The Consumer Electronics show was huge -- 1.5 million square feet of exhibitions, 130,000 people, thousands of products. My feet hurt, and I need a few days in a sensory-deprivation tank, but it was worth it. Gadget nirvana was once again a ton of fun. Here's a quick synopsis of trends, cool gear and some general observations:
If I had to pick a theme for the products on display, it would be improvements on existing technology. Walking the floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center, there was no one product that screamed out "innovation." Instead I saw design and functionality changes that will make technology more appealing to the general public
LG 50-inch wireless Plasma
Many of us would love to have an art wall that includes a plasma TV. Problem is, you have a bunch of unsightly wires hanging down from your art. Or, if you take the concept really seriously, you have to cut holes and run cable in the wall. To combat this dilemma, LG announced a 50-inch plasma TV that has a wireless transmitter box. You plug all the cables into the transmitter and it sends content to the TV. Of course, you have to power the monitor, so you will have a power cable going to the plasma, but one black wire is a lot better than the rats nest that currently ties into most of our sets. No release date or price on the wireless plasma.
Biggest Plasma Prototype
Looks like Panasonic wins with its 103-incher. LG followed behind with a 102-inch model. Samsung showed off a similar behemoth last year. LG has the largest plasma TV that's actually available for purchase. Its 7-inch HDTV plasma was gorgeous; it boasts 1080p resolutions, which is geek-speak for the highest in high-def resolution. $70,000, available spring 2006.
Cell phone upgrades
The Palm Treo 650 has been wildly popular with users. This smart phone can be used for e-mail, text messaging, Web browsing and -- oh, yeah -- it's a pretty good phone. The 650 ran on the Palm operating system, a mature and functional operating system that got its start on PDAs. For the 700 series, Palm has partnered with Microsoft, running the Windows Mobile operating system on the Palm hardware. The partnership is a little strange, considering the years of rivalry, but Palm needed Microsoft to help it crack the corporate phone market. For the consumer, the 700w is a nice phone and the Windows OS? It sure makes opening e-mail attachments easier.
Available through Verizon: $400 with a two-year commitment.
BlackBerry knockoff but thinner
Motorola announced its Moto-Q cell phone. The Q is also in the smart-phone category: It does e-mail, text messaging, takes pictures, browses the Internet and more. The form factor looks a lot like the ubiquitous BlackBerry device, but the Q is a fair amount thinner (0.45 inches thick). If you covet the Qwerty keyboard of the BlackBerry but want more multimedia functionality and a better experience managing attachments like Word documents or Excel spreadsheets, the Q could be for you. Available spring 2006, price not yet released.
A few innovations
Sideshow is a PDA and MP3 player that you can remove from your laptop. Asus displayed a new laptop that will ship in late 2006. It uses new technology called Sideshow, which is built into Windows Vista Tablet Edition (Vista OS is not yet released). Sideshow allows an alternate screen to be built into the case or exterior of the laptop. This screen powers on instantly, outside the normal computer boot-up process. This exterior access and instant-on functionality allows users access to certain data on the go, specifically calendar, contacts, e-mail and music. In one version of the Sideshow laptops, the auxiliary display in the case is removable: You get an MP3 player/PDA that ships with your laptop and automatically synchs because it's a part of the system.
Asus, ship date holiday 2006, price not released.
Fun stuff Guitar Hero for PS2 Guitar Hero shipped in November, so it's not brand new. Maybe it was the need to focus on one thing for a few minutes, but when I started playing, I became Joan Jett, the Wilson sisters and the Twisted Sister guy in one fell swoop. The game kit provides a plastic guitar that wires into the PS2 gaming console. As rock songs play, you have to hit the correct buttons on the guitar's neck while strumming and staying on beat. You won't learn any chords, but watching guys play the game, I could see some real health benefits -- those rockers sweat up a storm. When the players took style seriously, they were dancing around the room, windmilling their arms à la Pete Townsend, and bouncing in that Eddie Van Halen crouch as they played the game.
Available now for PS2, $115
Bling for your cell phone
I loathe the use of the word "bling" in any type of media form. To hear the "Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous" guy say "bling" in his overly posh English accent makes me shudder, but I must make an exception here, because the name of the product is Bling. Bling is a jewelry kit for your cell phone. You take a series of colored and sparkly crystals and stick them to your phone. The kits come in all kinds of styles, and some come with preset designs; others allow you to customize to your heart's content. Think of Bling as the "Bedazzler" for your cell phone. It's not brand new, but still pretty fun. Available now, $15 and up. http://www.blingstyles.com/