The inconvenient truth of living in this wonderful digital age is that most of us split our time between multiple gadgets, be they computer-centric like a laptop or phone-centric like a BlackBerry. So why should we be without our precious files – spreadsheets, photos, songs etc. – just because we’re not in front of the device that we used to create them? And while there are a number of companies out there trying to help us with this problem – you’re probably familiar with dropbox, Mesh, Windows SkyDrive etc. – none of them solve it as elegantly as SugarSync. The company’s service is much more than a virtual file folder in the cloud – it’s a truly cross-platform file management, sharing, versioning and back-up system all rolled into one and accessible from a dizzying array of devices. SugarSync may not offer the most free storage (their free packages tops out at 5GB) but they definitely win first place for features and flexibility. Oh, and they took me indoor skydiving while we were at CES. Not that this influenced this post. At all. I promise.
The future is here and it has a name: the Thing-O-Matic. The truth is, of course, once you get over how cool it is to be able to print real-world objects in three dimensions using little more than a PC, some inexpensive raw plastic and what looks like a dialysis machine made from Tinkertoy, you quickly realize you have no real need to ever print real-world objects in three dimensions. But the fact that MakerBot Industries has taken a process that used to require a machine worth $10,000 or more and put it within reach of mere mortals for the paltry sum of $1,225 USD, is nonetheless remarkable and could have a profound effect on the next generation of engineers who – no longer limited by parts they buy from retailers – can pretty much build anything they can dream up inside a CAD program. So long as they can limit their dreams to 996mm x 108mm x 115 mm – that being the width, length and height maximums of the Thing-o-Matic’s build area. I say let the printing begin, and if anyone can fashion me a new rotor for my Air Hogs Sky Patrol, I would be grateful.
Android! iPad! PlayBook! These are the buzzwords being shouted this year and they were especially loud at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show. There’s good reason for this. Tablets, in case you’ve been sitting under the proverbial rock, are hot, and everyone’s looking to get in on the action. But in all the excitement, more than a few people are asking a very good question: Can I really stop using my laptop or desktop and migrate all of my computing tasks to a tablet? The answer for now at least, is no – not completely. The tablet form factor itself lacks a built-in keyboard which many consider a deal-breaker in terms of doing “real work”, while the operating systems being used (Android, iOS, QNX) aren’t compatible with any of your existing Windows or Mac OS software or peripherals.
This shouldn’t be a surprise. The tablet category, while not technically new, is still very much in its infancy and it will be a few more years before people can give up their existing computers in favour of these lighter gadgets. But for those who are determined to take advantage of the increased portability and touch-screen UI of a tablet without sacrificing full PC functionality, Samsung may have the answer. Their 7-series Sliding PC is a Windows 7 netbook that has all of the typical netbook specs, but when you tuck the sliding keyboard behind the screen, the device becomes a somewhat heavy but nonetheless quite usable tablet.
Personally, I think people should probably skip this device, assuming it ever hits store shelves. In trying to be all things to all people, it ends up being neither. If you want a tablet, this machine is heavy and laden with an OS that is not designed from the ground-up as mobile computing platform. If you want a netbook, this machine offers a few nice perks such as micro-HDMI and 3G, but you can expect it to cost a lot more that the average $300 netbook. Although Samsung wouldn’t give us a date or a price at the show, Engadget was able to squeeze it out of them.
3D permeated every inch of the Consumer Electronics Show this year – even more so than the two previous years. And while most manufacturers concentrated on showing off the 3D tech that consumers could expect to see at retailers this year, a few were demo’ing future technologies that aren’t quite ready for the market. The most widely anticipated of these was glassless 3D – typically achieved with lenticular screens that produced a focused 3D effect within a very narrow field of view and distance from the screen. Sony had some very good examples of that technology. But more impressive from my point of view was a headset-gadget that Sony doesn’t even have a name for yet – although I’ve found at least one journalist referring to it as the “Headman” (terrible name). It’s white, looks like something out of the movie TRON: Legacy and provides the most convincing 3D I’ve ever seen.
The apparatus contains two OLED displays, which are mounted on adjustable sliders so they can be correctly positioned for the width between your pupils. There are also stereo headphones located in the ear-cup area. Sony was running some 3D loops from PS3 games such as GT5 and it was mesmerizing. Unlike any other 3D display I’ve seen so far, the effect was perfect – I felt as though I was standing at the edge of the racetrack with the cars whipping by just a few feet away.
However given the lacklustre consumer response to other head-mounted viewing systems like Vuzix, I’m not sure that even if Sony launched this product tomorrow it would find a wide audience. The device will appeal mostly to hardcore gamers – those who spend a lot of money building a PC rig that gives them every advantage during online gameplay. I suspect casual gamers and 3D movie fans will avoid it in favour of big-screen systems that let them share the experience with others in the room.
Readers, what do you think – does a highly personalized 3D system like this interest you?
Fulton Innovation isn’t exactly a household name, but if their wireless power technology takes off, it could end up powering everything from your car to your kettle. That’s because they’ve demonstrated how induction charging (the method used by Duracell, PowerMat, and others to recharge cellphones and iPods) can be used to do way more than just recharge your phone. In the video below, they show how a kitchen counter equipped with their “eCoupled” inducers can boil kettles, fry eggs, run food processors and even heat up soup inside the container faster and more efficiently that with a microwave.
In another section of their CES booth, Fulton Innovation was also showing how they can run power wirelessly over short distances. They had a Tesla Roadster equipped with their eCoupled technology, which when it was positioned over a charging pad located on the ground, could begin recharging even though the car and the pad were separated by 4 inches of space. No word yet on when we’ll see this technology enter our homes (and garages). For now, it’s just a tantalizing vision of the future.
You may want to use headphones when listening to this video – in the second half we had to switch to the camera’s built-in microphone because our wireless mics were picking up a ton of interference from the wireless charging stations!
Pocketable camcorders have been selling like hotcakes ever since Flip Video (now owned by Cisco) popularized the category a few years ago with their original Flip. Since then, we’ve seen incremental upgrades and a whole lot of new players including Kodak, Creative Labs and of course, Sony. The feature sets continue to grow and now include 1080p HD recording, expandable memory, HDMI output and even optical image stabilization. But until this past week at CES, 3D was still an item on the to-do list. Now with Sony’s new Bloggie 3D (yeah, we’re not crazy about that name either) consumers can cram a Full HD camcorder in their pocket that not only shoots 3D if you want, but can also show you your recorded footage in glasses-free 3D using the built-in LCD monitor. Of course if you own a 3D TV you can watch it on that too ;-)
One fact that we failed to mention in the video below is that you can choose to upload your 3D videos to YouTube in “anaglyph” format – that’s the old-fashioned red & blue version of 3D. It doesn’t look as good as the modern version, but since you can find the Anaglyph glasses almost anywhere for pennies, your audience is guaranteed to be able to see your 3D footage in well, 3D. Even if it does end up looking like a cheezy 3D movie from the 50’s.
Ever since the BlackBerry started to give people access to their email anywhere, and probably long before that, we’ve been imagining a day when the only computing device we need will be small enough to fit in our pockets. That day may be here, at least if Motorola has anything to say about it. Their new ATRIX smartphone, a dual-core speed demon boasting 1 GB of RAM, is the centre of an entire portable ecosystem that includes a laptop-like screen and keyboard combo and a home-theatre dock which turns the ATRIX into an HD media hub. It’s essentially just another Android-powered smartphone, but the ATRIX’s power and peripherals (and some very specialized custom software) make this Android device the first of its kind to free its user from ever again needing to power up a regular computer.
First up: The Polaprinter GL10, a rechargeable instant printer that uses ZINK paper and lets you print over Bluetooth or USB from cellphones, cameras or laptops. It’s essentially an upgrade of Polaroid’s existing PoGo Mobile Instant Printer, but with better print quality, stylish design and a custom app that lets you tweak photos before printing them.
Next is the Polaroid GL30, which again is re-vamped take on their existing PoGo Instant Camera, but this time the device has been built with a cool retro-looking wedge form factor and doubles as a digital photo frame when it is stood on its lens-end.
The piece-de-resistance however is the Polarez GL20, a curious hybrid of sunglasses, camera and digital photo frame that lets the wearer snap photos of their environment and immediately display the resulting pics on the built-in forward-facing OLED displays. Of the three devices that make up this new Grey Label line, none bears the stamp of the Haus of Gaga more than these babies. Will they sell? Perhaps. But not in any quantities that will be significant. Instead, consider GL20 to be marketing tool – a device that is very Gaga-esque and will no doubt get people talking and create positive buzz for Polaroid, but I think it will stop there. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if the GL20s make an appearance in Lady Gaga’s next music video.
We’ve seen a number of gadgets pop up lately that promise to help with the issue of “vampire” or “phantom” power: the trickle of energy that devices of all shapes and sizes consume just because they’re plugged in – though not in use. Some, like powerbars that cut power to attached devices by determining the state of a “master” outlet, do this in a passive way – there is only “on” or “off”. But better options will soon exist, including this smart outlet from thinkeco. The modlet is a dual outlet that communicates wirelessly with your PC and the web to not only turn off power to those hungry yet idle components, but can also learn your usage patterns in order to optimize this behaviour. Best of all, the cost is quite reasonable and the company expects the Modlet to pay for itself within 6-9 months. An online tool let you monitor the activity of your Modlets so that you can see the cost-savings in real time, and turn the outlets on or off while away from home.
The age of the connected TV is here and it will take the humble television and turn it into much more than a screen for watching video. Every manufacturer is now shipping or has plans to ship models that will let you do everything from streaming videos to video calling and almost everything in-between. Samsung’s Smart TVs are a great example of how rapidly this technology is evolving. My guess is that those of us who migrated away from the TV to start using the internet for our entertainment will now be coming back to the big screen… and loving it.