Top Gadgets of 2010
The year 2009 is still a not-so-distant memory, but we're already looking for the next big thing in 2010. Last year we bought iPhones and Flip camcorders by the millions, but what will it be this year? The Apple Tablet--still just a rumor at this writing--would surely be a hit, and a new, more powerful iPhone would be greeted with open arms and open wallets. But we've found other strong contenders, such as the Xbox "Project Natal" gaming controller, the Sezmi TV broadcast and streaming system, and the sharp-looking new IdeaPad U1 laptop from Lenovo. Click forward to check out the glamour shots and the details for each soon-to-be-hot gadget.
Nintendo had better watch its back, because Microsoft has announced a new controller for the Xbox 360--a controller that allows you to play without a controller. Dubbed "Project Natal," the new Xbox 360 controller looks similar to the Nintendo Wii's sensor bar: a small bar that sits above or below your television and tracks your movements. But Microsoft has one-upped the Wii by adding 3D motion tracking, voice recognition, and facial recognition to Project Natal. We don't know how accurate and effective Project Natal will be--that's for the thousands of gamers who buy it next Thanksgiving to find out. What seems sure is that even though the product will hit the shelves far into 2010, it already has enough hype among gamers to ensure big sales numbers. But Project Natal won't be the only must-have gaming controller next Christmas. This fall in the PlayStation 3 world, Sony will release its wand-based "Arc" motion controller, which has a solid chance of cranking up just as much buzz. And it will certainly stoke up the forum firefights between the PS3 and Xbox fanboys.
Ditching cable TV and moving to online TV is a great idea, but no matter how you do it, you miss out on lots of broadcast TV (live news, sports, local programming). Sezmi may be the first service to fix that. Sezmi is a service based on a set-top box that not only streams video from the Web and from your PC, but also catches over-the-air local broadcast TV via a supplied in-home antenna. On the remote control, each family member has their own button, which will take them to their personal Sezmi channel--complete with on-demand shows tailored to their personal tastes. There's no need to worry about overloading the Sezmi, either, as each box is packed with a whopping 1TB for recorded shows. The service is in trials in the Los Angeles market now, but is expected to go nationwide later this year.
Up until now, serious gamers had to tote around huge 17- and 15-inch monsters--or stay put. Dell's Alienware, however, seeks to remedy this problem with its forthcoming game-oriented laptop, the M11x. The 11.6-inch laptop (yep--11.6 inches!) is practically netbook size, with a 1336-by-768-pixel high-def screen, a built-in Webcam, and a SIM card reader for mobile Web access. The M11x currently has no optical drive (though an add-on will eventually be offered), but it can play games like Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 at a whopping 30 frames per second. The ultraportable-size gaming notebook will cost just under $1000, fully loaded. That's right, a portable, power-packed gaming laptop--there's no question that the M11x will make waves.
AT&T says that 30 percent of its handset sales last year were messaging phones. Motorola's latest Android-powered phone, the Backflip, may be AT&T's "it" messaging phone this year. Not that there's a big market it for it or anything--just the legions of American kids who text-message and Facebook pretty much all day long. As such, the Backflip features a full QWERTY keyboard that can be flipped out so that both the keyboard and the touchscreen face the user. The phone also has a "backtrack," or mousepadlike touchpad on the back of the touchscreen to control the cursor on the screen. The phone packs only a midsize processor, but the messaging crowd doesn't really need lots of power. We expect the Backflip to reach a $100 (subsidized) price point by the end of 2010. How will Moms and Dads say no?
Google Nexus One
While the new Nexus One is no more a "Google phone" than the HTC G1, it is probably the best Android phone on the market today. And Google has done such a good job of associating itself with the Nexus One in the minds of most consumers and much of the media that this "Google phone" is bound to sell like hotcakes in 2010. And make no mistake: It is a very nice phone. Is it an iPhone killer? Well, It's slimmer than the iPhone, has a slightly bigger and more hi-res OLED screen, as well as a noticeably faster, 1GHz Snapdragon processor, among other things (like Google Voice support). At the very least, the Nexus One represents a truly viable alternative for iPhone users, especially after the Verizon Wireless network begins supporting the "Google phone" later this year.
Our favorite Cupertino company is sure to have a huge hit with its rumored tablet when (there's really not much "if" left at this point) it is released this year. Apple is widely expected to announce the tablet at an Apple event scheduled for Wednesday, January 27. We believe we already have a pretty good idea of what the new device will look like--namely an iPhone on steroids. But what the machine will actually do might surprise us, as Apple has been known to do. (Prospective Apple Tablet design courtesy of Isamu Sanada)
Lenovo IdeaPad U1
Forget tablets; Lenovo has introduced a new hybrid notebook: the Lenovo IdeaPad U1. The IdeaPad U1 is a 3.8-pound laptop that runs Windows 7 and has a 128GB solid-state drive--but wait: If you pull off the 11.6-inch screen, you get a Linux-running multitouch tablet PC with 16GB of flash memory. That's right--not only is it a laptop and a tablet, but it runs both Windows and Linux. The 1.6-pound tablet powers up within 3 seconds of being removed from the base, which can then act as a 3G wireless hub for the tablet. Many consumers will be trying to decide between a laptop or a tablet this year, but the hybrid Lenovo IdeaPad U1 might well settle the argument by providing both. The U1 is priced at just under $1000.
It hasn't even been a year since the iPhone 3GS, and people are already looking toward the next iPhone, which some speculate may be called the iPhone 4G. The iPhone 3GS offered only incremental changes to the iPhone 3G's hardware--and it looked exactly the same. Rumors suggest that the iPhone 4G will be available as early as May or June 2010, and may have a new design, a faster processor, a 5-megapixel camera, and an OLED screen--features that would rival those on Google's Nexus One. Other rumors hint at a removable battery, video chat support, and a redone app store. The rumors aren't totally out of left field--an army of Androids are marching into the smartphone market. We believe this will force Apple to upgrade its iPhone more drastically, and sooner, in order to stay competitive in a quickly-changing market. (Image credit: Isamu Sanada)
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Some of these devices used the CES show as their coming-out party.The Consumer Electronics Association has some of its own predictions. The group believes 3D TV and connected HDTV will be huge in 2010--that by 2013, 25 percent of sets will be 3D, for example. We're not so sure. After all, the 3D TV we saw at CES still needed some serious work to be worth it. Hence, no 3D TVs on our list.
The CEA also predicts that cloud-based multimedia distribution--multimedia on phones, tablets, and other devices--will spawn big partnerships, and that TV consumption will become more multimedia-diverse (online episode archives and interactive voting). This we can get on board with, especially as the trend of multimedia consumption across all platforms continues to grow. The CEA also predicts that E-readers and netbooks will continue to gain popularity for this very reason: mobile access to streaming content. We've no doubt about that prediction for the E-reader market, but we've yet to see the one E-reader that will fly off the shelves…not yet, anyway.