When I returned from the Consumer Electronics Show a few weeks ago, everyone wanted to know what was hot this year. I get that same question every year following CES and once again I rattled off the usual hot categories of virtual reality, 3D printing, robotics and drones. This year, however, I feel like everything was taken up a notch. The tech gadgets of the future have finally arrived, they're available to consumers and they are quickly becoming mainstream.
This year, the connected home became more of a reality as well with smart technologies now available in all our home appliances -- think smart fridges, washing machines and garage doors. Looking around CES, it was clear that drones and VR headsets are becoming ubiquitous. And just like in previous years, everyone was excited about the high-quality audio and video gadgets.
I've put together a list of some of the coolest things I saw at CES. Of course this list isn't exhaustive and it's impossible to see everything CES has to offer in just a few days. It's also too time consuming to try to demo all the cool gadgets that are in the tech market now. I have tried to feature gadgets in differently categories and have included affordable items so cost will not be a barrier for new technology. The future is definitely accessible to us and changing our lives quickly.
PICO PROJECTOR (
It used to be that a major headache of delivering a presentation was the responsibility of planning for the projector. Now, these mini projectors get the job done and the quality is sensational. Idea USA's projector is less than an inch-and-a-half and weighs under a half pound, but it can project a 120 inch picture beautifully. With crystal clear 1080p video at 80 lumens brightness (1000:1 contrast ratio), I was left impressed. The colors were vibrant and with an an operating life of more than 25,000 hours (way more than that of traditional projector lamps), you'll be able to go many years without needing a replacement.
OMGATE GARAGE DOOR OPENER
I've always thought of my garage door as old technology. Even after replacing it recently, nothing on it seemed like an upgrade -- not even the infrared safety sensors. Israeli developers at Omgate have brought the garage door into the 21st century with some simple hacks and a mobile app. With a small, working model at their CES booth I was shown how the technology works. OmGate connects your smartphone to your garage door so it will open automatically when you enter. You can open the garage door using the app or just approach the gate and it will open. You'll never worry about the garage remote again. The Admin can also authorize other users so the homeowner can give garage opening permissions to workers on an as needed basis and then remove the permissions for security. OmGate's app can control as many as 20 gates or garage doors from a single smartphone. System installation is quick and simple.
REMIX MINI (JIDE)
I happened to pass right by Jide's Remix Mini booth at CES without realizing what it was. Something told me to turn around, wait my turn and inquire about this concept. I'm glad I did. I was sold immediately when the spokesperson told me that I could install an Android operating system on my old and obsolete PCs. Remix started as a successful Kickstarter project (they asked for $50,000 and got more than $1.5 million in funding). Remix is exactly what it claims to be: "A cheap Android device that serves as a full PC." You can use a USB drive to install Remix on any old PC or for under $70 you can get the Remix Mini, which is a 1.2GHz quad-core Allwinner processor with 16GB of storage and 2GB of RAM. Two USB 2.0 ports, an ethernet port, a HDMI out and a headphone port are on the back. Of course it comes with Android Remix OS and access to a number of Remix-specific apps and direct access to Google Play. Hands down one of the coolest things I encountered at CES 2016.
EASTON POWER SENSOR (Easton/BlastMotion)
I'm one of the coaches of my 12-year-old son's travel baseball team and one thing we have noticed while practicing indoors during the winter is that these boys can improve greatly if they increase their bat speed. Trying to judge how fast a player's swing is with the naked human eye is not very accurate. That's why I was thrilled to see Blast Motion's Easton Power Sensor in action at CES. This precision motion sensor combines highly accurate, advanced 3D motion with mobile video to provide important metrics for any baseball or softball player. The power sensor and universal bat attachment slip over the knob of any brand or model bat so a coach can capture, analyze and improve the swing. With the Smart Video Capture technology, it automatically identifies swings and then clips the video to create a series of highlights, overlaid with the metrics (swing speed, time to contact, swing direction, power, efficiency, etc).
MIO ALPHA 2
There are so many fitness trackers on the market that it's become impossible to tell them apart. In order to help you maximize your workout efficiency, the Mio ALPHA 2 sets itself apart by focusing on important performance data rather than how many steps you take in a day. An accurate wrist-based heart rate monitor is built into the ALPHA to help track distance, calorie burn and pace. This wearable is rugged, sport proof and water resistant up to 100 ft. to endure all training conditions. Mio's Personal Activity Intelligence (PAI) ensures that your body gets enough exercise at the right intensity, ensuring you keep a top-notch health profile. I've tried so many wearable fitness trackers, but this one is really in a class by itself.
When I was a kid, everything managed to find its way onto our family's refrigerator with the assistance of a magnet. With the prevalence of stainless steel fridges, my own family has found alternative ways to hang up our kids' art projects, invitations and funny comic strips. I've always looked for a more techie way to do this and Triby is it. The other thing missing from homes these days is a family telephone. Triby is a connected WiFi phone and wireless speaker all in one that brings me back to the days of leaving messages on the fridge and gathering around the family phone. From music sharing, hands-free VoIP and mobile phone calls and a connected message board, Triby has it all. It's ideal for leaving each other messages or listening to music in the kitchen. It's also perfect for younger kids who don't have their own mobile phone, but need the ability to make a quick and easy call in an emergency.
Nothing is more frustrating than a business that doesn't have good WiFi. Asking a receptionist in the waiting room or a waitress in a restaurant for the WiFi password is sometimes akin to asking for nuclear codes. In 2016 we've come to expect most businesses to have fast and complimentary WiFi. The NETGEAR WAC730 ProSAFE Wireless Access Point is a high performance dual band that supports up to an aggregate throughput of 1.7 Gbps. This access point operates in either standalone mode with an intuitive user interface or in "ensemble mode" for centralized group management of up to 10 access points of the same model. It is ideal for those needing superior throughput, maximum performance and extensive coverage. Schools, camps, hospitals and hotels will especially appreciate the ease of use and coverage, but it's also great for small businesses and organizations like churches and synagogues.
www.netgear.com $480 (approximate)
HOMIDO VIRTUAL REALITY HEADSET
Virtual reality was everywhere at CES, but it was almost always because someone was demonstrating the Oculus Rift. If a $600 VR headset is a little much to get your kid for his birthday, you're in luck. There are other options on the market including Homido's contribution to VR. For under $100, you're definitely getting a step up from Google Cardboard. Homido's goggles are comfortable and they work well. The lightweight black and red plastic headset holds smartphones between 4 and 5.5-inches in size. Download the Homido VR game apps (new ones come out weekly) to your phone and you're ready to go. Like all VR games, you'll get quite nauseous, but that's part of the mobile VR experience -- at least for now.
www.hypershop.com $75 (approx)
DITTO (SIMPLE MATTERS)
We all think about our cellphone more than we'd like to admit. In the 21st century it's fair to say that our phone has become part of us -- we feel naked without it and return home if we forgot to grab it in the morning. Ditto was created to free us from worrying about our phones and to be more present in life. That's a commendable modus operandi for a tech company. Ditto is a tiny, discreet wearable that alerts you with a vibration each time you receive an important message. You can choose which SMS senders and callers warrant an alert, so if you're at the gym and don't want to be bothered except from your spouse or kids, your boss's phone call will be ignored. Ditto runs on a watch battery so there's no need for recharging. This is a simple, but useful little gadget.
SPYDER POWERSHADOW BATTERY CASE
There are several battery pack iPhone cases that keep your phone charged up throughout the day, but these cases are all bulky and add some serious weight to your phone. Spyder had developed an iPhone case that is ultra thin -- even thinner than most non-battery protective cases. Bonus features of this case include its shock resistance and water resistance. I literally saw hundreds of phone cases at CES and this is the only one that truly impressed me.
ICLEVER FOLDABLE BLUETOOTH KEYBOARD
I've been a fan of iclever's products for some time. They are inexpensive, but well manufactured and durable products. From Bluetooth headphones and speakers to an array of phone chargers, iclever keeps the price very low, but their products are well made and extremely useful. The foldable, compact Bluetooth keyboard is very convenient and works just as well as wireless keyboards three times the price of iclever's model. I keep mine in my car's glove box and it's been a life saver several times.
So many wearable fitness bands can only handle jogging and biking. Others have a swimming feature that is hit or miss. Magellan's Echo is the really the first sports watch that utilizes smartphone fitness apps to their full potential by wirelessly connecting them to your wrist. Real-time sports data streams directly from phone to watch display, Echo is able to give updates of any type of athletic activity and uses Bluetooth Smart to wirelessly connect and show elapsed time, distance and other metrics at a glance. For golf, it accurately displays yards to the green. It boasts a rugged design and water-resistance that can withstand adverse conditions when playing sports.
Apple has done a great job of ruining the experience of listening to crisp audio by giving away those poorly made white airbuds with every iPhone sold. Those who appreciate the clear sound of their music, but don't want to deal with the wires (even wireless Bluetooth headphones have a wire) will absolutely love Earin. The extraordinary high fidelity quality of these Swedish-made earbuds will excite every audiophile. These earbuds, like the Bragi Dash earbuds, are truly wireless headphones. They are placed in your ears like ear plugs and are comfortable with a surprisingly high quality sound. In terms of battery power, I was able to get a full 10 hours of use from a single charge. A bass boost is available by downloading the companion app for iOS or Android.
When Darren Lancaster, the VP of Marketing for ThinOPTICS, told me he wanted to show me his product, I was expecting something more techie. However, within ten minutes he demonstrated how his innovative portable reading glasses actually are a tech gadget. These small reading glasses stick to the back of your mobile phone case and are lighter than a nickel. For anyone over 40, these reading glasses become increasingly more necessary every time you go to read your phone. ThinOPTICS makes it possible for everyone to read their phone again without squinting or fumbling to find their reading glasses. They even have a phone case that includes a pair of the lightweight reading glasses. They're available in multiple colors and different strength levels.
How did no one think of this before? I saw a huge crowd gathered around a booth at CES and figured it must be a celebrity. No one famous was there, but I did see a Roomba-looking device loudly traveling around the grates of a barbecue grill. It was a Grillbot, the world's first automatic grill-cleaning robot. Aha I said, finally I don't have to spend time scraping and brushing my grill anymore in the hot summer. Push a button, close the lid of your grill and the little Grillbot does all the yucky cleaning. I love it!
FLIP PAL PLUS MOBILE SCANNER
It really drives me crazy that with all the digital photos I have stored between my hard drives and in the cloud, I still have thousands of printed photographs at my house. A disaster like a flood or a fire would essentially erase those photo memories from history. I know I need to scan all of those photos, but it takes a lot of time. That's why I love the idea of StoryScans. I was introduced to this concept at ShowStoppers during CES and immediately was sold. Not only is this a scanner to quickly turn all those photo prints to digital pics, but you can also record a story with each photograph. You simply scan the photo, record your voice and save to create the StoryScans file. It comes with the Flip-Pal Toolbox 4 software for desktops and a ScanTools app for iOS devices. It's ideal for genealogy, scrapbooks of childhood memories and vacation photo journals.
With hundreds of thousands of products at CES, it's not an easy task finding the ones that stick out. These tech gadgets make great gifts and I found them to be unique in one way or another. We're really getting to the Jetsons Era with technology and I plan to keep being impressed with the innovation that's shaping our 21st century lives.
Rabbi Jason Miller is a blogger and tech entrepreneur. He is president of Access Computer Technology and editor of Tech These Out. Follow him on Facebook.