One of the pleasures, and risks, of attending the gigantic Consumer Electronics Show is seeing a bunch of new products that look incredibly cool.
Why a risk? Because things that look incredibly cool under carefully controlled conditions in Las Vegas sometimes turn out to be less than stellar successes by the time they hit your neighborhood Best Buy. (BBY)
So with that caveat, here are a few toys that caught my eye at this year’s extravaganza:
Asus (2257), which already has a line of tablets called “Transformer,” showed off its MeMO 171, a seven-inch Android tablet that is also a mobile phone. Look for it in the second quarter.
Since you may not be keen on the idea of holding a seven- inch tablet to your ear, the MeMO 171 comes with a separate, transparent-screen Bluetooth-connected device about the size of an older iPod Nano. It works both as a media player and a phone handset. Biggest drawback: You still have to dial calls from the tablet.
My favorite Web surveillance camera of last year was the DropCam. It paired a high-quality camera with a simple yet potent cloud-based service that allowed you to monitor goings-on in your home, say, through an app on your Apple (AAPL) or Android mobile device. The big drawback was the price: $249 for the camera, plus a monthly fee for advanced features.
Now Dropcam is replacing the old camera with one of its own design, cutting the price to $149 and adding new features, including night vision and two-way audio. Not only is Big Brother watching over you, he gets to make comments, too.
Known for its hockey-puck-size set-top box that streams Internet video like Netflix (NFLX) and Major League Baseball to your TV, Roku unveiled the Streaming Stick, an even smaller device. It packs all the Roku functionality into what looks like a biggish thumb drive that plugs into your TV. (Only a few TVs so far have the special kind of HDMI that’s needed, but Roku says there will be more by the time the Streaming Stick ships in the second half of 2012.) Take that, Apple TV.
Speaking of Apple, Mattel (MAT)’s Fisher-Price unit is introducing an alternative to entrusting your precious iPad to the young ones in the backseat on long car trips: the Kid-Tough Portable DVR. A dock plugs into your TV and simple controls let you load the colorful playback unit with up to two hours of stored content, or more if you make use of the SD expansion slot.
The player has its own screen and runs for about four hours. Best thing about it: It promises to be largely indestructible. Worst thing: While the DVR is downloading, you can only watch what’s being recorded. It will cost $150 and is due in the second half of the year.
GoPro’s $300 HD Hero2 has been the wearable camera of choice for thrill-seekers who want to record and relive that perfect wave or downhill run. This year, it’s adding a $100 accessory called the Wi-Fi BacPac and Remote Control Kit. The BacPac affixes to the rear of the camera, while the remote -- which is small enough to fit on your wrist -- allows for hands- free control. Now you can see everything coming -- and going.
If you’re on a wilderness adventure and need power for your wireless phone or other electronic device, there’s the PowerTrekk, from a Swedish company called myFC. It makes electricity from water, using fuel-cell technology. It’s likely to cost in the $200-$230 range, plus $3 to $4 each for the little cartridges needed to work its magic -- and which have to be recycled.
Finally, in the time-waster category, there’s Sphero, which began shipping in limited quantities a few weeks ago. It’s a $130 robotic ball that you start, stop and steer through an app on your mobile device. It’s fun for about 15 minutes, until the novelty wears off, but now that it’s finally out, the company is introducing several new apps and games that promise to extend the excitement at least a few minutes longer.
Among them is a matching game that takes advantage of Sphero’s ability to glow in thousands of colors, one of which is undoubtedly “rosy.” In honor of CES, perhaps.
(Rich Jaroslovsky is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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