Every year at CES, among my ramblings about interesting products, a few always leap out as odd. And one did yesterday morning…until I found out more about it and began to consider it a bit deeper until I walked away so impressed that It might even end up on my “Cool” list.
(People always ask, “So, what Really Cool Products did you see this year??!” And what they’re thinking are things are a flashy with a lot of whizbang to them. But what I think are cool are the items that might be low-key, because people could not only use every day, but make their life easier, since they do use these things so regularly.)
The item in question was from Babali, and for lack of a better word they make “Smart helmets.” And what at first caught my eye were that they made fireman hats, and construction site helmets, and protective helmets for bike riders. And so, yes, at first glance, that seemed odd. But it turns out that, among other things, the helmets have built-in features like Bluetooth phone capability and music controls, so the person doesn’t have to be fumbling with their mobile phones while on the job. And further, the high-end line of their bike helmets have Google Glasses built in – and even that proved valuable, one of the few really valuable uses I’ve seen of Google Glasses: turned backwards, they let the bike rider see what’s behind them, for safety! Ultimately, the company made very thoughtful, interesting products.
Another product that didn’t catch my interest at first, but did the more I learned about it was a turntable for LPs from Audio-Technica. The company makes quite good headphones at a range of prices, and that’s what I’d wandered over to see. So, when saw their news ATLP 60 BT turntable (the company always has the most bland names for their good products), I noted it and moved on. I’d reviewed one of their turntables years ago, and it was quite good, but it just wasn’t anything I was looking for. But what made this so intriguing is that it has Bluetooth capability. So what, I hear you cry? Well…you see, usually when one has old LP albums sitting around they go un-listened to for several reason – the person has no turntable, and no full system set up with it connected to a receiver and big floor speakers. Nor the space for it all in the living room. But with this Bluetooth turntable, you don’t need to connect it to…well, anything. You could just plug it in and stick it in a closet, if you wanted to. And then with its Bluetooth, it will send its audio to any Bluetooth speakers you have (including, of course, small portable ones one your desktop), or to your Bluetooth headphones. As the company spokesman noted, this turntable takes one of the least portable audio devices there is and makes it portable. And it sort of does. But mainly, it makes old LP collections exceedingly usable once again. The turntable retails for just $180, very reasonable.
I was intrigued by the Wacom Bamboo Spark. How well it works remains to be seen. For years, I’ve written about products that take your handwritten notes and convert them to digital text. But they’ve all had issues. One did its job wonderfully, but it was so convoluted to use that I think most people would give up. Another was fairly simple, but it required special paper, and that ultimately made it SO expensive to use as a regular device. The Bamboo Spark appears to be simple and uses any paper. (The pad can’t be too thick, I think they said about 50 pages, but that’s not an issue.) It comes in a sort of folio with a special ink pen. You press a button, start writing, and push the button again when you’re done with the page, or “layer” they call it. The device can either store what you wrote until you’re ready to transfer it to your tablet or computer, or you can have it transferred immediately. (The folio has a place you can attack your tablet.) How well it works, as I said remains to be seen. The demo looked good, though it looked best for simple note taking, rather than extensive writing, but that might not be the case. It retails for $160.
Last night, also, I attended the Showstoppers event, perhaps my favorite at CES. This is another of those shows where they fill up a ballroom with vendors, the press and lots of very good food. (The latter is no small thing. But it’s all a terrific, valuable evening.) Lots of good products, but two come to mind.
One is the GoSun Grill. This is, as the name says, nothing more than an outdoor grill. But it runs on solar polar. No electricity needed (though it can, if you want to grill at night in the dark), no charcoal, nothing. They have two models – the sport model (at $279) folds up nicely for travel and can cook a meal in about 20 minutes. But the capacity is small, and there’s no electric capability. The more expensive one (at $599) will cook a meal for eight in an hour, still pretty fast, but it has much greater capacity and can be plugged in, if needed.
I also was intrigued by Skreens. This lets you connect several devices (like a TV, Xbox game player, web browser, DVD, whatever) into a dock and then all can be displayed on your monitor or TV at the same time, in their own individual “boxes”. So, you can watch a TV show while playing a video game and browsing the Internet or answering email. They have a 2-port model, though I thought the 4-port version was much more valuable. It retails between $450-$500.
Lots more interesting things at Showstoppers and on the show floor, but that will have to suffice for now. Also some head-scratchers. Usually the latter seem pointless, but one I can across in the morning looked wonderfully made, really high-end. But…I’m not quite sure where they think a big market is for the thing. It was a music player from Echobox. Pretty much like an old iPod or any MP3 music player, but extremely well-made, as I said. High end. It could allow you to use high quality headphones, something generally not the case with a Smartphone. So, audiophiles might appreciate it. But…but anyone (including audiophiles) can put their music on their Smartphone without absolutely needing another device – and…it will likely cost (are you ready?) around $500. I suspect even audiophiles can be fine waiting to play their music on their home stereo system. It’s a really good-looking product. I ‘m just not sure why they went there.
And that’s the news for now. The doors open soon for today’s session, so…onward into the jungle.