Best VR: HTC Vive accessories
Many of the VR developments we saw at CES were incremental or still in their infancy. The HTC Vive's new accessories stood out because they are fully realized, bona fide improvements to a premium VR ecosystem.
HTC introduced three new accessories: the Deluxe Audio Strap, a streamlined headset-mounted headphone system, the TPCast wireless adapter, which untethers the wearer from the PC, and the ViveTracker, which can turn almost anything (toy guns, baseball bats, gloves) into a VR controller.
We were most intrigued by the ViveTracker. Based on our demos, feeling the weight and shape of an actual object (in our case, a pressurized fire hose) very favorably blurred the line between virtual and reality, and made the experience more immersive overall.
VR runner-up: KwikVR
Along similar lines as the TPCast accessory we used in the Vive demo, a company called Scalable Graphics had its own wireless adapter that untethers either the Oculus Rift or Vive. The consumer version will clip onto pants or a belt, utilizing 5 GHz Wi-Fi to give you cordless PC-based VR. The accessory will cost around US$300 when it launches early this year.
VR runner-up: Holocube
We didn't go to CES expecting any big news in mobile VR, but the Holocube surprised us. This futuristic-looking cube is actually just a little foam prop. But look at it through one of Merge VR's colorful headsets, and it transforms into any number of virtual objects right before your eyes. It's a fun, affordable way to put AR effects right in the palm of your hand.
VR honorable mention: Lenovo VR headset
While it wasn't a functional demo, Lenovo's upcoming VR headset will be worth keeping an eye on. It will run Microsoft's Windows Holographic platform on PCs, ringing up for less than $400. The headset will support inside-out room-scale tracking (no external sensors or base stations required), and is easily the most comfortable PC VR headset we've worn.
Best wearable tech: Welt
First teased at last year's CES, the Welt smart belt was spawned in Samsung's C-Lab experimental product incubator (its inventor is a medical doctor who previously worked on integrating heart-rate sensors into Samsung's flagship smartphones). While Welt can track things like steps, distance, calories burned and idle time, it stands out with its waist-size tracking.
Studies have shown that the size of your midsection is one of the most important health predictors, and keeping an eye on this in the Welt companion app can help motivate you to shave it down – and catch any movement in the wrong direction before it gets out of control. There's even a beta feature that senses when you've had a big meal (as your belly bulges out into the sensors), raising your awareness if you're tallying up too many.
Wearable tech runner-up: QuietOn
Another product we covered a year ago but finally got to try at this CES, QuietOn takes active noise cancelling (ANC) tech, familiar from headphone companies like Bose, Sennheiser and Sony, and puts it in a pair of earplugs.
It's much better at cancelling out lower frequencies than high ones, but fortunately it's the lower pitches that are more likely to pass through your apartment walls (or come from a snoring partner).
Wearable tech runner-up: Doppel
Wearable tech that gives you greater control over your mood is an area that's ripe for placebo effects, but we're intrigued by Doppel. Worn on your wrist, it taps out a heartbeat to supposedly calm you down (slower beat) or energize and focus you (faster beat).
While we'll need to spend more time with a review unit before knowing if Doppel is more than just a curiosity, its core premise isn't far removed from the world of music: Few would doubt that slower music (jazz, etc.) can help chill you out, while faster music (electro, hip-hop) can energize you. Perhaps the same principles apply to wrist-focused haptic feedback.
Wearable tech runner-up: Basslet
Another haptic-feedback wrist wearable, Basslet puts a subwoofer on your wrist: Attach a dongle to wired headphones (between mobile device and your cans) and the Bluetooth wearable will vibrate in sync with the music's bassline. It sounds wacky, but is a surprisingly effective way to add a club-like pound to your headphone listening.
Wearable tech honorable mention: ODG smartglasses
ODG's smartglasses have been evolving steadily for the last few years, and the company is finally ready to launch a consumer-friendly model in 2017.
There's no denying how cool the tech is – fairly discreet-looking glasses, only with a sharp and mostly-opaque display floating in your field of view – but it isn't yet clear what problem they're solving for the consumer. The most logical use we can think of, watching video privately while on public transportation, is niche.
In another generation or two, though, these glasses may become much more interesting, especially if ODG improves on the HoloLens-like AR capabilities introduced in the new models.
Best auto: Toyota Concept-i
Toyota's attempt at a "safer, friendlier connected car," this concept prioritizes user experience, combining AI driving and its own virtual assistant ("Yui") that learns the driver's moods, needs and preferences, and acts accordingly.
Auto runner-up: Honda self-balancing motorcycle
Honda showcased a motorcycle at CES that can self-balance and even self-drive at slow speeds. The combination of self-driving and an auto transmission give it the added bonus of being able to follow you around like a puppy as you walk.
Best laptop or 2-in-1: Samsung Chromebook Plus and Pro
The Chromebook Pro and Plus (which are identical except for their processors) are Samsung's latest takes on the Chromebook. We're impressed with their thorough approach and versatility.
These are the company's first Chromebooks that will support Android apps natively (with pre-installed Google Play), which increases their utility. They also have a versatile 2-in-1 form factor, for handling like a laptop or tablet. Samsung even included a pressure-sensitive digitizing stylus with built-in side storage, so all types of input options are represented.
They would make a handsome upgrade from most Chromebooks and Android tablets; they could just as likely make an intriguing replacement for a light-use desktop machine.
If you're concerned that the Chromebook Plus' Chrome-specific ARM chipset can't handle your needs, upgrade to the Chromebook Pro and its Intel Core M3 processor. The Plus retails for US$449 starting in February. Samsung has yet to confirm the price and release date for the Pro version.
Laptop runner-up: Samsung Notebook 9
Samsung's updated Notebook 9 laptops are light, cute and capable, weighing between 1.8-2.17 lbs and available in white, metallic blue, or silver, with 7th-generation Intel core i5 or i7 processors and plenty of expansion ports. The new Notebook 9 is also notably flexible: It can open to a full 180-degrees to lay flat, and a keyboard shortcut lets you flip the orientation of the screen.
Best audio: Ossic X 3D headphones
Ossic X headphones provide a 3D audio experience – they're meant to give the listener a precise sense of where a sound is coming from, even as they move through space.
3D audio is perfect for VR, and based on our demo, we think that Ossic X's anatomy-analyzing technology works better than spatial audio using the sensors being built into VR headsets now. 3D audio is currently a niche listening experience, but effective consumer options like Ossic X (US$500) could help it catch on to more music and film applications.
Best gaming device: Super Retro Boy
Riding the wave of old-school-gaming nostalgia kickstarted by Nintendo's NES Classic, Innex and Retro-bit are launching this $80 Game Boy throwback this August. It supports physical cartridges from all three generations of Game Boy (original, Advance and Color) without needing adapters, lasts 10 hours on a single charge, and has an ultra-light an ergonomic build. All while harking back to the original's late-80s/early-90s design.
Best children's tech: Fisher-Price Smart Cycle
While nothing beats outdoor exercise, there are times when it's harder for kids to get their bodies moving under the sky – whether because of weather, safety or other environmental factors. The Fisher-Price Smart Cycle looks like an indoor exercise system that kids will actually want to use: pedaling and steering on the bike correspond to movement in racing games that the child views on either the built-in screen or a compatible TV set.
For more on this year's big reveals that we didn't highlight here, you can thumb through all of our CES 2017 coverage.
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