CES Review: Does the show still offer up the very best of tech innovation?

January 2019 saw the return of biggest tech show on earth – CES. Laura Barnes speaks to the industry to find out what products caught their eye this time around.
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Held every January at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Nevada, CES has become a tech event of gargantuan proportions. It is the consumer electronics show, and a place that’s so overwhelmingly packed with products that anyone you speak to that has trawled the show’s halls will warn you that there is simply not enough hours in the day to see everything the event has to offer.

Brands know this, and as such, save up their most impressive products to unveil during the 4-day show in a bid to get as much attention as possible directed their way. And because of this, consumers, journalists and industry watchdogs get a pretty good idea of what inventions and innovations are likely to come to the forefront throughout the year.

From the expected advancements in smartphones, laptops and networking, to the wacky and bizarre tech offerings that the show attracts each year, here are some of the most impressive things to come out of CES 2019.

Foldable smartphones are finally here

We’ve been banging on about foldable smartphones for years now. There have been so many patents filed by the likes of Apple and Samsung depicting some sort of bendable phone or flexible tablet, and the industry gets its hopes up every year that it might finally be time to see some of them come to life.

In the lead up to this year’s CES, it really did feel like 2019 might be that year. Samsung in particular has been one brand that has a habit of teasing foldable prototypes, however, its was relatively unknown firm Royole that got in there ahead of this year’s show to announce an actual, real-life, foldable device. Described as a combination of mobile phone and tablet, Royole’s FlexPai was on show at CES, featuring its ultrathin, fully flexible display.

“Disrupting consumers’ traditional concept of a smartphone, the unit can be used either folded or unfolded, giving it the portability of a smartphone plus the screen size of a high-definition tablet,” said the firm.

Phil Elford, head of technology at Argos, called it “one of the most exciting launches” from the show.

“This is the first of many more foldable phones rumoured to be launching later this year and as we have seen growing demand for larger screen sizes among our customers, we know they will be excited to get their hands on one.”

While its bendable capabilities – along with its fingerprint scanner, 1440-pixel resolution and two cameras – are impressive, Gekko MD Daniel Todaro says the device isn’t the only impressive thing Royole has to offer. “Keeping with the theme of flexible devices, Royole also introduced the flexible QWERTY Keyboard that can be used on any flat surface via Bluetooth and then with a push of a button it will roll up and fit in to your pocket,” he says.

With the FlexPai being announced just ahead of CES, many expected Samsung to follow suit and unveil a bendable phone themselves at the show. While there are rumours that the company was secretly showing selected visitors such a device, it’s thought that there will be an official unveiling of a foldable Samsung smartphone at Mobile World Congress (MWC) at the end of February.

Elford agrees we’re likely to see more products in this design in the very near future. “These larger, foldable screens will deliver a better viewing experience for streaming content and making video calls and we eagerly await more news from Mobile World Congress,” he says.

Royole's FlexPai foldable smartphone

Royole's FlexPai foldable smartphone

The home gets smarter

In the smart home area, visitors were treated to an abundance of home assistants and technologies that work with them to help make our daily lives run smoother. It’s also where you find a number of the more unusual and quirky products that have made their way to CES.

“Millions of people are already using home assistants to streamline household tasks and this year’s CES has seen the launch of some really exciting smart home appliances,” says Chirag Shah, smart home buying manager at Argos.

“These include the new LG Styler, a garment-steaming closet which will be sure to cut down on ironing time, and the Ring Door View Cam, which requires no hardwiring or modifications to the front door, offering genuine benefits to customers right now.”

Other smart appliances caught the eye of Gekko’s Todaro: “Devices such as the FoldiMate wants to help you with folding your clothes, Moona’s smart pillow system wants to make sure you always have the cool side of the pillow without having to flip it, Somfy can assist with closing your blinds for you while you ask U by Moen Smart Shower to start your shower, and Y-Brush can crunch your teeth brushing time down to 10 seconds with its vibrating mouth guard-style device – if regular brushing is a bit of a struggle for you.”

Dubbing 2018 “the year smart home tech hit the mainstream”, Shah reveals that Argos saw a 151% rise in demand for smart speakers. “It’s been no surprise to see the majority of home appliances launching at CES including voice control. 2019 is set to see UK homes get even smarter with the line between smart home products and robots becoming less obvious,” he says.

“The Temi robot, a virtual assistant capable of autonomous navigation, telepresence and light controls gave us an exciting glimpse into the future, whilst the Luka reading robot, designed to empower children to take breaks from screens and read more, hinted at a rise in smart toys.”

But what about the big guns in the smart home space themselves: Amazon and Google? Tricca MD Paul Richens rounded up what both companies had to offer for PCR’s daily CES articles. For Amazon, the company’s showroom was filled with tech ranging from WiFi extenders and consumers earphones to conferencing solutions and computing devices, all boasting to have “Alexa built-in”.

“There is no escaping the fact that using voice control has now made strides into the home office environment and will no doubt attract both SME and enterprise users,” says Richens. “Because of the familiarity of Alexa in our home lives, and our familiarity from our own experiences as consumers, there is a surge of developers working with the SDK to develop many more ways to tame technology and ensure users have to think as little as is possible in their daily lives.

“In the business ecosystem and techstack there is an encouraging amount of practical time saving applications and benefits pleasing both users and bosses.”

For Google, there were no business products on show, with everything pointed at consumers. “With the boast of one billion devices worldwide capable of working with Google Assistant, the back wall contained Nest hardware, bought by Google in 2014, sitting alongside the Hero Home product, Pixel devices and well, security cameras, a digital lock engineered in partnership with Yale, and that’s about it,” describes Richens, who admits to feeling a little underwhelmed by the tech giants offerings.

“Once again it is those developers working with Google that are really trying to find added value for their products using the development kit.”

Impressive feats of computing

One area of the show that certainly couldn’t be described as underwhelming was computing. Whether is was powerful gaming machines or ultra-thin notebooks, CES offered up an array of impressive products in this space. Two of the most notable brands stealing headlines in the computing arena were Acer and ASUS.

Acer announced the impossibly thin Swift 7. “At 9mm thick the Ultrabook manages to seamlessly fit in a 14-inch HD Corning Gorilla Glass screen, 8GB of memory and a battery that will last for up to 10 hours,” says Todaro.

Acer also announced the Predator Triton 900, a 17-inch performance notebook featuring a slim design and convertible 4K display.

“However, being the thinnest or smallest wasn’t on the mind of all the brands at CES 2019,” he says, noting the impact ASUS made with its Republic of Gamers (ROG) announcements.

“ASUS chose a bold new shape for the ROG Mothership gaming laptop. Knowing that gamers usually choose to attach separate keyboards for ease of use, ASUS has introduced a detachable design that allows the user to remove the keyboard and adjust the screen to their preferred position,” explains Todaro.

The Mothership really is a laptop to be admired, with its innovative standing design that enhances cooling for its factory overclocked GeForce RTX 2080 GPU and 8th Gen Intel Core i9 CPU. And the reaction from those at the show didn’t go unnoticed by the brand either.

“2019 was a great year for the show and was a valuable opportunity for our channel partners to witness first-hand the excellent devices that we have coming in the first half of this year,” says Steve Hope, ASUS UK systems team country head. “The response to our showcase and the premium products we displayed has been nothing but glowingly positive and we look forward to other trade shows to continue showcasing our outstanding new products.”

Some impressive computing accessories from the show came in the form of TP-Link’s first AX Mesh WiFi product – the Deco X10. Featuring Mesh technology overlaid with AX speeds, the Deco X10 is designed to provide AX2700 tri-band speeds with a backhaul up to 1.95Gbps.

Western Digital also unveiled a number of impressive products, one of which was the SanDisk Extreme PRO portable SSD. The new high-performing portable SSD is estimated to be available in Spring 2019 and promises to deliver “blazing-fast sustained performance at up to 1GB/s transfer speeds and will seek to deliver IP55-rated durability”.

TVs continue to grow

As always, TV brands were out in force showcasing their super- sized screens, rollable displays and 8K TVs.

“We have seen growing demand for larger screen sizes over the years – in fact, last year, sales of jumbo TVs (65-inches or more) LG’s Signature R OLED rollable TV.

soared by 139% year-on-year as customers looked to create cinematic experiences at home,” explains Anne Eaglesfield, head of consumer electronics at Argos.

“The previews of Samsung’s ‘Wall’ and ‘Window’ displays were very impressive and demonstrate that the screen technology we all enjoy in the cinema can now truly be transferred into our homes. We’re confident that the 75-inch 4K TV will go down a storm with our customers.

“We’re also really excited to see the Signature R OLED, LG’s rollable TV, which hints at what TVs could do in the future,” she says.

“It offers a more flexible viewing experience, such as being able to open a third of the screen to see the weather and watching the unrolled screen for movies. It will also provide more control over the space typically occupied by the TV as users can choose to roll it away at specific times.”

LG's Signature R OLED rollable TV

LG's Signature R OLED rollable TV

Gekko’s Todaro says it’s hard to imagine CES without the TV brands going big with their latest and greatest creations. “And big is the operative word with brands such as Sony showcasing a monster 98-inch 8K model.

“8K is also where the world’s fastest growing TV brand, TCL, is heading, hooking up with Roku to produce what is likely to be high– quality products at sensible price points,” notes Todaro.

Looking towards the future, Eaglesfield says she also found the 8K TV announcements “very interesting”, although she believes that while 8K offers an enhanced viewing experience (with four times the resolution of 4K), there is currently no content for 8K, and as such “it will be a good few years before this standard comes close to reaching a mainstream audience, so we predict demand for 4K TVs will continue to rise this year,” says Eaglesfield.

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