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:
Best car tech: QNX CAR 2 mobile apps platform
Techies know that Canada's Research In Motion is hard at work upgrading the next generation of BlackBerry smartphones to a new operating system known as QNX. What's less well known is that QNX is also being prepped for deployment to cars. At CES 2012, the QNX-powered dashboard wowed us, with an innovative application of NFC (near-field communication) technology to instantly and automatically pair a Bluetooth smartphone, Ultra HD voice technology that brings stereo CD quality audio to phone calls, and apps integration for both front- and backseat passengers. If this is the car of tomorrow, we can't wait to gas it up--or recharge the battery, as the case may be..
Best cell phone: Nokia Lumia 900
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. .
Best camera: Fujifilm X-Pro 1
The big trend in cameras is the move toward so-called "interchangeable lens cameras," or ILCs, which generally offer much better quality than point-and-shoot and megazoom cameras, but in smaller and lighter form factors than dSLRs. Fujifilm is tossing its hat in the ring with the new X-Pro 1, its first mirrorless model. Targeted at professionals, the camera incorporates several innovations, including a promising new sensor with a color filter array and lovely hybrid viewfinder, all in a sleek retro design that builds on the company's earlier.
Best emerging tech product: MakerBot Replicator
"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.
Best home theater product: Simple.TV DVR/video streamer
The Simple.TV DVR might just be the next big thing for cable-cutters. It's improbably a DVR without a built-in hard drive or video output, instead letting you supply your own hard drive, then stream live and recorded over-the-air TV to the Simple.TV app available on iPad, Roku, Boxee, Google TV. Simple.TV can stream your live and recorded over-the-air TV outside your home network (Slingbox-style), as long as you sign up for the $5/month premium service. Think of it like your own personal cloud-based video server for your over-the-air TV.
Best computer: HP Envy 14 Spectre
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.
Best software/app: BlueStacks for Windows
Windows 8 just got a kick in the apps via BlueStacks. The program, which will ship preinstalled on select Windows 8 machines, will bring the entire Android Market to Microsoft's nascent OS when it eventually ships (word is, that will be by the end of 2012). So when Windows 8 launches, more than 400,000 Android apps will be at your fingertips. Even better, BlueStacks is designed to be fully integrated into Windows' new "Metro" interface, so your key Android apps can get their own dedicated tile.
Best networking/storage product: D-Link Amplifi HD Media Router 3000 (DIR-857)
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.
Best tablet: Asus Memo 370T
The Amazon Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet upended the tablet market at the end of 2011 by offering "good enough" small-screen tablets for under $250. If the Asus Memo 370T is any indication, we may see the list of caveats at that price point all but disappear. Powered by the new quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3, the 7-inch Android 4.0 tablet proves that premium performance doesn't require a premium price. In spite of its low asking price, the Asus Memo 370T comes stocked with 1GB of system RAM, 16GB of storage, an 8-megapixel camera, HDMI output, and a 1,280x800-pixel resolution IPS (in-plane switching) screen.
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.