CES report: Far more than tablets and 3-D TV

Michael lasky By Michael Lasky

Windows takes a back-row seat to everything Apple or tablet.

Or so it would seem. But beyond the hype, there was a wealth of interesting technology on display at CES.

What was not on display at this year’s Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show revealed as much about PC trends as what was. Desktop and notebook PCs are no longer among the bellwethers of future electronics — CES was all about an onslaught of Apple iPad–wannabes. You’d think it was the death knell of the common PC.

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(For additional coverage of CES, see our Best Hardware story, “The best-kept hardware secrets of CES 2011” in the paid section of the newsletter.)

What’s clear: tablets will have a profound effect on the still-popular notebook PC category — and might spell the end of the recently revived netbook machines. Lenovo’s display of new products was a case in point: perhaps seeing the digital writing on the wall, the company introduced a legion of new ThinkPad notebooks and business tablets but no netbooks.

All the major PC vendors had some version of a tablet or notebook convertible to show off or announce. And other news might make 2011 look like the year of the tablet: the research firm Yankee Group predicted in a recent report that tablet sales in 2011 will be twice the 10 million units sold in 2010.

Intel is also contributing to the tablet bandwagon with Atom processors optimized for this new platform. Code-named Oak Trail, the processors can run Windows and other operating systems with four- to six-hour battery life and 1080p HD video capability.

The vast majority of upcoming tablets will sport Google’s Android OS and come from consumer electronic vendors such as Sylvania, ViewSonic, and other China-based vendors.

Toshiba boasted that its Android-based tablet will have a 1200 by 800–pixel, 10.1-inch display (a bit larger than the iPad) that is adaptive — it will adjust to different lighting situations. Toshiba has not announced a price for its tablet but says it will be competitive with the iPad. (Given Apple’s premium prices, that should not be much of a challenge.)

PC manufacturers such as Toshiba and Lenovo will offer Windows 7–based tablets, some with Home Basic and some with Microsoft’s new tablet-optimized Windows Compact 7 OS.

Despite the humongous size of the Microsoft booth, Redmond was vastly outnumbered by vendors offering aftermarket products for Apple’s iPad and iPhone. An entire section of the massive North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center was dubbed the iLounge, where Windows was not in the vocabulary. CES might have been all about mobile computing, but the iLounge was truly a high-decibel, color-saturated, in-your-face experience.

3-D has slow start — but really cool glasses

Along with mobile computing, 3-D TV loomed large on the show floor. So far, however, consumers have not exactly stampeded to purchase 3-D flat screens, and even 3-D-capable PCs have not garnered much interest — even among gamers. (That will undoubtedly change quickly as 3-D games hit the shelves.) Perhaps in a desperate attempt to generate some press, third-party designer 3-D glasses were prominently on display.

3B3D's depthmasters
Figure 1. Designer 3-D glasses, such as 3B3D’s Depthmasters, were the rage at CES.

There are now two types of 3-D glasses to choose from — passive and active — depending on the type of display you use them with. Passive glasses are like the ones you use in the theater; they have simple polarized lenses. Active glasses are supposed to give you a better 3-D experience, but they run on battery power and cost typically over U.S. $100. Some display vendors push one format, others the second format. One wonders whether we’re seeing the return of the Betamax-vs.-VHS wars.

USB 3.0 still trying to find the mass market

The major storage companies such as Iomega, Verbatim, LaCie, and Seagate are optimistic — maybe overly so — about USB 3.0 entering the mass market. LaCie, for example, released a USB 3.0 SSD version of its FastKey memory sticks. Available in capacities from 30GB to a whopping 120GB, the oversized stick boasts data transfer speeds up to 260MB per second when inserted into a PC with onboard USB 3.0. Even when used via an ExpressCard for a notebook or a PCI card for a desktop, its speeds of up to three or four times what USB 2.0 can handle are impressive.

Ruggedized and offered with built-in AES 256-bit encryption, FastKey is aimed at corporate markets which can afford the elevated price of SSD memory. The 30GB unit starts at $150.

Alas, USB 3.0 is still suffering from chicken-or-egg syndrome. So far, native USB 3.0 in PCs and notebooks has been slim pickings, thanks to a lack of support from motherboard and chip companies such as Intel and AMD. One of the few brands to offer USB 3.0 is Toshiba. The Satellite E305, which will sell exclusively at Best Buy, has a 14-inch display plus not only USB 3.0 but 4G Wi max and a Blu-ray drive. It is due for release this spring, though no price has been announced.

A favorite CES pastime: gadget spotting

CES is all about gadgets in all their inventiveness, wackiness, and wow factors. Here are a few of the more interesting products on display on the show floor that either push the technological envelope or the bounds of credibility.
  • Nikon Coolpix S1100pj: Okay, we’ve all seen the ocean of shoot-and-point cameras with ever-increasing megapixel counts. And on that basis, the Coolpix S1100pj (info page) is just one of the many, boasting 14.1 megapixels and a three-inch touch screen that offers in-camera image editing and drawing functions.

    But what makes this camera stand out is its built-in projector. (See Figure 2.) You can take images and videos, then instantly project them onto any flat surface. You can even project a slide show with music. Attach it to a PC, and the show will play there as well. (www.nikon.com, $350 list)

    Nikon coolpix s1110pj
    Figure 2. Capturing digital images is so yesterday. Nikon’s Coolpix S1110pj also project images on flat surfaces.

  • PopDrive: Yes, there are more external hard drives out there than AT&T has satisfied customers, but the PopDrive has an interesting twist. Built in to its diminutive chassis are two — yes, two — standard notebook 2.5-inch hard drives that always stay in sync with each other. Available in 500GB or 750GB models, the PopDrive is a backup with a backup, along with software to monitor activity and check status. (www.popdrive.com, $250-350)

  • Ion Audio Book Saver: While this gadget sounds like a gizmo pushed on some late night TV commercial, it really is much more sophisticated. Book Saver has two cameras that take separate images of each page of a book in rapid succession. The cameras each have a flash for fully illuminating pages during the scanning process. (See Figure 3.)

    Book Saver’s cradle, which holds the book during scanning, is angled so you don’t have to hold pages down to get a flat, even surface. Reportedly, similar devices require up to seven seconds per scanned page, but Book Saver takes only one second per two pages and saves the digitized images to a PDF file on an SD card.

    Ion audio's book saver
    Figure 3. Ion Audio’s Book Saver records two pages at a time in one second.

    Ion Audio boasts you can easily create your own e-books. Yeah, but there’s that little copyright thingy. (www.ionaudio.com, price to be announced)

  • Sony YB ultraportable notebook: The tablet’s popularity will undoubtedly come at the netbook’s expense. Netbooks are just so yesterday. Tell that to the Sony execs who announced their upcoming 11.6-inch netbooks, er, notebooks powered by AMD’s new Fusion processors. Reportedly the Fusions are outperforming Intel’s Atom, the omnipresent chip found on most netbooks.

    Faced with the soon-to-be-fierce tablet competition, netbook prices will drop to below $300. So the YB’s $549 starting price is a head-shaker. But Sony claims these new portables will offer a full-sized notebook experience (though lacking an optical drive) at just three pounds. Huh?

  • Polaroid GL10 Instant Mobile Printer: Introduced to much fanfare and show-floor pandemonium by Lady Gaga, Polaroid’s purse-sized printer connects to phones wirelessly via Bluetooth — and to cameras and PCs via USB cable — enabling image printing on the fly. The GL10 uses special packets of paper embedded with cyan, yellow, and magenta dye crystals that are activated by heat.

    The paper will come in packets of 10 sheets, and the booth samples look impressive. But Polaroid hasn’t set a price for the paper, and that could be a real gotcha. The printer will be available in May 2011 for $150. (www.polaroid.com)

  • Kingston urDrive: Clever software turns Kingston’s USB flash drives into a mini-operating system independent of the PC the drives are attached to. Armed with browser, MP3 player, and photo viewer apps, the urDrive can run on any computer and not leave a trace of data behind. You can also surf the Net on any computer and not lose your bookmarks or worry about contaminating the hard drive with malware or viruses. Appropriate for a product shown in Vegas, everything done on the urDrive stays on the drive. (Other flash drives have similar features to Kingston’s urDrive, but the Kingston version offers a more sophisticated software design and greater efficiency.)

    Kingston’s DataTraveler 101 Generation 2 comes in 2GB-to-32GB sizes and works with PCs running Windows XP SP2 or later. (www.kingston.com, $10 and up.)

  • Logitech Wireless Solar Keyboard K750: At last, a wireless keyboard without the hassle of changing batteries. Logitech has engineered a flat — just one-third of an inch thick — keyboard (info page) that draws ambient light for its power. An included power app provides a lux meter to ensure you have sufficient light. Once charged, the keyboard can reportedly run for up to three months without additional charging. An integrated power indicator on the top of the keyboard lets you know its current power level. No more batteries — unheard of for any wireless gizmo! (www.logitech.com, $80)
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WS contributing editor Michael Lasky is a freelance writer based in Oakland, California, who has 20 years of computer-magazine experience, most recently as senior editor at PC World.
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Michael Lasky

About Michael Lasky

WS contributing editor Michael Lasky is a freelance writer based in Oakland, California, who has 20 years of computer-magazine experience, most recently as senior editor at PC World.