Rolling phones, smart glasses, and other cool new tech from CES 2021

Check out the new gadgets debuting at the all-virtual Consumer Electronics Show

During a normal year, the tech world would be packed into Las Vegas for the annual Consumer Electronics Show right now. Like so many other things, however, COVID-19 transformed CES 2021 into an all-virtual event. While that won’t give tech nerds like ourselves a chance to wander the halls to find weird, wonderful, and sometimes terrible new gadgets, the new gadget firehose is still blasting out a steady stream of products that may or may not show up on store shelves this year. We’re just one day into CES 2021, but there have already been some notable announcements. Here are some of the coolest products we’ve seen so far.

LG’s rolling phone is real and arriving this year

For the past several years, LG has been showing off its rolling TV, which hides away in its base when you’re not watching it. Last year, it officially came to market, though you have to be the kind of rich person who can splurge on both queso and guac every time you go to Chipotle to afford it. This year, LG hopes to bring its rolling smartphone into the world some time this year.

Details about the LG Rollable are still sparse, which isn’t out of the ordinary for a new product at CES, but it promises a normal-sized smartphone screen that literally unfurls into a display the size of a small tablet. Because the screen doesn’t need to fold, it seems like it will be able to eschew the creasing problem and some of the hinge issues associated with the folding phones currently on the market.

TCL shifts the focus to its fancier TVs

A diagram showing TCL's OD Zero Mini LED TV technology.
TCL is showing off its OD Zero Mini LED tech, which eliminates the space between the backlight and the LCD panel. TCL

You probably best know TCL as the company that sells the dirt cheap, Roku-based TVs at big box electronics stores. If you want a 40-inch smart TV for $200, TCL is the go-to. Despite its bargain offerings, however, the company has some innovative products to offer. The company was already offering Mini LED backlighting options last year, whereas some of the other big TV players are only jumping into it here in 2021.

Moving up the line, TCL’s new OD Zero tech eliminates the gap that typically exists between a display’s backlight and the LCD panel, which allows it to make the displays themselves much thinner while also reducing the chances light from each pixel will bleed into those next to it and create ugly halos or blooming.

Lastly, the company is bringing 8K resolution to its popular 6-series TVs, which should make going UHD more affordable, even if we don’t have an official price for the new version yet.

Vuzix made this year’s most compelling smart glasses so far

I have personally tried on a lot of smart glasses at CES over the years. They have mostly run the gamut from “not-so-bad” to “please get these terrible things off my face.” This year, Vuzix has shown off some of the most promising smart glasses. Like the high-end TVs hitting this year, Vuzix’s specs rely on Mini LED tech to make a display small and bright enough to work in a pair of typical glasses. So, if you want step-by-step directions from a maps app, or real-time health monitoring, you can actually see it without squinting. Size is one of the most important factors to consider here because the frames could almost pass as a normal pair of glasses you wouldn’t feel embarrassed wearing anywhere. There’s no price—in fact, the glasses don’t even have an official name yet—but they will reportedly hit the market later this year.

The MagSafe PopSockets have arrived

PopSocket MagSafe grip for iPhone debut at CES 2021
The entire module pops off when it’s time to charge. PopSocket

PopSockets make it a lot easier to hold onto your phone, which comes in handy during a time when laying on the couch watching Twitch streams has become such a fundamental part of our socially distanced lives. Those handy extending nubs, however, don’t play very nicely with wireless charging. Now, the company has released a MagSafe version of its product, which doesn’t require adhesive.

The ProGrip for MagSafe attaches to your phone magnetically, so when you want to slap it on a MagSafe charger, you simply pop off the PopSocket completely. You can swap out the skins to change its look and it has a rubberized bottom to help keep it securely in place.

It looks promising, but I worry slightly that the socket itself will get caught on the edge of a pocket and dislodge itself. We’ll know once we get a chance to try it early in 2021.

Sony made a high-end drone for filmmakers

The Airpeak isn’t meant for casual drone pilots. Sony’s new quadcopter is burly enough to carry around a full-fledged full-frame mirrorless camera setup on a motorized stabilization system (that’s called a gimbal). Sony hasn’t offered many details about the craft just yet, but it’s a big leap from the company into a space that’s largely dominated by DJI. Recently, DJI’s Chinese ownership has caused trouble for the company in the U.S., restricting its ability to procure government contracts and do other business in this country. If Sony has success at the pro level, it doesn’t seem unrealistic that it could creep down into the more consumer and prosumer markets to try and take on DJI’s current dominance.