CES 2011: Picks and Pans

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The annual Consumer Electronics Show is the closest thing to organized chaos we ever witness; but despite the pushy crowds and the sprawling noisy show floor this year, we found a few products to love (and a few to mock).

We loved the superfast Android phones this year but were less impressed by the onslaught of mediocre tablets PCs. We were not impressed when Lady Gaga showed up an hour late for a Polaroid press event, but we loved the working beer keg PC.

After days of wandering Las Vegas Convention Center's crowded show floor, we offer here our choices for the best, worst, and weirdest products this year's CES had to offer.

(For a slideshow summary of these picks and pans, see Picks: The Best of CES 2011 and Pans: Biggest CES 2011 Fails .)


Android 3.0, where were you? Despite vendors' grand promises of Android tablets at CES, only a few showed Android 3.0, the upcoming, tablet-optimized version of Google's OS. As a result, most tablet makers had to cobble together demos with lesser versions of Android, effectively rendering any in-depth examination of the products pointless. --Jared Newman

Motorola Xoom
Motorola Xoom
Xoom, Xoom:
Android tablets are coming fast and furious in 2011, but the leader is likely to be Motorola's Honeycomb-powered 10.1-inch slate, the Xoom. With Verizon LTE 4G wireless, 32GB of on-board storage, an SD Card slot, and a standard micro USB port, this tablet looks like the open-standard alternative to the iPad that I've been waiting all year for. --Robert Strohmeyer

Tablet fatigue: I'm seeing an awful lot of plastic slabs out there trying to pass themselves off as viable iPad rivals. Both unknown and known companies are guilty of this rush to production. But many of the devices I'm seeing have no business being brought to market, even as low-cost tablet options. --Melissa J. Perenson

Dud on arrival--Dell's Inspiron Duo: I'm sympathetic to the notion of a convertible slate that offers the convenience of a tucked-away keyboard when the user needs one; but the 3.4-pound (starting weight) Inspiron Duo could pass for a pre-iPad Windows tablet PC. Yuck! --Robert Strohmeyer

RIM PlayBook
RIM PlayBook
RIM tablet in play:
I finally got an up-close look at RIM's much ballyhooed PlayBook tablet--and the logic and look and feel of the QNX operating system's user interface impressed me. The PlayBook I saw up close was Sprint's 4G version, with a WiMax radio inside; and the PlayBook's streaming video playback looked beautiful. Sprint plans to begin selling a WiMax-connected PlayBook this summer. --Mark Sullivan

My arms are killing me: MSI's Butterfly concept tablet wants to beat the dreaded "gorilla arms" fatigue effect that comes from using a touch-enabled all-in-one. The Butterfly's screen slides down toward you, so you can tap away on the ten-finger multitouch display, iPad-style. There's also a keyboard tucked into a secret compartment at the rear of the stand. It's still just a concept, but bear in mind that MSI's last concept all-in-one became the MSI AE2420 3D. --Nate Ralph


Android gaming on smartphones
Android gaming on smartphones
Game on, Android!
Dual-core-processor Android phones, like the LG Optimus 2X, have amazing gaming potential. I loved playing Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja on the Optimus 2X's gorgeous display. I just hope more gaming developers jump on board! --Ginny Mies

Phone fail--LG Optimus Black: On paper I liked the look of the Optimus Black; but when I got my hands on the device, I liked it less. The phone boasts a superthin (9.2mm) front-to-back thickness, but in my hand the device felt insubstantial and breakable. The phone also boasts a new NOVA screen produces brighter whites and darker blacks, but overall the video and images looked a little blurry and grainy to me. --Mark Sullivan

HTC Thunderbolt
HTC Thunderbolt
Struck by Thunder(bolt):
So the HTC Thunderbolt isn't a dual-core phone, but we've been waiting anxiously for this Verizon LTE mobile--which is basically the Verizon version of the Sprint Evo 4G--since we first saw the leaked photos of it. Want. --Ginny Mies

T-Mobile's "4G" network--not so fast: T-Mobile made a big splash around its 3G HSPA+ wireless network at CES, claiming that it can pump out download speeds of up to 21 mbps, and promising that the service will double in speed over the next year. In our tests in San Francisco, we found speeds of 6 mbps in some areas of town, but very 3G-like speeds of 1 mbps or less in other areas. In other words, the T-Mobile's supposedly 4G-speed data service seems spotty and probably not as fast as the company is making it out to be. --Mark Sullivan

Great Sony Ericsson comeback: After the hopelessly outdated Xperia X10 appeared, who knew that Sony Ericsson would bring an awesome smartphone to CES? The Xperia Arc is ultrathin with a brilliant screen and HDMI output that works throughout the OS. And it runs the latest version of Android. Wireless carriers, subsidize this one pronto. --Jared Newman

Where were the Android 2.3 phones?
I know, I know, the Android 2.3 OS just came out. But with all of these phones with front-facing cameras, wouldn't it be nice to if they used Gingerbread (code name for Android 2.3)--the latest version of Android, with an interface that supports dual cameras? --Ginny Mies

Too little for too much--Cinemin Slice: This pico projector and dock combo for iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch projected a reasonably clear short-range image, but it felt light and plasticky, didn't sound very good, and carries a strangely high price of $430. --Mark Sullivan

We reached out and touched smartphones: A few CES shows ago, we couldn't touch the hottest phone that year (cough, Palm Pre, cough). This year, we could play with just about every phone that came out. I think I played Angry Birds on at least five phones this year. --Ginny Mies


Takuma Iwasa at CES
Takuma Iwasa at CES
Don't cross the streams:
Taking up-to-the-minute coverage to another level was Takuma Iwasa's custom-built headgear, which let him live-stream his entire CES experience to the world. --Edward N. Albro

Parent's nightmare: 'I Am T-Pain' microphone: Q: What parent doesn't want to hear their kids singing T-Pain's "I'm in Love With a Stripper" in the family room? A: This one. The fact that this $40 toy microphone auto-tunes the singer's voice so they sound just like T-Pain merely adds an extra layer of annoyance. --Robert Strohmeyer

Shoulder bag boom box
Eton shoulder bag boom box
Shoulder bag boom box:
They look shoulder bags, but the trapezoidal objects on the straps are actually solar-powered boom boxes with iPod docks--and surprisingly robust-sounding ones at that. The new Eton Soulra XL model (due out "soon") runs for 4 hours on a wall charge, but on a sunny day with the flip-up solar panel activated, they can go for twice that long. Who says green tech can't rock? --Yardena Arar

Human touch massage chair: If there ever was a setting to justify the $4799 price tag of the Human Touch massage chair, CES 2011 was it. A companion iPad and iPhone app transmits preprogrammed routines from wellness counselors, sending weary journalists here into a state of bliss. --Jared Newman

Spy stuff: Many inexpensive network cameras let you remotely monitor your home, office, kid, pets, and whatever else you choose, via a Web browser. But for people who are especially serious about security, TP-Link's Wireless Pan/Til Surveillance Camera provides remote-control features that you usually see only in movies. It lets you pan, zoom, and tilt the lens, and even program preset viewing angles and tours of the premises. At $299, it's pricey, but you gotta love the tech. --Yardena Arar

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