It's all too easy to get enamored by the colossal show booths of the biggest electronics manufacturers at CES (Samsung, LG, Sony, Intel and Microsoft's booths are shows unto themselves). But I'd argue the show's charm is exhibited in the farthest reaches, deepest corners, and hidden recesses of the various booths showcasing the offerings of independent designers and companies...
Amongst the labyrinth of 3,100 exhibitors are booths hawking some of the best devices at CES. Also mixed in are sometimes downright ridiculous products, offering solutions for problems nobody had in the first place (for better or for worse, the cheapest of Chinese knockoff and accessory booths were banished to the outskirts of the convention center this year). In either case, it's these smaller displays which gives the Consumer Electronics Show its heart and soul, where you can speak to the actual inventors themselves, where the demos are done by actual employees rather than hired PR reps, and the showmanship is dialed up to 11.
Some of these items are refined updates of technologies and accessories we saw last year, while others are brand new. But here are a few of the entertaining surprises that proved worth our time while trying to cover every square inch of the leviathan trade show:
Advertised as the "self-balancing electric unicycle", the battery powered Solowheel proved to be a surprising example of engineering, with the inventor himself zooming back and forth along the show floor. Inside the motorized unicycle a self-correcting gyroscope maintains riders upright, moving forward without the need for any handles. Think of it as a slightly less awkward Segway capable of 10mph speeds, up to 20 miles in range. I have to admit, I was curious enough to be interested about one myself until I was informed about the $1,800 price tag.
This commemorative Steve Jobs PhotoStitch portrait took 670,000 stitches, 8 hours and 10 different threads. Quite impressive from both a distance and closeup! And eye-catching enough to pull us into a booth filled with Brother sewing, embroidery and quilting machines, not my normal cup of tea. Even a non-crafting type like myself began imagining the limitless possibilities offered by the capabilities of digital image-to-thread printer like the Brother Laura Ashley Innov-ís NX2000.
"Hey, what's going on over there with that large group of excited people?"
What I thought was a freebie giveaway revealed itself to be a devilishly smirking group of men and women handling personal "massagers", all designed to work in conjunction with a recently launched iOS OhMiBod app. Plug in and plug yourself into the sweet vibrations of a music-driven pleasure devices. Users enjoy variable speed, intensity, and pattern controllable both by music, and now also remotely via their new app. We skipped the hands-on demo after a peek over the shoulders of the rowdy bunch, partially because it seemed like some of the attendees were staying way too long at the booth. And, "no", we didn't leave with a sample to include in the goodie bag.
After hours walking a trade show, we can't blame anyone for hoping these devices might help relieve some soreness.
All those episodes of Mad Men tempting you to pick up a bad habit? The IOLITE WISPR Vaporizer is a bad habit made a little nicer, a stylish smoke-free smoking device designed by San Francisco design firms Thing Tank and Sequitur Creative. Besides the mouthpiece, would-be Harold and Kumars could enjoy their leaf of choice without attracting too much suspicion thanks to the design boutique ready case design and colors. Even this clean square found the design interesting enough to take a gander (a look, not a toke).
Schick setup a faux barber shop to demonstrate their latest disposable vibrating razor, the Schick Hydro 5 (how many more blades can they add before razors become cheese graters?). CES attendees were welcomed to sit back and enjoy a complimentary shave. The real reason I stopped by the booth was I mistook the smiling gent as Warren Buffet from afar.
The Presto is a color printer. A printer designed to connect to the internet. An internet-ready printer which converts your emails into printed "e-letters" without the need for a computer. Soooo...a printer for people who still ride pennyfarthings, still retain a skill of penmanship, and remember when televisions required dials to change the channel. Obviously aimed at the grandparents demographic, and honestly a fine and dandy idea until we discovered the service costs $15/month, we can only recommend this if your recipient is a big family photo/greetings cards type.
Visit any camera manufacturer's booth at CES and you'll undoubtedly be offered an opportunity to test new cameras and lenses with lovely, if not scantily clad, models partaking in an assortment of activities: posing, dancing, even playing soccer. Others offer miniature landscapes or colorful mocked up scenery for point and focus testing. But our favorite this year was Nikon's slightly creepy steampunk Jack Sparrow-ish makeup model.
ESPN made a big impression with attendees, clogging up the arteries of the convention hall while hosting a genuine 4 round boxing match. The pugilistic event wasn't just for show, as one boxer was bloodied to a pulp (yet won), all to promote what may prove to be the "killer app" for 3D television, ESPN 3D: live broadcast 3D sporting events.
Forget yesterday's inkjet printers limited to a mere two dimensions, 3D printers is where we're heading. With prices dropping into the realm of mere mortals, it's not hard to imagine something like the Cube 3D home printer becoming the next big thing for home use. The printing process is pretty slow right now; watching it print the CNET logo for a few minutes, we could barely tell the model had gotten any larger. But the array of sample models left us impressed and imagining a near future when you won't have to purchase an iPhone 7 case at the Apple Store, but simply purchase the digital file to upload and print it directly from a 3D printer. The Cube 3D is $1,299, can create single color models using one of ten colors, and costs each printout averages about $4 to print right now.
(Image: Gregory Han)