The best of CES 2013

Our crack team of experts patrolled the show floor and other Vegas environs to bring you the best of CES 2013.

30 CES highlights

Every year during CES, tech companies stuff the Las Vegas Convention Center to the rafters with concepts for future gadgets and with new products making their public debuts.

Assembling a best-of-CES list isn't easy, given the magnitude of the show, but our editors crisscrossed the vast floor for hours every day, gathering notes on the top products and ideas they encountered.

Here is our collection of the most impressive things this year's CES had to offer. Let's start with 4K HDTVs.

4K TVs

The instant I saw a 4K TV in person, I regretted having just bought a new HDTV. LG's 4K TV was incredibly sharp, Samsung's had an interesting design, and Sony's....well, Sony's was able to render boot menus quite nicely. —Armando Rodriguez

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Waiting for prime time: a 4K tablet

Wowsa. Seeing 4K resolution packaged in a portable (well, semiportable) 20-inch tablet was such a tease. I wish this product were ready for prime time now.

No doubt this tablet will cost mucho bucks when it ships in late 2013, but it should be a fine complementary tool for photographers, designers, and other creative and mobile professionals. Panasonic describes the model I saw as a concept demo, but it also says that we can expect it to reach market later in 2013. —Melissa J. Perenson

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A gamer's dream come true?

Combining Nvidia's latest quad-core chipset with physical controls and a pure Android experience, Project Shield looks to change the way you play games on the go.

And with full access to the Google Play Store, plus the ability to stream games from your PC, Project Shield does look like every gamer's dream come true. —Armando Rodriguez

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A virtual reality headset that works

The Oculus Rift VR headset that we tested at CES is only a prototype of the development kit that will ship in March, which makes the surprisingly immersive gameplay demo we experienced that much more impressive.

The Oculus Rift is built from roughly $300 worth of off-the-shelf parts, making it the first VR gaming headset we've ever seen that might actually be affordable, enjoyable, and supported by an array of game developers. —Alex Wawro

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Sony Xperia Z—a superior smartphone

Sony's latest Xperia smartphone looks top-notch.

The handset's svelte design, ultra-high-resolution display, and excellent 13-megapixel camera make it one to watch as we head toward Mobile World Congress in late February. —Armando Rodriguez

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Carmakers open-source their app platforms

This year, both Ford and General Motors announced that they're opening their infotainment systems to third-party developers.

That means that folks with a knack for software development can design their own car-connected apps, either for smartphones or for the vehicle itself. Hey, at least the car makers aren't open-sourcing the engine tech. —Sarah Jacobsson Purewal

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A clever all-in-one

I like the large size and flexibility of Asus's Transformer All-in-One P1801, which is dominated by a removable 18.4-inch display. The tablet part is maneuverable yet generously large, and the adaptable design increases the number of ways you can use it.

This all-in-one has two operating systems and two CPUs. The Android OS runs inside the tablet only, on an Nvidia Tegra 3 chip; while the base station houses Windows 8 and an Intel Core i5/i7 series processor. Nice! —Melissa J. Perenson

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A fridge for foodies

Samsung’s T9000 refrigerator, a stainless-steel wonder with French doors, an LCD screen, and Evernote integration, is this Type A tech reporter’s dream come true.

You can look up recipes, share grocery lists, manage your food inventory, and keep track of your schedule on the refrigerator’s calendar app.

My apartment’s fridge is simply unworthy of being listed in the same appliance category as the T9000. —Caitlin McGarry

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Wireless power ramps up

The prospect of being able to charge your phone without wires is incredibly enticing. Just throw the phone on a suitable charging surface, and it will start sucking up precious juice.

Touted by the Wireless Power Consortium, among others, the technology sounds divine...if a diverse ecosystem develops and encourages wider adoption across various mobile devices and accessories. —Melissa J. Perenson

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Augmented-reality games

We love Sphero's light-up balls, but what caught our eye this year was the company's dabbling in augmented reality.

Already introduced is an app that turns your Sphero into a virtual beaver named Sharky, which you can navigate around the real world.

Another augmented-reality app, The Rolling Dead, pits your Sphero in battle with virtual zombies; it will arrive on iOS devices within a month or two. —Phil Michaels

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An attractively priced Windows 8 tablet

The Vizio MT11x tablet uses an AMD Z-60 APU, claims a battery life of about 10 hours, and is entirely DirectX 11-compatible. It looks to be a better bet for PC gaming than an Intel Atom-based tablet.

Best of all, it's probably going to cost only a few hundred dollars. —Loyd Case

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Mongo Jongo!

I'm not unduly influenced by the fact that it has "Jon" in its name (well, maybe just a little), but Pure's multiroom Jongo family looks to be a nice option for streaming audio around the house—and a dose of healthy competition for Sonos. —Jonathan Seff

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How to beat mobile hotspot fees

Mobile hotspots are all the rage, but not everyone wants to shell out monthly fees for 3G, 4G, or LTE.

For people who sometimes just need a way to share a conventional wired broadband connection, D-Link promises the best of both worlds with its SharePoint Go II router, due in April for $120.

The router creates a 2.4GHz 802.11n hotspot using broadband from a wired ethernet or Wi-Fi hotspot connection, or a 3G or 4G USB modem. —Yardena Arar

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A podcaster's dream

At the rate we're going, soon everyone in America will be hosting a podcast. What most of them won't have are the skills of an audio engineer.

Blue Microphone can at least take some of the guesswork out of turning the knobs, with Nessie—its new adaptive USB microphone.

The $100 Nessie has a few niceties you wouldn't expect from a mic aimed at amateurs, such as a professional-grade pop filter and shockmounting designed to prevent the occasional bonk from winding up in your recording.

But the microphone also applies basic audio processing and level controls, for example, so that your finished recording benefits from some degree of automatic mixing. Amateur podcasters and home musicians should keep an eye out for Nessie's arrival during the first half of 2013. —Phil Michaels

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Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon Tabletop PC and AIO

As an all-in-one PC, the IdeaCentre Horizon Tabletop is going to be pretty neat, but as a device for group tabletop use, this 27-inch, 1080p panel with a 2-hour of battery life should be fabulous.

Lenovo will ship purpose-built game controllers with sensors to interact with the system. The company also plans to offer a droolworthy 39-inch version. —Loyd Case

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Cubes you can use

I like to explore the Eureka Park zone at CES, an area for tech startups tucked inside the Venetian.

It’s (relatively) easy for giant companies to create cool products with millions in R&D cash; but when a tiny company with a shoestring budget creates an innovative gadget, the result is especially laudable.

This year, I was most impressed by Modular Robotics’ Cubelets. These square robotic cubes are sold in $160 six-piece kits that magnetically connect and behave in different ways—such as moving forward or lighting up—depending on how you put them together. —Caitlin McGarry

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Blow by the highway patrol

Cobra showed off the first under-the-hood radar detector that communicates wirelessly with your phone via Bluetooth. Though under-the-hood radar detectors have been around for awhile, this one breaks new ground by offering Bluetooth connectivity for easier installation.

The iRadar S-Series will be available in the third quarter of 2013 for $299. —Sarah Jacobsson Purewal

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This soundbar's got wings

Sure, it might defeat the promise of simplicity that comes with a soundbar, but Philips's HTL9100 combines the best of both worlds for improved TV audio.

Keep it together for high-quality virtual surround sound, or yank the sides off, and you've got wireless rear speakers and true 5.1-channel surround. It's coming in May for $800. —Jonathan Seff

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Touchscreens come to Vizio products

Vizio surprised us at CES last year by unveiling a line of stylish, powerful ultraportables. Unfortunately, though Windows 8 was just a few months away by the time they shipped, the Vizio All-In-One desktops and Thin + Light laptops lacked touchscreens.

This year, besides revealing a bunch of new HDTVs and a neat new Windows 8 tablet, the company added touchscreens to almost all of its PCs and began shipping them with Windows 8.

It's great to see a relative newcomer to the PC market supporting Windows 8 so proactively. Even better, the interface looks gorgeous and runs smoothly on the new touch-capable HD Vizio PC displays. —Alex Wawro

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You are in (remote) control

Delphi, an auto-tech company that creates in-vehicle electronics, has paired with Verizon to bring customers Vehicle Diagnostics by Delphi—a small, easy-to-use device that can remotely monitor and control a car.

The unit lets you remotely monitor your car's health, track your car, and perform any tasks that you could do with the car's key fob (such as remote lock/unlock, and remote start, if you have it)—all from your smartphone.

The device uses Verizon's network to stay constantly connected so you can always see where your car is and what it's doing. Delphi and Verizon haven't announced pricing yet, but they promise that the Vehicle Diagnostics will be "reasonably priced" and available within the next month. —Sarah Jacobsson Purewal

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Clever Bluetooth gadget

I've seen a lot of Bluetooth gadgets over the years, but none came close to Tetherboard's Tethercell in combining imagination and simplicity.

Basically, the Tethercell a battery case that lets you remotely shut down or activate any AA-battery powered device from a mobile app on a Bluetooth smartphone. The case actually uses an AAA battery in order to make room for the Bluetooth electronics.

This provides a way to sneakily shut down an Energizer bunny or any other annoying gadget without actually yanking out the battery itself (in case you later want to turn it back on just as quickly). —Yardena Arar

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Smartphone apps to monitor and control your PC

PC games are great, but they tend to monopolize your attention and your PC screen. Enter the Roccat Power-Grid, a free iOS app that syncs with a PC running the free Power-Grid utility on the same wireless network.

You can customize your phone to display your social networks, your email, a volume mixer for your PC, and even custom grids for launching and controlling PC games like Skyrim and League of Legends. —Alex Wawro

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Inspiring tablet love

As a technology journalist, maybe I shouldn't admit this, but...I don't own a tablet.

Touchfire, however, gets me one step closer to tablet ownership, with a clear keyboard overlay that attaches to the screen with corner magnets.

It's thin enough to be unobtrusive, stiff enough to respond the way real keys do, and flexible enough to fold out the way when it's not needed—and it's exactly the accessory I've been looking for to make tablets more appealing. —Amber Bouman

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Wireless storage grows up

With a capacity of 1TB, Seagate's Wireless Plus drive stands out as a solid companion to your tablet. it features vastly improved software apps and twice the battery life of its predecessor, the GoFlex Satellite drive. —Melissa J. Perenson

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Using your thumb

Now that I have a svelte, optical-drive-less MacBook Air, I'm particularly grateful for press kits that come on USB thumb drives instead of (gasp) CDs. Or, you know, that thin crinkly white stuff.

And once I've finished reviewing the promo material, I'm left with lots of blank flash drives that I can use however I see fit. —Jonathan Seff

The 'next Instagram'?

I was ready to hate Didlr, an app with the tagline: “The next Instagram.” Oh, come on, I thought as I glanced at the booth.

You draw “didls” (vector drawings) and share them with your friends—it's like Draw Something without the guessing.

The name is ridiculous, to be sure, but the startup’s pitch was so heartfelt and hilarious and some of the drawings were so sweet that I just had to smile. Plus, the app was developed for Windows 8, and it looks darn good. —Caitlin McGarry

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Self-aiming firearms

This year, TrackingPoint wowed CES with a $20,000 hunting rifle equipped with automated tracking technology that could make hunting safer and more enjoyable for everyone who doesn't have antlers.

It's called the PGF (Precision Guided Firearm), and its built-in processor allows you to lock on to a target and automatically compensate for distance, gravity, wind, and other factors.

If the technology catches on, we may someday see similar systems that can prevent hunting weapons from being fired (accidentally or not) at human targets. —Alex Wawro

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Gigabyte Thin Mini-ITX motherboard

Gigabyte's extremely low-profile Thin Mini-ITX motherboard will take Intel Core i3 and i5 CPUs (up to 65W), and has a built-in Intel Wi-Fi card that's Wi-Di (wireless display) capable.

Use it to build your own all-in-one PC. —Loyd Case

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A (high and) mighty wind

The House of Marley makes cool-looking headphones and speakers that are environmentally friendly and use Bob Marley songs in the product titles.

What more could you want? Well, how about the involvement of an actual Son of Bob, in this case Rohan, an entrepreneur and a former linebacker at the University of Miami? Yep, he's in the house, too. —Jonathan Seff

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