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CES 2018: CES Unveiled Gives a Duck
By Jeff Porten
For the media, CES started on 8 January 2018 this year with a bunch of press conferences, followed by CES Unveiled, the mini-CES that precedes the main show.
The usual rules for my CES coverage apply: there are several events I’m covering, including CES Unveiled, where journalists are wined and dined in smaller venues. Products that appear in these events get more coverage from everyone here, somewhat independently of their actual news value, because fewer things clamor for attention, and the food and open bar attract thousands of journalists. My stories from these events are separated out so you can apply appropriate grains of salt. Likewise, if any booth gives me something more valuable than a T-shirt, that’s noted with 🎁.
My Special Aflac Duck -- Leading off my coverage is possibly the best non-technical thing I’ve ever seen at any CES: a stuffed animal with robot technology that Aflac will give away for free to any child suffering from cancer. Children care for the Aflac Duck, similar to the old Tamagotchi virtual pets, with a mobile app. The child is told the duck is also suffering from cancer, and it has a hookup for its “chemotherapy treatment.” The idea is that the child can get somewhat distracted from the pain of a chemo treatment by treating the duck at the same time, which Aflac claims measurably lessens the pain the child experiences. For children too young to be verbal, it comes with seven emoji disks which the child places on the duck to communicate their mood to the duck — and of course, to their family and doctors; the duck reads an RFID chip in the disk and responds accordingly. Aflac’s robot duck is in testing now at an Aflac cancer clinic and is expected to ship in late 2018. Sign up at the company’s Web site, which also has a shop with ancillary items including T-shirts and small plush toys. At the risk of being called a softie, I’m tearing up as I write this.
MyManu Clik+ Translation Earbuds -- A big thing this year is wireless earbuds, which I’ll generally be reviewing on the basis of “better or cheaper than AirPods?” MyManu Clik+ earbuds have a neat trick: they connect to your phone and can translate 37 different languages. You may have heard that Google has something like this; the problem is, Google’s don’t work with iPhones, and haven’t gotten great reviews. I’ll have no idea if MyManu’s are any better until I get a review unit in a few months. Shipping in March 2018 for $249 initially, eventually rising to $320.
Lizn Hearing Assistance Earbuds -- Alternately, if your problem is that you can’t hear languages you do speak in a noisy environment, Lizn Hearpieces might help. They’re a pair of earbuds which act as a standard Bluetooth headset and microphone, with Siri integration, but they can switch into a mode where instead they filter ambient sound. White noise around you gets reduced, and any sound coming from directly in front of you gets intensified and sharpened. Shipping in March 2018 for $199, pre-orders are being taken now.
Jabra Elite 65t Earbuds -- Meanwhile, if your issue is hearing people on the phone, Jabra’s Elite 65t earbuds provide 50 percent noise reduction during calls. The other end will hear you better too, because there are four different mics in the earbuds picking up your voice. If you just want to listen to music all day, they’re good for 15 hours on a charge. You can pre-order them for $170 via an exclusive arrangement with Best Buy, and they ship next month. I’ll refer you to this Engadget review by a guy who’s been using a beta version for a week; he liked them.
Air by Crazybaby (NANO) Earbuds -- Rounding up the night’s Bluetooth earbuds, Crazybaby makes the list with the Air by Crazybaby (NANO), notable for being the first ones I’ve seen, at $99, that are less than $100. Like the iPod nano, it comes in a range of colors, and sports a 12-hour battery life; the microphone is compatible with a bunch of voice assistants, including Siri. Pre-order now; expected to ship in two months.
Noveto Sowlo Virtual Headphones -- Maybe you just want a headset which doesn’t actually exist. That wacky idea is possible with Noveto Sowlo, a soundbar that somehow shapes the audio waveform directionally so you hear it, but other people can’t. The demo showed how it worked: a camera recognized my face and mapped where my ears were in three dimensions, then a soundbar beneath the monitor fired the audio from a first-person shooter game straight at me. The rep, standing a few feet to my right, claimed he couldn’t hear it. I took a step to the left, and the volume dropped off significantly, but it wasn’t silent. It would work well for a couple on a couch, but not if they’re snuggling. The product will likely be a separate soundbar which you connect to any monitor. Shipping by the end of 2018 with a target price around $200.
Coravin Wine Preservation Opener -- Maybe after you stop listening to your nonexistent headphones, you’d like a glass of wine without opening the bottle. Yep, that’s what the Coravin does. It works this magic with a device you slot over the top of the bottle; a needle plunges through the cork, allows you to pour the wine, and simultaneously pumps argon into the bottle so the remaining wine never makes contact with the air. Remove the Coravin, and the cork automatically reseals. For screwtop caps, you replace it with a reusable cap Coravin provides after the first glass — the argon is heavier than air, so it rests in the bottle while you swap caps. Currently available for $199, with a beefier model made of heavier materials for $299 (although the Web site seems to list them all in pricier “packages”); replacement argon capsules are $9 each in three-packs, and are good for a few bottles of wine each. In September 2018, Coravin will release the Model Eleven, which is faster and easier to use, with app integration and an LCD screen telling you wine details — but those improvements will set you back $999. If you have to ask if a corkscrew is worth a grand, you can’t afford it.
D-Link Triband Whole-Home Wi-Fi -- It seems like everybody and their grandmothers are demoing mesh networking systems, which cover your entire home with a Wi-Fi signal without configuration. My intended question for all of them: “What makes your product different from the scores of others here?” So far, that’s stumped two companies. D-Link’s model doesn’t wow technically — except that mesh networking in general is pretty darned cool — but it’s an attractive pod with swappable covers in different anodized colors. Mesh Wi-Fi units work best when they’re out in a room, which means on display; these at least look nice. It’s reasonably priced at $249 for the initial three-pack, which you can extend with more of the same or other D-Link products. Available sometime this quarter.
Plex Pass, Now with News -- Whole-house Wi-Fi means everyone is going to want to stream their favorite videos on just about any screen bigger than an Apple Watch. I’ve used Plex for this for years. Toss tons of videos, music, and photos onto an always-on computer, point Plex at it, and it creates catalogs with movie posters and album art, then streams it to pretty much any device you can think of, locally or over the Internet. All of that is free on your Macs, although the mobile apps cost a few bucks. Where Plex makes money is its monthly, annual, or lifetime Plex Pass 🎁, which provides various cloud services and software upgrades to your Plex experience, including the capability to download videos to mobile devices on-the-fly, recording over-the-air live TV, parental controls, and additional features over the base Plex experience. Plex is rolling out various streaming services as part of the Plex Pass; the newest is a customizable news channel. Point Plex at various online news video sources you watch and either build your own playlist or let Plex’s AI figure out what you like to watch and build it for you. Plex Passes cost $5 a month or $40 a year; if you want to use it forever, $120 will get you a lifetime subscription.
Moodo Custom Aromatics -- Once you get your movie options worked out, you’ll want the house to smell nice while you’re watching on your iPad. Enter the Moodo, a box which sits on a table and perfumes an area up to 600 square feet. It ships with three “families” of four base scents each (similar to a printer with CMYK ink cartridges), and uses prebuilt recipes or make custom scents with an app. If you have several Moodos, the app can control them all, setting the same scent across several rooms, or giving each one its own aroma. I personally don’t care much for perfume, but the woman standing next to me did, and she was rhapsodic. $189 gets you three sets of scent mixers, and additional scents cost $29.
Ujet Electric Scooter -- The Ujet is a one-person scooter with a range of 100 miles (on the pricier model), and a top speed of just under 30 mph. It charges from standard AC in under 2 hours with an optional fast charger; it’s unclear how long the regular charger takes. It has a touchscreen for display and control, and Ujet sells gloves that work with it for cold weather. Ujet’s scooter caught my eye because it’s meant for urban transport and folds up for easy storage during the workday. But at 70 pounds, don’t plan on carrying it up stairs. Europeans can get one in the first half of this year, Americans have to wait at least six months. $8900 for the base model, $9990 for the long-range version.
Kuri Home Robot -- If you’ve always wanted your own R2D2 with a look reminiscent of Hello Kitty, Kuri’s the droid you’re looking for. It’s equipped with a 1080p camera and uses facial recognition to roll around the house capturing video you might otherwise not think to record: kids playing, the dog doing something amusing, or the Amazon delivery guy entering your house without calling you first. Kuri’s “face” reacts to its environment and it makes R2D2-style beeps and boops. You can hear them in this video. Of course, you control Kuri with an app. Initial units have been shipped, the next round of orders are scheduled for early 2018. $799 now, $899 starting March 2018.
BrainCo Brain Activity Headband -- Every CES brings gadgets making dubious medical claims, which made the BrainCo booth rather refreshing in that they didn’t do that — and their Harvard affiliation didn’t hurt. They were showing the Focus 1, a headband that monitors electrical activity in the brain. Initially sold in bulk to schools, the premise is that they’d be worn by an entire classroom of students. The teacher could then see statistics afterward indicating whether the students were collectively paying attention, or which individual students were having trouble. (The current model has red and green lights to provide immediate feedback; the company is considering removing them, as it raises privacy concerns for the child.) Students could use the Focus 1 on their own later to determine how well they’re studying. I have ADHD and asked if it was likely to be helpful; the rep said, “we’re not making claims, but we’re hoping so.” (They have an additional product in development, called the Lucy, specifically for ADHD.) The Focus 1 is shipping in China and coming to the United States “later this year,” with an individual price tag in the “low hundreds.”
Touchpoint Stress Reducing Hand Buzzers -- Speaking of dubious health claims, that’s my impression of Touchpoints. They’re a pair of small squares that you hold in your hands, wear in your pockets, or attach to optional wristbands. It doesn’t matter where they are, but for some reason, it’s very important you have one on each side. They buzz. Really, that’s all they do; it’s supposedly a special vibration frequency which reduces stress. The neuroscientist who invented them asked me to think of something stressful, then gave me the Touchpoints; they started vibrating alternately in my hands. She asked me if I was feeling less stressed; I said, “Yes, because now I’m distracted by the buzzing, and I’m thinking about what I’m going to write instead of that stressful thing.” When I asked how she could prove it wasn’t just the placebo effect, she promised me they’d have brain scanning at their main booth. If only I had brought along a neurologist! The buzzers are currently listed on the company’s Web site as shipping in 2–4 weeks. The models that just buzz cost $135 for a pair, whereas the ones that both buzz and talk to a phone app (saying what, I don’t know; there’s no monitoring in these devices) are $240.
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