- 12 Jan 09, 10:56 GMT
Every year the Consumer Electronics Show ends with an event called Last Gadget Standing. For a show where global manufacturers spend vast sums on elaborate displays, this event is a curiously homespun, even amateur affair - a bit like a talent show at your local pub. But for me it's one of the best ways of working out where technology is heading.
The idea is that ten gadgets and their makers battle it out on stage in front of an excited audience. There are two winners, chosen by public acclamation (there's a high-tech clapometer in the hall) and by an online vote.
So here's a run-down of this year's finalists, with my personal take on them.
MSI Wind Netbook
First up, one of the many netbooks on display in Las Vegas this year. This one has a 10" screen but its USP is that it has a hybrid storage solution - part hard disk, part solid state drive. Its makers claim that gives it extraordinary battery life - up to 20 hours. Workmanlike, but dull.
Bug Labs Bug
Not satisfied with the gadgets that Apple or Sony are pushing your way? The idea of the Bug is that you can make your own. You start with the bug base which is a tiny Linux computer - then you can snap on a whole range of modules, including a camera, a keyboard, a motion detector, a 3g module and a tiny projector. So the presenter plugged together a device which would detect someone coming into your room, take a picture, email it, and project it on to the wall. Smart stuff.
Eye-Fi Video Card
Last year's winners of this event, with a wifi SD card that sends photos direct from your camera to the web. This year they returned with a product that does the same thing for video - and there were whoops in the hall as they brought a Johnny Cash lookalike on stage and beamed video of him direct to the web as he sang. But when I asked afterwards how long it would take to upload video, they admitted it could be hours on the kind of network most of us use. So why wouldn't you just transfer the video to your computer?
WowWee Joe Bot
The latest toy robot from this CES regular, Joe Bot responds to voice commands. He is also an example of why presenters should not work with children, animals - or robots. After first responding well to the command "dance for these good people, Joe", he then turned truculent and refused to cooperate. Having seen last year's WowWee robot on sale at less than half-price in a Las Vegas shop, I fear for Joe's future.
Motorola Zine ZN5
A cameraphone which boasts that it's a camera which happens to have a phone attached. The Brummie presenter from Motorola did a great job of selling it and the pictures did look very good but guys, in the end it's just another cameraphone.
T-Mobile Android G1
You may just have heard of this one - the first mobile phone to use Google's open source Android platform. The presenter did a good job, showing off the way the GI used Google's Streetview to navigate him around Las Vegas. But hey - we know about the G1 - where's the G2?
EmWave Personal Stress Reliever
From the wacky end of the gadget spectrum, this device is supposed to deal with all your stress - from putting the household budget on red at the casino, to trying to hit a deadline when you're eight hours behind London. As far as I understood the presenters, you put your thumb on it, which gives you a heart-rate variability readout, then you manage your breathing to synchronise it with your heart-rate. Confused? I was.
ClickFree USB Cable
This again left me somewhat confused. It's a USB device you plug in to your computer to make backup much simpler and less error-prone. But you still need an external drive for the data. Maybe it's me but I don't quite get it.
Flip Mino Video HD
The latest version of the tiny video camera with the big red button. Perfect for those who can't be bothered to fiddle with settings, but just want to shoot video on the spur of the moment. Rather more expensive, though, than some rivals unveiled at CES. And I'm not convinced that HD is what we want from budget camcorders.
After seeing a fellow journalist using this computer-in-a-pen at the show, I was already impressed, and the presenters here showed it off really well. So you're at a press conference or lecture. You take notes with the pen, which also records audio, on special paper with microdots built in. If your shorthand, like mine, is non-existent, you'll look back at your notes and puzzle to understand them. But tap on any word you've written down, and your recording will replay at the exact same point in the lecture. Clever, really clever.
So take your pick. I was most impressed by Bug Labs Bug and by the LiveScribe Pen but, like the judges on Strictly Come Dancing, I was out of tune with the public. The online audience voted for the Emware stress reliever, while the hooters and the hollerers in the hall chose the Eye-Fi video card. As an American politician said after being voted out, "the people have spoken, the bastards."
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