Las Vegas: A smartphone case that enables wireless charging for the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy devices, an internet-connected toothbrush, a bracelet that tells you when you need to reapply sunscreen, and a wearable video game controller suit – these are just some of the gadgets unveiled before the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas has even started.
Top 10 gadgets ahead of CES 2014
A bracelet that tells you when to reapply sunscreen, the world's first internet-connected toothbrush, a portable wireless smartphone charger and more. Ben Grubb shares the best devices to be unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Two days before the world's biggest electronics fair, many gadget makers – particularly smaller ones – try to steal the show at the the pre-show CES Unveiled. Here are my 10 favourite gadgets so far:
Wearable gaming controller suit
The PrioVR consists of sensors you strap onto your body to fully immerse yourself in video games or any other kind of virtual world. Combined with the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, this is every gamer's dream. It makes use of triaxial gyroscopes, magnetometers and accelerometers, as well as sensor fusion – the combining of sensory data – to read your movements.
When wearing the suit, every move you make is mirrored by the character in the game or virtual world with a 5-10 millisecond delay. It essentially puts you in the game and removes any feeling of disembodiment. It will come in three models – two full-body suits and one upper-body and will be available later this year or early next year for third-party developers, and for consumers in June 2015 following a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter due to begin on February 14. The upper-body option could cost less than $US300 and the full-body options less than $US400. It will be the second time PrioVR appears on Kickstarter after its initial campaign failed to raise enough funds. Paul Yost, chief of research and development and co-founder of YEI Technology, said he was glad it failed because it allowed the company to make improve the product: "A lot of the input we got from brutally honest gamers helped us to find what it was that we were shooting for."
Wireless charging for smartphones
Battery life on most smartphones sucks, and I often find myself barely able to make it through the day with any smartphone I review. Yes, it would be better if smartphones could hold enough charge on their own – and they will eventually, when new battery technologies come out that make use of materials such as graphene – but in the meantime carrying around a portable charging board may be the solution.
The iNPOFi range of smartphone cases allows the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy devices to be charged by a conductive iNPOFi charging board. When you need some extra juice to get your phone, just lay it on the board and charge it up. Justin Andrews of Kirk H&J, the company behind it, said the case and portable charging boards started at $US39.99 and increased depending on how many milliamps the boards held. An 8000 milliamp version for the iPhone 5/5s costs $US169.99 on Amazon and can re-charge the phone between four and five times before it needs recharging. Andrews said the company was "trying" to work with manufacturers to get its conductive technology inside their devices so the cases aren't needed.
"So where you have the G standard or the A4WP standard, we're looking to implement our standard into smart watches, cars or other devices like iPads and tablets," he said. Many Chinese manufacturers are co-operating with the company, Andrews said, but so far giants such as Apple and Samsung have been unresponsive.
"Our company was started in China so we have a lot more connections there and it's easier for us to get a lot of the standards off the ground there," he said. "Once it starts getting used there it will eventually make its way over here because this technology is much more efficient and you have a lot less wasted energy ... but we're not seeing any [big] move away from the G standard or the AW4P". Benefits of the iNPOFi standard over other wireless standards are that it's "more efficient, there's no extra heat [and] it doesn't drain the life of your battery because it's generating extra heat", Andrews said.
Unusual 'rear-type' keyboard
According to its website, TREWGrip is a handheld "rear-type" keyboard and air mouse for your mobile devices, smart TV and desktop PC. The standard QWERTY key layout is split and rotated so the hands gripping TREWGrip "can effectively touch type in a mobile setting". The device is unusual, and in the five minutes I used it I couldn't understand how to operate it. But according to Kevin Wilson, a representative of the manufacturer, people eventually have an "Ah hah!" moment. He said it takes about 6-8 hours to become about 80-85 per cent familiar with it. It aims to make people as productive on their smartphone or tablet as they are on their desktop, he added. Mark Parker, the company's president, said it has many potential uses, especially in healthcare. To help people get used to it, it has LED lights facing you so you know which keys you are pressing. Parker expects to ship TrewGrip, which connects via Bluetooth, for about $US250 in the second half of 2014.
Just about everything is connected to the internet these days – fridges, fans and even ourselves through wearable fitness gadgets and smart watches. I even know a guy who has wired up his fireplace so he can control it remotely. So it is no surprise that the toothbrush was one of the next items to be connected to the digital world. Shipping in the third quarter of this year for $US99 to $US200, the Kolibree aims to track and improve your dental hygiene. Company representative Amy Forrester said it aimed to teach people how to brush their teeth correctly by showing them how they are doing it on a smartphone app. The prototype I tried felt as though the whole toothbrush was vibrating instead of just the tip. The toothbrush makes use of three sensors, including an accelerometer, to know which teeth it is brushing and if you're using the correct motion. It also knows how long you have spent brushing and gives you a rating afterwards on an app so you can improve. Former Microsoft and Google executive, Thomas Serval, said he created it because his daughter always pretended to brush her teeth. It will be crowdfunded on Kickstarter, have a battery life of two to three weeks and connect to smartphones using Bluetooth.
Comfortable headphones for sleeping or jogging
Ever tried sleeping on your side with earphones in? Wei-Shin Lai was in a similar uncomfortable position when she decided to create SleepPhones and RunPhones. In a nutshell, SleepPhones are a soft headband with embedded flat speakers so you can sleep easy; they also double as a sleeping mask. The founder later decided to branch out into fitness headbands and now sells RunPhones too. Wired versions of the SleepPhones and RunPhones start at $US39.95, and wireless Bluetooth versions of SleepPhones cost $US99.95.
Remote-controlled jumping toy
A small smartphone-controlled robot, the Jumping Sumo is designed to roll around on almost any surface and jump up to 2.5 feet (70 centimetres) in the air. The maker, Parrot, said it would be released this year but would not confirm its price. It has an embedded video camera, from which it can wirelessly stream video to an Apple iOS device.
Wearable technology is going to be a $US6 billion market in 2016, according to research firm IDC. Looking to cash in on this, Netatmo has unveiled June – a bracelet that looks like a piece of jewellery, but actually holds a UV sensor. It tells you when you need to reapply sunscreen and is due to go on sale in the northern summer (June) for $US100.
'Mother' device to watch over you
Want to be alerted to when the coffee beans are about to run out, or whether your child arrived home from school safely? The Mother by Sense can help. Making use of "cookies" – little devices you attach to pretty much anything – and a main device that receives data from them, the Mother keeps a watch over what you tell it to. At launch, its price is set at $US222, which includes four cookies that have 15 possible uses, which the user can set from a dashboard. Mother is already on sale in France, but is available for pre-order in the US and will ship in the northern spring (March).
An Ultrabook that's really light and thin
Claiming to be the "lightest 14-inch Ultrabook in the world", Lenovo showed off its new ThinkPad X1 Carbon. Compared to its predecessor, the $US1299 Ultrabook is noticeably thinner and lighter. It is due to go on sale in North America on Monday and in Australia within 30 days. Local pricing has yet to be announced. One of my favourite features is its adaptive keyboard panel, which adjusts based on the software or application being used to highlight the most relevant keys.
Another remote-controlled toy to keep you entertained
Last but not least, the smartphone-controlled $US99 Sphero 2B, due to go on sale later this year, is a device that can perform tricks and whip around the living room at speeds of up to 22 km/h. It's controlled using Bluetooth and can work up to 30 metres away. Fun for all!
The writer travelled to CES as a guest of Lenovo.