While the world gets caught up in the Christmas-New Year's spirit, technology enthusiasts sometimes seem to be holding back their joy. That's because they're saving it up for the biggest event in their lives a few days later - the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. This annual event offers a peek into "future tech".
This year's edition was conspicuous by the absence of a few technology giants from the event - Apple (Tim Cook chose China over Vegas), Google (Eric Schmidt was in North Korea on a "private" visit) and Microsoft (but one couldn't keep Steve Ballmer away). But exhibitors lined up with accessories (and apps/games) for iOS, Google's Android were hovering in the air and there were a lot of devices running Windows.
Of the various interesting and whacky ideas exhibited at the event, here's our pick of the lot.
The bender' phone
If you're a phablet fan but hate carrying the large device, this one's for you. At CES, Samsung showed off a Windows Phone-based prototype which consisted of a match-box (okay, a control unit) attached to a paper-thin display which was flexible.
Okay, one couldn't fold it but the display unit could be rolled up. For the innovation, Samsung packed a layer of organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) over a thin sheet of plastic. So, theoretically, the display is unbreakable as well. The company hasn't revealed if and when this screen will hit our shelves, but I'll put off my phablet buy till then.
A phone for those with butter fingers
If you, like me, have a penchant for dropping devices, this one's right up your alley. Debuting at CES was Sony's flagship Xperia Z, which sports a 5-inch 1080p screen with a quad-core snapdragon processor. With a back made of shatter-proof glass, this Android device's USP is that it's waterproof. A nifty feature if you've wrecked many phones by dropping them in the bath, or, horror of horrors, down the toilet. Sony claims that if the phone gets dirty, one just needs to wash it off. The phone comes with a 13-megapixel fast capture snapper and NFC as well.
4K TVs and tablets
Those who love watching movies and playing games on their big TVs will love this. These 4,000-pixel screens will blow you away, not to mention decimate your bank balance. LG, Sharp, Toshiba and Samsung, all of them exhibited various models on offer, as did Sony, which suffered a demo snafu - their 56-inch TV showed the entire world what a BIOS screen looks like at that resolution! Panasonic also showed off a 20-inch 4K tablet, which, they claim, will hit US shelves later this year. While this is a tablet you won't be lugging around, just think of the possibilities of gaming on such a device.
Just flick to email
One prototype which has been in the news even before CES began is the PaperTab, the bendable tablet launched at the event. Instead of several apps on a single screen, the device uses about 10 interactive pages' each consisting of a particular app. The interactive and flexible 10.7" plastic display and touch screen is powered by the Intel Core i5 processor. The unbreakable' tab is flexible and as thin as paper and should bring the joy of flipping a page while reading eBooks as well.
Next hand-held gaming revolution
Graphics chipset major NVidia unveiled its Project Shield at CES. Running Android Jelly Bean, the clamshell device packs in a gaming controller (with physical controls and a d-pad) with a 5-inch 720p touch screen display. The OS means the plethora of apps on the Google Play app store are accessible.
And, before you wrinkle your nose at the prospect of using this quad core NVidia Tegra 4-powered device to just play Angry Birds, sample this: Any game you play on your PC can be streamed to this device, provided you're using an NVidia GTX-based graphics card. But, it can't make calls, and so, it isn't gonna replace your phone. That's like the best of both worlds - a hand-held as well as a PC controller. NVidia is tight-lipped about the price, which could be a deal-breaker.
PC with a built-in tablet
Asus had left us confused when it introduced the Transformer some years ago. Here was a tablet which was as good as a laptop, but Windows then wasn't exactly tablet-friendly and Android wasn't the best bet for a laptop.
The company seems to have kept customers' views in mind while conceptualising the Transformer All-in-One P1801. The AIO sports an 18.4-inch touch screen display, which is removable and can be used as a stand-alone tablet! The display/tablet is powered by an NVidia Tegra 3 processor and runs Android while the AIO is powered by an Intel Core i5/i7 processor, which takes over after the display is docked'.
The AIO runs Windows 8 and has a spacious 1TB hard drive, while the tablet/display sports a 32GB SSD.
Starting from $1299, the device will be available in the US sometime in the first quarter.
The intelligent' battery
There are times when you get home from work with a splitting headache, wanting some peace. But you get none because of the irritating racket of your school-going cousin's toy robot. Wouldn't it be great if the battery ran out and you had your peace? The Tethercell does exactly that. To the naked eye, it's just a pencil battery, but it is actually a Bluetooth battery case with an AAA battery. With any Bluetooth enabled phone, you can cut off the battery's supply any time you want. Smart, very smart.
To eat healthy
We were taught about the right way of having food while growing - to eat slowly because it helps in digestion. Then we grew up and forgot these teachings and started fighting a losing battle with weight issues. At CES, the HAPIfork was unveiled to help us out. The smart utensil' records meal start and end times and calculates the fork-fulls' of food we have during each meal. A green light glows if we're eating at the right pace, which means better digestion and losing weight. But if we hurry through our food, the red light blinks and the fork vibrates to register its annoyance. Housed below the fork's cap is a USB connector to plug it into your PC and download your data to your online account.
Tablets are great to consume multimedia content, reading emails, games and a lot of other things. But try typing out articles (or copies as us journalists call them), and you'll need to be a pro to type fast and error-free. In fact, one of the reasons why the QWERTY phone is my primary device is the fact that it lets me hammer out 1,000-word copies while on the move. Typing on a tablet in landscape mode is often hampered by the lack of tactile feedback. Not anymore. The Touchfire keyboard overlay fits on to the tablet over the touch keyboard and provides the kind of feedback as from physical keyboards. And, it's flexible enough to be folded away. Let's hope it comes to India.
Remember Luke Skywalker, the last Jedi, of the Star Wars. Wasn't it cool the way he could control a lot of stuff with his mind? Now, you, too, have the power - a toy helicopter for the moment. The Puzzlebox Orbit is controlled by your brainwaves, which are picked up by the NeuroSky MindWave EEG headset you're wearing. These are transferred to your iPhone/ Android phone, which uses software to translate your thoughts into action. If your thoughts aren't clear, you may crash the chopper, but don't worry, it's protected by a cage.
The backup phone
Most of us have been in situations when one desperately needed to make a call on a desolate road but our phone had died on us. That's when we wished if there was a mobile phone which ran on AA batteries. At this year's CES, we finally got what we were waiting for. The SpareOne mobile phone runs on a single AA battery and gives a talk time of 10 hours, the company claims. The no-frills phone has a call button for emergency numbers (which can be called even without a SIM card). The phone is available in the US for $99.99, and I'm praying the company brings it to India soon.
Is it a table? Is it a tablet? No, it's… the Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon Tabletop. The 27-inch display doubles up as a table when you aren't using it as a tablet, and Lenovo has also promised customised game controllers (such as electronic dice) to play board games. The only chink in the armour is the rated battery life of just two hours. But then, this tablet is one you wouldn't be carrying about.
The explosion of smart devices has led to a new chore. Plugging in and charging devices. How about it if we could just throw our device on to a surface and it would charge automatically? At CES, this option was explored in multiple ways. While we had wireless charging surfaces from multiple manufacturers competing for eyeballs, Fulton Innovation adapted the Qi's wireless power transfer technology and fitted it on a Samsung Galaxy Tab to show off as a prototype. The end result: Any phone with wireless charging capability (the recently launched Nokia Lumia 920 comes with it) can be charged by just placing it on the tablet.
Your car's OS
Also displayed at CES was the QNX Bentley Continental GT Concept. QNX, the same software which forms the basis of RIM's upcoming BlackBerry 10 OS, replaced the Bentley's dashboard with a 17-inch capacitive touch screen for its infotainment and navigation system. The revamped system is completely configurable and can display 3D maps and comes with voice navigation. And yes, they managed to retain the Breitling clock in its digital avatar. Let's hope Indian car manufacturers follow this lead.