Tomorrow’s Gadgets Today: CES Day One

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Along with a few thousand of my best friends, I am in Vegas, immersed in the annual Consumer Electronics Show. CES has always been an insanely crowded and busy week, but this year seems worse than ever — indeed, the show floor clocks in at a record 1.87 million square feet. It’s obviously impossible for a single person to cover even a small fraction of all that exhibit space, but as the week goes on I’ll bring you the coolest stuff I see nonetheless.  Monday night, I spent 4 hours at the Digital Experience and didn’t see it all. But here’s the best of what I did see.

There wasn’t a ton of just-plain-fun-and-games on display, but Sphero definitely qualifies on that front. It’s a small ball packed with motors so it can roll around on its own — and you control it with your  iPhone or tablet. My favorite Sphero trick: In certain apps, you can point your tablet’s camera at Sphero, and as you roll it around with the tablet controls, software depicts the ball as a 3D character — a little trick called “augmented reality.”

Looking for something a little more practical? How about a portable charging station — essentially, a palm-sized battery — that has a pop-out AC plug to top it off and a pair of USB ports for charging up to two devices at once? The Hyperjuice costs about $129 and has enough power to charge two iPads simultaneously.

The problem with batteries, though, is that they run out so fast. What if you had a charger that could fully charge your iPhone more than a dozen times? And was small enough to slip in your pocket? Nectar ism’t powered by a battery. Instead, it uses small replaceable cartridges fulled with butane, and works like a fuel cell to generate electricity. Each cartridge is good for 14 full charges (a couple of weeks of routine use) and cost $10 each. The downside? The Nectar costs a staggering $299 to start with.

I saw more health trackers at the show than I could count. Crowd favorite Fitbit has a new device called the Flex, which is a flexible wristband (as opposed to the company’s more usual device that clips on your waist. But what caught my eye was Basis, a wrist monitor (it looks like a watch) that I’ve been following through pre-production for at least a year. It’s finally shipping, and it looks great. Basis bristles with sensors other health monitors don’t have, including perspiration, skin temperature, and heart rate monitoring. It’s currently back-ordered, but you can buy it soon for $199.

If you’ve ever wished for a household computer that could do all your mundane tasks for you, then you might appreciate the fact that “connected home” products are big this year. I saw a number of similar offerings, and they’re starting to look mature –and affordable–enough to try out. Startup Christie Street, for example, has a pair of home security gadgets. DoorBot is a doorbell that sends a picture of whoever is at the door to your phone. And Lockitron is a door lock you can enable and disable from your phone as well.

Lowe’s Iris system does a lot more — it’s a slew of interconnected wireless gadgets that can do everything from provide security with motion sensors to trigger smart lights (no special wiring required, since the brain is in the bulb itself) to operating your doggie door.  You can get started with Iris for about $279, but there is a requisite monitoring service costs $10/month.

Want a home alarm system but don’t want to pay a monthly fee? iSmartAlarm is a complete system — including cameras and motion sensors — but it alerts you, via your phone, so there’s no fees. If someone enters your house, it even emails you a photo, which you can forward to the police. Costs about $250.

And check this out — I love the idea of this gadget. It’s a case that snaps onto your iPhone and turns it into a traditional compact camera, complete with a shutter release. If you take a lot of pictures with your phone, this gadget offers the stability and grip you probably crave to take steadier photos. Cool.

I saved the best for last. How many times have you heard about someone dropping their phone in a sink or toilet, or just accidentally dousing it in water? That can kill a normal phone, but Liquipel is a microscopic coating (you literally cannot tell it’s there) that protects your phone even if it’s fully immersed in water.

I saw this demonstrated repeatedly and still can barely believe it. The Liquipel folks also treated an ordinary tissue — that’s what you see in this photo — and when water is spilled on it, the liquid beads right off. A moment later, it is absolutely dry to the touch.

Photo Credit: Dave Johnson

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