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1/6/2012
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David Berlind
David Berlind
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CES 2012 Preview: 16 Hot Gadgets

Here's a sneak peek at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show's array of gadgets, from dream cameras to clever iPhone cases--and even a cycling computer that promises you a beach-ready body.




With more than 2,700 exhibitors filling more than 3.2 million square feet of space in the Las Vegas Convention Center, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has evolved into a Disneyland-like spectacle. There's no way to see everything--from refrigerators with Internet-enabled egg-trays to smartphones to Justin Bieber (yes, he'll be there)--in the short week that the show comes to town. This is especially true given how quickly the streets, cabs, and buses are overwhelmed by the tens of thousands of people who descend on Sin City for a bit of a boondoggle and a glimpse at the latest consumer technology. Harking back to the days of Comdex, the CES is so big that it now spills over into the convention center's neighboring hotels.

While heavy coverage of consumer technology isn't exactly the primary domain of InformationWeek, we know that there's an inner-geek in all of you, whose passion for technology can only be satisfied by an occasional full-sized helping of consumer tech imagery. Not to mention the reality that much of what appears on the show floor this month will appear in offices later this year, forcing IT departments to figure out how to deal with the new devices. Undeterred by throngs of people (many of whom need a shower), snarled traffic, and smoky casinos, InformationWeek will be at CES in force looking to unearth the coolest wizardry at this year's show.

Our on-site coverage will begin late Sunday with videos and still images from a closed-door press-only gathering called "CES Unveiled." As part of an extended warm up for the main event on Tuesday, our journalists and video crews will fan out across the city on Monday for private viewings and video-tapings of unannounced technologies. Finally, on Tuesday, when the big tent opens, the InformationWeek team will attempt to divide and conquer all that square footage.

For this and more coverage of the show as it unfolds, be sure to visit InformationWeek's CES 2012 Special Report. Meanwhile, in advance of the show, we asked some CES exhibitors to share a sneak peek at their new goodies and gadgets. Let your inner geek dig in and enjoy.


Bad audio will ruin any recording. We know. Given all the audio and video that we frequently capture while on the run (including what we'll be capturing at CES), one thing is for sure--when the original source audio has a problem, it's almost impossible to rescue. And with most audio, you don't get a second chance. Enter Olympus' LS100 handheld digital audio recorder. With this little puppy, musicians, newsgatherers, and audiophiles can rely on either the built-in microphones or two phantom-powered XLR inputs to capture that next command performance (or a presidential candidate in a campaign-ending moment).

According to Olympus, unless you're plugging-in instruments, you may not even need the XLR inputs. The two internal 90-degree directional stereo condenser microphones are ideal for capturing audio in incredibly loud environments without any clipping (like, if you're standing next to the amps at a Metallica concert). It's so smart, it can minimize unwanted background noises like talking, or the rumble of a distant car.

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Incorporating Thunderbolt I/O technology by Intel (which, at 300 MB/sec of sustained throughput, is twice as fast as USB 3.0 and 12 times faster than FireWire 800), as well as two new 4-TB, 7,200 RPM Hitachi Deskstar hard drives, the new G-RAID with Thunderbolt sets a new capacity and performance standard for RAID storage, Hitachi claims. For example, the G-RAID with Thunderbolt can transfer a full-length, high-definition movie in less than a minute, Hitachi says.

Aimed at the professional A/V market, the G-RAID with Thunderbolt's speed and capacity could potentially turn any notebook or desktop into a full-fledged video editing workstation. The G-RAID's two Thunderbolt ports enable daisy-chaining of up to six Thunderbolt peripherals (ie: additional G-RAIDs, a high-resolution display, or high-bit-rate video capture devices). Thunderbolt ports can be found on new models of notebooks and desktops from vendors like Apple.

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The media:scape mini from Steelcase supports collaborative work, HD videoconferencing, and presentations. Although it only handles a maximum of four users, collaboration screen-sharing style couldn't be easier. Users simply connect their laptops, iPads, or other mobile devices (that sort of interoperability by itself is cool) via USB cable to one of four "pucks" on the media:scape mini unit. With the touch of the puck, the user may share content on his screen instantly.

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It's too bad they don't make this gizmo for our car keys as well. Kensington's BungeeAir keyfob wirelessly monitors how far you are from your iPhone and lets you know when you've gone too far. Similar to proximity technologies used to protect healthcare data from prying eyes, this gadget not only lets you know when you're leaving your iPhone behind, but also locks the iPhone's screen down so that its data can't be compromised.

Wait, there's more. More power that is. The BungeeAir includes a protective case for the iPhone that, with its built-in battery, gives you an extra four hours of battery life between power pitstops.

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Y-cam's network attached storage-ready Wi-Fi security cameras provide business or residential customers with a simple way to keep an eye on a property from anywhere in the world. Using a Y-cam Internet security camera, every time someone comes in or out of your house, a motion alert with a photo is sent directly to your mobile device, as the activity happens. The cameras provide high-quality video and night vision up to 15 meters, even in pitch black darkness. The different versions range in cost from $204 to $280, with the more expensive versions being capable of recording directly to an SD card.

One challenge with these and other cameras like them though: how to get power to them? They come with an AC power pack, but if you want to mount these cameras in an unobtrusive place (like a wall or a ceiling) you might face some challenges getting power without having unsightly wires all over the place. Though it doesn't easily solve the unsightly wiring problem, we'd like to see a Power over Ethernet (PoE) option.

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If you're the neighborhood or department tech support guru--as many of us at InformationWeek are--then you've probably had to rescue a failing notebook hard drive, or upgrade a neighbor or co-worker to something with more capacity. It's the sort of task that's daunting even to DIYers, because you have to find a way to get the data off the old drive and onto the new one. Enter Cirago's CDD3000 Dual Hard Drive Docking Station. It can accept two 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch SATA 2.0 hard drives, relying on USB (v1.1 and up) as a means of connecting to the host system. The drives can be cloned (including their boot sectors) with the touch of a single button.

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In the past few weeks, we've seen a lot of cases that extend the battery life of an iPhone. Our sister site--BYTE.com--reviewed a gaggle of cases designed for folks whose iPhones can't make it through the day on a single charge. But one of the cases we didn't get to see was Third Rail Mobility's modular design, where the battery snaps onto the back of the case. Compared to other cases with integrated batteries, this design makes it possible to charge the battery separately from the phone without having to remove the case. It also makes it possible for you to carry extra charged batteries around with you. When the one you're using dies, just snap another one on. One downside though; when a battery is attached to this case, it's a lot thicker than the cases with integrated batteries.

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Velocomp claims that its iBike Powerhouse is the world's first intelligent cycling computer, designed to automatically adjust to your exercise goals. As you upload performance data from your iBike Powerhouse to an iPhone or iPod Touch, an iOS app analyzes the data, optimizes the goals for your next workout, and then uses those goals to motivate you to achieve that next level of fitness. Velcomp claims that the so-called Powerhouse method maximizes the benefit of each ride, so as to shorten the time needed to achieve results.

Users can pick from several goal-based plans. For example, "iSlim," "Express Fitness," "Brazilian Butt," "Kid Fit," "Weekend Warrior," "Zero to 50 miles in 3 weeks," and "Healthy Heart" are some of the plans that Velocomp makes available through in-app purchases (ahem, there's the business model!). Then over a period of four to six weeks, iBike Powerhouse directs you to pedal at specific levels of effort (cyclists know these as "watts") during each workout.

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Normally, Bluetooth keyboards don't get us all hot and bothered. Even Iogear's $63 Multi-Link Bluetooth Mini Keyboard didn't send us looking for an air conditioned room. After all, there are probably dozens of these keyboards on the market. But this gadget makes sense if you have multiple devices (a smartphone, a tablet, a PC, etc.) that wirelessly accept Bluetooth keyboards, but you don't want to carry multiple keyboards around (or constantly redo the pairing of a single keyboard.) Sometimes, utility trumps sex appeal--and this is one of those cases.

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Have you ever noticed how the NASCAR and Tour de France people statistics look so easy? You're in your living room watching a race and, as the competition unfolds and the cameras zero-in on one competitor, all sorts of vital statistics about that competitor are presented. "Oh, the technology" you think to yourself. Surely, it's only the sort of stuff that big TV networks that can afford.

Well, if GoBandit has its way, you'll be thinking again. With a built-in GPS and altimeter, GoBandit's tiny HD video camera can be strapped to anything (your bike, your car, you name it. ) Then you just hit the record button. By the time you're done, you have a video to share with your friends--one that shows the video of your trip along with an interactive map and vitals (speed and altitude) for every second of the ride.

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If you're a road warrior looking to capture great images and video while on the run (like many of us here at InformationWeek), then what you really want is a compact, video-capable Digital SLR. Interchangeable lenses are one of the hallmarks of a DSLR when compared to point and shoot cameras. So too are the electronic WYSIWYG view finders. Until recently, the proverbial king of the hill (arguably, of course) was Panasonic's Lumix GH2. With its 4:3 image aspect ratio, electronic viewfinder and 16.1 megapixels, the GH2 was the hands-down winner in terms of a prosumer camera packed into a tiny package. And, it has an important advantage in the market: It is shipping. You can actually buy one. The same cannot be said of Sony's NEX-7, which was officially announced in August of 2011 but hasn't made it onto store shelves, thanks in part to the tsunami that struck Japan.

Even so, the NEX-7 is worth waiting for. Although a tad more expensive than the GH2, its APS-C CMOS sensor weighs in at 24 megapixels. More megapixels doesn't always mean better. The more you pack into a tiny sensor, the more opportunity there is for noise in the final picture or video. But reviewers are claiming that the NEX-7 is producing crisp images and that noise isn't a major problem. Compared to the Lumix lineup, there are fewer lenses available for the NEX series. But there are enough to get most of us by, and more will no doubt be on the way. So you can imagine why we're excited to spot an NEX-7 in the wild for the first time.

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Let's face it. The business of personal scanners and OCR technology basically plateaued somewhere in the mid to late 1990's. And as was the case with artificial intelligence, not a year goes by where the much-beleagured idea of the paperless office is promised, but not delivered. At least not en masse. We're still waiting for that breakthrough to bust the category open like the iPad did for tablets (another technology that struggled for respect for more than 15 years.) We expect 2012 will be no different--but two of the first offerings that we'll be looking to check out come from The Neat Company. At CES, The Neat Company will show off its NeatDesk and NetReceipts solutions.

Much like the overcrowded category of business card scanners, the secret sauce in these scanners is the ability to optically recognize text on a variety of document types (not just business cards, but receipts and other documents too), then parse that text into something meaningful like an entry that could be used in your expense reporting system. Everything that's scanned by NeatDesk is keyword-tagged and filed into a database. Meanwhile NeatReceipts can also work with all document types, but is designed for portability.

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For the last few years, several companies have been looking to seize the lead in providing high-end wireless headphones whose audio quality matches that of high-end wired headphones. Sennheiser believes it has the lead and will be making several CES announcements in the area of wireless audio. Sennheiser will feature its audiophile-grade, digital wireless RS 220 headphone. The RS 220 is the first such offering from Sennheiser (a company with a long history in professional audio) and is also a 2012 CES Innovations Award Honoree.

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Normally, we don't think of IBM as a consumer electronics company--at least since it sold its PC business to Lenovo. So, you can imagine how surprised we were when IBM invited us to CES to check out a personal fitness offering from BodyMedia.

According to BodyMedia, the latest BodyMedia FIT BodyBand is one of those personal fitness gizmos that goes far beyond the basic wellness tracking features found in many similar offerings. Using the FIT BodyBand, anyone who wants to lose weight can have access to his own personal digital trainer and nutritionist. Powered by IBM WebSphere Decision Management software--the same business intelligence software that apparently powers big enterprises like the Port of Singapore--the latest FIT armband helps you make sense of all the fitness data you could possibly track (physical activity, calories, sleep patterns, etc.), and provides personalized coaching on how to succeed at your weight loss and fitness goals. Aha! So that's the reason IBM invited us. Our muscles get better and stronger through "the muscle" behind the FIT BodyBand; IBM's WebSphere.

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In the bigger scheme of things, earbuds are a relatively new phenomenon. So, have you ever wondered how much damage you might be doing to yourself with those earbuds stuck in your ears all the time? Thirty years from now, are we all going to be deaf? Will we find out that those nasty little earbuds were the culprits? Enter VoxLinc, with its AfterShockz Bone Conduction Headphones. Instead of earcups, these headphones have a pad that sits just below your temple. From there, your cheekbones pick up the sound and transmit it to your inner ears.

There's another huge benefit, the company says. Unlike earbuds that block out other important audio cues from your surroundings, this gadget gives your ears an unobstructed path to the sounds around you (like that car that's about to run you over because the driver is texting). This, according to VoxLinc, is why the military relies on the technology for soldiers in combat situations. The soldiers can hear radio communications while also hearing what's going on around them on the battlefield. So, take the "ear" out of "hear."

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We heard about Keyport Inc.'s Slide last year, but never got a chance to see or test one. So we checked to see if they were coming to Vegas this year for CES, and sure enough, they'll be in town. What does the Keyport Slide do? Imagine you're one of those geeks (like us) with a bunch of keys on your key rings. Not just car keys, house keys, and so on--but USB keys. And little flashlights. Hey, whatever we can hang on there, we will.

The folks at Keyport have rethought the key ring. What personal item could be more of a candidate for reinvention than your key ring? Or your key wallet for those of you who still use one. A Keyport Slide has the capacity for six "blades." It's up to you how to use that capacity. Maybe you want five keys and one USB memory stick. Or maybe you want three keys, a USB memory stick, a bottle opener, and an LED flashlight. By using spring-loaded headless keys, Keyport packs what was once on your key ring into a small package that's about half the width of a credit card. Wow. It's about time.

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