Honestly, we could have spent another week in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics Show and still not seen all of the ingenious, inventive, and sometimes mystifying devices on display there. The show is so large, so loud, and so filled with stuff that even our industrious team of testers and reporters couldn't take it all in. But eventually you've got to put a cap on it and digest what you saw. Plus, the show closes today, so we have to go home.
For us, home is our labs back in Yonkers, New York, where we look forward to testing the TVs, smart phones, computers, tablets, and wearable technologies we saw at the show. For Consumer Reports, CES is just the first step in our journey with many of these products, one that only ends once we've had the opportunity to subject them to the rigorous testing we're famous for.
That said, first impressions matter. And we got a lot of great first impressions this past week. Here are the products and services that surprised and impressed us the most.
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It's amazing how a television service with so few channels can seem like such a big deal. But Dish's announcement that it would begin selling an over-the-Internet service that included ESPN, the Disney Channel, CNN, TBS, and TNT starting at just $20 per month felt like a shot across the bow of the cable industry. If consumers show interest in this type of low-cost offering, it could start to shake apart the big-bundled channel packages that cable companies have relied upon for so long.
We've come to expect that laptops will get incrementally thinner and lighter every year, but it's rare to see a new computer that represents a drastic drop in weight relative to everything else on the market. Lenovo's LaVie Z series comprises two 13-inch machines. A $1500 model has a touchscreen and an Intel Core i7 processor. At 2.03 pounds, it qualifies as one of the lightest laptops on the planet. But Lenovo's $1300, non-touchscreen model with a Core i5 processor is even lighter at 1.72 pounds—that's more than a pound lighter than the 13-inch Apple MacBook Air. Both LaVie computers are built of a magnesium-lithium alloy that Lenovo claims is 50 percent lighter than aluminum. Either of these would have lightened our bags at CES.
Dell showed off its own piece of slim hardware at CES. (It was first unveiled at Intel's Developer Forum last September.) The Venue 8 7000 Series is the world's thinnest tablet at 0.23 inches, but the fact that this device shaves a few microns off the record isn't its most promising feature. The Venue 8 7000 has an almost bezel-free, 2560 x 1600 pixel OLED, and it's the first device with Intel's new RealSense Snapshot Depth Camera. This new camera technology records a depth map for photos, letting users refocus images after taking them (this is similar to the way a Lytro camera works). Plus, you can use the technology to measure objects in a photos—the area of a room, length of a desk, height of a person, etc. (RealSense is also being used by virtual reality developers.)
This pairing of tech and style feels just right. These activity-tracking Swarovski crystals sync to Misfit's app on your smart phone when you place the crystal on the screen, and they can be swapped between a variety of bracelets and pendants. There's no charging required: The devices work using coin batteries, which the company promises will last for 6 months. Three introductory sets include two accessories each and are available for preorder now, ranging in price from $170 to $250.
Action cams and low-cost, remote-piloted drones have given rise to a genuinely new form of acrobatic, aerial videography. But as anyone who has tried to take video with a drone can tell you, it's hard to keep the camera steady. To counteract the shakiness of drone video, several manufacturers have started producing active gimbal camera mounts that use sensors and tiny motors, which constantly adjust to keep the camera steady. The gimbals that DJI has been using on its aircraft have proven so effective that the drone manufacturer has developed a three-axis unit with a built-in videocamera that can swap between an quadrotor and a handheld stick. It can be set to track a single focus point, or to just smoothly pan and tilt the camera. The company expects to bring the device to market in spring 2015.
We saw a surprising number of unusual transportation devices at CES, including two nearly identical Segway-style auto-balancing skateboards. But we were most intrigued by the totally badass Onewheel, which exists somewhere in the space between a unicycle, a snowboard, an ATV, and Marty McFly's hoverboard from "Back to the Future Part II." Your feet stand on either side of a giant center wheel, you lean forward to go forward, tilt back to slow down and stop, and shift your weight to either side to turn. (Watch the company's video to see what it can do.) The Onewheel, which is selling for $1500, has beginner and advanced-user operating modes, which can be controlled by a mobile app the company has just released. The board's top speed is 12 miles per hour, and it can go 4 to 6 miles on a charge.
Click on the image above to find all of Consumer Reports' coverage from CES 2015.