10.3 C
New York
Saturday, April 20, 2024

The Best of CES 2021

After sitting through hours of live demos, virtual booth tours, and livestreamed press conferences at this first-ever virtual CES, we're ready to declare these 12 products to be the best things we saw at this most odd and unique version of the yearly consumer tech showcase. 

Even though we could only view these things on our laptop screens, and not up close inside a brightly lit Las Vegas expo hall, it was still clear to us that each entry on this list pointed to the ways in which its product category will evolve in the near future. So as CES 2021 winds down, here's our list of the products, components, prototypes, and ideas that will shape the next few generations of consumer tech.

Best Laptop

Acer Chromebook Spin 514. The Spin 514 is Acer's first Chromebook using AMD's Ryzen 3000-C series mobile processors. The computer has a solid aluminum chassis and high-end specs, but it's those AMD chips we're looking forward to testing. AMD announced the Ryzen 3000-C series last year, but this is among the first machines containing the chip to arrive on the market. Designed in conjunction with Google, the 3000-series chips are optimized specifically for Chromebooks and are part of a larger trend that sees Chromebooks moving from cheap, low-end laptops to more powerful machines capable of handling bigger workloads. It remains to be seen if ChromeOS can deliver the software users need for such workloads, but the hardware at least won't be holding Chromebooks back. —Scott Gilbertson

Best Headphones

V-Moda M-200 ANC. It’s fun to watch products you like get better with time. Rather than take a good thing and endlessly meddle with it, V-Moda has slowly evolved its hexagonal over-ear headphones from wired to wireless. Now, the company is offering an active noise-canceling version. Anyone who’s spent time with V-Moda’s durable, Italian-designed cans should instantly feel at home using the $500 M-200 ANC, which come with 20 hours of battery life, 10 levels of noise reduction, and support for the latest hi-resolution audio codecs (Aptx HD and AAC). These headphones are also a sign of the times: Nearly every company in consumer audio—from Apple to Zvox—is currently offering a pair of premium noise-canceling headphones. I’ve yet to put the M-200 ANC on my head, but at least on paper, I’d say these are poised to give most competitors a run for their (steadily increasing) money. —Parker Hall

Best TV

TCL 6-Series, Now With 8K. TCL has made a name for itself as a purveyor of great-looking but still affordable TVs, and the perennial WIRED favorite is its 6-Series. The 6-Series is never the most expensive television set (even for TCL), but these models always manage to provide the best selection of features for the money. Last year, TCL introduced Micro LED backlighting to the sub-$1,000 TV market, and this year the updated version of the set will come with 8K resolution. Previous 8K models from Samsung and LG fell into the “prohibitively expensive” column for the vast majority of us, but an 8K 6-Series—though pricing has yet to be announced—may realistically come in at a price that's within reach of the masses. There are still a few caveats to enjoying an 8K television in 2021: There’s not a ton of 8K content yet, and these screens really need to be over 75 inches for the increased pixel density to make as big of an impact on the picture as the image processing does. But the fact that TCL is leaping into 8K means it’s not a niche technology anymore, and we can expect to see more affordable 8K TVs in the near future, along with the content to match. —Parker Hall

Best in Parenting

BioMilq. Baby cows drink cow milk and baby goats drink goat milk. Every mammal makes the milk that’s perfectly optimized for its infant’s development. But for working (human) parents, nursing or pumping breast milk can be both logistically and physically difficult. Enter BioMilq, which was founded by a woman cell biologist and a woman food scientist. The company collects mammary epithelial cells while a person is expecting. The cells are cultivated in BioMilq’s facility and stimulated to produce human milk that is personalized (literally!) for that person's infant. Last year, the company raised $3.5 million in capital to optimize milk production and to expand its team. If we can make tasty burgers in a cell culture plate, human milk should be a nutritional slam dunk. —Adrienne So

Best in Sustainability

Chipolo ONE Ocean Edition. Simple Bluetooth-enabled trackers very rarely get the love they deserve. In a house full of noise and clutter, they’re the only way I can keep track of my wallet, the remote control, and the other small and tiny things that keep my life on track. So I was pleased to see one of our favorite trackers address an urgent problem, which is that the world’s oceans are teeming with plastic waste. The ONE Ocean tracker is one of the first Bluetooth trackers built with sustainability in mind. The plastic shell is made from fishing nets, trawls, and ropes collected in shallow ocean waters, and the packaging is 100 percent vegan and plastic-free. Soon, you won’t have to choose between littering the earth with waste or permanently consigning your pocket planner to the Great Abyss behind the sofa. How did that even get there? Who knows. —Adrienne So

Best in Transportation

Low-cobalt batteries. Mining the cobalt needed for lithium-ion batteries is ugly business. Cobalt is a toxic mineral, there’s not much of it available to us on earth, and the industry that extracts it is rife with human rights abuses. More than half of our cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where child labor is common and miners toil under dangerous working conditions. So it was welcome news at CES this year to hear that battery manufacturers are continuing to tell cobalt to get lost, furthering the progress made in the last year. Panasonic, which supplies lithium-ion cells to Tesla, showed off new batteries that are less than 5 percent cobalt. General Motors partnered with LG for its upcoming Ultium electric vehicle batteries, which use 70 percent less cobalt by swapping more aluminum into the battery's chemistry. Panasonic is developing its own no-cobalt batteries, and by 2023 nearly every one of GM’s electric vehicles will use the low-cobalt Ultium batteries. —Matt Jancer

Best in Gaming

Razer Project Hazel. The “smart mask” concept from gaming hardware company Razer, dubbed Project Hazel, is not hitting store shelves anytime soon. But the prototype is an intriguing example of what the masks of tomorrow—or, let’s be real, the masks of later this year—could look like. Yes, it lights up, with LEDs powered by Razer's Chroma software, so the color schemes can be personalized. But Project Hazel isn’t just a mask with lights on it. It features a clear plastic faceplate so your nose and mouth are visible for lip-reading or plain old facial cues, and internal, face-facing lights keep your mouth illuminated at night. A reusable N95-grade filter on either side of the mask keep nasty particles from spreading, and a built-in “voice amplifier” de-muffles your voice. All the electronics require a nightly re-juicing, but the charging cradle for the mask doubles as a fully enclosed UV disinfecting station. Just pop your mask in there at the end of the day and it’ll be clean and charged next time you have to go out. —Jess Grey

Best in Smart Home

Kohler Stillness Bath. Every year, one device rises above all the new blinky gizmos and shiny whats-its to become an object of simple, uncomplicated desire. This year, that gadget is the Kohler Stillness Bath, which blends elements of a traditional Japanese soaking tub with a luxury infinity pool. The deep, square-sided tub has smart elements, which include a system to fill the bath to your preferred depth and temperature; an Experience Tower, which dispenses atmospheric fog and soothing essential oils; and the Infinity Experience, which overflows tinkling water into a hinoki wood wreath. In a year where we all had to scramble to make use of every inch of livable space in our tiny (or not-so-tiny) abodes while sheltering in place, the Stillness Bath would turn your bathroom into a steamy, serene forest glade. I want it. —Adrienne So

Best Camera

Panasonic Lumix BGH1. Panasonic's new Micro Four Thirds video camera could become the next go-to device for filmmakers. Building off much of what made its GH series cameras popular in the first place—high quality video, low image noise levels, and support for industry-standard codecs and gamma curves—the BGH1 is aimed squarely at video pros. It's small, lightweight (under 18 ounces), and screenless. The expectation is that you'll hook it up to an external monitor through the full size HDMI output. That gets to the heart of the BGH1; its modular design means you can build it out the way you need it to be. The box-style camera is meant to compete with the likes of the Red Komodo and the Hasselblad 907X, both of which have similar form factors but cost nearly three times as much. To be fair, those cameras have larger sensors than the BGH1, but Panasonic is betting that for many filmmakers, it's good enough. Netflix at least is on board; the company is reportedly sending the BGH1 out to many of its show-runners so they can start shooting with it. —Scott Gilbertson

Best in Accessibility

CareClever Cutii. For years, we’ve seen companion robots of all shapes and sizes at CES—cuddlebots, dog robots, and robots that, er, do other things. But over the last year, robots for senior care took on a new and poignant urgency as the Covid-19 pandemic isolated vulnerable populations away from their traditional support networks of spouses, children, and grandchildren. CareClever’s Cutii is one of the first companion robots that's ready to be officially launched in 2021. It addresses several senior needs—companionship, connection, and logistical help—and, alone among companion bots, it is uniquely mobile. You don’t need to make your way into the living room to voice-activate a device sitting on a table. Instead, if you’ve fallen, the Cutii will come at your call and dial your emergency contact. It can also remind you of your scheduled classes, turn off your lights, and escort you to the door and bid you farewell on your daily Little Pandemic Walk. Who needs more than that from a live-in companion, amirite? —Adrienne So

Best in Health

Toto Wellness Toilet. We knew that “smart” toilets—sensor-filled bowls capable of detecting early signs of disease—were practically inevitable. But leave it to Japanese toilet manufacturer Toto to produce the concept toilet of the future, a ridiculously sleek “Wellness” toilet that suggests you eat more salmon and avocado. (I am barely kidding.) Toto showed off a variety of commode-related technologies during CES this week, including a new washlet and touchless bathroom fixtures, but the Wellness Toilet was the number one (and number two?) product. Toto says it uses “multiple cutting-edge sensing technologies” to scan a person’s body and their “key outputs” each time someone sits on the toilet. It then analyzes their waste and suggests dietary changes through a mobile app. Sure, you can strap wearable sensors to your body to glean insights about your health in other, less invasive ways, but Toto says the benefit of adding AI to a toilet is that, well, you use it every day whether you’re thinking about it or not. Toto says it will ship the Wellness Toilet to consumers sometime in the next several years. And yes, it’s likely to be expensive. But the toilet of the future is almost here. You might even say we’re bowled over by it. —Lauren Goode

Best in Mobile

Let's Roll. First came phones that flip. Now it’s time for phones that roll. No, these handsets don’t come with wheels. Instead they have expandable displays you can pull out for a bigger screen. Not one but two companies—TCL and LG—showed off concept videos of rollable phones at CES 2021. TCL had an OLED model shaped like a tube that unfurled like a scroll, and another normal-looking phone that could be made taller by extending the screen. LG’s looked like a traditional phone with a screen that expanded from the side, making it wider. It’s likely one will make it to market this year, though release dates haven't been confirmed. The perks are apparent. Unlike the bulky foldable phones we've seen recently, there’s no need here to fuss with a thicker device, yet you can enjoy a smaller phone in your pocket and expand the screen when necessary. LG has shown off rollable TVs for years, finally bringing one to market for a cool $87,000 in 2020. Let’s hope making that rolling screen pocketable will allow it to knock off a few zeros. —Julian Chokkattu

Related Articles

Latest Articles