The best of CES 2012

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The giant Consumer Electronics Show 2012 is on display this week in Las Vegas, with its annual outpouring of electronic wonders. Here’s our take on the best stuff this year.

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Nokia Lumia 900

Nokia charges back into the smartphone market with a portfolio of Windows Phones led by the Lumia 900, a somewhat larger version of the overseas Lumia 800 model. Polycarbonate never looked so good. The 900 additions: the larger, 4.3-inch screen (as with the 800: AMOLED, at 800 x 480 resolution); support for LTE/4G cellular. The Qualcomm 1.4GHz CPU and 512MB of RAM should make Windows Phone 7.5 just as quick and smooth as it is on the 800 and 710 models.

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Intel Ultrabooks

Ultrabooks are one the CES 2012 Big Deals. Intel is pushing them hard, and unveiled this prototype, which is a hybrid of tablet and ultrabook. Intel calls it a slider: while open, it can be used as a regular laptop; when closed, it can be transformed into a flat tablet with a touchscreen. The hybrids "will come out later this year," according to Intel. Ultrabooks are designed to be, you know, ultra: ultra-thin, ultra-fast startup, longish if not ultra-long on battery life, ultra-secure.

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Lantronix xPrintServer

Lantronix shows off its Apple iOS print server, introduced in December. It plugs by a cable into your Ethernet network. Then your iPad, iPhone, iPod touch and other iOS devices can print documents to any network-connected printer. The device supports thousands of printer models, and will be available this quarter.

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Wilson Electronics' Sleek 4G-V mobile signal booster

4G is barely here and already we need signal boosters? Wilson Electronics is demonstrating its contribution, the Sleek 4G-V, for Verizon Wireless' LTE network (as well anyone's 2G or 3G network). The actual electronics form the back of a cradle (shown) into which you slide your phone. You plug in the portable antenna, then the power adapter, and slide your phone into the cradle. Various accessories let you attach it in your car or an office window. It also works with data-only devices like Verizon JetPack or Mi-Fi units.

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Broadcom 802.11ac chips

Chipmaker Broadcom is showing off something we've not seen before: Wi-Fi with a 1.3 Gigabit data rate. At product demonstrations, you'll see the company's new family of '802.11ac' chips (the IEEE spec won't be ready until 2013, but vendors will introduce routers, TVs, set top boxes and the like by mid-2012). The chips run only in the cleaner 5GHz band, and their data rates range from 430Mbps to the aforementioned gig.

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Asus Padfone Even for CES, this is odd

The show chose the Padfone, from Taiwan's Asustek Computer (aka Asus), as one of its 2012 Innovations Honorees. The device combines a smartphone with a dumb tablet: the phone nestles into the back of the larger touchscreen for Web browsing and other tasks using the big screen. But Asustek unveiled the device in May 2011, and at the last minute, said it will release Padfone next month, at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

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Velocity Micro Shine projector

Velocity Micro's new Shine projector packs a lot into a 4-inch, 9-ounce package: 300 lumen display with 1280 x 768 WXGA High Definition resolution. With a min-HDMI cable, the projector can plug into laptops, tablets, and smartphones, to create crisp, clear images on walls, ceilings or screens. It uses a Texas Instrument Digital Light Processing chip, which is a standard memory cell, with a top-mounted array of microscopic hinged mirrors.

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Behringer iNuke

Behringer introduced a 900-pound, 8-foot-by-4-foot-by-4-foot iPod dock that costs $30,000. It boasts dual 18-inch subwoofers at 3,000 watts apiece and can run off two 15-amp residential circuits, according to the company. The company does have a $99 iPod dock for those with a little less free cash.

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Sony SmartWatch

This small device links to Android phones via Bluetooth and runs a suite of custom mini-apps, including those supporting feeds from Twitter and Facebook. The device, which is approximately the shape and size of an iPod Nano, including the clip on the rear, is an apparent successor to the Sony Ericsson LiveView, which was first announced in 2010. It will debut worldwide some time near the end of March. Representatives at Sony's booth wore the device, which was synched with demo models of the company's two new Xperia smartphones. However, Sony said it will also work with other Android devices, through an app called LiveWare.

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Samsung 55-inch OLED smart TV

The Korean manufacturer's 2012 lineup of smart TVs will include this 55-inch model with an ultra-bright OLED display. The TVs will also have facial recognition, switching to different preferences and home screens based on which member of a family sits down to watch. From this year, its smart TV lineup will also have upgrade slots, allowing for faster hardware and graphics to be plugged in without the need to buy a completely new product. Samsung is also aggressively pursuing new content for its TVs, including a TV version of the Angry Birds game by spring.

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Lenovo IdeaPad YOGA

We're not sure how to classify Lenovo's IdeaPad YOGA, though the vendor calls it the "first multi-mode notebook with a 360 degree flip-and-fold design." Whatever you call it, you can munge it into four different styles, as shown in this CES photo (via PhoneNews.com), and it will run Windows 8. Among the few details revealed: 13.3-inch multi-touch, 1600-by-900-pixel screen; unspecified Intel Core processor; up to 8GB RAM and 256GB of solid state disk; eight hours of battery life.

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Huawei Ascend P1 S smartphone

China's Huawei unveiled what it says is the world's thinnest smartphone - at 0.23 inches thick - an Android 4.0 handset dubbed the Ascend P1 S. It marks Huawei's foray into the high-end phone market. Into that thin package, the vendor packs a dual-core 1.5GHz processor, a 4.3-inch Super AMOLED screen, with 540-by-960-pixel resolution, 1GB of RAM, an 8-megapixel camera, 11n Wi-Fi and HSDPA/HSUPA cellular.

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Corning Gorilla Glass 2

Folks are going ape-stuff over Corning's announcement of Gorilla Glass 2, for smartphone and tablet touch screens, among other uses. The new version means displays can be 20% thinner but just as strong as the original. That almost certainly will not lead to "thinner smartphones" but it will mean greater visibility and "less resistance for touch-sensing components," according to a Corning executive. Corning is shipping samples now with mass production by mid-2012. Corning's original product became famous almost overnight when Apple touted its capabilities in the first iPhone.

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Sony Xperia Ion

Sony (or perhaps more accurately "OMG Sony???!!!") unveiled a new sleek smartphone for AT&T's LTE network: the Sony Xperia Ion - 4.6-inch, 1280-by-720-pixel display, HDMI-out with a TV launcher interface, 1.5 GHz CPU, super thin design, and a 12-megapixel camera (Peter Jackson could use this to shoot the rest of "The Hobbit"). As PCWorld's Ginnie Mies says: "pretty droolworthy." Size-wise: 2 x 2.7 x 0.4 inches, weighing 5.1 oz.

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HP Envy 14 Spectre

This device is a marvel, but not because of its lightweight glass, which seems almost everywhere on this ultrabook. Nor because it's just 0.79 inches thick, and weighs just under 4 pounds. Nor due to its near-field communications radio, the Intel Core i5 processor based on the Sandy Bridge microarchitecture, the 1600-by-900-pixel resolution display, nor for the 8GB max of RAM or the 256GB solid-state disk. It's because HP fits a 1600-by-900 pixel, 14-inch screen inside a 13.3-inch body. Other features: USB 3.0, HDMI, Ethernet, and DisplayPort interfaces; up to nine hours of battery life; and a price tag that starts at around £1,000.

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Qualcomm Snapdragon S4

Qualcomm unveiled the latest member of its ARM-based Snapdragon S4 system-on-chip family, a 1.5GHz quad-core chip designed for smart TVs and other devices that don't need cellular connectivity. And it showed off a range of PC prototypes, running a prerelease version of Windows 8, all powered by other S4 chips, with integrated LTE for AT&T's cellular network. The demonstration is further evidence of Qualcomms ambition to expand outside the smartphone market into new classes of mobile devices. Details of the mobile S4 family were announced in November; expect to see S4-powered devices emerging later this year.

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Intel smartphone reference design

Intel unveiled a smartphone reference design that manufacturers can use to create high-end handsets based on Intel's upcoming Medfield version of its Atom processor. Lenovo showed off a prototype, the K800 smartphone, running the Atom Z2460 chip at 1.6 Ghz: 4.5-inch screen, video playback at 720p resolution, and using Lenovo's Android-based LeOS user interface. Mike Bell, vice president and general manager of Intel's mobile wireless group, showed a Z240 design with a 4-inch screen and an 8-megapixel camera; a production model might include NFC.

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Dell's first ultrabook

Dell announced its first ultrabook, the XPS, which has a 13-inch screen, weighs 2.99 pounds, is just 0.2 inches thick, has battery life up to eight hours, and boots in seconds. It's powered by any of the Intel dual-core Core processors; has up to 256GB of solid-state drive storage and 4GB of RAM. The laptop has a USB 3.0 port and a webcam.

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Audi's gesture-driven dashboard

Audi is showing an experimental dashboard concept, which projects three separate displays onto the car's windshield and responds to hand gestures. The heads-up display is driven by three small digital-light-processing projectors that are embedded in the dashboard and throw images upward. Two cameras use image detection and infrared to create a virtual 3D space below the windshield: They capture one-handed flicking gestures used to sort through screens or select items. Mercedes-Benz is also showing a car concept where drivers can pull up information about surrounding scenery by pointing at it.

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Belkin Thunderbolt Express Dock

At least four vendors announced peripherals that use Apple's high-speed Thunderbolt data interface. Belkin introduced the new $300 Thunderbolt Express Dock (shown) whose specs include: three USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire 800 port, one HDMI port, one 3.5mm audio port, one gigabit Ethernet port, and two Thunderbolt ports for daisy-chaining to other Thunderbolt devices.

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Polaroid's Android smartcameraphone

Polaroid figures that people want to mainly take pictures, and occasionally make a call. Ergo, the SC1630 Smart Camera, which looks like a miniature Polaroid camera from the front, with the traditional black exterior and a 3x optical lens that extends out beneath a standard camera flash to take 16-megapixel photos, and with Bluetooth. The flip side: a display with the familiar Android home screen, a grid of apps, and home buttons at the bottom. Polaroid is still in negotiation with carriers. The company hopes to have Android 4.0 on the final device.

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Motorola Droid 4 for LTE

The fourth edition of the Droid features all of the top-notch specs that you'd expect from a modern smartphone: a 1.2GHz dual-processor, 4G LTE connectivity and an 8MP, 1080p HD still/video camera. And like just about every Android smartphone at CES, it runs on Android 2.3 ("Gingerbread") with promises of a forthcoming upgrade to Android 4.0. Unlike the original, this edition features a very solid physical keyboard with distinctly embossed keys that makes typing on your smartphone a breeze.

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AMD Trinity-based ultrathin laptops

Advanced Micro Devices demonstrated its upcoming mobile chips for thin-and-light laptops, which the company said will lead to cheaper but equally speedy alternatives to Intel's expensive ultrabooks. AMD said its chips, code-named Trinity, draw around 17 watts of power, roughly the same as upcoming ultrabook chips based on Intel's Ivy Bridge microarchitecture. Laptops based on dual- and quad-core Trinity processors will be released later this year with starting prices possibly as low as $500, AMD said.

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HzO "WaterBlock" for iPhones/gadgets

A Utah-based company has developed a way to make iPhones and other gadgets waterproof. CES attendees have been pulling up short at HzO's demonstrations, which include a fully functional iPhone repeatedly submerged in water yet still playing music, and an iPad that works after it has been dunked, with pockets of water still visible under the touch screen. The technology isn't intended for prolonged exposure under water, rather as a way to protect products when they're accidentally dropped in the toilet or the bath, for instance. HzO has finalized its "WaterBlock" technology and is pursuing contracts with major manufacturers.

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