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 (IDEA USA)
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)
MIO ALPHA 2
NETGEAR WAC730 PROSAFE
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
ICLEVER FOLDABLE BLUETOOTH KEYBOARD
EARIN 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.
THINOPTICS 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.
FLIP PAL PLUS MOBILE SCANNER
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.