CES 2011, like most years, requires wading through seemingly endless piles of gadgety detritus. But buried amongst the technophilic rubble are gems: Those products that genuinely excite us, the ones that make the trip not only worthwhile but actually fun. These few gadgets and technologies will set the tone for 2011: They’re embracing new ideas, whether it’s ridiculously fast wireless internet, shape-shifting gadgets, or groundbreaking ways to keep us safe. CES at its best is a glimpse into the near future, and these are the products that exemplify that.
Click to launch our picks for the products of the future from CES 2011.
We’ve chosen this gallery from the hundreds of products we saw over the past few days. We debated (sometimes fiercely) over the best, the most futuristic, and the most beautiful stuff at this year’s show, and decided on these as the best of the best. We hope you enjoy it!
Samsung 7-Series Sliding Netbook
Samsung’s new 7-series netbook ditches the standard swiveling convertible tablet PC format for an ingenious sliding mechanism, which turns the netbook into a 10-inch tablet. The Atom-powered 7-series does run Windows 7, which frankly has never been successful as a tablet OS (not even in the coolest hardware) but Samsung seems to have put a substantial touch-based skin over it to make the tablet experience more seamless. Samsung’s got lots of experience with that–its TouchWiz Android skin is one of the most popular in the world–so we’re hoping this great form factor won’t go to waste.
Eye-Fi Direct Mode
Eye-Fi’s wireless SD cards have always been a great way to beam photos directly from your camera to your computer as well as services like Picasa and Flickr. But until now, they’ve required a Wi-Fi connection, which limits their use in the field. Not anymore: Later this year, Eye-Fi will release a free firmware update for its X2 cards that will create an ad-hoc network and beam photos to an iPhone or Android phone via a free app. What does that mean? It means you’re no longer limited to your smartphone’s camera when quickly uploading pictures to Facebook, Twitter, emailing them to friends, or whatever else you like to do with them. Now you can whip out your DSLR or high-end point and shoot, take the amazing pictures those cameras are capable of taking, and beam them to your smartphone instantly.
Motorola Xoom Tablet
Motorla’s 10.1-inch Xoom tablet is the first to use Android 3.0 “Honeycomb,” the first version of Google’s mobile OS specifically designed for tablets. Although we haven’t seen real, final software yet, the demos of Honeycomb make it pretty obvious that the quickly crowding tablet world just got much more interesting.
Verizon’s 4G LTE Network
Verizon was smart about their 4G network: Rather than rolling out slowly in small cities (like Sprint), simply giving a shot of speed to their existing 3G network (like T-Mobile), or creating a stopgap boosted 3G network while they get their act together (like AT&T;), Verizon quietly built their superfast 4G network (specifically, LTE–check out our explainer for more information) in every major market in the country before launching a single 4G gadget. Now the network is built, the speeds are astounding, and Verizon is yet again the king of networks. The carrier also announced a host of 4G devices at this year’s CES, some of which are simply 4G-boosted versions of existing smartphones, but some of which are legitimately exciting. Verizon customers may not have the iPhone, but they do have a rock-solid, insanely fast network, with a host of truly solid smartphones to use it.
Casio Bluetooth Watch
I know, I know: A Bluetooth watch? Is this another in the long line of failed “smart watch” experiments that implored gullible gadget lovers to attempt to read emails on a half-inch monochrome screen? Thankfully, not at all: Casio’s new Bluetooth watch concept syncs with a smartphone in ways that make sense and don’t overreach. It uses an ultra-low-power version of Bluetooth (a gadget using this new type of Bluetooth can last for a year on a normal watch battery) to sync with an Android smartphone, mostly for notifications. Got a new phone call, email, or text message? You’ll get a little beep and the name of the sender or caller on your wrist, even if the phone is in your bag or deep in a pocket on silent mode. It also has a “track my phone” feature that’ll stop the undignified practice of asking for a friend’s phone to call your own, only to find it somehow sitting next to the toilet. The Bluetooth watch is a “concept” because it hasn’t been officially announced in a product yet–but in our hands-on experience, it’s perfectly functional and ready for release. You might see this in a G-Shock watch later this year.
Sony’s Glasses-Free 3D Prototypes
Ditching the hokey (and cumbersome, and expensive) glasses is critical for 3DTV’s success. Several manufacturers came to CES with demos of their glasses-free 3D sets, but Sony’s was far and away the most impressive. From their 56-inch 4K screen with its wide 3D viewing angle to their 24.5″-inch OLED panel, Sony’s tech looks to be furthest along. Good thing, since more than any other major manufacturer, Sony is betting the farm on 3D.
Motorola Atrix 4G
It’s a phone! It’s a laptop! It’s a desktop!. Moto’s powerful dual-core Tegra 2-powered Atrix presents a glimpse of a pretty exciting future–when smartphones are just as (if not more) powerful than some desktop and laptop systems from just a year or two back. Mated with a HDMI desktop dock or a nifty laptop shell (seen here), the Atrix gives you a solid Android smartphone experience on top of something more resembling a desktop.
Samsung Series 8000 LED 3DTVs
Samsung always has something hot for CES at the top of their TV line, and this year was no different. The UN65D8000, a 65-inch 3-D LED set one-ups last year’s ultra-thin sets by applying the same weight loss plan to the front-facing bezel, which is now just 0.2-inches thick. Inside that slinky little bezel is a TV with all the current top-of-the-line trimmings: full web connectivity with access to Samsung’s Apps proprietary software store, a local-dimming LED backlight, 240Hz refresh rate, insanely deep blacks and of course, active-shutter 3-D.
Audiovox Advanced Driver Assistance System
It’s hard to stop distracted driving; cellphones, GPS devices, in-dash displays, and passengers will always vie for drivers’ attention. With that in mind, Audiovox has created a system that keeps its eyes on the road–even if you don’t. The windshield-mounting camera has image-processing software designed to see when you drift out of your lane or are careening towards a collision. If either happens, it sounds an alarm to draw your attention back where it belongs: on the road ahead.
Recon Instruments Direct-to-Eye Communication
The second generation of Recon Instruments in-goggle display is the heads-up display you’ve been waiting for. Nestled above your right cheekbone, the system’s 0.3-inch LCD is reflected through a prism and mirror to appear as a one-foot sign five feet ahead of you to the right. It pairs with either your cellphone or a helmet camera over Bluetooth to display, well, just about anything–GPS directions, friends’ Foursquare check-ins, live video, and more. For now, Recon’s modular system is only snapping into ski goggles, but the company is working to outfit motocross helmet, and even sunglasses in the future. Plus, Recon’s software is built on the Google Android smartphone platform, so developers are free to code custom apps and games.
eCoupled Wireless-Charging Tesla Car
The dream of cable-free charging is to put your device down on any surface (your desk, the counter at Starbucks), and BAM! it’s charging up. eCoupled has taken that concept and written it large, showing off a Tesla electric car juicing up on a charging pad through magnetic-coil power technology. On the smaller scale, small, everyday objects can sip power from countertops; a jar of Campbell’s soup, for one, can cook itself without a microwave or stovetop.
pomdevices Sonamba WellBeing Monitor
This monitor checks in on grandma when you can’t get there. The Sonamba sits on her countertop and learns her movement patterns with motion and sound sensors. If, for example, she’s normally up and about by 8AM, and it hasn’t seen” her by 9, it will send you an automatic text alert that something might be amiss. The device, naturally, has its own cellular connection, so it can keep you in the loop even if there’s no broadband access to be found.
Samsung SH100 Digital Camera
Like most WiFi-enabled cameras, Samsung’s tiny new compact can upload photos directly to computers and web services like Picasa and Facebook. But, what makes this camera unique is its ability to wirelessly collaborate with the Samsung Galaxy S Android smartphone. Once paired, the phone provides a remote preview of what the camera sees, allowing the shooter to zoom and snap photos without having to touch the camera. Consider other extras like built-in GPS for geotagging and its $200 price tag seems like a serious bargain.
A gymnast of a camera, Casio’s TRYX is the first of a new breed: point-and-shoots that fit into anything. On the strength of its ultra-fast image processor, the TRXY needs only a one-inch housing to achieve top-level image quality and four-times zoom without a lens protrusion. That’s because its processor shoots quickly enough to snap three shots in the time a comparable camera can only take one. It then combines details from the three images into one to create the zoom effect. Similar optics can easily fit into everyday shapes, such a lapel pins and wristwatches. $250
Sony’s camcorder is the first true high-def 3-D video shooter. Instead of sharing one image processor and sensor between two lenses, which results in only half HD resolution in each eye, the HDR-TD10 has a full set of capturing hardware for each eye. That’s a wide-angle lens, a 7.1-megapixel CMOS sensor and an image processor for each eye. The result is the first true full HD home movies, ready to take full advantage of the flood of active-shutter 3-D sets. Even if video was shot in 3-D, it can be still be viewed on a 2-D TV; in this case only the image from the left lens is displayed–still on full HD, of course. $1,500
Custom-fit your own earbuds in minutes instead of waiting weeks for an expensive molded set. This pair comes with a headband that affixes to your ears, pushes flexible silicone membranes into your ear canals, and expands them to fit. It then automatically inserts the headphone drivers and ejects the eartips. $200
Forget tilting your head to see through the proper portion of bifocals and instead snap reading material into focus only when you need it. PixelOptic’s new emPower lenses turn regular distance-viewing specs into reading glasses in the blink of an eye. The lenses are embedded with a 2-micron liquid crystal layer that the wearer activates with a small button on the arm of the glasses. Or, the glasses can be set to automatically switch on the reading glasses when you tilt your head down, a movement they sense with an accelerometer.