Getting to CES for TidBITS is historically a comedy of errors. Last year, I was one of the people stranded at the Newark airport when some guy decided to kiss his girlfriend goodbye, sending the TSA into a panic (see “CES 2010: Rolling the DECE,” 5 January 2010). This year, through no one’s fault but my own, I didn’t book my trip until two days before the start of CES, causing me to arrive a day late and miss all of the best press giveaways. If anyone has a freebie press bag from CES they can spare, please let me know—those things look sweet.
In other news, the Motel 6 Downtown is nicer than you’d expect, and no more than an hour away from the convention center.
But with all of that behind me, I did find some interesting new gizmos at CES for the TidBITS readership. No interactions with Playmates this year, although I was given a foam rubber... er, novelty by some friends who went to the Adult Video Network Expo that used to be part of CES. No, it’s not included in this roundup; Adam would be forced to delete it anyway.
Power -- It seemed like everyone and their grandmother had their own line of iPhone charging cases and iPad extended battery stands, most of which give your iOS device the portability and style of a Kaypro II. But I was impressed with—and will probably soon purchase—Mizco’s DigiPower Jump Start Flip, a $50 gizmo with 3300 milliamp-hours of charging power. I’m a sucker for clever, and this does clever in two ways: first, an open hinge turns the battery into a stand for any handheld device in horizontal or vertical orientation. Second, the JS Flip grips the phone with a high-friction rubberized backing—strong enough to hold up a heavy phone, but nothing sticky or clamping to the device. Note: at press time, the Flip is not on the Mizco Web site, but is available through Amazon.
Also of note: DigiPower’s Jump Start Slim, which crams an 1100 mAh battery into a 0.25-inch (6.4 mm) case, which, like the iPod touch, can probably be thrown into a pocket next to a wallet without causing much of a bulge. It’ll set you back $30.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking for additional power for your MacBook, there’s only one game in town: Sanho’s HyperMac line is the only external battery to date which ships with a MagSafe connector. Or perhaps the operative terms are “shipped” and “was,” because the press materials they’re handing out show the HyperMac battery connected to an included auto 12V adapter, which is then connected to Apple’s MagSafe adapter, and thence to your MacBook. Hmmm. (The extra hoops are necessary because Apple successfully sued HyperMac to prevent them from using Apple’s proprietary MagSafe connectors, which HyperMac had purchased separately.)
In any case, the HyperMac line continues to blow the doors off of other external batteries, up to a 4.7 pound brick that carries 222 watt-hours, or 61,000 mAh of power. Folks with lower power needs can consider charging their iOS devices with the HyperJuice Nano, Micro, and Mini lines, which come with 1800, 3600, and 7200 mAh respectively. And if HyperMac’s publicity materials are to be believed, they give off pleasing noises when held close to the body of attractive models, much like a tribble. Your results may vary.
Ansmann A.G. displayed their ZeroWatt line of AC adapters, which shut off automatically after the batteries are recharged. (Most AC adapters continue to use power even when they are not doing anything useful.) The ZeroWatt line includes battery rechargers and specialized plugs to power down your television completely, while still picking up signals from your remote control to turn it back on. Also of note: lithium-ion rechargeable batteries in AA and AAA sizes, and the Digicharger Vario that can recharge AAs, AAAs, and the flat 3.6V batteries used in cameras and cell phones.
Unfortunately, I didn’t come across the booth housing Horizon Fuel Cell until the last minute, so all I can report is what I’m gathering from their Web site: It’s not quite the Mr. Fusion from “Back to the Future,” but it’s a start. The MiniPAK delivers USB power from hydrogen cartridges; you can then refill the cartridges at home with their HydroFill station—just add water and electricity. The HydroFill costs $499, and another $99 for the MiniPAK including two cartridges; additional cartridges are $10 each. It’s a lot to pay for portable power, but hey—fuel cell. Be the first on your block.
Many other booths were advertising that their technologies were the greenest ever, and weren’t going to turn the planet into a carboniferous cesspool. Personally, I’m more conflicted about using a gadget that contains coltan—which is pretty much all of them. I’m no expert in green tech, but I didn’t see much that struck me as new; typical of what was on display were ThinkEco’s smart power outlets, which modulate outgoing power straight from the wall socket. It’s a great idea—and no doubt, will be standard issue someday—but, at $50 a pop, has a way to go before it hits ubiquity.
Storage -- Iomega will be moving to USB 3.0 in all of its new portable hard drives, which will be great news for MacBook users when we get the USB 3.0 connections that are inexplicably lacking in our Macs. In the meantime, USB 3.0 is backwards-compatible to our pokey 2.0 connections, and Iomega promises the prices are the same, so you can future-proof with their eGo line without paying a penalty. And how often do you get a chance to future-proof your ego? Also potentially of interest: SSD external drives ranging in size from 64 GB to 256 GB, and in price from $229 to $749. Sure, they seem expensive now, but I remember paying $400 for an 80 megabyte external drive.
Other World Computing, aka the Macsales guys, have a replacement internal SSD drive for the 2010 model MacBook Air in configurations of—are you sitting down?—180 GB, 240 GB, and 360 GB. The price for the 360 GB—are you still sitting down?—ballparks in the $1,200 range. It’s a chip the size of a stick of chewing gum, and it’s user-installable. Also available: external SSDs for all MacBooks, and replacement internal SSDs for earlier models of the MacBook Air and some MacBook models. Full disclosure: I’ve been ordering from these guys for years, I have a couple of things in my Macsales cart as we speak, and no matter how many times I said so, the sales rep didn’t even try to bribe me. Dang it.
iPhone -- If you’re frequently on the road with an iPhone or iPod touch, but without a portable Mac, Iomega’s SuperHero is a charging stand which doubles as a backup drive. Install Iomega’s free app to back up your device to the SuperHero’s included 4 GB SD card (or a bigger one you supply); then use the app on a factory-new device to restore from backup. I found the SuperHero moniker a bit odd: Is the dock the secret identity of the backup, or vice-versa? Available soon for $70.
In the bizarre news arena, a PR person from DisplayPort—that connector you use in all Macs to attach external monitors—said completely nonchalantly that she can confirm that there will be a DisplayPort connector in the next iPhone. As Adam Engst said when I passed this along: “Really? Why?” And as I said (to myself), “Really? And Apple is letting you give out any information about the next iPhone?” But hey, it’s confirmed from a DisplayPort representative, whose name I’m keeping to myself so I don’t get her fired.
Portable Accessories -- I.R.I.S. demoed their IRIScan anywhere2, which looks like a single-sheet feed mechanism broken off from a desktop scanner. But it’s fully functional on its own, operating as either an attached scanner or a standalone device, scanning up to 200 pages per minute to internal memory, an SD card, USB drive, or direct to your computer. IRIScan anywhere2 costs $199, but TidBITS readers are invited to use the promotion code “joe” to get a $30 discount. Sounds like Joe Kissell’s “Take Control of Your Paperless Office” is getting some attention in the scanning world. As well it should.
I’ve been very happy with a $10 external speaker I picked up from Staples last month; it’s perfect for listening to my iPod NPR app in the shower (well, near the shower). So I was surprised to come across the Grandmax booth and discover that the speaker is actually a rebranded Tweakers Teeny—a brand name which would have scared me off, along with the entire male population. The Teeny is a small globe that untwists to create a reverb chamber; other Tweakers models are larger editions of this, as well as bar speakers and Bluetooth models. Prices are $10-$40 for the wired models, a little more for Bluetooth. I think the Teeny sounds great, but please note that several women have told me I act like I’m half-deaf; I think they were referring to my ears.
Sometimes simpler is better. KB Covers caught my eye with their line of rubberized covers for MacBook and desktop Mac keyboards. (And only Mac keyboards. It warms my heart.) Brighten up your keyboard with color-coded commands for complex applications, toss on a Dvorak keyboard, or simply go solid black to force yourself to touch-type. Prices vary, but the MacBook covers I’m looking at now are around $30. TidBITS readers are invited to use the code CES2011 for a 20 percent discount through 23 January 2011.
Odds and Ends -- In the Things I’m Still Trying to Understand category, I noticed that Sifteo is getting a lot of buzz from other media outlets for their new Cube gaming system. Picture a new iPad nano screen set in a white plastic block about a half-inch high; that’s a Cube. When you put Cubes next to each other, things change onscreen thanks to a wireless transmitter that locates other Cubes. The problem that jumps out at me is that a 3-pack costs $149, and really, there’s only so much you can do with three. This strikes me as the kind of thing that makes adults go “Wow!” and kids say, “That was fun for five minutes. Can I borrow the iPad again?”
In the same category: the Sphero, “the robotic ball you control with your smartphone!” Yup, it’s a ball. It rolls. (No gerbil required.) You can control it with an iPhone. Coming next to the 2012 CES: the iPhone-controlled Slinky! In 2013, it will be Log, Log, Log!
Maybe there’s just something about gadgets named after Platonic solids.
Opera Software, makers of the Opera 11 browser for Mac and Opera Mini browser for iOS, were on hand to demo their latest browser for Android tablets. No news of interest to TidBITS readers, but as a guy who thinks there should be competition in browsers beyond the Big Three for Mac, I was glad to see that Opera had the coin to run advertisements on the ubiquitous free shuttle buses that moved us all around town. Those crafty Norwegians don’t seem to be hurting for money; I’m looking forward to what else they come up with for my Apple devices.
I picked up a set of “issue buttons” for an $8 donation at the Electronic Frontier Foundation booth, so now I can wear my “Fair Use” button to my next meeting at the MPAA, or the “Privacy” button to a hearing on government wiretapping. They don’t mention them on their Web site, so drop them a line along with your donation and see if they’ll put them in the mail.
The Amusing Advertisement award goes to GameChurch.com for their picture of Jesus rocking a Nintendo controller with the accompanying motto, “Üs3r pwnage since 33 AD.” I’m a Jewish atheist, but that deserves a mention. Their shtick (as it were) is to hand out 3,000 Bibles at every tech convention they visit, and speaking as a nonbeliever, I’m amused by their Web site’s approach to Christianity with attitude.
And the Amusing Mistake award goes to Mophie, makers of charging cases for the iPhone, for handing me a press kit consisting of a blank USB drive in an attractive box. I assume that they had something to tell me; we’ll have to find out about it elsewhere.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need about a week of sleep, interspersed by far too much time playing poker with other degenerates.