With a nearly unimaginable array of products and concepts on display spread across all of Las Vegas, it is hard to pick out a final few each year for our wrap-up. But here are those we found of particular interest.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 “Many-in-1” Foldable
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold is the world’s first folding display tablet. (There are obviously several designs that have separate displays on each section, but not a single folding display.) I got to demo one this week and I’m really impressed with the design. The display is protected front and back by an integrated leather cover. That prevents a lot of the issues that arose with the original Samsung Fold. You can’t get under the screen — neither can your sandwich crumbs — and the back of the hinge is solidly protected. I saw no evidence of a crease when folding and unfolding it. Lenovo rates the display for 3-4 years of life, as tested by their industrious robots. For the full specs, you can read our coverage of the announcement here.
Given concerns over the plastic screen scratching, I asked Lenovo about that. They said it is actually harder to scratch, and have been testing it in pockets with keys and other sharp objects. With the keyboard tucked inside, there really isn’t any room for something to get in once it is folded, but without the keyboard, there is a tiny gap. I offered to trade them my Surface Pro for one on the spot, but Lenovo was not amused. It looks like a great ultra-portable if you can afford the $2,499+ price when it ships later this year. Not everyone wants a Windows tablet, but it worked quite nicely as a 13-inch display with the optional Bluetooth keyboard that you can fold into the tablet.
On the lighter folding side, Lenovo’s new Razr features a fully functional retro mode that works exactly the way the original Razr phone did.
ShiftCam Aims To Put Another Nail in Camera Company Coffins
There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of clip-on lenses and filters for smartphones. But unless they are specced very tightly for a particular model phone, they are hard to align. The problem is worsened if you need to swap between them for different effects. ShiftCam has come up with an ingenious solution: The company puts a number of lens and filter modules into a phone case that has a sliding section. So you can simply slide the correct lens or filter over your phone’s camera. Right now it is understandably iPhone-only, as the bewildering variety of form factors for Android phones makes building something like this for them difficult.
Living Packets Sustainable e-Commerce
Our modern lives full of “1-click ordering” come with many costs. One is the huge amount of packaging required. Some, like cardboard boxes, are at least fairly easy to recycle. Others, like many foam peanuts or other petroleum-based packing materials, aren’t. Living Packets aims to totally up-end both the physical reality of product shipping and its economics. I can’t do the company’s aspirations justice in these few sentences, but they’ve constructed an easy-to-fold, reusable box that in the shipping version will be equipped with GPS, cellular connectivity, an inward-facing camera for inspecting package contents, an e-Ink display for addressing, and even temperature and humidity sensors for quality tracking.
Customers who get a product in one of the company’s boxes can use the box to return products, or donate or sell other items they own in a user-friendly way. Or they can return them to a participating retailer for a small credit. There is a lot more to the vision of Living Packets, but overall the team describes a utopian vision of how product shipments and returns almost certainly should work in a perfect world. So I’m happy to wish them every success, but making this vision a reality will be a long and challenging enterprise. The company has been doing testing with a French retailer, and is planning a broader European launch later this year. The US isn’t on their radar until next year.
The Massive Black Multi-Rotor Copters Are Now Friendlier-Looking
Last year, the Bell multi-rotor passenger helicopter prototype looked like it belonged in a dystopian science fiction movie: sheer black, accented with blue neon. Apparently the company got the message, as this year it was dolled up in much more reasonable garb. Hyundai also showed a massive prototype this year. The color is fine, but unlike the Bell that has shrouds around its props, the props on the Hyundai look like they could double as killing machines. Of course, they are quite high up, but the effect is still a little disconcerting.
Far From the Madding Crowds: Outside Las Vegas
It’s easy to forget that the neon and concrete of Las Vegas sits in the middle of one of the most beautiful areas anywhere. The immediate area is desert (the Mojave), but there are plenty of mountains. This is a view coming down from Sequoia National Forest past Lake Isabella on our drive to the show.
Finally: An Ultra-Short-Throw Projector for Consumers
Whether it is because you like the relative softness and easy-on-the-eye feel of a projected image, or because you can’t afford a zillion-dollar, super-big-screen TV, projectors are an obvious solution. Until now, though, they have required a large area and fancy mounting. Or, like the Sony ultra-short-throw on display a couple of years ago, cost as much as a low-end Tesla. Vava, better known for lower-end consumer electronics, has introduced a really impressive 4K (pixel-shifted using a TI DLP) UST that can project a 150-inch display. The model I demoed was projecting 100 inches onto a special UST-friendly ALR (Ambient Light Rejecting) screen. While it doesn’t have quite the color gamut of a similarly priced home cinema projector, it is a lot more convenient.
F1: The World’s Highest-Tech Sport
Top Formula 1 teams employ well over 1,000 people and spend as much as $400 million a year to field just two cars in about 20 races (21 last year, 22 this year). So, of course, F1 had an exhibit to hype the massive amount of data produced, transmitted, and consumed by the cars. Each race venue has to be fitted with about 60 km of fiber optic cables, for example. For show and tell, you could play F1 2019 in a really nice cockpit (review samples were unfortunately not available) and see Sebastian Vettel’s 2011 title-winning Red Bull car redecorated in the team’s 2019 livery.
GaN: The Secret to Fast Charging
A couple of years ago, I wrote about how EPC’s GaN semiconductor technology was the secret sauce to most high-speed lidar units. It turns out that GaN is also the secret to super-fast, high-power, compact USB-C chargers. If like me, you’d never heard of Navitas, you may still have used a charger powered by its chips. Well over a dozen brands use the company for its high-end USB-C chargers, including Aukey, Ravpower, Anker, and ASUS. The photo shows the size reduction possible by going from a traditional to GaN approach for a 300-watt power supply.
Jeep Combined VR With the Real World in This Ride
Finally, on the fun side, Jeep offered show-goers a turn in this hydraulically-lifted Jeep Rubicon as they traversed an off-road course in virtual reality — competing for the best time.
[Image Credit: David Cardinal]
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