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How can one possibly select the best products that were introduced at an event like CES, the largest North American trade show for the tech industry? Whether the show is being held in Las Vegas as usual or, as was the case this year, taking place virtually, there’s always so much to see.
Nonetheless, there were a few products that really stood out this year. Here are 10 that arguably created the most buzz for being innovative in their respective categories.
The product that had most people talking – even if it was only around a virtual watercooler – was Samsung’s 110″ micro LED screen. While the “wow” factor didn’t translate as well to online as it would had people been able to marvel at its beauty in person, it still clearly won the show.
The screen features self-lit inorganic LED housed within a slim and almost bezel-less Infinity Screen. The result is a mesmerizing viewing experience that almost looks like the images are floating in the air.
With the 4Vue, or Quad View, viewing option, you can display up to four streams at once, like watching a show while keeping up with the news or playing a video game with the hockey game in the corner.
With plans for Micro LED to roll out around the world this Spring, this TV is very, very real.
Razer Project Hazel
Will this prototype mask ever see the light of day? It’s unclear. Nonetheless, there are always a few prototype products at CES that everyone talks about because of their “cool” factor and ability to solve a timely problem, and then they never come to market. Vapourware, they’re called. That could very well be the case with Razer’s Project Hazel, a high-tech face mask. But does it matter? Not really. Because it demonstrates amazing innovation and quick thinking in response to a current problem.
Dubbed “the world’s smartest mask,” it aims to solve some of the biggest issues people face while wearing face masks. First and most importantly, it offers sufficient protection thanks to the surgical N95 respirator that can filter out up to 95% of airborne particles. But it also has a detachable ventilator for when you need to breath better. Cleaning is simple by inserting the mask into the UV charging case, which will sterilize it while the battery gets a boost. But the coolest part? The front is transparent so you can actually see the person’s lips moving when they talk and their expressions. Remember actually seeing smiles in person? Need to have a conversation with someone? It has a built-in mic, too, that amplifies your voice using patent-pending technology. The filters are replaceable and the mask waterproof so you can wear it in any setting.
Sure, this mask might just be “art” in the same way the seemingly ridiculous outfits fashion models wear walking down a runway aren’t really ever going to be sold in stores. But it’s pretty darned cool.
Samsung JetBot 90 AI+ Robotic Vacuum
As a long-time robotic vacuum user, I can attest to the value in having one. Not only can you run quick passes of every floor of your home, or even individual rooms, without lifting a finger, but you can also set schedules so the vacuuming is done while you’re out and the floors and carpets are clean by the time you get back. But there are a few annoyances, such as when these robotic wonders insist on pulling out every cable you have hidden under furniture, or knock around small items accidentally left on the floor.
It’s no surprise that Samsung has two entries in the top 10. But its JetBot 90 AI+, confirmed to be available in the U.S. within the first half of 2021 (no confirmed launch for Canada), had show attendees “oohing” and “ahhing.” The short movie demo they played during the press conference starring an adorable cat and dog certainly helped the appeal.
The vacuum has intelligent object recognition technology to not only determine when there is an object in the way but to also figure out what it is. This helps it determine the best cleaning path, and makes it avoid small objects, like the LEGO figures your kid left on the floor or your slippers by the couch. Plus, with a built in camera, it can let you keep an eye on pets when you’re away. Naturally, it integrates with the SmartThings app.
Whether this vacuum delivers on its promises will require a full review. But based on the specs, it might pose serious competition for the market leaders.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold
A top-five finalist in the annual Last Gadget Standing event during the show, this foldable PC has an OLED display and can be bent and adjusted to be used in a number of modes, including flat, like a book, fully open, and in traditional laptop form. With a 13.3″ screen, lightweight (2.2 lbs.) alloy and carbon fibre construction, and a leather folio cover, it’s a sleek and super-portable computer that packs a lot into its small size. Powered by Intel Core processors with Intel Hybrid Technology, it will likely come with Windows 10X when it officially launches later this year.
The computer, which was teased way back in May 2019, will even come with optional 5G connectivity, making it a computer you can truly use anywhere, and in any way. The leather folio has an integrated kickstand and the computer will work with the Bluetooth Mini Fold Keyboard, which can remain connected via magnets when the computer is folded closed while also wirelessly charging.
Use it to type, open it up to watch a video accompanied by Dolby Audio, or turn it to portrait orientation to jot down meeting notes or draw concepts using the Active Pen. Bend it just a tad to immerse yourself in a good e-book while traveling. When in traditional laptop orientation, you can also view two independent displays, so you can chat with someone while finishing up your report, watch a virtual seminar while taking notes, or work in one window while keeping an eye on the game streaming in another.
For a full desktop solution, connect a full-sized keyboard, mouse, and secondary display via USB Type-C and pop the device in the optional ThinkPad X1 Fold Stand. It won’t come cheap with pricing expected to start at about US$2,500. But for road warriors, it could be worth the investment.
LG Transparent OLED Signage
A transparent TV? It isn’t an entirely new concept, but LG got plenty of attention for its transparent OLED at the show, which was likely designed with commercial applications in mind, but wouldn’t it be so much cooler to show it off in a bedroom?
This is exactly what LG did, with a setup that showed the 55″ OLED screen emerging from the bed’s footboard. While watching TV, you can still see what’s behind the screen with 40% transparency, should you little one walk in the room, for example. Why would you need that? By now, we all understand that half of technology is about fulfilling needs and the other half is just plain cool. This one fits into the latter category.
That said, from a commercial perspective, the design makes sense so customers can view marketing materials, menus, and other details while also seeing products and services behind the screen.
ColdSnap Rapid Freezing Appliance
As someone who bought and became obsessed with the Yonanas frozen dessert maker all summer long (and even named it among my 15 favourite products of 2020), it comes as no surprise that this device would capture my attention at CES 2021.
While the Yonanas machine offers dairy-free treats by turning frozen fruit into a dessert with a creamy, ice cream-like texture, the Coldsnap makes frozen desserts by rapidly freezing ingredients from pods. Yes, it’s another “the Keurig for” device, but the only one we’ve seen thus far for ice cream.
The advantage is that you can make single servings, which is great for portion control and so everyone can get the flavour they want. Not to mention you can also save tons of room in the freezer by not having to store multiple containers of ice cream because you love mint chocolate chip but your kids are all about plain chocolate.
How does it work? Insert a pod and the patented refrigeration technology will freeze the contents in one-to-two minutes. It will dispense from the machine, and enjoy! You can make not only ice cream but also frozen yogurt, frozen cocktails, smoothies, iced coffee, and more. The single serve pods don’t have to be refrigerated or frozen, so you can stock them in the pantry until you’re ready to indulge.
Personally, given my issues digesting lactose, I’ll stick with my Yonanas machine. But for families with multiple kids each of whom has a favourite flavour, or for those who entertain often in the summers and would love to whip up frozen cocktails, it might be worth the investment in money and kitchen counter space. But most likely, this machine will find its way into commercial venues like convenience stores, airports, and hotels.
TCL 17″ Printed OLED Scrolling Display
No CES would ever be complete in the 21st Century without the reveal of something rollable. This year, that something hailed from TCL in the form of its concept 17″ printed OLED scrolling display, which could unfold like a poster.
The idea is for the technology to be applied on flexible TVs as well as curved and foldable phones. It measures about 0.18mm thin and could be used in a variety of other applications, too, should it ever come to light. In one demo video, for example, TCL shows an adventurous man pull one out of his backpack while in the wilderness, presumably to pull up data about his location – maybe a map, details about surrounding greenery, or even the closest water source. There could definitely be some interesting use cases for such technology.
Last year, everyone gravitated to Sony’s electric vehicle, which was front and centre in its booth. This year, most of the attention was pointed up it Airpeak drone, which is dubbed the “world’s smallest” drone that can carry a Sony Alpha camera system.
Obviously designed for professionals, Airpeak can capture high-quality, full-frame aerial photography and video, when combined with a Sony camera. Scheduled to launch in the Spring of 2021, the drone offers stable flight and dynamic filming opportunities.
For average consumers, Sony didn’t have much else that might “wow.” But considering the company is still ramping up production of its hard-to-get and anxiously-awaited PS5 gaming console, they’re forgiven.
Mojo Lens AR Smart Contact Lens
Many of the products that have won the Last Gadget Standing award at CES through its 20+ years running have gone on to enjoy great success, like the Shure MV88+ Video Kit, Boxee, iRobot Roomba, and the first-ever winner, GM’s OnStar concierge GPS service. For 2021, the winner was this smart contact lens, which is both incredibly useful and seriously creepy.
Using augmented reality (AR), wearers can see data right on the lenses via very subtle and supposedly not distracting built-in displays, like turn-by-turn directions, instructions, talking points for a presentation, or even names of people you’re about to meet. It works with partner software.
Consider it your own personal Heads Up Display (HUD). While I love the HUD in my vehicle, and don’t find it distracting at all, that’s in the car, not my actual body. I get chills and flashbacks to Black Mirror just thinking about all of the ways this innovation can go wrong.
Nonetheless, there’s a lot of good about it. While the Mojo Lens is great for avoiding awkward social and business situations, when you can’t recognize someone’s face due to impaired vision, for example, it’s also useful for things like translations, or for people suffering from illnesses that impact their eyesight, or maybe even memory. You can also keep your hands-free. Imagine displaying your grocery list on your contact lens, walking directions to a venue, or recipe instructions as you cook.
The Mojo Lens perfectly represents one of the main directions the technology industry is headed in, which is smart innovation using things like AR and artificial intelligence (AI) as well as products that can actually make a difference, whether it’s creating business efficiencies or combating health-related problems.
Toques with built-in headphones solved the issue of how you could comfortably listen to tunes on the go during the frigid cold winter months. Now, it’s a whole new ballgame with COVID-19 and mandatory masks. That’s where this innovation comes in, which teeters on the line of truly useful and not necessary at all.
As the name suggests, it’s a cloth face mask that integrates earbuds on either side of the ear straps that you pop into your ears after pulling the straps around your ears to secure the mask to your head. It instantly reminds me of those sunglasses that launched about a decade ago, with wired earbuds hanging down from either side of the frame that you could pop into your ears to listen to music while also shielding your eyes from the sun.
The buds connect to your mobile device via Bluetooth and boast a 12-hour battery life. There’s also a mic built into the mask so you can make phone calls as well, with voice projection provided by the Hubble Connect app.
Further preventing you from having to grab for your phone, you can use Amazon Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant if you need to call your spouse to find out what type of milk she needed or whether you’re out of toilet paper or not. The mask is machine washable and can be worn for extra protection with disposable N95 filters.
Is there really anyone who has an issue wearing a mask with headphones, or other true wireless earbuds? If so, I haven’t heard of one. Nonetheless, this innovations falls in the “Why? Because we can” category.