Choosing the best products of CES 2014 was tougher than usual this year, thanks to the level of innovation on display. It's pretty certain at this point that people love their phones, tablets, computers, and big TVs, and we saw plenty of those.
But it wasn't just more of the same. Thanks to trends at the show including wearables, cutting-edge display technology, 3D printers, robotic toys, and smart cars, the emerging product categories are truly exciting this time around.
There were plenty of highlights at the show this year, along with some lowlights – Michael Bay's bizarre stage antics at the Samsung press conference, for one. But in the end, CES is about consumer electronics, not marketing stunts.
In choosing the best of CES 2014, we caution that we haven't actually tested or reviewed any of the products in this article, since they haven't been released yet.
Some may never even make it to market, and of the ones that do, it's possible some will fall short of their promises.
These are, quite simply, the products we found the most compelling and innovative at CES this year. This is the stuff we can't wait to test to tell you if it's worth your money or not.
So read on and discover which are the best products from the show to keep a watchful eye on–Jamie Lendino.
Best Android tablet: Samsung Galaxy NotePRO
With Wintel tablets popping up all over the place, Android needs to get serious about productivity. The 12.2in Samsung Galaxy NotePRO is the mobile operating system’s best bet so far.
This huge Android tablet brings in a lot of the features we're familiar with from Windows 8.1 – a bold tiled interface, multi-window multitasking, built-in office software, a pressure sensitive pen – but does it in an extremely thin, light and elegant form factor, with a positively brilliant 2,560 x 1,600 screen. If Android is going to get work done, especially creative work, the NotePRO is where it's going to get done–Sascha Segan.
Best Windows tablet: Lenovo ThinkPad 8
If you just need a highly transportable Windows 8.1 PC, the 420 gram Lenovo ThinkPad 8 tablet has solid construction and "enough heft to feel like an object of substance," according to my colleague Brian Westover. It's powerful enough to use in work environments, with a quad-core Intel Atom processor, and strong enough to drive two external displays and the built-in 1,920 x 1,200 screen simultaneously. Its innovative QuickShot cover is magnetic, folds over into a stand mode, and protects the rear-facing camera when it's not in use (protection and privacy achievement unlocked!). Of the many Windows based tablets we saw this week, the ThinkPad 8 stands out–Joel Santo Domingo.
Best hybrid laptop/tablet: Asus Transformer Book Duet
It's an Android machine! It's a Windows machine! It's both! The Asus Transformer Book Duet brings you the best of both worlds: A detachable large screen (13in) Android tablet that also works natively as a Windows 8.1 tablet and notebook. It's only about 1.8kg in weight, so it's lighter than carrying a 13in Ultrabook and a 10in tablet simultaneously. The fact that you can switch between both environments with a touch of a button makes the Transformer Book Duet a great integration of technology and one of our best of show winners–JSD.
Best phone: Asus PadFone X
The PadFone X is coming to the US exclusively with AT&T, boasting LTE-Advanced, HD Voice and voice-over-LTE support. It will test the waters, and whether Americans will want to cotton on to the idea of a phone and tablet which shares the same brain. Pricing will be absolutely critical here; if the tablet component is more than $229 (£140) – the price of a good Android tablet – the PadFone will be a failed experiment in the US. But on the face of it, it's a very promising concept–SS.
Best iPhone accessory: Typo iPhone Keyboard
The $99 (£60) Typo adds a BlackBerry keyboard to your iPhone. There's no way around it, much as the Ryan Seacrest-backed startup tries to vigorously deny the fact. That doesn't make the Typo bad, in fact, far from it; it makes the Typo the best alternative for people who desperately miss popular QWERTY phones. It doubles as a case, and it's made of an appealingly professional, yet tough soft-touch material. The feeling of typing on Typo is extremely familiar: It's just like typing on a BlackBerry Bold. Hopefully BlackBerry and Typo can reach a settlement, because this case turns an iPhone into the best of both worlds: A powerful, modern, mainstream smartphone with a world-class keyboard–SS.
Best smartwatch: Pebble Steel
So far, we think simplicity rules for smartwatches. No major smartwatch manufacturer has been able to really get past the hump of bulky batteries, short life or awkward interfaces except perhaps Pebble, which has kept things as simple as humanly possible. The Pebble Steel upgrades the flimsy original model into a durable, handsome watch, which looks more like a fashion accessory than a geek toy. It remains the only smartwatch platform that works with both Android and iOS devices–SS.
Best fitness gadget: Basis B1 Band
With a glut of copycat fitness and activity trackers hitting the market, our pick is one that's been on the market nearly a year, and which is about to get even better. The Basis B1 Band tracks your daily activity, while also automatically distinguishing when you run, walk, and bike. Sensors hidden inside the watch measure heart rate, skin temperature, and perspiration, which, after a firmware update coming later this month, will help the Basis learn your sleep cycles, including REM, light, and deep sleep periods. From that date on, the Basis will also ship with a premium strap, a lovely upgrade to the matte polyurethane one included at present–Jill Duffy.
Best health gadget: QardioCore
Technology that improves medicine and is simple enough to use by anyone is a win in my book. The beautifully designed QardioCore is an ECG reader that lets people with potential heart problems capture the data their medical professionals need. Traditional devices require shaving and prepping the skin for sticky sensors that prevent the patient from showering until enough ECG data has been recorded. They're cumbersome, uncomfortable, and tricky to wear. The QardioCore simply straps around the body, no skin prep is necessary. Data is transmitted wirelessly, so a doctor can tell quickly whether the results being recorded look accurate. The design looks like a consumer product, too, which can be less intimidating to patients–JD.
Best gaming product: Steam Machines
Valve showed off 13 different upcoming Steam Machine living room gaming PCs from 13 different manufacturers, and they vary as much as normal PCs. Since the anticipated price for these devices starts at $499 (£300) and can reach up to $6,000 (£3,600), it's hard to tell them apart from gaming PCs besides their use of Valve's Linux-based SteamOS and Steam Controller gamepad. It's their size and variety that's so impressive; while some Steam Machines are big, monolithic boxes, Gigabyte, Alienware, and Zotac's prototypes are smaller than most Blu-ray players and pack some solid PC hardware into their tiny cases–Will Greenwald.
Best concept: Razer Project Christine
Razer has dropped another bomb onto the PC gaming world with Project Christine, a strange looking modular PC concept that blends snap-on components, integrated liquid cooling, and a visual look unlike any gaming PC ever seen. On the back of the system, large modules contain components like graphics cards, storage drives, and even the processor. On the front, smaller modules allow for the connection of optical drives, digital readouts for system monitoring, and any collection of ports you want. The system is made to be endlessly expandable and reconfigurable. Project Christine is a boundary-pushing concept that should drive other manufacturers to rethink what a gaming PC can be–Brian Westover.
Best HDTV: Vizio 120in Reference Series UHD TV
While Samsung and LG were fighting over who could get the biggest curved Ultra HD (UHD) screen on-stage first, Vizio revealed a whopping 120in UHD screen, albeit not curved, to little fanfare. It's the largest of Vizio's Reference Series of 4K UHD TVs, which stands at the top of the US company's foray into 4K. Vizio has clear designs on pushing Vizio from a brand of primarily midrange HDTVs into a company that offers the full gamut from budget models to high-end cinephile screens. We've yet to be sold on the usefulness of curved screens, and while OLED has a lot of potential, it's been in the pipeline for years now with little success. Vizio embraces 4K as its “next big thing,” and the company is making it as big as possible–WG.
Best Chromebook: Acer Chromebook C720P
Chromebooks are another in-between category; they exist between the mobile tablet with a mobile OS and the full-blown laptop with a desktop-class OS. They have been gradually improving, thanks to backing from Google, and consumers increasingly realise that searching the Internet and typing reports is still easier on a full mechanical keyboard than on a tablet screen. The £250 Acer Chromebook C720P boasts a Haswell processor, 32GB of flash storage (up from 16GB), 802.11n Wi-Fi, USB 2.0 and USB 3.0, and HDMI. It even has an 11.6in touchscreen – a first for the budget class of Chromebooks–JSD.
Best desktop: HP Z1 G2
The first generation of the HP Z1 was an excellent Windows all-in-one professional workstation. The second-generation HP Z1 G2 brings the system to 2014 standards, with full ten-finger touch support for Windows 8.1, the latest 4th generation Intel Core and Xeon processors, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, up to 32GB of ECC memory, professional workstation-class graphics, internal support for two SSD or hard drives, plus USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt 2. Like the first generation Z1, the Z1 G2 is one of the only all-in-one desktops with a fully accessible interior for upgrades and servicing – a highly valuable plus point in a PC tasked with working on multi-million pound projects–JSD.
Best storage: Seagate Backup Plus Slim
The Seagate Backup Plus Slim upgrades its maximum capacity up to 2TB from 1TB, but that's not the big news. This USB 3.0 external drive now supports backups from your PC or Mac, mobile devices, and even your life's data from your social networks. The Backup Plus Slim is available in four colours – black, silver, red, and blue – so you can denote one for each family member, or colour coordinate with your laptop. Local backups are easy, while mobile backups happen over your home Wi-Fi network – just load the Seagate Mobile app on your iOS or Android device. The drive will then backup the photos and videos from your phone, and even send them to Facebook or Flickr–JSD.
Best printer: MakerBot Replicator Mini Compact 3D Printer
The MakerBot Replicator Mini Compact 3D Printer rolls the company's expertise into a smaller, more affordable form factor. The company bills it as a 3D printer "for everyone." Optimised for speed and designed for ease of use with plug-and-play features, the Mini requires virtually no setup, and its build plate offers automatic levelling. The printer has a default resolution of 200 microns, and its build area is 100 x 100 x 125mm. The Mini is optimised for use with PLA filament. It has a 3.5in colour LCD and is both Ethernet and Wi-Fi compatible. With the company's new MakerBot Mobile printing app, it can be controlled from a mobile device. You can stream live video of print jobs in progress, or take still images from the printer's on-board camera–Tony Hoffman.
Best projector: ZTE Projector Hotspot
This unique hybrid gadget is a projector that doubles as a mobile hotspot, and more. This Android-based device, with a 4in capacitive touchscreen, is the size of a palmtop projector, at 120 x 120 x 25mm. It connects via Bluetooth to project images and videos up to 120in (diagonal) in size on walls and other surfaces. Its 100-lumen, DLP-based projector supports input at up to 1080p resolution. The ZTE Projector Hotspot also delivers 4G LTE Internet speeds for up to 8 devices connected over Wi-Fi. With a 5000mAh battery, it can even be used as a portable smartphone charger–TH.
Best digital camera: Canon PowerShot N100
The first Canon N camera, announced this time last year had great promise – easy online connectivity, fun art filters, and solid image quality. But its funky control ring shutter/zoom mechanism made it a pain to use in real life. The N100 takes the concept and puts it into a camera that's easier to handle, and adds some solid features: A big 1/1.7in image sensor, a bright f/1.8 wide-angle lens, and a second, rear lens that can be used to superimpose the photographer into a picture. Given Canon's track record, the image quality should be impressive, and as weird as the rear lens sounds, it could be fun to use–Jim Fisher.
Best networking product: Linksys WRT1900AC
The Linksys WRT1900AC is bound to cause some excitement with networking geeks and industry watchers. The previous WRT54G is perhaps the most iconic and recognisable piece of consumer networking hardware ever, with 50 million sold. The device was even featured in an episode of South Park where it was represented as not just a router, but the actual engine of the entire Internet! The new WRT1900AC supports 802.11ac for a theoretical 1.3Gbps on the 5GHz band, and 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz band. It now has four detachable antennas, instead of the three on the legacy WRT54G, plus a dual-core 1.2GHz processor to ramp up performance–Samara Lynn.
Best gadget: Panono Panoramic Ball Camera
The truly original Panono is a sphere with thirty-six 3-megapixel image sensors placed around it. Throw it up in the air and it captures a single image, stitched together from all of those sensors. You end up with a spherical image that you can spin around (via your web browser or a special app on your tablet or phone) and zoom into to see more detail. The current working version of the camera is a prototype, but the production model (pictured) is going to be smaller, and will come in an all-black design or a black and green colour scheme. The test shots I've seen show a lack of dynamic range and some softness exhibited by the fixed-focus lenses that the device uses – but the cool factor of capturing a scene in a new way is certainly there–JF.
Best toy: Parrot Jumping Sumo
The Parrot AR.Drone has become a high-tech dream toy, letting anyone control a camera-equipped flying drone with their mobile device. Parrot is now expanding its line with new smartphone-controlled toys, including the incredibly fun looking Jumping Sumo. This two-wheeled robot doesn't just have a camera like its quadricopter older brother; it can jump several feet, giving what would otherwise be an ordinary remote-controlled car (with not-so-ordinary camera and smartphone controls) a literal new dimension to play with. And yes, that is the correct use of the word literal–WG.
Best car: Audi A7 Autonomous
Self-driving cars may be a decade away or more, but that's not stopping manufacturers from working on them now. Case in point: The Audi A7 Autonomous, a self-driving concept version of Audi's luxury five-door sedan. It drove itself onto the stage at CES, thanks to its zFAS system that integrates radar, video cameras, a laser scanner, navigation data, and ultrasonic data from the front and sides of the car. The A7 Autonomous also looks just as sleek and gorgeous as the regular version, with no odd accoutrements sticking out of the sides or on top of the roof. Maybe self-driving cars will get here sooner than we thought–JL.