Thursday 22 February 2018

Electric cars and smart home assistants reign at CES techfest

The Avatar iPal robot for childen, carers for the elderly and retail applications at CES in Las Vegas
The Avatar iPal robot for childen, carers for the elderly and retail applications at CES in Las Vegas
Faraday Future FF91
Lenovo Smart Assistant
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

This week, the world's attention is fixed on Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) which is the world's biggest tech trade event. Here are five of the standout products from the show.

1. Faraday Future FF 91

Last year, Faraday showed off a Batmobile-style electric car at CES. This year, it has a self-driving electric model (the FF 91) that more resembles a squished Porsche Cayenne. The difference is that this year's car is much closer to market release.

What a car that promises to be. The sleek electric saloon does zero to 100km in a staggering 2.4 seconds, propelled by the electric motoring equivalent of 1,050 horsepower - about twice the torque of a Ferrari. The self-driving element works via 10 front and rear-facing cameras, 13 long and short-range radars, 12 ultrasonic sensors and one high definition 3D LIDAR device.

Aside from making the car capable of autonomous operation on roads, Faraday also claims that it is an expert self-parker. Unfortunately, the company's demo at CES stuttered when executives tried this feature live, but they eventually got it to work.

Faraday claims that the car can take a charge from any home charger using 110 or 240 volts.

Predictably, the vehicle is being dubbed a 'Tesla killer'. But Tesla has models for sale in several countries. Faraday is far, far behind.

2. BlackBerry Press

Incredibly, BlackBerry phones still aren't dead. Chinese manufacturing giant TCL (which makes phones rebadged as own-brand models for companies such as Vodafone) owns the device brand and is determined to keep the marque alive. In this vein, it is releasing a new model which is similar to many other Android phones with the exception of a physical keyboard for writing on.

TCL is basically betting that there are still enough people out there who long for physical keys on their mobile device.

They're probably not wrong, but will this phone be good enough to prize them away from their iPhone or Samsung? The specifications of the 4.6in phone are generous in some respects, with a very long-lasting 3,400mAh battery and a decent 32GB of storage memory. There's plenty of power, too, with 3GB of Ram and a Snapdragon 625 chip. BlackBerry has been less clear about the camera, although at the time of press, we were led to believe the main rear lens was 18 megapixels, while the front selfie camera was 8 megapixels.

3. Lenovo Smart Assistant

Lenovo Smart Assistant

One of the big themes of CES - and every tech conference these days - is smart home gadgets. Google Home and Amazon Alexa have stolen a march with their voice-activated devices that connect to other household machines and the web. Now, Lenovo is getting in on the act with its Smart Assistant.

This is something of a clone of Amazon's Echo gadget, as it works with Amazon's Alexa voice system, thereby replicating its functions. However, the Lenovo device has one big advantage - it's a better music speaker.

This alone will make it interesting to people in Ireland who like the idea of a voice-activated smart home gadget but want some other benefit while we wait for more of Amazon's services (particularly the shopping-based ones) to arrive here.

In particular, Lenovo has added a Harmon Kardon version of the device that is clearly better for audio than speakers from Google or Amazon. Expect it to cost from €150 when it arrives here later this year.

4. Garmin Fenix 5 and 5S

While Apple and Fitbit may have the biggest-selling wearable devices, Garmin is the one still prized by athletes. It has just announced its latest smartwatch-cum-health tracker, the Fenix 5 and 5S. The latter model is putatively designed for women, with a smaller (42mm) watch face and a slightly more feminine-looking facade. The watches last up to 8 days on a single charge, although this is limited to 13 hours if you use the watch's heart rate tracking and active GPS signal.

As you'd expect, the watches are meant to measure pace, distance, speed and other things when you're exercising (running, biking or whatever you're into). In that vein, the tracker measures steps, calories, active minutes and sleep. It also shows you notifications from your phone. It's waterproof to 100 metres and has a QuickFit release system that allows you to change watch bands easily. It should be available in Ireland by April, costing from €650.

5. Dell Latitude 5285

The PC industry is in a bit of a bind and CES reflects that. With a few very odd exceptions (such as Microsoft's Surface Studio), laptops and desktops are withering away in everyday use, replaced by large phones for almost every function.

Only in offices and businesses are Windows PCs still really a mass market concern. Dell's answer to this at CES is the Latitude 5285, which is a near-identical clone of Microsoft's Surface Pro 4. It has a 12-inch screen and an attachable keyboard (sold separately, just like the Surface Pro). It comes with Intel chips like the Surface Pro and ships with storage drives up to one terabyte - like the Surface Pro.

The only thing that's different about this is the screen resolution, which is stuck at 'full HD' (1080p) instead of the higher resolution of the Surface Pro 4. Expect this to sell from around €900 (without the keyboard) when it arrives in Ireland later this Spring.

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