The big 2016 consumer technology extravaganza, CES, has faded from the headlines, but many of us are only now sorting through brochures, business cards, and photographs. I spent much of the final day of the show in the basement of the Sands Expo Center in Las Vegas, wandering the aisles of the rapidly growing area known as Eureka Park, home to many hopeful startups. Here’s a quick look at some of what we found, not only in Eureka Park, but in the aisles above.
goTenna – This turns your smartphone into a text based walkie talkie. It pairs wirelessly with your smartphone and allows you to send messages to anyone else who has another GoTenna unit within a mile in an urban area with lots of buildings, up to four miles out in the wide open spaces. It will also send your location. Extend the antenna and it automatically pairs with your phone. Best place to keep it is strapped to a backpack or a pice of clothing so the signal can roam free. You can watch the video here. It’s great for staying in touch in a crowded venue where a cell signal is tough to find or in the great outdoors where you may be miles from the nearest cell tower. Price is $199 for the pair.
Headphones Galore – We saw tons of headphones all over CES, but three sets of earbuds got our attention.
Bedphones – I know plenty of people who would like to go to sleep listening to their tunes. But playing music at bedtime doesn’t always fit well with a relationship. And putting on headphones or wearing earbuds has drawbacks. They can slide off as you toss and turn, or can just be uncomfortable. Now comes Bedphones, a cross between earbuds and headphones specifically designed for sleep. They come in their own case and are lightweight, comfy, and the sound quality is good (but don’t expect thumping bass that could wake your partner). The Bedphones Gen 3 are available for just about $60.
Spider Sapphire Earbuds – From the outside, these Spider earbuds don’t look much different from scores of others we saw at CES. But they deliver terrific sound quality across the frequency spectrum. They come with three different sized ear tips and they use passive noise cancelling to keep out the din (even worked on the CES show floor). These buds also have an in-line mike and track control for your smartphone and playing your tunes. But what impressed us most was the price, a mere $20.
Shure Electrostatic Earbuds – At the other end of the price spectrum – the far, far other end of the spectrum – is the Shure KSE1500 Electrostatic Earphone System. Traditional electrostatic headphones were big, heavy things that came with a big plug-in power supply, but the sound was memorable. Shure, best known for legendary microphones, has found a way to miniaturize the entire system. They use noise isolation technology and do provide a terrific listening experience. To make sure you get all the sound you’re paying for, the cable uses a special six pin connector to tie the battery powered amplifier to the phones. The price is $3000. Well, actually I exaggerated there. It’s really only $2,999. My bad. Hats off to the marketing folks at Shure who realized they’ll sell a lot more of them at $2999 than they would at $3000. Keep the change.
Veta Smart Case for EpiPen – Peanuts, lobsters, shrimp, other foods, insect bites – all can be deadly threats to people who are allergic. For many of them, an EpiPen, loaded with an emergency dose of epinephrine, can be a lifesaver. But EpiPens need to be managed. Parents need to know they are with their children. Everyone who has a pen needs to know when it expires. The Veta SmartCase by Aterica Health uses Bluetooth to connect with either an iOS or Android phone. It can be set up to alert a parent or caretaker if the EpiPen has been removed from the case. It can keep track of the expiration date, and it has a separation alert to let you know if you’ve walked away from your pen. Price will be $59.
Action Cameras – This is another tech category that is expanding almost exponentially. We saw a load of so-called Point Of View, or POV, cameras that are happily challenging GoPro’s industry dominance. Here are three that caught our eye:
Frodo by Nexgear – Named for the intrepid Lord of the Rings traveler, the Frodo is one of the smallest action cameras we’ve seen. The design is quite flexible. You pair it with your smartphone to see what it’s capturing. It can be strapped to your wrist, forehead, bike, helmet, or almost anything else imaginable. The Frodo comes with an App that has some pretty sophisticated editing software, so you can make your action videos into coherent stories in your own editing style, automatically. But wait, that’s not all folks, in addition to being an 8MP camera that shoots in full HD, the Frodo is also a digital watch and an activity tracker. Shooting time with the included battery is 1 1/2 hours, but an extra battery pack can extend that to five hours. Price is expected to be between $200 and $300.
Luna Camera – Luna calls this the world’s smallest VR 360 camera. And it is small, about the size of a billiard ball. We think their video does a great job of explaining the camera. It dramatically simplifies creating a VR experience at a genuinely affordable price point. It’s on Indiegogo offering an early bird discount of just under $300. It is waterproof and pairs with your smartphone to record or stream your video and will allow you to geotag your location as well as date stamp it. It communicates via wi-fi. It has a clever magnetic mount that can serve as a tripod, or allow you to transfer data and recharge.
Fusar Mohawk Smart Helmet System – This is a combination action cam, dash cam, and communications package that’s all combined into one sleek unit that attaches to a motorcycle or bicycling helmet. Like most of the other action cams on the market, this too pairs with your smartphone. But in addition to recording video, the system will capture the last minutes before a collision, just like a dashcam. It you are injured, it will also alert your chosen emergency contacts as well as the closest emergency medical help. It will also let you track the metrics of your adventure, including your speed, distance, and, if you’re into this, your air time. It’s currently being funded on Indiegogo for an early bird price of $399.
MYNT Tracker by Slightech – We saw a handful of tracking devices that will help you locate everything from cars and boats to keys and, of course, smartphones. Many use low power Bluetooth and are intended to help around the house. We were impressed with the Mynt because of both its design and functionality. It’s made from stainless steel and is only 1/8″ thick and 2″ long. It is small enough to be sewn into a piece of children’s clothing. The replaceable battery is good for a year. But not only does Mynt track your stuff, it also serves as a remote control. Take a selfie with your camera, run a PowerPoint presentation, or play your music with a touch of a button. Here’s their video. Mynt also comes with an app that will let you alert other Mynt users if you’ve lost something beyond the device’s 150 foot reach. Price is just about $40.
Bluesmart Carry On Bag – This is a roll aboard bag for the 21st Century road warrior. It will help you keep track of where your bag is by using a smartphone app. It has a TSA compliant built-in lock. It comes with a USB charge port and battery so you can juice up your smartphone while you’re waiting to board the plane without having to scramble for an outlet. It also has an outside pouch for quick access to a tablet computer. It is a hard sided case with four multi-directional wheels. It also has a built-in scale (there are airlines, mostly overseas, that limit the weight of carry-ons). If you do check the bag and it does get lost, the app will help you help the airline to find your luggage. Price is $399.
Little Luxury Mini Water Cooler – Here’s a product we thought was clever, useful, and affordable. If you are concerned with impurities in your tap water, this Little Luxury is a counter-top water cooler that filters tap water and chills it to 45 degrees. It’s easy to setup and use and the cap on the bottle makes it pretty much spill proof when you put the bottle onto the cooler. The price is $130. The company is also about to bring to market an outdoor version which is rugged and can also use a DC power input so you can power it with solar panels. We think that makes it an ideal companion for car camping trips. It is also being targeted to third world countries where potable water is a critical problem. The outdoor version will let you use local streams and will filter out biological contaminants. No price on this quite yet.
Gadgets Galore – Needless to say, at what’s arguably the world’s biggest technology show there were a lot of useful little gadgets. Here are just a few that we thought were worth a closer look:
CulCharge Keychain Power Bank – The company calls this “the World’s Smallest 3-in-1 Keychain PowerBank, Charge & Data Cable for iPhone & Android.” It has a 1000 mAh battery that will keep your phone running for several extra hours. It has an built-in charge and data cable that allows you to charge the device itself and transfer data, no additional cable needed. It’s tiny, weighting in at only 1 1/2 ounces, and easily attaches to a key ring. It comes in two models, one for Android ($33) and one for iPhone ($40).
Griffin Apple Watch and iPhone Charger – If, like me, you live with both an iPhone and an Apple Watch, you know that both are pretty good for a day on the road. But, when you’re traveling and short on outlets, charging them overnight can be a hassle. This device from Griffin makes it easy to do both simultaneously. It has a plug for the iPhone and a stand to charge the Apple Watch. Price is $60. Griffin is also about to release a portable power bank to charge up your Apple Watch on the go for $70.
[FUSE]Chicken Cables and Docks – Despite this company’s really strange name (gotta be a great story behind it, I hope) they showed off some innovate and useful technology at CES. They basically manufacture flexible steel cable in the form of iPhone cables and docks. The Bobine is a cable, dock, tripod, and stand rolled together into a flexible dock. It’s small enough to fit in your travel bag, but strong enough to hold your iPhone in nearly unlimited places in your office, nightstand, and kitchen. Price for iPhone 6s, 6s Plus, 6, 6 Plus, 5s, 5c, and 5 is $35. If you’ve ever struggled to find a good place in your car to position your phone so you could see maps and do hands free calling, the Bobine Auto is your solution. It will let you snake around the stuff on your dashboard to get your iPhone exactly where you want it to be. The Bobine Auto system is priced at $40. And the company makes the Titan line of steel wrapped cables that are just about impervious, ranging in price from $20 to $40.
Eton Blackout Buddy Lights and Chargers – Eton makes a complete line of emergency preparedness products, including solar power and hand cranked radios, rechargeable lights, and other devices, many of which are also sold by the American Red Cross. We could have happily gone through their booth with a shopping basket, but alas, we’ll settle for three useful emergency lights. The Blackout Buddy Charger lives plugged into an outlet in your home. But if the power goes off, you can count on this gadget to provide you with a small flashlight and a means of charging your smartphone. Price is $30. The Blackout Buddy CO is a combination carbon monoxide detector, nightlight, and emergency flashlight that sells for $60. And the Blackout Buddy H2O is a water activated disposable flashlight. You just dip it in water and that initiates the battery. If you add a little water once a day, it will keep shining for 72 hours. Price is $10.
Aauxx iRing and Dock – These are two separate devices that together form a very flexible mounting system for your smartphone. The iRing is a solid steel ring that uses a heavy duty adhesive to attach to the back of your smartphone. The adhesive is made so that you can carefully lift it off and reuse it on another phone. You can use the iRing to hold the phone with one finger, or you can attach it to its included hook over your bedstand, on a table, almost anywhere. We’ve seen it priced from about $6 to $20. The iRing Dock is great for your dashboard. It holds firmly onto the iRing and allows you to freely maneuver the position. We’ve seen the dock priced at $11- $15.
Link by Fasetto Solid State Storage – The Link is a new way to carry and share your files in an extremely small and rugged package. The Link is fundamentally a 2TB solid state drive (SSD) that uses wi-fi and Bluetooth to access multiple devices. It is waterproof down to 45 feet. You can wear it on your belt or clip it to your clothes so it’s always available to back up what you shoot on your smartphone or camera. It will stream your media for up to 8 hours on a charge with up to two weeks of standby time. It’s smaller than 2′ square and moves data as fast as 1900 Mbs. That’s fast. You can connect up to 20 devices at once and stream to 7 devices at once. Here’s their video. But all of this storage and technological innovation will come at a price, estimated to be up to $1400 for the full 2TB version when it’s available later this year.
Aqua Power Water Activated Lantern – Here’s another innovative product that surprised us. This Japanese company makes rechargeable batteries that are activated with water. They can power flashlights, mini lanterns, and portable radios. By using a patented process in which water is added to magnesium rods, they achieve a 20-year shelf life (dry cell batteries typically have a shelf life less than three years). They can run for 20 plus hours and can be recharged up to five times. Their first US product is a dome lantern which will sell for about $60.
Keezel – Protected Wi-Fi Hotspot – The Keezel device looks like a rounded computer mouse. Keezel says it will protect your privacy and security online. Among its claims: it will stop others from seeing what you do online. It will let you visit blocked websites all over the world. You’ll be able to watch the TV shows, sports games, and other programs you love, but can’t reach. You can secure all of your devices with just one Keezel, no installation needed. Here’s a look at their video. The device sets up a VPN, or virtual private network, that overlays any wi-fi network that you publicly access. Once its crowdsourcing campaign ends, the device itself should be available for $99, with data plans beginning at $60 a year.
Ily Family Phone – This is a desktop or countertop phone that’s designed to keep the whole family connected, but it’s particularly good for families with younger children and/or aging parents or grandparents. It has an 8″ touch screen for vivid video and is totally kid-proof. Full range speakers bring songs, whispered tales, and temper tantrums to life. It comes with a wireless handset so you can keep the conversation going in other rooms. And it is touch enabled, allowing you to send messages, pictures, and drawings, all through Ily. The system is parent controlled, so kids can access only approved contacts. It can be set so the kids can connect to video chat with grandparents or others at the touch of button without having the parents standing by. It will allow you to set your contacts to the people who are important to you. Ily can be used to replace your landline phone. It is not itself a mobile device, but there are apps so you can connect with iOS and Android phones as well as through a PC. Ily is expected to sell for just about $300.