CES 2010: Last Gadget Standing
Where would you find Darth Vader, Doctor Evil and a Johnny Cash lookalike battling to get a Las Vegas crowd to vote for their favourite gadgets?
At Last Gadget Standing, which was my last stop at the Consumer Electronics Show this year.
It's an oddball event with a noisy crowd and a lot of geeky jokes - but it's also a better place to get a feel for technology trends than many of CES's keynote addresses and worthy seminars.
Ten gadgets picked by a panel of technology journalists and bloggers are presented to a crowd which, over the years, has come to expect a bit of humour and showbiz rather than a dull Powerpoint presentation.
Hence the tendency of contestants to have their five-minute pitches conducted by "Elvis" or "Johnny Cash" or interrupted by a Star Wars sword-fight.
The winner is picked by the length and volume of the applause, and there is also a separate online vote. So let's have a quick look at the contenders.
Neato Robotics Neato XV-11: So, it's a robotic vacuum cleaner, which heads round your home and extracts dust from corners where you have not ventured in years. Useful, but expensive, and just the latest version of this domestic robot. Let's look for something a little more exciting.
Acer Aspire 3DT: This is billed as the world's first 3D notebook. It's a pretty standard high-end portable computer, but the screen has been coated with what's described as "a special 3D film that clings to the panel, pixel by pixel." You get the effect by wearing polarised glasses. I'm not sure when you'd want to do that with a computer - but hey, everything else at CES had gone 3D, so why not?
Que Pro Reader: This is the Plastic Logic device I wrote about in December - an ultra-thin touch-screen device aimed at executives who want to take a lot of paperwork with them, without the paper. A very pleasing device - but only available in the US at $649, a price which should help it stick to its target market of investment bankers.
Haier Ibiza Traine: A cheap and cheerful gadget for anyone fighting the post-Christmas flab, the Haier Ibiza combines a music player, a pedometer, a calorie counter and a heart-rate monitor in one compact device. The kind of gadget you get in January, and leave to languish in a drawer by March. Or perhaps you take your New Year's resolutions more seriously than I do.
Nvidia Ultra: A tablet computer with a seven-inch touch-screen, the Nvidia Ultra allows you to surf the web, watch HD video and all sorts of other multimedia stuff on a device smaller than a netbook but larger than a smartphone. At a show with a lot of hype about tablet computers, this was one of the few that appeared to deliver the goods.
Sony Dash: It looks like a smart little clock radio, but the Sony Dash can take your hectic morning routine of leaping out of bed, turning on the TV for news, weather and traffic updates, and booting up the computer for Facebook, and replace it with an internet-enabled device packed with a range of useful software widgets that will make mornings a breeze. At least that's what the slick video during Sony's presentation told us. That's all very well, but as far as I could tell the Dash has no tea-making widget and is incapable of walking the dog.
Intel Reader: A device that looks nothing like as attractive as the Dash but may prove more useful, the Intel Reader scans text and reads it out. It's aimed at people with visual impairment or learning difficulties. What really impressed was its ability to read out the word "Micawberism" (the guiding principle of most Web 2.0 businesses?) from the text scanned by the presenter.
Showxx Laser Pico Projector: Tiny projectors beaming pictures from your mobile phone onto a wall have been all the rage at CES for a couple of years, and this product didn't appear to be breaking new ground. So Showxx wisely resorted to a presenter in the form of "Dr Evil", who threatened to upgrade the laser on the projector to WMD class. What's really terrifying about Pico Projectors is that they portend the return of the family holiday photo slideshow marathon.
Motorola Droid: The Droid is the hottest new mobile phone using the Google Android platform. At least it was until Google unveiled the Nexus One last week. Motorola's presentation was interrupted by battling Star Wars characters apparently desperate to get hold of the Droid - but Motorola may be inclined to take a lightsaber to Google for stealing its thunder.
Boxee Box: And finally we had a device that could do what few in the tech industry have managed - make Apple's rival product look distinctively second best. The Boxee Box does something that is going to be a big obsession in 2010 - it takes the internet and puts it in your telly. There are plenty of other ways of getting internet content onto TV but they are either hopelessly complicated or, in the case of Apple TV, much too restricted. The Boxee Box lets you take all sorts of good web video stuff - from YouTube to the BBC iPlayer - and view it on your television using an interface that, in the words of the firm's marketing man Andrew Kippen "even a zebra could use." Plus there's a remote with a full keyboard if you really want to do your e-mail from the TV. He told me afterwards that the device was going to launch at $199 in the US in the first half of the year. But when would it come to Britain?
"We see all the developments that are going on in the UK and the movement of media online in that country makes it easy for Boxee to work there and we're eager to get there and start selling devices soon."
And when the hooting and hollering from the Last Gadget Standing audience had been analysed by a high-tech clapometer, the winner was...Boxee! The online voters picked the Pico projector, to the bemusement of the crowd at CES.
But which gadget is more important - one that puts the web on the TV or one that takes stuff you've put on your phone and beams it onto a wall? You can be the judge of that, but I know which one I'd choose.