Best of CES 2012: Staff picks

best of ces 2012 staff picks

We came, we saw, we slept very, very little. After a solid week of nonstop announcements, demos and launches, the spectacle of CES 2012 is now in the rearview mirror.

Whenever we return home, friends and family who know tech always ask the same thing: What was the coolest thing you saw? We decided to answer preemptively this time. From the hundreds of booths we trod past, prototypes we toyed with, and demonstrations we attended, here are the coolest gadgets we’ll fondly remember from CES 2012.

Samsung Series 5 Ultrabook, 13-inchSamsung Series 5 Ultrabook

Nick Mokey, Associate Editor

CES 2012 was as much a laptop shopping trip for me as a trade show. With my four-year-old ThinkPad finally getting a little long in the tooth, it’s time to upgrade, and the barrage of Ultrabooks at this year’s show made for plenty of tempting options. Of all the ones I had a chance to see up close, Samsung’s 14-inch Series 5 had the best blend of style, power, and portability. You can get it equipped with hard drives up to a terabyte, optical drives, and even discrete AMD graphics with 1GB of video RAM. An Ultrabook without the sacrifice? Yes please. In a slew of Ultrabooks struggling to differentiate themselves, these are the kind of features that make the Series 5 stand out. Honorable mention definitely goes to Acer’s Aspire S5, but the same pop-out ports that I found so novel also make me wary in a long-term purchase like a notebook.

Haier Brain Wave TV

Ryan Fleming, Associate Editor

This year’s CES featured a healthy dose of evolution rather than innovation, but there were a few exceptions that felt more like sci-fi than practical applications. The Haier Brain Wave TV definitely falls into the category.

Despite the fact that the company records around $25 billion in sales each year, the Chinese manufacturer has yet to come close to the name recognition of a company like Sony or Samsung. That doesn’t mean that it is idle though, far from it. This year at CES Haier debuted a new prototype that builds on medical technology to create a device that fits over your head and can control simple functions on a device like a TV. It simply recognizes your thinking patterns like an EEG, and reacts accordingly.

It is still just a prototype, and is years away from seeing the light of day (if it ever does), but it is nice to see companies thinking outside the box. No pun intended.

Lenovo IdeaPad YogaLenovo Yoga

Jeff Van Camp, Staff Writer

This year’s CES came at an odd time for mobile and computing. Companies making Windows-based products still have a month to go before the Windows 8 beta arrives, and Google’s latest Android OS (version 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich) was only just released in December, making it difficult for many manufacturers to test and implement it in time for the show. Still, without much to go on, there were some interesting ideas, and if there’s one company that seems willing to try it all, it’s Lenovo. The company had a huge number of new products to show at CES, but my favorite was the Yoga laptop. This 13.3-inch Ultrabook (a light, thin laptop with fast SSD storage) has a special hinge that lets you fold the screen completely around and on top of the keyboard, turning a laptop into a 10-finger touch tablet. Other positions are also possible, allowing a good amount of freedom to how you use it.

It has some drawbacks, though. The Yoga is still a bit heavy for a tablet at a little over 3 pounds, and it would be nice if there was some way to detach the keyboard altogether, but I like where the design team’s head is at. As we approach the late-2012 launch date for Windows 8, we’ll start to see more unique tablet and laptop mashups, which will continue to shake the laptop market out of its decade-long slumber. Imagine a device like this running on an ARM processor (no fan) and maybe options for Android or other operating systems. There are a lot of great possibilities. 2012 may be a great year to buy a new laptop.

LG Blast Chiller

Andrew Couts, Staff Writer

I’m almost embarrassed to admit it, but the most impressive new tech I saw at this year’s CES was LG’s new Blast Chiller drawer, which cools a can of your favorite beverage to a delicious frostiness in only five minutes. It can also cool down two cans at once, or a bottle of wine, in just eight minutes. This really isn’t a new invention; professional kitchens have had similar tools available for years. But it is the first time a mainstream appliance maker has offered this to the general consumer market. And it solves a very common problem: You want to drink something soon, but it’s warm. With the Blast Chiller, you don’t have to wait for an hour or more, or pull tricks like dunking cans in a bucket of ice mixed with salt (which is, by the way, a great way to super-cool your brew quickly, if you happen to not own a high-end LG refrigerator).

I don’t know what it says about the 2012 CES show that my favorite thing was a drawer in a refrigerator. Perhaps it’s indicative that the show really has climbed into its death bed. I certainly hope not — CES is awesome, if entirely overwhelming and exhausting as well. And I hope it sticks around for many years to come — even if the best it has to offer is a way to cool my drinks.

lytroLytro camera

Molly McHugh, Staff Writer

I confess, I was part of the skeptical crowd when Lytro first surfaced. I was one part amazed and one part distrusting. Why would photographers use this device when they know how to use their own cameras to focus on the desired subject? And what would it look like?

Still, I kept hearing that until you use it, you just don’t get it. After trying the Lytro camera at a private walk-through during CES, I’m convinced. The device has more built-in features than its minimalist design suggests, and its untraditional form actually has a nice heft and quality feel to it. It’s definitely sleeker and smaller than most cameras on the market, and it’s almost iOS-like in its simple design.

What’s great about Lytro is that it won’t disrupt the digital camera industry, it’s only going to diversify it. Pundits have said this is going to be what digital was to analog photography, but after trying it out I disagree. Lytro is doing something different by offering consumers access to imaging technology we haven’t had up until now. I’m excited it lived up to the hype, and anxious to see where it goes.

Tesla Model S CES 2012 (13)_625Tesla Model S

Amir Iliaifar, Editorial Assistant

I saw a lot of amazing things this year at CES. It wasn’t just that it was my very first time at the show — it’s that there is some truly remarkable technology on the horizon. For tech junkies like me, it’s certainly an exciting time. That being said, of all the things I saw at CES, the most memorable for me was Tesla Motors Model S electric car. Yes I’m a gearhead at heart, but it’s more than just that. What makes the Tesla Model S so noteworthy isn’t just that it looks amazing (because it does) but because once I stepped inside the Model S, I literally felt like I was transported to the future. It features a stunning and large touchscreen interface, replacing all the traditional dials and buttons of a modern car. In fact, the Model S also features smart phone integration via an app so that you can control the car straight from your phone, even when you’re not in it. I also loved the super-sweet touchscreen slider menu to open and close the gorgeous panoramic glass sunroof. And if that isn’t enough, the Tesla Model S will go 0 to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, and has as an impressive range of 300 miles with the optional 85kWh battery.

Eton RukusEton Rukus speaker system

Kelly Montgomery, Junior Staff Writer

I saw a lot of great smaller, lifestyle-focused products on the show floor, and a few bigger ones, but one of my favorites was the Eton Rukus Solar Bluetooth and solar-panel portable speaker system. For a pretty good price of $150, you get a powerful portable speaker unit that can be charged via the top-mounted solar panel or an included AC adapter should you be lacking sunlight access. It’s nice to see companies incorporating green technology in ways that are unobtrusive to the product and actually make it more convenient for users. This would serve as a great portable speaker unit all year round, and would be even better by the pool or at the park when the sunnier months roll around.

best of ces 2012 staff picks

Tech making life better

Caleb Denison, Staff Writer

The inescapable challenge that comes packaged with being an A/V reviewer is that coverage of the latest in TV technology is compulsory, and therefore my prime directive. As a result, I spent the lion’s share of my time staring down OLED, 4K and even 8K “ultra-definition” displays of gargantuan proportions. Don’t get me wrong, I like big, pretty pictures as much as the next guy, but it precludes any aimless wandering about the show floor that might lead to a serendipitous rendezvous with that yet-to-be discovered, über-cool device that could get me really jazzed about the future of technology.

And so it is that my response to the perpetually posed “what’s the coolest thing you saw at the show” question has been pretty lackluster. Now, as I’m faced with having to go on record with my response, I find myself at a loss because, to be perfectly frank, I didn’t get to see any one device that got me super excited. Sure, I could probably compile a list of everything I saw and pick the least disinteresting item, but that’s no fun, is it?

It’s not that I’m jaded or cynical. It’s just that I kind of expected to see everything that I saw. In fact, the only thing that came as a relative surprise was the fact that the TV industry jumped on the motion-control band wagon so fast (and really, I should have anticipated that too). Perhaps my perspective is representative of unfair expectations placed on the tech industry by the public at large. Maybe we should all just take a step back and marvel at the fact that, not so long ago, computers used to be the size of refrigerators and TVs used to weigh as much as a smart car. Now, we carry ridiculously powerful computers in our pants pockets or purses, and TVs hang on our walls and on the headrests of our cars.

All that is to say this: The coolest thing I saw at the show this year was evidence of the fact that, despite difficult economic times, thousands of people still gathered around stuff that makes our life more fun, enjoyable and convenient. That is good enough for me.

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