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CES 2010: Last Gadget Standing

Rory Cellan-Jones | 09:30 UK time, Monday, 11 January 2010

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?

CES logoAt 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.

Rory's dog, CabbageSony 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.


  • Comment number 1.

    I'll definitely sign up for a Boxee when it comes to Britain. But when will streaming radio come to cars? I like classical music, and I can listen to two stations as I drive around, one of which is continually broken up by commercials. But my computer provides access to hundreds of stations all over the world, streaming music without any interruption (or with minimum interruption). Can someone please develop an in-car terminal, where a user can key in streaming stations, just as my car radio allows me to pre-select stations, so that I can switch around at the touch of a button?

  • Comment number 2.

    The Boxee Box is just the Boxee software with some hardware. You could install it on a modified Apple TV or indeed any media center computer and still have the same capabilities.

  • Comment number 3.

    I've got a small-form PC connected to my television with a wireless keyboard and mouse. It's great for surfing the web, watching video on demand, displaying digital photos and so on.

    I've done various tweaks to adapt it for this use. I increased the font DPI to 125 to make the interface easier to use on the television screen and I've installed an extension in Firefox so webpages are zoomed by default. On my desktop I've added a shortcut to BBC's iPlayer big screen interface. Nothing very difficult or technical - just some basic settings.

    This kind of thing is fairly easy to set up, but creating a dedicated machine that you can just plug in and turn on will make this kind of set-up accessible to many more people. Eventually web access will come built in to most TV sets as default - the Canvas project is a step in this direction. The boundaries between television and the web are already blurring, and I expect that the separation between them will largely disappear within the next five years.

  • Comment number 4.

    I've got an old (1st Gen) mac mini attached to my TV with a wired keyboard which gives me a true browser rather than the "best of the web" type experience that most of the internet TVs currently give. I can also use the iRemote and VLC Remote apps on my iphone to control music and media playback. Total cost less than £100.

  • Comment number 5.

    @Nicolas Travers

    The Boxee application is already available, and in my opinion, is awesome!

    All you need is a PC or laptop with HDMI or s-vid output for the TV, and optional remote control/keyboard+mouse.

    I think the boxee box will be great, but personally I would rather build the media centre myself and install the software on it :). Seems like more fun

  • Comment number 6.

    RE: Acer Aspire 3DT
    Sharp had an autostereoscopic 15" notebook (no glasses)in 2003
    First the rd3d and then the al3u see...
    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 7.

    The Droid is a really cool device. It's definitely changed the way I keep in touch, and I'd feel like I was reverting to the stone age if it were taken from me ;)

    Anyone looking to purchase a Droid would be wise to avoid their local retailer and instead check for the best price. I saved a good bit of money using that site.

  • Comment number 8.

    thanks for the writeup Rory. I'm the founder of The Last Gadget Standing and this year we added the Mobile Apps Showdown which was just as much fun.
    Shhh. don't tell anyone but my heart was with the Intel Reader that helps vision impaired folks to see by using a camera to take a photo of a page, translate it to speech.
    Thanks again for a great report, Robin

  • Comment number 9.

    A lot of these gadgets run Linux. The manufacturers may not do the decent thing by mentioning this, but I sure will. Shame on them for not giving back but just taking what they need!

  • Comment number 10.

    Until the Nexus One was unleashed, the Motorola Droid really was looking quite handy. I suppose if Google is preparing to take its first steps into the world of mobile phones then maybe Motorola should steal back some turf and create a rival search engine out of spite?

  • Comment number 11.

    After a weak showing in 2010 and 2009, the CES is expecting more visitors in January 2011. The senior VP of CES, Mr. Oxman, has recently noted, that about 140,000 square meters of space have been booked for 2011. With some 127,000 visitors in 2010, some 113,000 in 2009 and more than 140,000 in 2008, it will be hard to imagine that 2011 can top these figures. Supposedly smartphones and TVs, with network or with 3D capabilities are going to bring in the crowds. I'm definitely curious about this. traduzioni


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