LAS VEGAS--If it's January, it must be CES.
The Consumer Electronics Show (or CES, as it's affectionately known) is the technology industry's annual megaconvention, bringing together more than 140,000 attendees to see the latest and greatest products, services, and apps--the building blocks of our increasingly tech-centric, hyper-connected 21st century culture.
For 2012, the tech experts at CNET have once again had the privilege of managing the official Best of CES awards. This year, our team of editors has identified the most promising products in 10 categories--and named one of them as the best overall product of the show. The best products we found at CES 2012 are as follows:
car tech: QNX CAR 2 mobile apps platform
The current market for smartphones is dominated by Android phones and Apple's iPhone. But two experienced juggernauts have teamed up to take them on: Nokia and Microsoft. The Lumia 900 represents Nokia's return to the U.S. market, with a new superphone running Microsoft's excellent (if ill-named) Windows Phone 7 operating system. If the gorgeous design isn't enough, there's a brilliant touch-screen display, support for 4G LTE, and a powerful camera. Read more about the Nokia Lumia 900.
Best camera: Fujifilm X-Pro 1
"3D printing" is another one of those misleading tech terms. No, it's not about publishing kids books that require 3D glasses. In fact, 3D printing is the process of home fabrication--making actual real-world ("3D") objects from the three-dimensional blueprints you design (or download) on your computer. We saw two promising 3D printers at the show, but the the MakerBot Replicator one-ups the rival Cube 3D with "dualstrusion" technology, meaning it can print objects in multiple colors and materials. Preorder now for $1,999, and you'll be able to start your backroom factory when the MakerBot ships in mid-February. Read more about the MakerBot Replicator 3D printer.
Best home theater product: Simple.TV DVR/video streamer
In the laptop realm, CES 2012 has been all about ultrabooks, the thin, light, and supersleek Windows alternatives to the MacBook Air. The newly announced HP Spectre distinguished itself from the pack with an all-glass lid and palm rest. (Don't worry about it cracking--it's the same superstrong Gorilla Glass found in cell phone screens.) At a CES devoid of many eye-popping laptops, the Spectre could be the most stylish of the bunch. Beats Audio is included on this premium ultrabook, along with an inset analog wheel for volume control, support for near-field communication (NFC), and HP Wireless Audio. Alas, you're going to pay for having the coolest laptop at the coffee shop: prices start at $1,399 when it ships in February. Read more about the Envy 14 Spectre.
Best software/app: BlueStacks for Windows
Wireless routers are backbone of any home network, but they're no longer limited to just converting your home broadband to Wi-Fi. The D-Link Amplifi HD Media Router 3000 DIR-857 is perhaps the best do-it-all "Swiss Army Knife" router we've seen at the show. When released later this month, the DIR-857 will optimize online video (think Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Go) with blazing dual-band speeds and an "HD Fuel" feature, which prioritizes video streams. Additionally, it's got USB 3.0 for optimal connections to connected devices (printers, storage) and the ability to access and manage via a Web browser, iOS, or Android apps. Read more about the D-Link flagship DIR-857.
Best tablet: Asus Memo 370T
Best TV/Best of Show: LG 55EM9800 OLED TV (see photo at top)
For years, the future of TV display technology was said to be OLED (organic light-emitting display) technology, which offers excellent performance (absolute black levels, ultrafast panel, and excellent viewing angles) without the need for backlighting. The technology is already used in many cell phone displays, but--after years of teasing 24- and 30-inch models--both LG and Samsung came to CES 2012 with full-size 55-inch OLED TVs that they're pledging to release before the end of the year. The models are very similar, but we gave the edge to the LG 55EM9800 because it was the only one to get an actual model number and public ship date ("Q3"). The TV was the jaw-dropper of the show, packing its gorgeous picture into a frame that's just 4mm thick. No price was provided, but expect this one to bust the bank account when it ships. In this case, however, it may just be worth it. Read more about LG's 55-inch OLED TV.