SLIDESHOW

Best of CES 2015: The gadgets and gear that wowed us most

CES is a cavalcade of new products, one after the other, as far as the eye can see. Some stand out more than others.

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This is what impressed us most at CES 2015

Gadgets, glittering as far as the eye can see in crowded halls and hotel suites throughout Sin City. Wearable gadgets. Computing gadgets. Gadgets for your feet, for your pets, for your ears, for your kitchen, for your car, and even gadgets for your windows.

There’s so much technology on display at the spectacle known as the Consumer Electronics Show that it’s easy to be overwhelmed by it all. A lot of it is crap; a lot of it is eh, okay, decent. But if you dig deep enough, for long enough, there are shining gems to be found amid the halls filled with ho-hum hardware.

Our editors staked out the sprawling show floor for days to find the very best CES had to offer. This is the technology that impressed us the most.

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Sony's 'floating' 4K TV (XBR-X900)

It was love at first sight the instant I spotted Sony’s super-thin new ultra-HD TV on the CES show floor. The 65-inch beauty spun around and around, showcasing the edge-to-edge screen, but its most impressive feature is how svelte it is. The TV is 4.9mm at its thinnest, which is slimmer than a smartphone. That means the device can almost disappear into your wall when mounted. While I was enamored of its waistline, the new 4K model’s picture quality is also something to behold. Sony baked in a new 4K X1 Processor to make ultra HD content super-crisp (if you can find any to watch).—Caitlin McGarry

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Dell XPS 13

Lenovo had the lightest 13.3-inch notebook in its truly stunningly light LaVie, but Dell’s XPS 13 claims to be the smallest 13-inch notebook.

I really don’t care about a Guinness World Record’s book fight. No, I’m more impressed by such things as battery life and price—and that’s two areas where the XPS 13 shines. With up to 15 hours of run time and an introductory price of $800, it’s simply hard not to like the XPS 13. When you also factor that it’s a product ready to ship now while the LaVie is months away, I think XPS 13 is the front runner. Sure, that $800 doesn’t get you the largest SSD, but for a lot of folks, it’s plenty.—Gordon Mah Ung

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ThinOptics Smartphone Reading Glasses

They’re probably 1,000 times less audacious than this show’s most bombastic TV. And they don’t even have any electronic parts. But the ThinOptics reading glasses are the thinnest and most exotically constructed readers you’ll ever find, and slip directly into custom-designed cases for various iPhones and Galaxy phones. Long after other mobile accessories have lost their novelty factor, you might still be glad the ThinOptics are snugly attached to that single gadget you always have by your side. $39 buys you a pair of glasses and the smartphone case.—Jon Phillips

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Fuhu's 65-inch BigTab

Why in the world would you want a 4K touchscreen tablet that’s larger than your TV? Well, why wouldn’t you?

Fuhu, a company known for its extensive line of tablets for kids, decided to add a lineup of massive BigTab tablets that can either be mounted vertically, like a TV, or horizontally. And what’s interesting is that they believe enough in the product that they plan a line of furniture designed to hold them. Want a tablet embedded in a poker table? Fuhu’s got you covered. Ignore the fact that the 65-inch model costs $4,000—that’s a dollar per pixel! Just think about the look on your kid’s face when he plays Fruit Ninja on a tablet that could double as a picnic table.—Mark Hachman

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Mercedes-Benz F015 concept car looks way, way forward

Mercedes-Benz made the F015 Luxury in Motion concept a poster car for the future. It’s an autonomous-driving car that can practically help an old lady across the street, beaming a crosswalk onto the road and giving a reassuring audio prompt. It’s a car designed to let you relax while it drives, with seats that can spin and touchscreens built all around the interior. Oh, and it runs on hydrogen gas, whose only exhaust is water.

Some concept cars are just flashy dreams. The F015 is flashy, but it also shows how tech already in development is going to look as a whole car.—Melissa Riofrio

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SmartMat

My local yoga studio is great, but the only classes that fit with my schedule are on weekends, so I’m really stoked on the SmartMat. It’s got 21,000 piezoelectric sensors embedded in it, and connects with Bluetooth to a really lovely iOS and Android app.

A six-step calibration process helps the app learn your height, weight, and the length of your limbs, and after that the sensors can tell if you’re doing each pose correctly, and the apps gives you real-time feedback, while also tracking your progress over time.This will help you continually improve, as well as prevent injury, when you can’t have a real instructor helping you out. It’ll be out in July, but you can preorder it now for about $300.—Susie Ochs

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Credit: Jason Cross/Macworld
Meridian MQA

Okay, I’m sticking with my opinion that Meridian’s MQA audio technology is the best thing I saw (and heard) at CES this year. In fact, this was a great CES for audio all around. Meridian endorsed Imagination Technology’s Caskeid multi-room audio technology for use with MQA; Neil Young’s Pono shipped and its accompanying music store opened; and Samsung showed off very interesting new additions to its Shape multi-room audio system.

But MQA is in a class by itself. It’s an artist-authenticated representation of the original studio-master recording in a format that’s not only compact enough to stream over existing broadband technology, but that is backward compatible with CD. What’s not to love about that?—Michael Brown

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TCL H9700

This year’s buzzword in TVs is “quantum dots,” but it’s far from just marketing BS. Quantum dots are microscopic semiconductor nanocrystals grown in a lab, and they produce different wavelengths of color when you shine a blue backlight through them.

This allows for LCD TVs to dramatically increase their color gamut—the color is truer and more saturated than on an OLED TV, for a fraction of the price. Chinese manufacturer TCL is using Color IQ quantum dots in its flagship H9700 55-inch TV, which has 4K resolution, bone-shaking speakers from Harman-Kardon, and better color than a Samsung 4K set that costs way more. It’s coming to the U.S.—and hopefully my living room—later this year, with exact pricing TBD, but likely under $2,000.—Susie Ochs

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BMW demos self-parking, self-stopping car

I tried to hit the wall. I tried to hit the corner. But the car just wouldn’t let me. BMW’s 360-degree Collision Avoidance system uses high-resolution laser scanners to pinpoint what’s around you and proactively stop the car if you get too close.

So I gave up and parked the car—or rather, the car parked itself for me. (The photo shows the car as it’s maneuvering on its own.) BMW used an app to tell the car to find a garage spot, and also have it come to you when you return later.

Both of these features are still in development, but we should see them in BMW cars within several years.—Melissa Riofrio

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Digitsole

I saw a lot of weird wearables at CES, but Digitsole seems like the most practical. Just pop the battery-powered sole into your shoe, and use the companion smartphone app to specify the exact heating temperature for your feet. It even counts your steps for good measure. A pair of soles will cost $200 and should ship later this month.—Jared Newman

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Razer Turret

I don’t know if PC gaming using a mouse and keyboard will truly invade the living room, but I do know it’ll take a special mouse and keyboard to do it.

Razer takes its signature Razer style to the living room experience with the Turret. It’s backlit, folds in half for storage, and Razer even embedded magnets in the tray to prevent the mouse from sliding off when you’re typing on the keyboard. It’s not perfect—it’s not a mechanical keyboard and the tray and mouse are a tad small—but the polish and thought that went into the Turret is something to be seen.—Gordon Mah Ung

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The Hive's Amplicity Modular Computer

Ever since Asus launched the external XG Station, which added an external graphics card to a notebook, I’ve been waiting for similar solutions to take off. That hasn’t happened. Enter The Hive’s Amplicity, a modular computer that docks into one of two 2001-like slabs of black plastic, with an external GPU mounted inside.

Amplicity will be launched as two products. The $100 base model will actually be sold on a six-month subscription basis, where you’ll be able to trade up to newer hardware if it’s available. An upgraded model will be sold outright for $400. But it’s the sheer ambition of this product that sold us. Not only does the Hive envision Amplicity being docked into gaming machines, video editing stations, and more—they built some pretty convincing prototypes of what it all will look like. We all complain about not seeing truly new at CES—well, look no further than this.—Mark Hachman

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Lowes Iris connected-home system (and exhibit)

I was lukewarm about Iris when I reviewed it in 2012. It was pretty basic, controlling your lighting and providing basic security; but it lacked door locks and a number of other features.

Today at the Lowes booth—a mock house complete with a garage—Iris is keeping tabs on the plumbing, shutting off the water supply if a leak is detected. It’s controlling the water heater, turning it off when you’re gone. It’s irrigating your landscaping, whether you have a 12-zone in-ground system or a simple garden hose. It even has a moisture sensor to let you know if Junior wets the bed.

And if you invested in the basic Iris system back then, you can add any or all of that without needing to replace anything you already bought.—Michael Brown

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CyberPower Fang Trinity

There were a lot of PCs at CES, but none of them grabbed my attention like CyberPower’s crazy-looking Fang Trinity. Yes, the word “insane” is thrown around a lot by the press, but this time, the term is dead-on accurate. Hell, just look at the photo, folks. It’s insane.

I might buy one just to set it up and pretend we’re in a sci-fi movie. What’s amazing is the Trinity Fang has a real graphics card in it, a closed-loop liquid cooler, and real desktop processor. And it will actually be built and sold, unlike some crazy prototypes at CES that go nowhere (*cough* Razer Project Christine).—Gordon Mah Ung

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Sling TV

Dish’s $20-per-month Internet video service may not have all the bells and whistles we want, but it’s an important step toward breaking up bloated, expensive pay TV bundles. The basic package comes with 11 channels including ESPN, CNN, and the Food Network, and it uses a straightforward interface that works on phones, tablets, PCs and set-top boxes. When paired with over-the-air broadcasts, it could be all the live TV you need for considerably less than cable.—Jared Newman

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Asus ROG Swift PG278Q

I’m starting to realize that I’ll never get that trophy monitor I hoped I’d have hanging off my arm, but the Asus ROG Swift comes pretty damned close. Sure, Acer’s XB270HU actually outspecs it, but I didn’t actually see Acer’s new panel, since it was only announced, and isn’t yet ready to ship. In the meantime, the new ROG Swift really hits all the high points. It’s a 4K panel for pixel-dense computing, it’s 27 inches, and it supports Nvidia’s G-Sync so when our frame-rates plummet, our gaming will still be smooth. Finally, it’s IPS, which gives me the wide viewing angles and great color reproduction I deserve.—Gordon Mah Ung

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Witricity

Witricity is one those companies that makes products that go into products you buy. In this case, those products are chargers (and soon, things as big as lamps and even EV chargers) that receive electricity through the air. Plug a Witricity-powered transmitter into the wall, and you can set a Witricity-powered torch lamp almost anywhere in your room and not plug it into a wall outlet to use it.

You can place up to 10 smartphones, media players, and other battery-powered devices on a countertop within a foot or so of a Witricity charger, and it will charge all of their batteries without your needing to plug in any of them.

You can’t buy Witricity-powered products right now, but they’re coming soon. Look for products with the 'Rezence Certified' label.—Michael Brown

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Ditto

Ditto is the rare wearable that knows its place. Instead of trying to do a little of everything, this thumb-sized device clips onto clothing and vibrates for the notifications you actually care about. Though its companion smartphone app, you can assign distinct vibration patterns to your favorite apps or contacts, and you can also use Ditto for silent wake-ups or warnings when your phone falls out of range. It’ll cost $40 when it launches later this quarter.—Jared Newman

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Linx Impact Assessment System

From high school football to the NFL, America’s favorite sport won’t survive another 15 years without a serious reevaluation of how it monitors and responds to brain injuries. We’re finally getting wise to the devastating effects of concussions, and a new breed of wearables like Linx has the potential to change the rules of the game entirely.

That’s what’s so remarkable about this little beanie-strapped sensor that measures the intensity of head impacts, and renders detailed data on a mobile app: It’s niche in the large scheme of wearables, but Linx and devices like it will likely influence new policies on who’s allowed to play impact sports, and when. You may not buy a Linx in Q1 2015 when it hits the retail market, but its core technology is poised to make waves.—Jon Phillips

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Remix Ultra Tablet

Although the Remix Ultra Tablet is nearly the spitting image of a Surface Pro, it’s more than just a thoughtless clone. The software is a custom Android ROM with a focus on productivity, allowing for windowed apps, a taskbar and right-click context menus. It’s the product of three former Google employees who eventually hope to bring their software to larger device makers, though they’ll offer the Ultra Tablet through a Kickstarter campaign next month.—Jared Newman

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Hands-on with virtual reality

The gaming applications for virtual reality headsets like Oculus Rift and Samsung’s Gear VR are obvious, but I’m curious to see what else VR is capable of.

After seeing AltspaceVR’s demo on a Rift at this year’s CES, I finally see the social potential of virtual reality that inspired Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to shell out $2 billion for Oculus last year. AltspaceVR’s free software is designed to connect people in activities like watching movies, playing games, and even browsing the Web. With a Rift strapped to my head, I played a low-key game of virtual volleyball with other convention-goers. Using Intel’s RealSense 3D imaging camera, AltspaceVR brought hands into virtual reality for the first time. To bystanders, we players all looked a little ridiculous trying to throw the volleyball back and forth, but to us, it felt like a whole new world.—Caitlin McGarry

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Zuli Smart Plugs

Bluetooth LE (low energy) exploded at CES this year, but Zuli Smart Plugs are the best use of that technology that I saw. Plug a lamp into a Zuli Smart Plug and the plug will track your location inside your home, turning on lights to your preferred brightness when you enter and automatically turning them off when you leave.

At CES, Zuli announced it had joined the Works with Nest program, so now those same plugs can set your thermostat to your preference when it detects you’re home. That’s vastly superior to needing to walk by the thermostat for that purpose. A gaggle of Nest engineers were getting a demo when I arrived, and they seemed impressed when they left. I know I was.—Michael Brown

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Renovo all-electric supercar

Most EVs are meek little compacts. Even the much more impressive Tesla cars haven’t convinced everyone that EVs are as good as traditional cars. That’s where an EV supercar like the Renovo comes in. It can push up to 1,000 lb.-ft of torque. It can go 0-60 in 3.4 seconds. Watch that on a track and you just might see where the future of EVs could go. And if you have a spare half-million lying around, you can even buy one when it goes on sale later this year.—Melissa Riofrio

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Myfox Security System

The Myfox security system can actually help prevent break-ins, rather than just call the cops once the bad guys are already in your house. You stick sensors on your doors and windows, and it can tell when someone’s trying to kick the door in or pry it open with a crowbar—a loud siren will sound, and hopefully the burglar will beat feet.

An early version is available in Europe, and 80 percent of the burglars give up and run when the siren goes off. With no fees or contract, it’s a lot cheaper than a monitored system too. The starter kit comes with a key fob (that automatically disarms the system when you get home), sensor, and siren for $300, and you can add an HD camera for another $200. It all installs without tools, so it’s as good for renters as homeowners.—Susie Ochs