When it rains, it pours. And on the first day of CES, the monstrous gadget expo that drew an astounding 184,000 people to Las Vegas this year, it rained. Hard. Traffic snarled, Google’s parking lot tent at the Las Vegas Convention Center flooded, drones were grounded, autonomous cars sat parked.
The next day, a power outage plunged the entire show floor into darkness.
It would be fair to say that CES 2018 gave us plenty of ominous reasons to remember it, but fortunately for us, there also were plenty of fun things to see when the lights were on. From the usual spate of wall-sized TVs to servile robots, crazy-fast PCs, and new VR headsets, all the usual culprits were in attendance. But we set out to find the best of the best for our annual Top Tech of CES awards.
Digital Trends section editors trudged through downpours, waded through darkness, and choked down gallons of press room coffee to uncover the tech that will define 2018. We discovered a tech world on the precipice of tilting into a new era of autonomous cars, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and connected everything. As those fledgling technologies mature, there’s also plenty of exciting news from established categories, including some of the most promising computers we’ve ever seen, cameras that let anybody shoot like a pro, and new phone sensors that will make the next generation even sleeker.
Here’s what we found!
Top Tech CES Winner
Walk through some of the halls at CES 2018, and you might forget you’re at a tech show. Every year, automakers make outrageous claims about bubbly, otherworldly prototypes that never seem to become real. Remember Faraday Future?
Most are just lumps of painted clay held together with dreams and venture capital. But this year, Nvidia showed off what might be the most consequential piece of car technology for years to come: the Xavier system on a chip.
A supercomputer folded into the size of a license plate, Xavier is the brain that will let carmakers finally deliver on their most ambitious self-driving claims. It packs 9 billion transistors, eight cores, a 512-core GPU, 8K HDR video processing, and a “deep learning accelerator.” All that processing power can take input from radar, lidar, cameras, and ultrasonic sensors, to achieve full “level five” autonomy, the pinnacle of self-driving tech where a steering wheel isn’t even required.
Considering Nvidia chips already power some of the most impressive self-driving tech on the road, including Tesla’s Model S, we have no reason to doubt any of that is true.
Here’s the kicker: The chip is shipping to customers this quarter. And partnerships with Volkswagen and Hyundai mean those chips will go straight to capable hands. VW is already planning to use it to power I.D. Buzz, the electric, self-driving reincarnation of the classic hippie bus.
Nvidia’s Xavier is putting us on a very, very exciting road ahead. And we won’t even have to drive.
– By Nick Mokey
Top Tech CES Winner
CES is all about innovation, and there are few things more innovative than a piece of technology that solves a problem. In the case of Sennheiser’s HD 820, the problem addressed is the open-back design of its predecessor, the glorious HD 800 – a headphone known as one of the most supremely designed pieces of gear in its class (if not the most). The 800’s limitations come in the form of sound leakage, both from the headphones to the outside world, and from the outside world into the headphones.
To solve the issue, Sennheiser employed an intriguing and wholly unique form factor with an unexpected material: Gorilla Glass. By using concave plates of the glass, Sennheiser managed to contain the sound of its powerful cans while mitigating the kind of unwanted resonances that plague many high-performance closed-back cans. The result is a supreme pair of headphones that look and feel as incredible as they sound, and are deserving of our top audio award for CES 2018.
– By Ryan Waniata
Automotive Award Winner
CES is an event about ideas, particularly when it comes to cars. A lot of concepts and pie-in-the-sky dreams for the automotive world’s future roll through, so it’s refreshing to see a vehicle like the Hyundai Nexo make an appearance.
Showcasing how the oft-overlooked hydrogen fuel cell technology has matured, the Nexo is a production model built specifically to run on the alternative fuel. It’s an SUV as well, so there’s the added bonus of more utility than what’s offered by the diminutive four-door fuel cell production cars. Providing roughly 135 horsepower and 291 pound-feet of torque, the Nexo has 370 miles of driving range while offering the same level durability as a comparable gas-powered vehicle.
It comes packed with driver aids like lane keep assist that works at speeds of up to 90 mph, and has a long digital screen that doubles as both the gauge cluster and infotainment screen. The Hyundai Nexo can even be useful if you decide not to go anywhere: it can water your plants.
– By Alexander Kalogianni
Computing Award Winner
The 2015 Dell XPS 13 changed the game for Windows laptops, and immediately became our favorite. It’s dominated our best-of lists ever since. It might not seem a surprise to see the new design win this year, but it actually surprised us. Why? Because the competition, rising to the XPS 13’s challenge, is tough.
Dell has used a couple new tricks to stay king of the hill. The new version is only.46 inches thick, but fits in an 8th-gen Intel quad-core processor. To do that, and keep external heat down, Gore fabric has been used in the cooling system. This thin insulator keeps heat blowing out the exhaust instead of radiating into your lap.
The company has also fully embraced a 4K touchscreen option, even while many alternatives have pulled back, or never offered it at all. It delivers a fantastically sharp image. Dell also says it’s worked on contrast and color accuracy. While we haven’t been able to test it yet, we loved what we saw on the show floor.
There’s more to it than that what’s new, though. We also like what hasn’t changed. The keyboard is still great. The touchpad responsive. And the look is distinctive, yet handsome. You can throw it in a bag at a moment’s notice, or work on it for hours in comfort.
That’s why it’s our favorite laptop at CES 2018.
– By Matt Smith
Emerging Tech Award Winner
It’s no secret that 3D-printing technology has progressed in leaps and bounds over the past few years, but despite the fact that printers are more advanced than ever, most of them still suffer from the same major drawback: the fact that they can only print plastic parts. If you want to make something out of metal, you need to use a CNC mill or a million-dollar direct metal laser sintering machine.
Desktop Metal aims to change that, and has developed a solution that makes 3D printing with metal not only possible, but far more accessible and affordable than ever before. We got to see it up close and personal for the first time this year at CES, and we were blown away.
Here’s how it works. The printer spits out parts just like an FDM printer — but instead of plastic, it uses a special filament made of superfine metal particles held together with a binder. After the part is finished printing, it’s immersed in a solution that dissolves the binder. Finally, the part is sintered to remove any remaining binder, and to fuse the metal particles together. It’s pretty incredible tech.
– By Drew Prindle
Emerging Tech Award Winner
Drones had a big presence at the show this year, but unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of them were either knockoffs of popular products, or just the same old tech in a flashy new form factor. There wasn’t much actual innovation in the unmanned aerial vehicle space this year – unless you stopped by the Uvify booth.
The company’s new Oori drone was a standout on the show floor this year. It’s small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, yet powerful enough to hit 60 MPH in the blink of an eye. And unlike most micro drones on the market right now, the Oori is super-stable and simple to fly. It even has a dedicated controller and a first-person-view display.
As you’ve probably guessed from the specs, Oori is built with racing in mind — but it’s not aimed at pro drone racers. Instead, it’s aimed at folks who want to dip their toes into the sport, and hone their skills on a simple, low-cost racing rig. To be 100 percent honest, we’re giving it our best of CES award simply because it’s so much damn fun to fly.
– By Drew Prindle
Emerging Tech Award Winner
Beauty-focused technology has a tendency to be gimmicky, but L’Oreal’s UV Sense serves a clear purpose in a form factor we think we’d actually use. The inconspicuously small, button-like device adheres to a thumbnail and from there, it can measure your exposure level in the sun, as well as other environmental factors. It even communicates with a mobile app via NFC. But the true marvel is that it doesn’t require a battery to operate. That means it’s not just an exciting development in the health and beauty industry, but also for wearables.
For L’Oreal, it’s about educating consumers about sun care, but the company told us that there are still other applications still to be tapped. The technology is a cool look into the future of wearables where batteries are no longer required. Imagine a slim smart watch that doesn’t need to be plugged in to be charged — it’s not a matter of if, but when — and battery-less wearables are something we gladly welcome.
– By Les Shu
Home Appliance Award Winner
Our pick for best appliance at CES isn’t the traditional appliance you might be thinking of, like a fridge or a washing machine. Instead, it’s more like a TV or computer. But we assure you it is still in fact an appliance.
Digital Trends picked GE Appliances’ Kitchen Hub as our CES 2018 appliance award winner because it’s innovative and practical at the same time. The appliance is a 27-inch screen that is mounted above your oven. It serves as a ventilation system for your stove, but also is equipped with Zigbee and Z-Wave, which allow it to work as a smart home hub that controls all your devices. You can also search through lists of preloaded recipes and get video tutorials on how to prepare meals. Need to get cooking advice from Grandma? Video chat with her via Google Duo on the Kitchen Hub to get tips and tricks for that dinner party you’re throwing.
Overall, the Kitchen Hub is an exciting development in the connected appliance world, and best of all, it will be available in the fall for $600.
– By Kim Wetzel
Mobile Award Winner
There was a ton of chatter about under-glass fingerprint sensors leading up to the reveal of the iPhone X last year, but it didn’t deliver. Who will be the first to debut this technology in a phone? If things stay on track, the honor will go to Vivo, a popular smartphone manufacturer in China, with the help of sensor company Synaptics. We demoed the tech on an upcoming smartphone from Vivo, and our only complaint is that Vivo isn’t bringing the phone to the U.S. anytime soon.
As bezels on our phones shrink, the tech that used to flank the screen needs to go somewhere. Some companies opt to put a fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone, while Apple decided to forgo TouchID for FaceID. A better alternative is putting the fingerprint sensor under the glass, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. That’s where Synaptics’ Clear ID sensor comes in.
So what’s the experience like? Almost the same, if not better, than traditional fingerprint readers. It’s fast, just as secure, and has a fun animation when the screen unlocks. Expect this tech to be a major trend on phones in 2018.
– By Julian Chokkattu
Photography Award Winner
We have a slight case of deja vu. Our pick, the Panasonic Lumix GH5S, is the sibling to last year’s winner, the nearly identical Lumix GH5. But thanks to one killer feature — amazing low-light performance — it deserves praise.
The GH5S uses a newly developed sensor that increases light sensitivity and reduces noise. You are able to turn your ISO levels up and still shoot great, clean-looking video — unheard of in most cameras.
Despite being a smaller processor, Panasonic managed to continually push the limits of Micro Four Thirds. For us, that’s innovation Panasonic doesn’t get enough credit for. However, the GH5S could be the last traditional camera to garner a CES award from us. As drones, 360, and VR cameras continue to improve, we believe those will be our future photography award winners.
– By Les Shu
Rideables Award Winner
There were a lot of rideables at CES this year. We saw next-gen electric skateboards, a fleet of new Segways, and even a set of motorized Heelies. But of all the wild and crazy personal transportation vehicles here at the show, the IotaTrax stood out.
It’s essentially a hybrid device that lies somewhere between a hoverboard and a self-balancing unicycle. Like a hoverboard, it has two wheels, which provide a stable riding platform. But like a unicycle, those wheels are situated between the rider’s feet.
This unique configuration gives the IotaTrax the best of both worlds: It’s easy to ride, and also extremely small and portable when not in use. At roughly the size (and weight) of a six-pack, it’s ideal for urban commuters.
– By Drew Prindle
Smart Home Award Winner
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all? Kohler’s Verdera mirror, it turns out.
For its innovation and beauty, Digital Trends has awarded Kohler’s Amazon Alexa-enabled smart mirror the CES 2018 Smart Home award.
For the last couple of years at CES, there have been prototypes and platforms for smart mirrors, but instead of showing you how you’d look with red hair of a new shade of eyeshadow, Kohler harnesses Alexa to act as a smart bathroom hub. If you have lights in your bathroom, you can ask Alexa to turn them off or set them to “makeup mode” without having to wander to the living room, for example. You can also listen to music or get details on your schedule.
The device is gorgeous and is water-resistant. It will be available in March starting at $1,000, and comes in three sizes: 24 inches, 34 inches, and 40 inches.
Video Award Winner
It’s tough to make a TV processor sound sexy when talking about it, so Sony made its X1 Ultimate chip speak for itself by using it to power a jaw-droppingly stunning 85-inch 8K HDR LED TV capable of a blistering 10,000 nits of brightness. The word at CES is virtually unanimous: Sony’s prototype is the most arresting TV at CES. We’ll take the praise one step further and say it is the most impressive advancement of TV technology we’ve seen in years.
While Samsung’s 146-inch “The Wall” TV with MicroLED processing is itself a significant and important advancement in TV tech, the scale at which it is being displayed puts it out of reach for most consumers. Sony’s X1 Ultimate, on the other hand, is pulling off a trick to which no consumer TV before it can lay claim: delivering 100 percent of the HDR10 spec with direct color delivered from a source at up to 10,000 nits of brightness.
To put those lofty nit numbers into perspective: Until now, the very best TVs were topping out at 3,000 nits under the most ideal conditions, with 2,000 nits the best you’d see consistently in a consumer television. This means Sony’s X1 Ultimate processor and the backlight system it drives are capable of delivering nearly 5 times the HDR potency of any other TV … and it looks spectacular.
Sony’s latest innovation in a space it has dominated for years paints a very clear (and bright) picture of the future of television. We’re going to see a new level of high-performance TVs – both 4K and 8K – coming throughout the next couple of years. By raising the bar for the TV industry, Sony has put its competition on notice, and historically that means we’ll see a lot more innovation at next year’s CES.
– By Caleb Denison
Wearables Award Winner
Last year, we saw a surge in Android Wear smartwatches from fashion brands, and it looks like that trend is not going to slow down in 2018. Under the Fossil Group, Kate Spade has entered into the smartwatch foray with a beautiful Scallop for women.
The Kate Spade Scallop isn’t packed with gemstones or gimmicky features. It has an understated design that’s not flashy, but what we love most are the quirky watch faces that animate when the watch goes into ambient mode. Kate Spade will release an animated watch face every month after the Scallop’s launch. There’s also a simple and easy-to-use micro app that lets women add the colors of their outfit so the watch can automatically create a complementary watch face.
The Scallop is slim, simple, and elegant. From the spade icon on the crown to the scalloped bezels, the beauty is in the details. There aren’t a lot of smartwatches for women that are this well thought out, and that’s why the Scallop is our pick.
– By Julian Chokkattu
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