Gary Kaye, founder and chief content officer of Tech50+, a website that covers consumer electronics–related topics. Based in Oxford, Connecticut, he has reported on technology for more than 30 years at various TV networks and other organizations. Tech50Plus.com
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There were cars that drive themselves…massive “bendable screen” TVs that use nanotechnology to deliver amazingly bright colors…more wearable technology than one person could wear in a lifetime…and even a 3-D printer that can “print” food. But along with the exotic and extravagant items, there were plenty of truly useful and affordable new products at this year’s annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Here are some of the best…*
TECH FOR THE HOME
Smarter doorbell: Ring Video Doorbell. Replace your current doorbell with this easy-to-install Wi-Fi–enabled video bell, and you can see who is at your door and have a conversation without ever walking to the door—even if you’re not at home. In addition to chiming like a conventional doorbell, it forwards a video image to your iOS or Android mobile device and lets you speak with the person. You could tell a delivery person to leave a package on the porch…tell a guest you’ll be right home…or tell a salesperson you’re not interested…from anywhere. If you are home, you don’t have to open your door to see what an unfamiliar visitor wants. The Ring Video Doorbell functions as a security camera, too, providing alerts when its built-in motion sensors spot activity outside your home. $199. Ring.com
Speakers that sound great in any direction: Samsung WAM6500 (about the size of a tea kettle) and WAM7500 (twice as tall). Traditional speakers sound their best only when the listener is positioned in front of them. These Samsung omnidirectional speakers fill a room with balanced, high-quality sound. Samsung is not the only company developing 360-degree sound technology, but it seems to be the first to get it right. These wireless speakers wow audiophiles, and their sleek, elongated-egg shape is stylish. The WAM6500 is portable and powered by a rechargeable battery, while the WAM7500 is designed for in-home use. Prices and release dates have not been announced. Samsung.com/us
Comfort-enhancing hot-and-cold-air vent system: Ecovent. This high-tech vent system lets you control the temperature in each room in your home individually without replacing your current heating-and-air-conditioning system (although it works better with some thermostats than others). Use it to stabilize the temperature in a room that’s hot during the day but cold at night. Or use it to limit heating and cooling of rooms when they’re not in use. You set each room’s temperature on your computer or on an iOS or Android mobile device. Ecovent’s sensors then monitor room-by-room temperatures and instruct the system’s automated vents to open and close as needed, increasing or decreasing the amount of heated or cooled air that reaches a particular room. If you have a thermostat that’s compatible with Ecovent, it can instruct the system when it needs to come on and shut off, too. Ecovent works only with forced-air systems. It’s expected to start shipping in August. Cost will be about $2,000 to deploy Ecovent throughout a four-bedroom home. A more limited system (for example, to control the temperature in only a few rooms) goes for around $500. The company that makes Ecovent says the Ecovent HVAC costs $1,300 annually, compared with a standard HVAC system, which costs about $2,000 a year. EcoventSystems.com
Wireless mold-and-water-damage-prevention system: Wally. This sensor system warns home owners of water leaks, high humidity and potentially pipe-bursting temperatures via e-mail or text message so that they can take action before small problems become large ones. It is especially useful for homes that sometimes sit unoccupied for long stretches. Unlike other wireless moisture-sensing gadgets, Wally does not need Wi-Fi, though it does require the Internet. Wally’s sensors use the copper wiring in your walls as an antenna to communicate with a hub wired into your Internet router. Its sensors are guaranteed to last at least 10 years before their batteries must be replaced. $299 for a WallyHome system, or buy components individually. WallyHome.com
Amazingly light laptop computer: Lenovo LaVie Z Ultralight Ultrabook HZ550. This laptop is just two-thirds of an inch thick and weighs 1.72 pounds—in comparison, the featherweight MacBook Air weighs 2.96 pounds. When you lift the LaVie, it seems impossible that something so light is a functioning computer. Lenovo squeezed an impressive amount of technology into this slender package, including a 13.3-inch screen, a 128-gigabyte solid state drive and the new fifth-generation Intel processor. It’s expected to reach the market in May. Starts at $1,299 versus $999 for the Macbook Air. Lenovo.com
SmartWatch that looks like a normal watch:Burg 27 Smartwatch Phone. While most smartwatches simply use Bluetooth to connect you to your smartphone, which must be nearby, the Burg 27 can connect directly to a cellular network if you pay for cellular service. It’s a way to remain in contact even if you sometimes forget your phone at home or don’t carry a phone at all. Unlike many smartwatches, with the notable exception of the new Apple Watch, the Burg 27 is stylish. It looks like a stainless steel men’s analog watch, albeit a thick one. But like a smartphone, it can run Android apps, snap photos and take and receive text messages, phone calls and even video calls. The price is $449. If you prefer to skip the cellular contract, it is compatible with an Android, Windows or iOS smartphone via Bluetooth. It’s expected to reach the market in March. BurgWearables.com
Tiny scanner that tells you what stuff is made of: SCiO. Spectrometers are not just for scientists anymore. You can point this pocket-size molecular scanner at, say, an item of food, and in seconds, using near-infrared light, it can tell you important dietary details about whatever it is you are about to consume—how many calories, sugar and carbs it has, for example, and how much fat and protein. Point it at a pill, and it may be able to confirm that the medicine is what you think it is and even warn you of counterfeit medications and supplements that don’t contain what they claim, although you can’t necessarily rely on it to help you make medical decisions. Point it at a piece of fruit in the supermarket, and it can tell you whether the fruit is ripe. SCiO also can analyze substances including oils, fuels and plastics, and it is expected to add cosmetics, clothing, jewelry and soil, among other substances, to its lineup. An Apple or Android mobile device is required. It’s expected to be available in July. $249.ConsumerPhysics.com
HEALTH AND SAFETY PRODUCTS
Affordable independent-living aide: Lively. This waterproof “safety” watch is a big step forward from the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” services. Like those services, Lively features a help button you can press in an emergency. But with the help of sensors that monitor such activities as opening a refrigerator door or pillbox, it can warn your loved ones of signs of trouble, such as missed meals or medicines and inactivity. Lively links wirelessly up to 1,500 feet to a small base station that can access a cellular network. $49.95 (onetime charge) plus $27.95 to $34.95 per month depending on how many months you sign up for. MyLively.com
Stylish, all-terrain wheelchair: Whill Model A. This battery-powered “personal mobility device” can transport you to places that conventional wheelchairs cannot. It is more compact than most wheelchairs, and its innovative “all direction” front tires can turn the chair on a dime. The Model A has four-wheel drive and lots of torque, so it can handle off-road surfaces, such as unpaved paths, and slopes of up to 10 degrees. There’s an iPhone app that lets you control the chair remotely. Its battery provides 10.6 miles of use and requires eight to nine hours to recharge. $9,500. Whill.us
*All of the items in this article are available now unless otherwise indicated.