

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