The Best of CES 2020
CES 2020, and its rally of 100,783 industry attendees, 68,064 exhibitor personnel, 6,365 members of the media all jostling around the 2.9 million square feet where 4,400 exhibitors showed off their best ideas— ended on January 10. And now it’s time to look back on what mattered in all of that. Most “best of lists” don’t mention all 4,400 exhibitors. Each piece of analysis sees CES through a different lens.
Serious Insights focuses on ways of working and tools that change the approach to how people do their jobs—perhaps enhancing something they already do, or by giving people an option to do something new or different. The iconic images of gigantic LG curved screens (above) or Pandora-inspired Mercedes vehicles get top billing, the reality for business comes down to a few interesting products or features, most of them weeks or months away from availability, that may subtlety change how we experience work.
Best of CES 2020: PCs
HP Elite Dragonfly G2
At under 1kg, and sporting 5G wireless, the Dragonfly G2 will hold center stage among elite business devices. Not only is it small and light, but it integrates an optional UHD HDR display or Sure View Reflect privacy. The Dragonfly may be light, but it ships with Tile support built-in for tracking the device should it flitter off. The design incorporates recycled materials including ocean-bound plastics and recycled magnesium. Dragonfly also supports the optional HP Active Pen G3.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold
Like most early attempts at new form factors, the ThinkPad X1 Fold isn’t and thin and light as might be expected, but…the 13.3-inch display folds flat to bring tablet functionality to an Ultrabook form factor. Look for the Fold in mid-2020.
For small and business-oriented, Lenovo also offers up the 13.3-inch ThinkBook Plus that ships with a secondary 10.8-inch e-ink display on the flip side of its color display. The secondary display displays basic information, but most importantly, it combines Microsoft OneNote with the Lenovo Precision Pen to create a less intrusive way to take notes without beginning a tablet and a PC to the same meeting. It also works for PDF annotations. ThinkBook Plus is expected to be available from March 2020, starting at $1199.
HP Envy 32 All-in-One
HP reimagined the all-in-one with the HP Envy 32 All-in-One. This is no Pentium-level commodity machine. Think 4K display, quality sound, and high-end components, including a like a Core i7-9700 CPU and Nvidia RTX 2060 graphics. Oh, and wireless phone charging in the base along with Bluetooth connectivity turns it into a home office sound system. And it looks great too.
Intel NUC 9 Extreme (“Ghost Canyon”)
The NUC 9 Extreme augments the Intel-branded line of modular computers. With NUC 9 Extreme Intel opens up the guts of the design partners for custom configurations based on the Intel “Core” hardware specifications. Create a compliant Intel Compute Element and plug-in electronic adventure into the vertical a slot.
To be clear. The Tomahawk is a gaming play. It does come from Razer after all. But it’s the kind of box that is designed so well that it makes sense as a housing for a high-end desktop computer aimed not at living through a battle, but analyzing all the risks associated with a corporate merger. Unlike a lot of component systems, this one opens easily and consumes components without tools.
A Carless Future?
I am a self-driving car skeptic. I’m not convinced that social or regulatory forces will end up empowering the technology as it evolves. But flying taxis. I’m all in.
Bell attended CES with one of the more eye-catching displays, a full mockup of its Nexus 4EX flying taxi. The electric/hybrid Bell Nexus uses four ducted fans that rotate from takeoff to operation position. But not to be outdone, and Hyundai, in partnership with Uber Elevate, showed off the S-A1 Air Taxi. Hyundai’s S-A1, the company’s first fully-electric Personal Air Vehicle (PAV*) concept for Urban Air Mobility (UAM**) and the Bell Nexus concept highlighted the potential of air travel to relieve crowded ground transportation infrastructure.
There were a lot of robots at CES, many for home uses, or for personal car or companionship. A couple stood out for their business potential.
Sarcos Guardian XO Exoskeleton
If you think owning an Ironman suite would help you do your job, then Sarcos showed something you might be interested in. Their exoskeleton for industrial workers enhances lift to 200 pounds. For those who lift heavy things, like overstuffed airline bags or load trucks for a living, this might be the tool to cut down on equipment and save time by getting extra equipment like forklifts off the docks when loading items, not on pallets.
Samsung’s Neon was billed as an artificial human, but not in the physical sense. Neon is a human chatbot of sorts on steroids. The company brings Neon from its envisioning center, Samsung’s Star Labs (not the Star Labs of DC’s The Flash fame).
Just as people with very human-centric jobs feel a bit of comfort in not being displaced by automation, here comes a technology that offers up instructors, TV anchors, actors and financial advisors among its target audience for disruption. This is IBM Watson, not only with a face but with a personality. For years I chided Watson for not participating in the interview round on its Jeopardy win. Neon might well answer questions about general knowledge as well as chit-chat with Alex Trebek.
I’m assuming the team at Neon did see Her. Those fictional creators of the AI friend had all good intentions, but then the AI got bored with humanity and went off to commune with itself. Not as dangerous as Skynet, but more heartbreaking. Here’s to hoping for a better outcome with Neon.
From CNBC TV:
Bags and Luggage
Our reviews demonstrate a propensity for evaluating luggage. Two standouts at CES this year focus on sustainability and entertainability.
100% recycled and biodegradable materials. That says it all. From a company known already for stylish, urban designs. Discarded PET bottles become a melted fiber, get cooled and cut into chips then spun into yarn and then they become a bag. A company spokesperson also shared that their tags are also recycled paper and biodegradable. And their duffle, mini Backpack and Tote all carry stuff too.
Displays bit patterns on LEDs across the back of the Pix Backpack. That simple. An app drives the whimsical icons that adorn the $259 otherwise nondescript backpack. Consider personal art, widgets like clocks or writing “help me” during a meeting when a new VP is being a little too new VP. We will be watching for #pixmeme to pop-up on social media to track all the creative ways people express themselves on this throwback display (you read it here first). I hope they don’t get too hi-res so the pix doesn’t just become a backpack with a display on it. It’s the pixelated retro-chic that provides the charm.
Ovis by ForwardX
We also need to give a shout out to the Ovis AI-powered suitcase. This robot-powered carryon includes a camera for identifying and tracking its owner, and a wrist band to alleviate separation anxiety. Not sure the Ovis is ready for day-to-day airport duty but the indiegogo project has attracted about $1.4M, which should be enough help the device figure out how to fulfill its mission. For owners in a jam, a single button deactivates the robotic controller and turns the bag into a standard four-wheel roller. The ForwardX could as easily go in the robot section as the bags and luggage section of this report.
We already published the definitive iPhone case guide, but developments continue. Companies like Speck continue to refine materials with products like Presidio2 that add layers upon layers to protect ever more pricy phone investments. They call the new material Armor Cloud, a dual-layer approach that incorporates air bubbles into the crash buffeting equation.
Organicore™ Cases from Incipio
With Organicore, case maker Incipio brings to market a plant-based material case that protects from 6-foot drops, supports wireless charging and goes into the compost heap rather than the trash when a new phone arrives.
AirPods are the new iPhone
A few years ago CES launched the iLounge, a designated area where vendors of all things Apple (and generally personal mobile-related) showed their wares. That area now scatters across the show, into suites at the Venetian. Many smaller vendors and startups simply disappeared. 2020 however hinted at the success of the iPhone and its ability to create an explosive accessory market. In 2020 Apple’s latest hit, AirPods created the frenzy of creativity among accessory suppliers, and among competitors. We point out a couple of competitive earbuds of note, but don’t go into the plethora of AirPod charging solutions, cases, ear tips, necklaces, blingy wrappers and trackers that dotted nearly every corner where an accessory vendor bought floorspace.
Acouva | Truly Wireless Earbuds For Work & Play
Acouva brings what they call Hearables, characterized by personalized sound profiles for each ear. They reduce noise on calls, leverages bone-conducting for enhanced voice pickup and offer unique hotswappable batteries that take listening and talking to 20 hours.
Jabra upped their game with their Elite Active 75t earbuds. These earbuds take their queue from the successful Elite Active 65ts, but are 22 percent smaller than their predecessor. They run for 7.5 hours on a charge. The included charging case, with magnets for adhering the earbuds, increases time away from an outlet to 28 hours. In Q2 the Active 75ts will gain similar sound profiling capabilities as Jabra launches MySound, a joint development with sister company GN Hearing.
Waverly Labs Ambassador interpreter
Not all personal audio products focused on listening to music and taking calls. Some of them offer more smarts, and the best we saw was the Ambassador Interpreter from Waverly Labs. The system translates 20 languages and 42 dialects and sports a two-mic array for enhanced voice pickup. Uniquely, a single phone manages four units. What that means is a more natural conversation. Handout the earpieces (that are not earbuds, so not gross to share) and start talking. It’s not perfect, but it creates a dialog where one might not exist, or where formalisms might lead to a less than satisfactory interchange.
For another approach to translation checkout Lingolet and their AI-based translation and transcription service that lobs out a conversation to a human interpreter if needed. Lingolet covers 185+ languages. Not a headset, but a device and service, but still worth a look for those who cover a lot of territories.
Fais bon voyage.
Finally, consider Kokoon, headphone made to help with sleep. They employ the knowledge of sleep scientists to put techniques into technology. Auto-adjusting audio keeps you focused on sleep, not on sound. Sensors, like motion and EEG, track what works and what doesn’t, adapting over time for an ever-better sleep experience. Active Noise Cancelation and passive noise isolation take out the majority of background noise. Both get complemented by white noise as onboard sensors detect sleep. All that tech and what caught my eye was comfortable looking, oblong headphones that actually looked like they were designed for the human ear. And yes, they also play music and take phone calls.
DiamondDog Glass Screen Cover
Need a new screen protector with a cool name and a product that exceeds expectations? Look to MyDiamondDog’s glass screen covers that include a special scratch resistance coating called DiamondClad, which is a diamond-like carbon coating. The company also employs hi-end adhesive that keeps the screen protector in place and won’t pop-up over time. An iPhone 11 Pro screen protector will run about $30 then they ship, which is a good investment given phones that now routinely cost over $1,000.
Artie 3000 from Educational Insights
For those looking to move beyond programming into real-world control, consider $69.99 Artie from Education Insights. Think of it as a robotic spirograph of sorts. Rather than using gears to draw patterns, Artie takes in code to drive the drawing experience. Artie has been nominated as a STEM Toy of the Year finalist. Instead of bringing a Tinkertoys or Legos to the next creativity workshop, consider an Artie 3000.
Celestron Starsense Explorer Telescope
Look up in the sky…but where to look. Well, get an expensive computer-aided telescope, or use a phone and a Celestron Starsense Explorer and leverage the power of the phone to locate star patterns, align the telescope and then point it at a target. You could also get a paper star map and futz with the telescope until the star of choice appeared in the eyepiece, but that isn’t a CES story.
External Batteries and Charging
Batteries and charging solutions run near commodity, but the market still finds ways to innovate.
HyperCube and Side Pocket from Ampede
This slick transformer of a charger comes in multiple versions including simple folding strips, and folding blocks with a built-in clock called HyberCube. HyperCube wraps around a proprietary battery for travel. The Unravel AW+ Wireless Charging Pad offers an Apple Watch edition to keep all the charging in one place, on one pad. And they company is trying to revive the fanny pack with a custom build product called Side Pocket, that offers wireless charging while walking through two custom pockets that hold the battery and the phone for alignment and charge visibility.
MyCharge Hub Turbo 10050
MyCharge brings to market perhaps the most convenient of charging solutions. Their latest well-rounded battery, the $109.99 Hub Turbo 10050, charges up to three devices at a time, leveraging built-in USB-C, Apple Lightning cables, along with a generalized USB port. Prongs in the back turn any outlet into a recharging option.
Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite
The Galaxy Note 10 is a flagship phone. And its priced like one. For those after more modest pricing and features, but still looking for a Note experience, Samsung introduced the Galaxy Note 10 Lite. The 6.7-inch Full HD+ (2400 x 1080 pixels) Super AMOLED screen device supports the SPen Stylus. The device is pretty powerful with a Exynos 9810 octa-core CPU and Mali-G72 MP18 GPU. The up-to 128GB internal storage can be augmented with 1TB microSD for those looking to store images from the 3-sensor 12MP lenses.
XR: Virtual and Augmented Reality
We did not spend a significant amount of time looking for virtual or augmented reality at this conference. The general investigation suggests that headset power, field of view, various tracking features that deliver on six degrees of freedom (6DoF), better software and a better user experience all remain challenges facing the XR market. 2020 will not be the year of AR or VR. For mission-critical use cases like simulation or military heads-up display, the high cost of VR/AR experiences will not likely deter development with tools like the $8,000 wide field of view 8K Xtal platform. For most companies, and certainty for individuals, the technology remains less than compelling at a reasonable investment level—it technology remains a novelty worthy of experimentation with low expectations for meaningful financial returns.
Since I already brought up gaming, why not take it to the next level with a couple of mobile devices that show off how far small can go.
First is the Razer Junglecat, which transforms smartphones into Nintendo Switch competitors. And for those who worry economics, remove the phone and the Junglecat transforms into a console game controller.
Dell Alienware Concept UFO
For those looking for PC gaming in a Nintendo Switch inspired package, look at the Dell Alienware Concept UFO, which doesn’t need much explanation.
That’s it from CES 2020 for now. As products arrive for evaluation, check in on your Serious Insights WordPress subscription for details on everything from the latest PCs to telescopes that use your phone to search the sky.