It’s often tough to find a clean signal in all the noise of CES, but in putting this list together, we realized how excited we are about a lot of the new gear we saw this year. CES 2012 brought us the best TV we’ve ever seen, two killer new cameras, a fridge that can chill beer cans in five minutes, high-speed in-car mobile wireless, awesome new smartphones, and a lot more. Check out our picks for the Products of the Future in the gallery below.
Click to launch our gallery of the Best of CES 2012.
Nokia Lumia 900
The Nokia Lumia 900 is the followup to the best Windows Phone on the market, with three major advantages over its predecessor (which we reviewed here). They are thus: It has a bigger screen, it has a faster LTE connection, and we humble Americans will actually be able to buy it. The phone is awesome–great build quality, unusual and stylish design, sleek software that feels like a graphic designer in the Lower East Side was given a boatload of money and told to make something cool. It’s coming to the States “in the coming months,” and it’ll be available (for now, anyway) on AT&T.;
Modular Robotics Cubelets
The simplest way to wrap your head around what exactly the Cubelets are is to think of them as robotic Legos. Sold as a six-block starter kit, the Cubelets are pre-programmed 1.5-inch blocks, each with its own action—to move, sense nearby objects, display light, whathaveyou—and the way you stack them determines what your final robot will do. Snapping a battery block on top of a motion-sensing block and a roller block, for instance, will great a ‘bot that automatically moves when the lights go on (or off). Modular Robotics sells add-on blocks with other traits (sound sensitivity, loudspeakers, etc.) and will add a Bluetooth block this year, allowing users to re-program their bricks over a simple Web interface.
Samsung Super OLED TV
OLED televisions are super thin, ultra-contrasty, and have colors that are saturated to the point of near surreality. But other than Sony’s dimunitive XEL-1, which has been on sale since 2008, they’re usually trotted out at CES only as dreamy concept showpieces. Samsung’s 55″ Super OLED, though, marks an important moment in TVs: large-panel OLEDs are now practical to manufacture and sell. No word on price (it will be exorbitant, surely), but Samsung stated plainly that the set would be available for purchase this year. And good thing: after you’ve stood in front of this OLED beauty, it’s hard to look at normal TVs the same way again.
The Basis B1 band, from BASIS Science, is a digital watch that continuously measures your health, 24 hours a day. The Basis B1 band has a 3-axis accelerometer that measures motion (similar to pedometers or Jawbone’s UP), but it packs on four more sensors to get a far more thorough and more accurate handle on your health. An optical sensor visually detects changes in blood flow in the skin to determine pulse (which it displays on its watch face). A galvanic skin response sensor determines sweatiness. And the band has two thermometers: one that measures your temperature and one that measures the environment’s temperature. The watch uploads all that data to the cloud, where software streamlines it into an easy-to-read website that displays calories burned, steps, time slept, heart rate, health points. The company expects the band to go on sale early this year for $199.
LG’s French Door Refrigerator With Blast Chiller
This fridge wants us to never deal with warm beer ever again, and for that we are eternally thankful. Its special blast chiller compartment can take your beverage of choice from room temperature to a delicious 42º F in no time—5 minutes for a single can, or 8 minutes for two cans or a bottle of wine. A gentle rocking motion exposes the liquids to the cold evenly, without leaving you with a fizzy carbonation bomb upon opening. See a video of the chiller in action here.
The 3-D printer you build yourself is new and improved for 2012, now sporting a larger building area and twin extruders for printing with two colors (or entirely different materials) simultaneously. Your very own personal assembly line for under $2,000.
MicroVision PicoP Gen2 HD Laser Projector
If there’s one thing we love at PopSci, it’s a pico projector. And, well, we’ve seen a lot of them over the last three years. But MicroVision’s new PicoP Gen2 is sorta the one we’ve been looking for. Not only is it the first pico to display 720p HD video, it’s also the first one we’ve seen that’s small and efficient enough to be built into more things that just standalone projectors–we’re talking projector phones that aren’t bricks and even portable gaming systems that can be standalone mobile entertainment centers.
Fujifilm’s X10 and X100, with their modern rangefinder-inspired styling, are standouts in the crowded advanced-compact-camera field. Now, the X-Pro1 brings the same sleek look and innovative hybrid digital/optical viewfinder to an interchangeable lens system, which currently includes three fast primes, or non-zoom lenses. In addition, a unique color filter array on the large APS-C sensor promises big image quality in a small, retro-stylish package.
Parrot ZIK Headphones
There are always tons of headphones at CES. So why’d we pick out these wireless ones from Parrot, a company known for fun flying drones rather than audio equipment? A few reasons: Designed by Philippe Starck, a well-known industrial designer, the headphones look awesome, all black leather and curved silver metal. The way you use them is really, really cool: they have controls built in, but not in any boring way like an inline remote or (and here we utter a bad-design shudder) some play/pause/forward/back buttons on the outside of the ear cups. Instead, it uses a proximity sensor to figure out when you’re wearing and when you’ve taken the headphones off, and it pauses automatically when you remove them. To change the volume, you gently stroke the ear cups up and down, and to go to the next or previous track, you stroke left and right. (You can see in this picture that our own John Mahoney got pretty into the stroking part of this.) The ZIK has a bunch of other features too: it’s got self-contained noise cancellation (Parrot says the batteries last about five hours with the battery-draining cancellation turned on), Bluetooth to connect, and even NFC, which to my knowledge has never been implanted into a pair of headphones before. And they’re super comfortable. Audio nerds: we only tested them in the midst of a raucous western-themed press event, so we can’t vouch for audio quality in any respectable way. They sounded pretty good but we can’t comfortably say much more than that. They’ll be available sometime this year for an undisclosed (but undoubtedly steep) price.
Thanks to a new wireless streaming standard, the RS220 home-theater headphones may well be the best-sounding wireless pair you can get. The pair transmit uncompressed audio over the 2.4GHz range—yes, the same as Kleer and other high-end transmission standards—but this new DSSS trick modulates the signal across several clustered frequencies, and the headphones recompose the signal at the other end. The result: better dynamic range and super low-latency, which might not matter as much when listening to music, but makes a world of difference when you need to sync with a TV screen.
Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga
It’s become clear this week that 2012 is the Year of the UltraBook, but in reality there’s not a lot to distinguish one super-trim laptop from another. Unless we’re talking about the IdeaPad Yoga, which in this case we happen to be. The Windows-running clamshell can morph into any of four form factors. From standard laptop clamshell, rotate the keyboard behind the screen (like the cover of a spiral notebook) to enter tablet-style mode with the keyboard deactivated. Or, use the keyboard as a stand in either a sandwich-board-style orientation or a right-angle hinge.
Mobile High-Definition Link
Mobile High-Definition Link, or MHL, wasn’t announced at CES 2012, but it was during CES that we at PopSci really started to get excited about it. It’s a new kind of technology that can be applied to just about any connector, like HDMI, USB, or any kind of proprietary port (including Apple’s iPod/iPhone/iPad port), and it essentially gives those dumb old connectors a whole bunch of new powers. Some of those, like HDMI, for example, can’t deliver power. But an MHL-supporting HDMI port sure can. That’s how we can get things like the Roku Streaming Stick, which is an entire Roku the size of a USB thumb drive that plugs right into your TV’s HDMI port. Other cool features include the ability to control anything plugged into an MHL-enabled HDMI port with your TV’s remote–no need to have several remotes scattered around anymore.
Able Planet Personal Sound Amp PS2500AMP
Unlike the majority of personal hearing aids, Able’s Planet’s Personal Sound Amp tucks almost entirely inside the ear canal—nearly invisibly so. Like a noise-canceling headphone pair, the Amp senses what noise it’s up against—wind, music, the din of a loud room—and automatically tunes itself to cancel out those noises. FI the wearer is still having trouble hearing (ie: if the earbud has yet to re-tune to the room), he can cup his hand over his ear; the change in pressure from that action tells the Amp to re-tune itself.
OnStar & Verizon Wireless Chevy Volt with LTE
The promise of Verizon’s 4G LTE network has long—well, since 2010—been the ability to stream audio and video consistently from anywhere, even if you’re moving. Until now there are have been demos involving telepresence robots and LTE-equipped broadcast cameras, but the new OnStar shows LTE the way a real person would use it: in a car. LTE connectivity allows the system to constantly connect to road-trip-friendly cloud services like Skype and Pandora. Netflix? Maybe not the best idea.
Canon PowerShot G1 X
Continuing the theme of exceptional image quality in ever-smaller packages, the PowerShot G1 X is an entirely new beast for Canon—a camera system within itself. Forgoing a buy-in to an interchangeable lens system to keep costs down, the G1 X offers a fixed 4x zoom feeding light into a brand new CMOS sensor that’s just a hair smaller than those found in most DSLRs.
Corning Gorilla Glass 2
If you have a modern smartphone, chances are you have some Gorilla Glass in your pocket. At CES, Corning announced a new formula for their chemically-strengthened glass that’s 20 percent tougher, which means tablet touchscreens and notebook LCDs can go 20 percent thinner without sacrificing strength and durability. The profusion of slim, MacBook-Air-like ultrabooks this year is no coincidence; Gorilla Glass is one of the enabling technologies pushing our gadgets ever-sleeker.