CES: Undiscovered Gems, Part 1

I just spent a week in Las Vegas fighting the crowds at the Consumer Electronics Show. Walking around CES was a killer--my feet are still sore and my back aches. Oh, what I do for you.

I saw plenty in Las Vegas. My desk is covered with business cards, flyers, and dozens of flash drives filled with product information. I'm sorting through it all to get you a roundup of the winners (and some of the losers) I found at CES--but you'll have to wait till next week for that.

To whet your appetite, this week I've got a few gadgets that are actually useful, plus a couple, well... you'll have to decide for yourself.

SentrySafe's Water- and Fireproof Backup Drive

Worried about the drive that holds your backup data? SentrySafe has one you can throw into the hot tub or toast on the barbecue.

SentrySafe took an 80GB Maxtor OneTouch 4 Mini hard drive and sealed it in a fire- and waterproof box. Maxtor's SafetyDrill software handles the automatic backups.

The enclosure can withstand a 1550-degree-Fahrenheit blast for up to 30 minutes and can be submerged in water for 24 hours. The enclosure's permanently attached USB cable connects to your PC.

The 80GB version costs $260; double it to 160GB and you'll pay $340.

If you want something bigger, you can opt for SentrySafe's QE4531 safe. It's an honest-to-goodness safe with a little over 1 cubic foot of storage in which you can store your valuables. It's also a hard-drive enclosure with an external, bus-powered USB port. You supply your own hard drive and the safe gives you 2 hours of fire protection for up to 1850 degrees Fahrenheit and water resistance in up to 8 inches of water for 24 hours. If you like it, plan to pony up $420.

Boost Your Cell Phone's Signal With zPersonal

I can't get a cell phone signal that's worth a hoot, even if I walk outside my house. I've tried different providers, but I'm in a rural-ish area outside of Pasadena, California, and there just aren't enough towers.

For $170, ZBoost zPersonal makes the problem go away by repeating and boosting the signal. The gizmo is about the size of a cable modem. You'll need to put it near a windows, plug it into a power source, and if you stay within four feet of the device, your cell phone's signal will get a kick in the pants.

Wi-Ex also sells the zBoost YX510-PCS-CEL, a unit that supports multiple users (the zPersonal handles just one cell phone) and has a wider range, about 2500 square feet. I tried this high-end, $400 product for a short time and it absolutely works.

If you don't want to spend that much, you can try the Freedom Antenna. It's costs $30, plus another $10 for an adapter to fit the antenna to your cell phone. Unfortunately, I can't vouch for it: The company rep didn't have an adapter for my phone. So if you buy one, make sure you can return it.

Protect Your iPod and iPhone (and More)

Zagg's Invisible Shield is a super-thin transparent film that protects electronic devices--the ubiquitous iPod, iPhone, cell phones, digital cameras...you get the idea.

It has a lifetime warranty and purported to be scratch-proof. I watched as a company rep used a ballpoint pen and tried scratching the Invisible Shield. From the short demo, it worked. Unfortunately, the one thing it doesn't do is stop glare.

The invisible shield is cheap--anywhere between $10 and $25, depending on the device; if you have an oddball device, the company will custom design one for you.

Dig This: Have you ever seen a train plowing the tracks? Watch the video, and then watch a train snow plow getting stuck.

Dig This, Too:Tunnel Rush is a game that'll take 15 (or more) minutes of your life you'll never get back. My buddy Moe got 1755. Me, I turned in a paltry 900.

Gadgets for Folks Who Have Everything (Especially Money)

iShoes: They weigh about 12 pounds and zip along at 13 1/2 miles per hour; a single charge lets you take a three-hour trip. They're not cheap--a pair will set you back $600. Watch this video to see them in action at CES. I wanted to try them, but I left my helmet and elbow and knee pads at home. (Ha!)

Underwater Digital Camera Mask: Forget about waterproof digital cameras. This mask lets you snorkel at up to 30 meters and take underwater photos at the same time. The mask, powered by two AAA batteries, has a lens right above the tempered glass eye pieces (they double as a viewfinder embedded with cross hairs). Click the red shutter button atop the mask and shoot 55 low-res images, or more with a Micro SD card. Now you, and maybe even my copyeditor, might find this gadget ridiculous. But my diving friends went bananas when I sent them the link.

Dig This: Here are some dirty hotel secrets you probably don't want to know about. BTW, I brought my own little paper cups along to Las Vegas after watching this. No kidding.

Steve Bass writes PC World's monthly "Hassle-Free PC" column and is the author of PC Annoyances, 2nd Edition: How to Fix the Most Annoying Things About Your Personal Computer,available from O'Reilly. He also writes PC World's daily Tips & Tweaks blog. Sign up to have Steve's newsletter e-mailed to you each week. Comments or questions? Send Steve e-mail. 

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