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CES Favorite Picks
As one of the more than 140,000 attendees at CES, I sometimes felt like a lemming going from one exhibit to the next, mostly in awe of the whole extravaganza. If there was a coherent theme, it had to focus on the concept of digital integration. This was evident in the connectivity of devices in lifestyle and work, home and car environments.
Microsoft’s impressive exhibit best illustrated the concept of connectivity with continuous presentations and exhibits showcasing the integration of their software and services.
HP and other booths demonstrated how digital technology can be used in every room of the house for comfort, convenience, productivity, security and entertainment. Many exhibitors only dealt with some aspects of the integration possibilities. For example, there are many booths dedicated to home security and remote control of other home applications such as sprinkler water, garage door, heating/cooling, hot tub/pool, lighting, video cameras, and more. Some systems have even integrated the use of a Windows Mobile device as a remote control.
An entire hall is dedicated to HD TV, video applications, furniture, sound, gaming and recording systems. With the appearance of the widescreen HDTV, a completely new style of furniture and interior design appeared alongside the home theater, with special seats, sound systems, installation and connection aspects.
Otherwise, I think I’d put my money on Blu-Ray as the winner of the HD format war. Unless, by the time the dust settles, an entirely new format is available.
There were lots of games with special controllers and furniture. From the cacophony emanating from each booth, air guitars seemed to be the most popular, but that strays from the world of handhelds – well, not really. Hands-On Mobile, San Diego, CA, currently offers Guitar Hero Mobile.
The car is certainly a new focus and profit center in the integration of digital technology. Ford and Microsoft have teamed up to offer voice recognition, Bluetooth connectivity and GPS. Ford has offered Sirius satellite radio for several years, but now combines MSN features such as emergency assistance, live traffic and road conditions, gas prices, routes and directions.
The president of General Motors gave a keynote speech indicating that GM has some tricks up its sleeve. The rest of the automotive world is not far behind.
However, it amuses me that these “new” features have been part of my in-car environment for years, thanks to my trusty Windows Mobile devices with a few peripherals. However, I suppose the average person would prefer a simpler integration approach where everything is already built in.
Mobile computing devices
While I tried to take it all in, I’m sure I missed some great stuff because it was all so overwhelming. However, I tried to focus on two things: new Windows Mobile devices and UMPCs.
I’ve found several new WM6 devices that I’ll be reviewing in depth once I receive evaluation units from Asus, Samsung, HP, Motorola, and Verizon. I was surprised at how few new devices were announced or released at the show. I don’t know what HTC is doing, and I’ve never been able to catch up with them, but they’re getting more and more tight-lipped when it comes to working with carriers and marketing on their own behalf. Among the best new releases, top picks include the Motorola Q9h, the Samsung shi760, and the new high-performance iPaq Windows Mobile 6 Classic Edition.
Ever since my article on UMPCs when they came out a few years ago, I’ve been watching to see if they survive. Although they have not and will not replace the Pocket PC, they have certainly carved out a respectable niche in the market. I was pleased to see that several new models are available.
I will be getting the Samsung and Asus units for review and will share my results soon. For now, suffice it to say that both companies have listened to user input and responded accordingly. You can expect a lot of development and innovation on this evolving platform.
Apart from the big brands like Sony, Panasonic and so on, there were hundreds of booths at the Hilton and Sands venues where smaller manufacturer wannabes were showing off treasures, but you have to dig for them. As such, I’ve found some great Windows Mobile device manufacturers and some really innovative UMPCs that I hope to get to review.
When it comes to the peripherals of our beloved pocket friends, I’ve found a few gems that I’ll be making part of my permanent pack.
Hands-free driving and music
I’m always looking for a good Bluetooth headset and headphones. I found both at the Jabra stand. My favorite is the Jabra BT8030 Bluetooth speaker and headphones. This is a first combination that is unique on the market. You can remove the headphones, unfold them, and they become speakers that blast sound with Ziree Power Bass for a surprisingly full, rich sound environment. These are mandatory in my mobile package.
My only criticism of this otherwise brilliant product is that it cannot be charged via a USB connection. However, with one charge, we can expect up to 32 hours of listening time and up to 600 hours of standby time. They weigh just under 11 ounces. MSRP is $250, but shop around and you can probably do better.
I’m always looking for a comfortable BT headset that won’t fall out of my ears, is light and not too ugly. Jabra is at it again with the new JX20 Pura, an elegantly crafted tiny titanium headset designed by renowned Danish designer Jacob Jensen. It weighs less than a bird’s beak, so you don’t even know it’s there. You can listen to music with it even if you are not talking on the phone.
Your charging cradle is a work of art that also decorates your desktop. You can expect up to six hours of talk time and can be charged in the car via USB and AC. The sound quality is excellent and there is an automatic volume control.
This classy device will set you back as much as $179, which is a bit steep considering you can get a Bluetooth headset for $30 now, but you get what you pay for.
Mobile video just got better
One of my favorite apps of all time keeps getting better and better. I can’t imagine life without Slingbox and SlingPlayer for my Windows Mobile devices, which let me watch my favorite live and recorded TV shows anywhere in the world without paying a monthly fee.
I say it got better because with the newly released Pro-HD; You can watch Full HD streaming and access multiple video sources. You can also use it to stream HD video to your desktop or laptop at home. SlingCatcher is coming soon and will allow you to access home video output from any video site on the web.
SlingPlayer 2.0 now comes with Clip+Sling, which allows you to record and send videos, which is fun and extremely useful. Congratulations to SlingMedia for being one of the truly innovative companies in the digital universe.
I have another pick for a CES favorite – MyVu.com, a video viewing solution for portable devices. While this company seems to be fixated on iPods, it also offers a universal viewer that supposedly works with any portable video output device. For $199, you get a pair of glasses that project the video as if you were watching it on a 27-inch screen. It’s a wonderful concept, but I’m not sure exactly what you guys can project yet. There was such confusion in the booth that I couldn’t get a satisfactory answer.
My viewing experience was that the image felt small, isolated, unaffected and low resolution. The game I watched may not have been up to par in terms of performance, but what I did see left something to be desired.
Well, if you could view the output screen of your Windows Mobile device and whatever it displays at the resolution it displays in the palm of your hand, it would be a worthwhile gadget indeed.
My.Vu offers the Crystal 701, a stylish hands-free glasses device with earphones and VGA resolution, and a USB rechargeable battery with up to 4 hours of viewing time.
There is also the shade model 301 with parasols and up to 10 hours of viewing time. You can also get the Edge301, a more compact design for hands-free use with a headset and 4-hour rechargeable battery. Check out www. myvu.com.
As I progressed through the show, I noticed that there were other similar devices. Indeed, there are many competitors in this market, but none as established as MyVu. Another competitor that looks like a good fit is Vuzix, a company that makes consumer video glasses, medical devices and tactical demonstration equipment for the military.
The VR920 simulates a 62″ screen, but costs $399.95. The final model costs $999.00. What a great way to enhance the mini screen of your handheld. Clearly, this is a winning application that extends the Limitations of the small screens of Windows Mobile devices.
Mobile scanning and printing
I recently submitted an article to Smartphone and Pocket PC magazine about some of the tools I recommend for mobile productivity. I mentioned a portable scanner and printer, which I try to avoid unless I know for sure I’ll need them. That was before CES and I discovered an incredible pair of products from PlanOn with the DocuPen and Compact Printer.
I almost passed the booth eyeing a fancy robot in the hallway when an attractive woman asked if I had ever heard of the DocuPen. He waved a high-tech wand at me that would make Harry Potter proud. It looked like a slightly oversized ballpoint pen.
I was impressed with the demo as all you have to do is drag it onto any document or graphic and capture it in black and white, grayscale or 24-bit color.
It comes with PaperPort scanning software, weighs 1.75 ounces, runs on rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, and has a micro-SD expansion card for additional storage. A universal mobile charger accessory is suitable for up to 55 recharges when no power source is available.
Pair the DocuPen with the PS900 Printstik via Bluetooth and you have a powerful mobile solution. Of course, you can also transfer the scanned image to your Windows Mobile device if you want to use it in a PowerPoint presentation or send it by e-mail. Of course, you can also print images on your mobile device.
The PrintStick measures just 1″ x 1.9″ x 11″ and weighs 1.9 pounds with thermal paper and cartridge. It prints up to 3 pages per minute on 8.5″ wide sheets. One cartridge prints 20 8.5 x 11-inch pages. Power options include AC 120-240, DC 12/24V and rechargeable lithium-ion battery.
The suggested retail price is $299 per unit. Accessories are extra. In any case, this winning combination can be worth gold in emergency situations on the road. I’m glad that the lady gave up her wand on me and that I didn’t become a pumpkin. Check it out at http://www.planon.com.
I want to share with you another amazing little device that I’m impressed with, even though it’s not exactly in the handheld world. This is MagicJack, a unique VoIP solution. No doubt we’ve all heard of Vonage and Skype, but along comes MagicJack with a whole new approach to VoIP. Imagine a small box about the size of a pack of punches with a USB plug sticking out.
Just plug it into any computer’s USB port and a regular analog phone at the other end and start talking. Local and long distance calls are free. This phone system has all the bells and whistles you’d expect from an expensive landline account, such as voicemail, call waiting, and caller ID. It even has call forwarding so you can forward calls to your cell phone, which I guess justifies its inclusion in this article.
The only cost is to purchase the device for $39.95, which includes the first year of service. For each account, you get an actual phone number that people can call as normal from any phone, anywhere. After that, it’s $19.95 per year, not monthly, per year. Never pay the phone company again!
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