CES Preview: Best of Innovations Honorees

You could settle for the same old stuff, or you could opt for a mind-reading thermostat or a set of glass speakers. Here are some of the most eye-catching gadgets from this year's batch of Best of Innovations honorees.

CES Press Preview: Best of Innovations Honorees

At the CES Press Preview event in New York City's Metropolitan Pavilion this week, Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), hosted a press conference before unveiling the 2012 Innovations Design and Engineering Awards honorees.

The Innovations honorees included many winners in each of the program's 32 tech categories, but a few of them stood out even in their exalted company. Here are some of this year's most intriguing Best of Innovations honorees--products that earned particularly high marks across all of the categories.

Nest Learning Thermostat

The solidly built, scroll-wheel-operated Nest Learning Thermostat ($250) looks like a futuristic hockey puck, but only when it isn't mounted on a wall. Installing the device is simple: Its mountable bracket requires connecting a couple of wires, and that's about it. From there, the thermostat learns your at-home heating patterns after tracking your manual input for a week or so. But it does some other things, too...

Nest Learning Thermostat Mobile App

The Wi-Fi-enabled Nest also offers a mobile app for the iPhone and a browser-based control interface that lets you remote-control your unit while you're away from home. The device can help you save money on your bills, too, thanks to a built-in motion sensor that knows when you're not home, and it delivers visual "green leaf" cues that let you know when you're cutting back on your energy consumption as compared to your normal usage.

Libratone Live

That thermostat isn't the only device in this year's honorees that brings a radical redesign and mobile-app element to traditional technology. The Libratone Live portable speaker system is about 18 inches tall and weighs 14 pounds. Its triangular design lets it blast sound in three different directions. You can fine-tune the speaker's sound for its immediate environment by changing its location in the room and then tweaking its settings wirelessly with an accompanying iOS app.

Lytro Light Field Camera

You must have heard of the Lytro light-field camera by now. This mini-telescope-shaped camera has no built-in autofocusfor a very good reason: It's the first consumer camera that lets you focus your photos after you take them. The first-generation Lytro also has an 8X optical zoom lens with a constant F2.0 aperture throughout the zoom range.

Devialet D-Premier

The Devialet D-Premier amplifier's mirror-like, unibody aluminum casing is only one of the reasons behind its painful-to-look-at $16,000 price tag. This premium home-audio component packs a power amplifier, a preamplifier, and a digital-to-analog converter that combines the sound fidelity and heavy bass of an analog amplifier with the face-melting power and energy-efficiency of a digital amplifier. Its dial-operated remote control is unique, too: The aluminum-encased remote offers dedicated buttons to switch input sources and bass levels, and it links to the amplifier via radio frequencies so you can control the amp from anywhere in the house.

LiquidBase SonicBlade

If you need a pair of attention-grabbing speakers to go with your chromed-out amp, these glass towers will do it up right. LiquidBase SonicBlade electrostatic speakers are mostly see-through, but they have black, pyramid-shaped bases to prop them up. The bases contain cone-shaped woofers (inset) to pump out any low-end audio.

Audiovox RCA USB Wall Plate Charger

Back to economic reality. This product may not be as sexy as a chrome-covered amplifier or glassed-in speakers, but it's a lot more affordable and useful for most people--especially anyone who doesn't want to put up with a bunch of USB plug converters and gadget-specific dongles. The Audiovox RCA USB Wall Plate Charger ($15) has a normal plug on the back, and you can jack it into any wall outlet to convert it into a USB charging station. It's also small and light enough to carry with you on the road without much hassle.

Plantronics Calisto 835

If you're struggling with multiple phone lines in your home--a landline, a cellphone or two, and your Skype account--the Plantronics Calisto 835 acts as a hub/speakerphone system that lets you jump between any of them on the fly. The $260 Calisto 835 syncs up to devices via Bluetooth or a wired connection, lets you dial calls through connected devices with its keypad, and lets you screen calls by using its display.

Sony Tablet S1

Here's another product you've probably already heard about. The Sony Tablet S1 runs Android and incorporates a unique design that the company says was inspired by a folded-over magazine, and it feels much lighter than it looks. Included in the tablet's out-of-the-box software is a universal remote control app that you can use to control any of hundreds of devices in its database of IR-controlled TVs from various vendors.

T-Mobile HTC Amaze 4G

Sporting a dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S3 1.5GHz processor, a 4.3-inch qHD display, and support for NFC mobile payments, the HTC Amaze 4G for T-Mobile runs Android 2.3 and packs a very nice camera as well. The Amaze 4G's 8-megapixel back-facing camera has a number of shooting modes that give dedicated cameras a run for their money; its features include a motion-controlled panorama mode, built-in HDR, 1080p video recording, a five-shot burst mode, and manual control over some in-camera settings.

MyFord Mobile

Custom-built for the Ford Focus Electric, this Ford mobile app lets you use a phone as a remote control, health meter, and trip planner for your automobile. The app lets users check the status of the car's battery charge, reports your energy-consumption habits, finds charging stations nearby (pictured), and warms up the car before you get in it, just like grandpa used to do.

Wi3 WiPNet

Unless you're in a brand-new home, your domicile probably isn't outfitted with a CAT5 ethernet network. Coax-to-ethernet adapters have existed for a while now, but the Wi3 WiPNet offers a pretty simple way to turn the coaxial outlets found in pretty much every home into a network of wall-mounted ethernet hubs and Wi-Fi routers that don't take up much space. The WiPNet wall bracket hooks into any coaxial outlet and offers two ethernet ports in its base configuration, as well as a standard coax outlet. That way, you can drive your cable service, any IP TV services, and a wireless router from the same small, wall-mounted hub. The front-facing plate slides out the way an Atari cartridge does, and you can swap it out with other modules that include a built-in Wi-Fi router.

Sonomax Eers Custom-Fitted Earphones

Sonomax Eers are the most interesting approach to noise-canceling, form-fitting earbuds I've ever seen. By wearing the SonoFit disposable headset (pictured in the inset) for 4 minutes, you create custom-molded earbuds that are tailor-made for your ears. The SonoFit headset contains liquid silicone cartridges that basically squirt malleable silicone into your ear, but that sounds more ridiculous than it actually is: A protective sheath separates the silicone from your ear canal during the process. Once the 4-minute form-fitting session is done, you pop the shaped earpieces onto the supplied earbuds and get to listening.

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