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Dern's Picks For CES2008 by Daniel P. Dern
Review by Daniel P. Dern
CEA  
Date: 30 January 2008

Links: Best of CES 2008 Innovations Awards / CES 2008 Official Page /

At this year's International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, January 7-10, 2008 (and some pre-show events on the 5th and 6th), Daniel got to look at, or schmooze with their vendors about, several hundred of the thousands of products shown.

While Daniel doesn't have any actual awards to award, here's some that he would if he had, plus some others he found the most interesting or intriguing.

(note: after you're done seeing what Dern liked, follow the links above to see the Official CES 2008 Innovations Awards as well)

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 got to look at, or schmooze with their vendors about, several hundred of the thousands of products shown.

(For categorized summaries and some comments, see my report, What Daniel Saw at CES 2008 on TechRevu.com.

One useful show-covering tip I picked up when running Byte.com, from then-lead columnist Jerry Pournelle, was to think about all the stuff I saw, and pick a short list of ones I like, or otherwise had thoughts about. (Similar to, IIRC, the "which one would you pick/buy" that the museum curator was taught by his mentors, as recounted in John McPhee's "A Roomful of Hovings.")

I don't have any actual awards to award, but here's some I would if I had, plus some others I found the most interesting or intriguing:

Coolest Consumer Products I Can't Afford and Wouldn't Use

This is a tie, between two things I saw both at Marty Winston's Cherry Picks 2008:

  • Vetrix Zero-Emission 'Lectic Scooter: Vetrix 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. (And have a motorcyclist license.) I don't think I need one, and know I can't afford one. But it's definitely cool..

  • A 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, not for everybody -- but for musicians and enthusiasts, a new must-have.

Runner-Up:

The Underwater Digital Device (UDI) 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. Way to expensive for use in a pool, but if I were scuba-ing or diving, I know I'd feel more secure wearing one.

Coolest Consumer Products I Can Afford and Would Consider Buying

These pass one of the ultimate tests: would I spend my money on it?

  • First Choice: Sling Media's Sling Projector: No contest here, for those of us who'd rather watch video on our TV: Sling Media's SlingProjector, which 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.

    Alternatively (and less expensively), albeit more like sneakernet than realtime, there's 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 Digitizing Analog Video: And going in the other direction, 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. I've got videotapes (and laserdisks) it's time to archive.

  • PC-less Internet/WiFI Radio 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.) Not the only such device, but the only one I saw at CES 2008.

  • Time to Digitize Your LPs and 45s: 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.

  • Battery Power: As a big rechargeable-AA fan/user, I liked NABC's $30-ish UltraLast Energy Charger Station charger kit. It 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).

The Dangdest Thing I Saw

This category I got from Jerry Pournelle (although he may have used "darndest".) There's almost always at least one in this category at every show.

Shoes, Meet Segway: For CES 2008, the no-prize goes to the iShoes powered shoes -- 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; it's a shame they weren't available for rental.

(Some of the) Other Intriguing Products I'd Love To Try

In addition to the above, CES 2008 had no shortage of other business or consumer products I'm eager to try out or otherwise learn more about (and, of course, write about). Here's my short list of another two dozen of the products I'd love to try (and write about). I've got lots more -- some I've noted in my other CES reports, others are in the press materials I'm still sorting through.

Low-Cost Ultra-Sub-Notebooks

I'm not the only journalist or other mobile professional who watches this space -- mobile subnotebooks with touchtypeable keywords, sub-$500 and sub-$1,000 two-pounds-and-under -- carefully. CES 2008 has several very appealing ones, notably:

    The Asus Eee -- At under two pounds, diskless (up to 8GB flash storage, built-in WiFI, $299-399-ish depending on model, I already know at least one journalist who's bought one. Currently shipping with Linux, but it's Windows-compatible, and my sources say Asus will soon offer Windows XP for another $150-ish. I'm eager to try the one; this could easily be my next travel-gear computing device.

  • The Everex CloudBook ultra-mobile PC is likely to be a major competitor to the Asus Eee. It's got a similar form factor and price, but has 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).

  • Since I don't currently have a "smart phone" (Windows Mobile device), I don't have immediate interest in Celio Corp's REDFLY Mobile Companion, but you may. The Redfly is similar in size to the Asus Eee and the Everex Cloudbook, but instead a freestanding computer, it's a display/keyboard/mouse peripheral for your smartphone. 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."

  • If you want to spend more money (around $1,000) to push the size down to 1.5 pounds, Fujitsu's ultra-ultra-light Lifebook u810 Mini-Notebook PC is appealingly compact, and now offers built-in cellular broadband. The keyboard may be too small, and it's more than I'd spend casually... but it's way interesting.

Interesting Batteries and Other Power-Related Stuff
  • 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. I tried the Duracell a few years ago; I'd love to try the current versions.

  • 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. Here's three interesting things from what they had on display:

  • Duracell's 130V and 90W PowerPro Universal Power Adapters, the smallest power "bricks" I've seen to date. (Available through retail around April.))

  • Power-Saving UPS, Surge: APC's UPS ES-750, an MRSP $99 UPS that detects when the device -- presumably a computer -- in the "master" outlet is off or "asleep" , and powers off the three "slaved" outlets, e.g. for a display, printer and other peripheral, to conserve power. Also, APC's MSRP $39 Power-Saving Surge Arrest does this. (Both also have several "unslaved" outlets.")

  • Outlet-Level Power Monitoring: PC International's MSRP $49 KillAWatt EZ single-out power monitor, and KillAWatt PS Power Strip (MSRP $99), which displays how much power is going through them.

  • Consumer mobile fuel-cells: Medis Technologies says its 24-7 Power Pack consumer-class disposable fuel cells will finally be available.

    Later this year, 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.

    Also watch for 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.

Storage and Backup, Mobile/Portable and Desktop
  • Mobile Backup Appliance: I've become firm believer in online backup, but that's now always an option, and my current provider does it when I close files, not continuously (when the computer writes to disk). The Rebit USB-powered backup appliance automatically backs up files, including Outlook -- automatically, not a click needed, and you can retrieve (read) files using Windows Explorer.

  • Password-Protected USB Flash Drive: Corsair's Flash Padlock puts a PIN-entry keypad right on the drive case.

  • Password-Protected USB 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. Possibly pricier than software-based solutions, but probably easier.

  • Portable RAID Hard Drive: Norazza's Pocket RAID portable RAIDed disk storage (sample pricing, $499 for 2x80GB) offers photographers and other data-intensive mobile professionals a little more piece of mind. Not cheap, but easier than bringing a pocket DVD burner.

  • Desktop External Alternative To RAID: 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.

  • Online Backup Service: 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 (most) 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.

  • 802.11n Upgrade Kit: 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.

  • Bluetooth Headsets: Invisio consumer line of Bluetooth headsets, including the The Invisio G5, which includes a charging case that can recharge the headset five times before itself needing a recharge, and the Invisio Q7, which will use bone conduction technology.

    And from Joby, the folks who brought us the GorillaPod flex-leg camera mini-tripod, the 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.

  • 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. I don't need this at home, but it's a contender for my travel kit.

  • Print Your Own Postage: Newell Rubbermaid postage-printing devices have 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.

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 Still more from Daniel Dern: the longer list, and other thoughts, are on my DERN @ CES 2008 Reports in my Trying Technology blog; in particular,

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