Rory Cellan-Jones

Last Gadget Standing

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 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.

Last Gadget StandingThe 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.

LiveScribe Pulse

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."


  • Comment number 1.

    I know you think the MSI Wind Netbook is a dull device, but as a long-time Mac user, it's pretty cool to be able to install Mac OS X on such a tiny laptop, especially for those of us who do not want to pay the huge price tag for a MacBook Air. There are a lot of tips worth reading on using your Mac at Mac Guru Lounge.

  • Comment number 2.

    Thanks for joining us Rory. DIY repair site FixYa ( was one of the Netshelter judges for the event and we really enjoyed ourselves. Based on input from our repair experts, we had the unique perspective of getting to choose the gadgets we know are going to last. We hope you liked our choices.

  • Comment number 3.

    I tried the emmwave on their stand. You can see the lady on the video has a red light, showing that she is stressed as her pitch is being recorded. Mine started blue and was going green as I relaxed into the breathing routine - it then flashed red when I was distracted as something I had forgotten to do leapt into my mind. I guess it must work...

    I have no idea how the shortlist was created, but here are a few I saw that were missed off the list.

    1. WireTape - basically a neat and tidy way to run cables to you wall mounted flat panel TV. Use it like sellotape so it sticks flat to the wall and then paint / wallpaper over it. Neat. (and tidy)

    2. Xambox - a scanner, a bit of software and a database combined. Take that big pile of paper building up in your in-tray. Run it through the fax-machine-like thing and it stores all your post. When the time comes to pay the bill, you can find the document quickly on your PC. Would be a godsend for people like me who are allergic to filing cabinets - but for the $2,800 price tag... Aimed at businesses apparently, which is a real shame.

    3. Trispecs - Posh Spice type sunglasses with built in bluetooth MP3 headphones.

    4. num8 - For all of us paranoid parents scared stiff of another Soham / Sarah Payne / Maddy tragedy. We now have a choice; a) we can lock our kids away from the world; b) we can cross our fingers and pray; or c) we can set them free and deal with it if something bad does happen.

    It is really easy to criticise the concept of tracking your kids... until something bad happens to your own. 2,000 kids are reported missing in America every day. Most turn up safe and sound but some don't. If you have seen Angelina Jolie in the Changeling you can't help but applaud the intent.

    I also saw the winner - The Bug, but unless you are trying for uber-geek status, it is really hard to see why you would buy one of these things...

  • Comment number 4.

    LiveScribe Pulse: "on special paper with microdots in" Instant fail just there.


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