LAS VEGAS — Walk the halls of the massive International CES trade show and you’ll be bombarded by an outrageous number of pitches for products with radical new features.
You can glimpse the shiny happy future of consumer electronics at the show, although some of the innovations on display are clearly destined for the dustbin of gadget history.
At the biggest booths, reps for big companies like Sony and Samsung — but, sadly, not Apple — talk up the latest additions to their product lines. At smaller booths, inventors show off prototypes for products that may not ever roll off an assembly line. There’s a nonstop blitz of “world’s first” products.
It’s impossible to see everything, but it’s a blast trying. Here are Cult of Mac’s picks for the best of CES 2015, from Lightning-enabled headphones and massive TVs to drones and self-adjusting belts.
Most magical headphones: Philips Fidelio NC1L
The Philips Fidelio NC1L noise-canceling headphones are so new you had to ask to see a pre-production model at CES. The svelte hardware setup is similar to the Fidelio NC1, but the NC1L uses a Lightning connection rather than a standard analog cord. That’s magical, because keeping the signal digital all the way to the hardware means suddenly you’ve got software-upgradable headphones. “The Lightning interface gives us tremendous new possibilities,” Philips’ Jeroen Steenbilk told Cult of Mac.
The NC1L headphones will work with a standalone app with a widget at first, letting you to switch between noise-canceling modes. At launch, the first-of-their-kind headphones will ship with four modes: regular, noise-canceling, open-ear and voice, which will allow the frequencies of the human voice to be heard rather than filtered out. Select that and the flight attendant’s voice will cut through even though the jet’s engine noise is effectively tamped down. Since the profiles are software-driven, they could be tweaked by users down the line.
There’s no battery to go dead because the headphones sip power from the iOS device’s Lightning port. Instead, the folding, metal composite frame houses an amplifier and a 24-bit, 48-kHz digital audio converter (as dictated by Apple). Supple synthetic material covers the headphones’ memory foam ear pads, giving the NC1Ls a premium feel. They hit the shelves in April. — Lewis Wallace
Best bendy TV: LG’s flagship 4K OLED EG9900
It’s movie night. There’s just the two of you. Hit the “flex” button on the remote, and the screen of LG’s massive new flexible TV bends intimately toward you, wrapping you both in 77 inches of bright 4K OLED glory.
Or maybe it’s game day. All your buddies are here. Hit “flatten” on the remote, and the TV bends back so everyone can see.
LG’s 4K OLED EG9900 is slightly preposterous, but this may well be the future of living-room TV — a screen that adapts to your viewing preferences. There’s no launch date as yet, and no price, but this flagship TV will likely land north of $15,000. If it’s successful, prices will quickly drop. Flexing is not as gimmicky as 3-D, and the OLED panel looks glorious, with sharper pixels, brighter colors and deeper blacks than can ever be achieved with LED TVs. I was transfixed, and can already picture it sitting on top of our TV table. Want! — Leander Kahney
Catnip for cord-cutters: Sling TV
If you haven’t canceled your cable yet, get ready to pull the plug in 2015. For the first time ever, cord-cutters will be able to stream ESPN to their TV, iPad or iPhone thanks to Dish Network’s new over-the-top service, Sling TV.
For $20 per month you’ll get access to everything on ESPN as well as CNN, Adult Swim, Disney Channel, TNT, TBS, Food Network and more than 100 other channels. There are no contracts, so you’re free to bail whenever you want, but if it cuts your cable bill in half why would you? The Sling TV app works pretty much the same way across all screens, so you get the same experience no matter what device you’re on.
There’s no DVR functionality, but you can pause and rewind live TV (except on ESPN). A couple of networks let you jump back to watch anything that’s aired in the last three days, which might be just enough to convince us to cancel Hulu. If you can’t find anything to watch live, Sling TV offers movie rentals, too. It’s not the perfect a la carte cable solution we’re hoping for, but it’s a step in the right direct. Are you paying attention, Apple TV? — Buster Hein
Most amazing drone: Hexo+
There were plenty of drones to appreciate at CES, but the Hexo+ stood out to us for two reasons: Its affordable price tag (pre=order now for $1,149) and its killer auto-follow feature, which lets you create epic aerial videos without needing a dedicated pilot.
Hexo+ makes it look like your videos were captured by a professional film crew, thanks to a slick iOS app that can create an entire storyboard, complete with 360-spins, pans and zooms. The drone will fly for about 15 minutes on a single charge, and features quick-swap batteries so you can film all day in the wilderness.
With your iPhone as the tether, Hexo+ doesn’t need any extra remotes or hardware to pilot. It has a 200-foot following range, but you can add an extra attachment and boost that to 1,500 feet to get some impressive shots, whether you’re shredding down a mountain or just taking a stroll through the neighborhood. — Buster Hein
Most ambitious energy startup disguised as a scooter: Gogoro
Thoughtful design makes Gogoro’s electric Smartscooter look like the future we hope we’ll get: sleek, subtle and approachably human. But the company’s ambitious plan to seed ATM-size battery depots in megacities around the world is even more fantastical than the Gogoro’s shiny white curves and cute little Go button.
The battery kiosks, which the company aims to sprinkle around one megacity sometime this year, make it simple for a scooter owner to roll up, flip up their seat and swap out a couple of 20-pound power cells for fresh ones. Once the new batteries slide into the under-seat slots, the rider can roar off on the torquey scoot, which goes 0-30 in about four seconds and hits a top speed of 60 mph.
Those speedy two-wheelers (price not announced) are just the start for Gogoro, though: The company envisions its modular battery infrastructure fueling a worldwide clean-energy revolution. Starting with scooters, and taking one city at a time, makes a lot of sense. We can’t wait to zip through San Francisco streets on one. — Lewis Wallace
Best scene-stealer: Sony X100V 4K Action Cam
You might not have a 4K TV in your living room yet, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start preparing your home video collection for the inevitable with a 4K action cam like Sony’s X100V. GoPro is the undisputed ruler of the category, but Sony’s action cam ups the ante in 2015 by offering all the same specs as the new Hero4 Black — 30p 4K video, 120 fps in 1080p and 240 fps in 720p for slow mo. Plus, Sony added a few extra tricks like better image stabilization, wind-noise reduction and a wider field of view than GoPro.
The palm-size cam uses some of the same tech from Sony’s lust-worthy A7 full-frame cameras. It’s splash-proof and includes a new manual control mode to adjust exposure and white balance. And if your memory card gets full from all your crazy stunts, the X100V’s automatic looping mode can record over the last few free minutes of space so you never miss the money shot. — Buster Hein
Best semi-smartwatch: Withings Activité Pop
Withings is great at enhancing the idea of a traditional watch with a dash of technology. The company’s Activité Pop ($149) is the smartwatch for people who don’t want a smartwatch.
You’re not going to find GPS, a fancy touchscreen or any other wearable gimmicks — just an accelerometer. It syncs to Withings’ Health Mate app, which shows your daily activity, including sleep. And if you have a Withings smart scale, it will also show your weight and make helpful behavior connections from your watch activity.
The Activité Pop is no Apple Watch, but with eight months of battery life and an elegant design, it is just smart enough to make it worth considering — at least until Cupertino unleashes the beast. — Alex Heath
Best affordable Bluetooth speaker: UE Megaboom
Bluetooth speakers were like tribbles at CES — they popped up everywhere, to the point that it actually got annoying. Unlike the Star Trek critters, they came in all shapes, sizes and price ranges, but the best for our money was Ultimate Ears’ new UE Megaboom. It’s not radically different from its smaller sibling, the UE Boom, but the speaker line did get new features thanks to an upgraded app.
What’s really great about the Megaboom, which retails for $299, is that it’s just big enough to put out great sound, while just small enough to carry around easily. Ultimate Ears sees its speakers as an upgradeable platform, so more features can be added by over-the-air updates.
The company calls the cylindrical speaker “life-proof” because it’s rugged enough to take a hefty drop to the concrete and water-resistant enough to tote into the shower. It’s everything you want in an indoor/outdoor Bluetooth speaker, and nothing you don’t. — Lewis Wallace
Samsung Activwash washing machine
It’s ironic that one of the biggest innovations in washing machines in years is a centuries-old technology — the scrubbing board. Samsung’s Activwash Washing Machine boasts a scrubbing board built into its top. Samsung is calling it a “sink” because it’s concave and has a built-in water jet for filling. But it’s really a modern take on the good old scrubbing board — one made of ridged, transparent plastic for scrubbing garments.
According to Samsung, 70 percent of U.S. households prewash clothes before chucking them in the washer. A little hand scrubbing is still the best way to get rid of stubborn stains. “It’s centuries-old technology applied to the modern washer,” Samsung rep Rothman Teran told Cult of Mac. “It’s pretty cool for something so old-fashioned.”
I liked the top-loading washer’s ginormous size — it’s in excess of 5 cubic feet — and the “SuperSpeed” setting that reduces the average wash time from more than an hour to 36 minutes, without sacrificing performance. “It will do three times the load in one-third of the time,” said Teran.
Samsung hasn’t announced a price or release date. I can honestly say this is the first washer I’ve wanted to buy — ever. — Leander Kahney
Best HomeKit-compatible smart lock: Schlage Sense
Once HomeKit really gets rolling, home automation should finally take off. And one of the most obvious ways you’ll upgrade your house is with a lock that opens your front door without making you fish around for a physical key.
The Schlage Sense is one of the first HomeKit-enabled door locks we’ve seen, and it looks stylish as well as functional. With decades of experience in the lock industry, Schlage has made a lock that combines a keypad with traditional key entry.
The main draw at CES was the addition of HomeKit via Bluetooth, which enables Siri to control your door. As with everything else HomeKit-enabled, Schlage isn’t giving an exact release date yet beyond “later in 2015.” Pricing is unknown as well, but don’t expect it to be cheap. — Alex Heath
Most futuristic belly-wrapper: Belty
After a week of unchecked feeding and boozing in Sin City, I need the Belty, a motorized belt that tightens and loosens automatically. I need it on the loosen setting, naturally.
Dreamed up by French inventor Bertrand Duplat, Belty automatically loosens its grip when your gut bulges. “The experience of the belt hasn’t changed in centuries,” Duplat told Cult of Mac. “When you sit down and eat a long dinner, it loosens automatically. It tightens up when you stand up.”
Belty is still a protoype. Duplat plans to add sensors that detect movement — or lack thereof. If you’ve been sitting too long, Belty would signal with a squeeze or two that it’s time to get up. “Comfort first, sensors second,” said Duplat. — Leander Kahney