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Eight Wirecutter writers and I convened at the Consumer Electronics show this week. You know, CES–The big gadget trade thing that serves as a sneak peek into the future of hardware. Instead of soaking your news feed with hundreds of posts, we spent most of our time filtering 99.99% of the stuff out. This is what’s left.
Before we could even think about writing about anything, the team researched everything we could. We started through hundreds of posts from gadget sites, walked the floor and examined every piece of major gadget news we could find.
We passed over much very quickly. Lots, like audio players and headphones, which are too numerous to evaluate, and which need to be evaluated in a quiet setting qualitatively to be judged at all, were completely passed over. Same with technology that was exorbitantly priced or gimmicky. Or middle of the pack meant for the masses who aren’t shopping with any intelligence or purpose or seeking a high value proposition.
Then we looked at the stuff that was highly acclaimed by attendees and experts. And found more things first hand, as we explored the floor.
During our research, we updated the leaderboard with notes on the things that might be the next best picks in staple categories. And we choose a few things that stood out to us as things we’d maybe consider buying if we were in a position to need such a device and the price and tests came out favorably.
Out of our estimation of hundreds of thousands of pieces of gear, we found maybe 13 that could make it to the leaderboard–if they test well.
To us, these are the things we consider best of show. They are not the flashiest, or hugely expensive or outrageous or novel for the sake of it–but something that, after further inspection, could end up being the tech we’d actually buy and live every day with.
It’s the stuff we’d maybe buy.
A great TV (Panasonic ST60)
Price: Approx $1,300-$2,800 When: March/April
Last year, Panasonic’s mid-range TV, the ST50, was so damn good it beat their flagship from the preceding year. It dominated two Wirecutter categories, best TV and best big TV. This is their follow up, which is a little better, and $100 bucks cheaper. It seems the ST60 will offer similar or slightly better picture quality, at least according to what CNET was told.
Wi-Fi Hard Drive (Seagate Central and Wireless Plus)
Price: $189 -249 When: February/March
Why the hell would a portable (Wireless Plus) or home (Central) drive, need to connect to the internet? So it can act as an impromptu media server to tablets or a TV or any machine in its vicinity. The portable Wireless Plus can connect (and charge) via USB 3.0, but it can also use its 10 hour battery to act as a wireless file server for up to 3 devices at the same time. It has apps for Android, iOS, and Samsung Smart TV that let one access music, movies, and photos.
It’s worth noting that other drives have done this in the past, but we trust Seagate to make a good product. Unfortunately, we can’t test hard drives on showroom floors, but we’ll keep you posted as real reviews roll in.
Cheap 27-inch Monitor (Monoprice)
Price: $390 When: Now
For months, people who know what’s up have been buying Cheap Korean 27-inch monitors because they’re made from the same panels as high end monitors. But for a third of the cost. Monoprice is selling 2560×1440 IPS monitors for $390, in that same spirit. They use the same LG panels as the 27-inch iMac (except Apple only takes the best; these are the rest), but Monoprice is offering a 3 year warranty and they check every panel for dead pixels–most Korean monitors, which are imported or sold on ebay, don’t do that.
Luggage tracker (Trakdot)
Price: $50 When: March
Trakdot’s a little thingy you put in your bags, tracking it with your smartphone if it gets lost, anywhere in the world. It goes to sleep when your luggage is in the air and then sends you a text when your bags and the plane they’re in have landed. This way you’ll know if your bag winds up in a different city than the one you’re in. It’ll cost $50 for the device itself, then another $13 a year to use it once it hits shelves in March.
Tough point-and-shoot camera (Olympus Stylus Tough TG-2 iHS)
Price: $380 When: March
The Olympus Stylus Tough TG-2 iHS is the follow up to the TG-1, our favorite tough camera from last year. It keeps everything we liked about the old version, like the modular lenses, the fast f/2.0 maximum aperture, GPS, manomoter. However, for the same $380 asking price, you get an extra 10 feet of waterproofing, keeping it dry down to some 50-feet. You also get a new processor running things under the hood and a new macro mode. Here’s a hands-on from the folks at DigitalCameraInfo, who were impressed by its focusing speed and toughness, but less than enthused by the menu system.
VR Heads up display. No, seriously (Oculus Rift)
Price: ~$300 When: When (if) it gets done
Every virtual reality headset that came before this one was a joke because it was laggy or expensive or both. This one actually works, and work so well, it’s mind blowing. Able to track your head movements with speed and precision (at 1000hz) using off the shelf tech like you’d find in a smartphone, the Rift transported us into a new world pretty effortlessly. For any gamer, it’s the experience we’ve been promised since Virtual boy. Will it cost what they’re hoping? Will it ship in 2013 or 2014? Not sure, but I can’t wait. I do a hands on test here.
Portable Monitor (Lenovo’s ThinkVision LT1423p)
Price: $350-450 When: Q2 2013
Imagine a second monitor you can travel with. Sounds nuts, but Lenovo’s ThinkVision LT1423p monitor could be good for traveling professionals. It’s a 13.3 inch, 1600×900 IPS panel with 10-point multitouch and a bundled stylus with a claimed 10 hour battery life. The $350 version connects via USB 3.0 but for an extra $100, it’ll also connect wirelessly over Wi-Fi. It could be a good companion screen for an ultrabook, especially if your current one doesn’t have touch.
We used a prototype of the USB model and there was almost no lag, and it was very light–like a tablet, light enough to pack in a day bag without much worry.
Windows 8 Hybrid Laptop/Tablet (Lenovo Thinkpad Helix)
Price: From $1500 When: Late February
Windows 8 wants to be your everything OS–that’s why it’s got a touch-friendly tablet OS on top of a standard Windows desktop. There are dozens of laptop/tablet hybrid devices out now or coming out, but most are too big, too small, or too low res or too slow or have too little battery life. (For example, we like the Lenovo Yoga 13, which is about 80% ultrabook and 20% awkwardly large tablet.) But the Lenovo Helix is closer to 50/50, and maybe the best example of a Windows 8 tablet/laptop machine we’ve seen yet.
At its core, the Helix is an 11.6-inch 1080p tablet (Lenovo’s best screen, they say) with an Intel Core CPU and 64-bit Windows 8, so it’s not a gimped Tegra 3 or Atom processor. But it comes with a dock that gives it an extra 4 hours of battery life (10 total), a keyboard, and that Thinkpad red tracknipple. The dock also has extra fans that allow it to run full steam ahead without self-immolating, which is hidden under a pivoting spoiler-like wing.
We used one for a bit and found the machine well proportioned in both tablet and laptop mode. SlashGear took it for a bit of a spin, and praised the attention to detail in its construction, for feeling both light and solid. It’s a little small but the concept and execution kind of point to an almost not-awkward–ok, fine–sleek physical ideal for Windows 8.
One major caveat–it’s $1500 for an 11-inch laptop. That’s as much as an iPad and a Macbook. Of course, it could ideally replace both for a Windows person, and be nicer to travel with.
A really nice waterproof iPhone case (Otterbox Armor series)
Price: $100 When: Late February
The popular iPhone case-maker announced their fully waterproof line, the Armor with models for the Samsung Galaxy, iPhone 4/4S, and iPhone 5. Like all Otterbox products, this thing is tough. Like withstanding 2000 pounds of pressure tough.The exterior secures with zinc alloy latches keeping it sealed under 6 feet of water for 30 minutes and a silicone back that holds the screen taught against the protective film and cushions it from impact. The whole getup only adds about four ounces to the phone. The iPhone 4/4s version be out in Q1 with the iPhone 5 and Galaxy models following soon thereafter. If you need a waterproof case, the Lifeproof for the iPhone 5 is fantastic. But this could be better. We’ll compare it to Otterbox’s Armor when we get a review unit in.
Sport walkman (Sony Walkman NWZ-W270)
Price: $100 When: March
I’ve reviewed a number of sweat resistant headphones designed for jogging and the gym recently, but I’m thinking that Sony’s combination mp3 player and headphone Walkman Sports MP3 Player (NWZ-W270) might be a better option. They’re waterproof up to two meters, so they’ll likely stand up to the sweat, and they’re light enough that you won’t mind running in them. They have an eight hour total battery life, which is pretty good, but the quick charge function that gives you an hour of run time off of a three minute charge is great.
They’re not the first thing to combine headphones and a music player, by a long shot. But they are the nicest ones we’ve seen in awhile.
Solar Battery Back Up (Goal Zero Yeti 150)
Price: $400 When: April
The Yeti 150 is a big battery pack that has USB, 12v (car cigarette) and 110v wall plug power outlets, which can be charged by a 15w solar panel in about 15 hours or 4 hours by wall. It’s about 12 pounds and the size of a car battery, and it would make a great emergency or car camping power supply. How much juice does it have? 15 phone, 2 laptop or 6 tablet recharges.
We like goal zero stuff, and this thing is a nice addition to their family of battery packs, which were often shaped too oddly or were much smaller or bigger.
A Cheap HD Action Camera (Monoprice MHD Action Camera)
Price: $100 When: February
GoPro makes fantastic cameras for people who are serious about filming all sorts of action from all sorts of angles at the highest possible quality. The $100 Monoprice MHD is for the rest of us who are willing to sacrifice some image quality, mounting options, and fancy features like wireless and GPS, for a big price cut. This certainly isn’t the first action camera at this price, but we trust Monoprice a lot more than the vast majority of no-name companies–the fact that it looks so good on paper also helps.
The MHD records wide-angle video at up to 1080p/30 fps and is waterproof down to 33 feet without any extra casing. You can also take 5MP stills should the need arise. It’s not high end, but basically, it’s got the guts of a much more expensive camera in a $100 package. Of course, we have to see how this thing tests against used and older models of more popular and dominant sport cameras.
If we find something else today, we’ll append this post. Also, we’re not recommending you buy any of these things yet, but certainly these things have a shot at being solid buys.
A Cheap Soundbar (Vizio S4251W-B4)
Price: $330 When: Spring
It’s not a direct replacement to our Best Cheap Soundbar pick, the S4251W is an interesting hybrid of a surround system and a traditional soundbar. In the front, it’s a soundbar with multiple drivers. Then there are two wireless small surround speakers. A wireless sub rounds out the sound. CNET liked it so much,they gave it an award. Not bad for $330.
CES Updates to the leaderboard.
We updated the leaderboard with notes on how the new stuff from CES will impact your buying decision. We haven’t tested anything and most of this stuff isn’t out yet, but it’s worth knowing what will be out later before you buy now.
- January 7, 2012: We arrived at CES with one goal in mind: Writing one concise post listing the best hardware we could find. Most categories are intact without being impacted much by CES, we found. But some categories did need to be updated with mention of new models that will come out later this year, which could be new leaderboard candidates if they test well enough.
- January 7, 2012: We updated our piece on the Best Fitness Tracker with the mention of a few new models on display at CES.
- January 8, 2012: Our Best Cheap Soundbar piece was moved to WAIT status. New hardware will become available in the spring.
- January 8, 2012: We updated our Best All Around Waterproof Camera and Best Superzoom Camera pieces with new models scoped out at CES.
- January 8, 2012: Our Best Point-and-Shoot Camera piece was updated. We topped off our Best Cheap Camera piece by talking about Canon’s recently announced A1400 and A2600.
- January 8, 2012: There’s a new version of our pick for A Great Camcorder coming out in March that’ll feature Wi-Fi and apps, so we’ve moved the piece to WAIT status.
- January 8, 2012: Nathan’s been busy. There’s updates for Best Laptop, Best Power Laptop, andBest Convertible Laptop.
- January 8, 2012: We updated our piece on the Best Wireless HDMI to talk about IOGear’s five port switcher as a step-up model.
- January 8, 2012: Our Pick for Best Universal Remote is no longer available, so we’ve changed it to WAIT status.
- January 9, 2012: A ton of new streaming boxes were announced at CES, but we still think theRoku is the best, especially since it’s received an update.
- January 9, 2012: Panasonic announced the ST60. It’s the successor to our Best TV and Best Big TV.
- January 9, 2012: Epson’s announced an interesting projector that may give our current pick a run for its money when it launches in March.
- January 9, 2012: We finished updating our entire leaderboard with notes on what’s coming out this year and stuff that could wind up being a contender for the best in its category.
Image: Joe Klamar / Getty Images