CES 2014 Gadgets

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Every year in January the tech industry gathers in Las Vegas to ogle the latest gadgets and innovations at CES, the Consumer Electronics Show. While much of what is on display is prototype and concept, it’s a great sneak peek into the future of what we’ll see on the shelves in years to come.

As they do every year at CES, TVs got bigger (Vizio showed off a 120” model), but the main change up in design is the push toward curved screens, which manufacturers promise will offer an IMAX-like experience provided you can spring for a 50” or larger screen. There were also a lot of UHD (Ultra High-Def) and 4K screens offering even crisper images and faster refresh rates than ever before, yet with little content capable of taking advantage of UHD or 4K it will be a few years before it hits the mainstream. With screens too large for any normal living room and prices too high for any normal budget, the TVs showcased at CES are really just an indication of the features we are likely to see rolled out on more reasonably sized screens in the years to come.

From wellness tracking wristbands, to a strap-on ECG heart monitor that sends data directly to your doctor (QardioCore, http://www.getqardio.com/) and even a baby onesie that can track your baby’s breathing and motion (the Mimo Baby Monitor, http://mimobaby.com/), wearable technology was out in force at this year’s CES. Here are some of the notables:

The Pebble smartwatch is finally available in stainless steel: the Pebble Steel (https://getpebble.com/steel) will ship 1/28/14 and cost $249. Pebble offers the only smartwatch on the market to support iPhones and Android devices, and while I still don’t know that anyone needs their phone’s notifications beamed over Bluetooth to their wrist, at least the Pebble Steel looks more like a fashionable accessory than previous generation’s plastic behemoth.
The Jaybird Reign (http://www.jaybirdsport.com/reign-activity-tracker/, no price yet) is a health monitoring wristband. Like so many other activity trackers showcased at CES, it tracks your movement, calories burned, sleep patterns and activities. The fun part is that it will offer up suggestions to improve your well-being: tossed and turned after that American Horror Story marathon? The Jaybird will send a suggestion that you catch a few more hours of sleep to your iOS or Android mobile device. After a lazy Sunday on the couch you’ll get prodded to log some time at the gym. Due out this summer.

If you’re looking to minimize the number of things you have to wear on your wrist, LG’s Life Band Touch (http://www.lg.com/us/fitness-activity-trackers/lg-FB84-BM-activity-tracker, no price yet) promises to marry the features of a smartwatch and a wellness tracker. It compiles activity data and sends it to your iOS or Android device, but will also show incoming calls, notifications and allow you to control audio on the LED display. I like that it’s still small, unlikely most bulky smartwatches, but it’s plasric bracelet design isn’t particularly stylish. Due out this Spring.

One of the things that I find most frustrating about Apple mobile gadgets is that they make it nearly impossible to add more storage. You have to try to calculate how many photos or videos you’ll want to store over the life of your device and pay top dollar to get the storage built into the iPhone, iPod or iPad. The Mophie Space Pack says, “No more!” It offers not only additional storage for your iPhone 5S or 5C built into a protective case, but even gives your battery a boost so you can avoid that 8pm low battery warning. Sounds awesome! Except for the price, which has me hurting: $150 for 16GB or $180 for 32GB (http://www.mophie.com/). It’s available for pre-order and promising to ship in March 2014.

Just about every tech gadget review site around gave kudos to the prototype virtual reality gaming device demoed by Oculus Rift, the Crystal Cove (http://www.oculusvr.com/, no release date or price). Despite looking a bit silly – imagine a black box a bit larger than ski goggles strapped to your head and covering your eyes – the newest generation offers less visual lag and the ability to interpret upper body motion of the user, translating head turns and leans into in-game movement.

While those who tried it are excited by the options for gaming, I think the technology is important for what it suggests for future product innovation. The ability to visit a museum virtually that you’d otherwise never be able to afford to travel to; being able to feel like you’re running at the beach instead of on the treadmill; or perhaps even allowing doctors a better view of their patient when performing precise surgical procedures – the possibilities are endless and intriguing.

The integration of technology into your car and home was also prevalent at this year’s CES. I was particularly intrigued by Ford’s solar-powered car, the C-MAX Solar Energi Concept. While it may never actually be built, it’s the first solar power vehicle to actually look like a car and not a single-person mirror-covered rocket. It utilizes a special concentrator to magnify solar energy from a small solar panel flush with the roof of the vehicle. Ford representatives estimate that up to 75% of all trips could be powered by the sun.

BMW has expanded their Active Assist and demoed some new features like driver-less parking. While the car doesn’t totally drive itself on the road, it uses a mess of cameras and sensors to anticipate dangerous situations and in an emergency take over steering and breaking controls to avoid collisions. The idea is that the computer can react faster than the person behind the wheel, but it doesn’t mean you can take a nap or read the paper: a true “driverless” vehicle is at least 7 to 10 years away.

Otherwise, many car makers, including Chevrolet and Hyundai, are adding more apps to your dash board so you can access always up-to-date navigation or book a hotel room on the go with Priceline.

The options for integrating your home’s security and comfort with your Smartphone or computer continue to expand. The Goji Smart Lock (http://www.gojiaccess.com/, $299, available in March) sends a picture of your visitor to your phone and logs traffic (did the Jimmy get home from school on time?), allows you to send temporary access to expected visitors via text, and lets you ditch metal keys in favor of unlocking your door with your phone or key fob.

Finally, manufacturers think it’s high time you were able to talk to your appliances. Text your fridge to let it know you’re headed out of town and it will switch to low-energy mode. Control climate, lighting or start your coffee brewing from wherever you may be. There was even a slow cooker that will send you alerts and supports remote control over WiFi, and a “smart” toothbrush that will tell you if you’re brushing well enough. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I want my appliances calling me up when I’m away from home, so that’s a trend I’ll wait on.

About The Author: Andrea Andrea Eldridge is CEO and co-founder of Nerds On Call, a computer repair company that specializes in on-site and online service for homes and businesses. Andrea is the writer of a weekly column, Nerd Chick Adventures in The Record Searchlight. She prepares TV segments for and appears regularly on CBS, CW and FOX on shows such as Good Day Sacramento, More Good Day Portland, and CBS 13 News, offering viewers technology and lifestyle tips. See Andrea in action at callnerds.com/andrea/.