Last night, PepCom held its Digital Experience! event in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, bringing together a few dozen of the tech industry’s movers and shakers in a well-catered, safari-themed expo. So what looked good? The salmon kebabs and the mango salad was terrific. Oh, and there were gadgets.
Most of the goodies present last night had already made their debut on the tech blogs, but it was the first time most were available to journalists to putter around with. The first gizmo I got my hands on was Sony Ericsson’s new 8-megapixel CyberShot phone, which is every bit as gorgeous as you’d expect. The device felt solid in-hand, navigated its menus fluidly, and converted back and forth between camera mode with little delay. Also on hand was Sony Ericsson’s W350a, a tightly-packaged little phone with a superfluous, flip-open keypad cover, but a terrific slim and light form factor and the capacity for almost 500 songs right out of the box.
Over at the Nokia table, things were looking equally promising. The first gizmo I picked up was the touch-screen N83, which sports a little foldable leg on its backside that allows users to prop it up when viewing videos. While I’m not a fan of most stylus-based UIs, the buttons and icons on the N83’s screen were big and bright enough that my fingernail served the purpose for most quick navs. I also had the pleasure of fiddling with the new 5310, a music-driven device with three of its music player buttons running up the left-hand side of the screen. A formidable competitor for the likewise-tiny W350a I mentioned above, the 5310 pumps out about 3000 songs and boasts an internal speaker loud enough to seriously annoy anyone else on the subway next to you. Even with the dull din of the PepCom crowd around me, I cranked up a song by the band Panic at the Disco! and got some heads turning.
Next stop was the Lenovo table, where they were showing off two ultra-portable notebooks weighing 2.4lbs and sporting some nifty touch-sensitive, stylized buttons above the keyboard. (I failed miserably at photographing these with my iPhone, but you can almost get the idea.) The company reps couldn’t tell me too much about the parts spec — the device is quite new — but they could tell me it would retail for around $1800 USD, which suggests a high-end processor (perhaps that tiny 1.8GHz Core 2 Duo premiered in the MacBook Air) and probably a 64GB solid state hard drive. The machine will sport two different color options; one features a red metallic lid with a subtle flame-like design engraved upon it, and the other version is jet black.
At rival notebook-maker Toshiba’s table, several people were messing around with that company’s new Qosimo notebooks, the largest of which features a massive screen, two 250GB hard drives, and a motion-sensitive camera that allows users to manipulate the interface using hand gestures. When this was announced, quite a few tech blogs trounced it as impractical and silly — after all, wouldn’t this system tire out your arms? — but in practice, it worked better than I expected. The Toshiba reps seemed to have gotten it down-pat with only a couple weeks of toying, and were happy to demonstrate photo slideshows and other such multimedia tasks being peformed with nothing more than a fist and thumb. Of course, these aren’t tasks that couldn’t be done just as easily with a remote control; then again, unless you have a trackball remote, you’re not going to get the flexibility the gesture system affords.
Blackberry was on hand with their range of currently available devices (snore) as well as the somewhat cooler Bold, which should be coming out on AT&T this summer. The Bold’s screen is ultra-high resolution, though not terribly big, and watching a movie trailer on it was something of an exercise in frustration. For such a bright, densely-saturated screen, it begged to be bigger. This isn’t quite a multimedia phone, but the RIM folks are headed in the right direction. After getting a demo of the Bold, which will not feature UMA (the ability to make WiFi calls, as on some T-Mobile Blackberrys) I asked the company reps why they hadn’t brought their forthcoming flip phone, the Kickstart. One of them grinned knowingly, and assured me he had no idea what device I was referring to.
One outstanding device making its debut at the event was the ZoomBak, a perversely clever little tracking device that uses assisted GPS (also known as A-GPS) to draw data from satellites and nearby cell networks to locate itself within thirty feet. It’s simply a locator: strap it to anything you want to locate (dog, kid, husband, car) and it will keep you apprised of its target’s location for days without charging. It’s light, sturdy — I threw it at the ground a few times, to no avail — and water-resistant. The device’s website lets you set up perimeter “zones” that, when breached by the device, will prompt an email and a text message telling you of the breach. Naturally, this could save a lot of lost pets and severely undercuts the automotive locator system, LoJack, in price — the device is set to be less than $200 with a subscription rate of $10 a month — but could also result in a considerable breach of family privacy. Cheating spouses, truent kids, and liars of all stripes should watch out.
For the gamers in the crowd, there was the Novint Falcon, a funky-looking gaming-specific input device that lets users control their games with semi-realistic gestures. The device has two attachments: a gun and an all-purpose orb with buttons. I played a little Tiger Woods Golf with it, and if I were a gamer, $189 would be worth it for something like this. Company reps say the library of compatible games is growing steadily, with big game-makers like EA committed already.
Also on hand was Vizio, the out-of-nowhere star of the flatscreen television market. They were debuting several 120Hz HDTVs, which offer a higher refresh-rate (and therefore more consistent picture) than standard HDTVs. The company was also showing off a rare 32-inch Plasma TV; most Plasmas start above 42 inches. In addition, it seems that Vizio has jumped on the green bandwagon, offering an “eco” TV in signature white and silver, and uses half the power of a normal set (the company rep on hand couldn’t give me hard numbers on wattage, as the eco model is brand new, but we made a collaborative educated guess at around 70 or 80 watts).
All in all, some terrific gear for summer, most of which will be available just in time for air-conditioning season in July and August.