Every January, thousands of industry professionals and gadget-lovers flock to Las Vegas for the nerd Mecca, the Consumer Electronics Show. The recent gathering showcased tech toys slated to hit the market in the coming year, providing a shopping list for those who are first in line for everything new and cool, and more of a wish list for the rest of us.
Among the highlights was the “ultrabook,” a super-thin and lightweight notebook that’s bigger and more functional than a tablet, but more portable than a traditional laptop. Every major manufacturer had its models, but my favorite was the Dell XPS13.
HP’s Envy 14 Spectre is flashier, with its scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass case and a starting price of $1,399. But the Dell — due out in late February with a rumored $1,000 price tag — is more accessible to the mainstream buyer. Boasting a 13-inch screen, 4GB of RAM and an Intel i5 or i7 processor, it weighs less than three pounds and sports a cool backlit keyboard. A Gorilla Glass screen and carbon fiber shell promise durability and heat resistance, so you can actually use the machine on your lap without burning a hole through your jeans. As with most ultrabooks, its small footprint means you lose some ports: It has no slots for an HDMI cable or SD card, just those for USB, mini display and 3.5mm audio cables.
Show-goers seemed to fall in love with the next generation of flat-panel TVs, including the 55-inch OLED (organic light-emitting diode) models from LG and Samsung. The standard LED screen requires a backlight to illuminate pixels, adding weight, thickness, image “ghosting” and reduced image quality when viewed from off center. But an OLED screen doesn’t require a backlight, so it can be super thin. The LG’s version is 4mm thick — like a stack of three credit cards — weighs just 16.5 pounds and is 3-D compatible. It’s slated for sale this fall, but there’s no preliminary price estimate. Couch potatoes, start saving those pennies.
I surprised myself by choosing the Nokia Lumia 900 as my favorite. When Nokia announced last February that it would partner with Microsoft to create phones running Windows 7, some in the tech community thought that platform would make Nokia phones lag even further behind iPhones and Androids. However, the Lumia 900 is fast and ultra-responsive, and its 4.3-inch display beautifully highlights the Windows 7 tiles layout. It’s scheduled for release in March, exclusive to AT&T’s 4G LTE network and at a price as yet undisclosed. AT&T’s exclusivity contract is rumored to run out 45 days after the launch, allowing other carriers to offer the phone later on.
Finally, in the category of super cool, MakerBot’s Replicator 3-D printer takes the prize. Imagine a printer that can generate 3-D models using a moldable plastic. With the touchof a few buttons, you can create models of the Earth, the Empire State Building — the possibilities are endless. The printer, about the size of a microwave, can generate detailed scale replicas as big as a loaf of bread. The single-color printer starts at $1,749; a two-color version, which can blend hues and materials, costs another $250. The Replicator is scheduled for February release. Being able to “print” a full-size chessboard and all the associated pieces would be ridiculously cool.