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CES 2017 roundup: The good, the bad, and the frankly bonkers

What happens in Vegas should really, really, really stay in Vegas

By Iain Thomson, 7 Jan 2017

Pics It's that time of year again, when over 100,000 people cram into the Las Vegas Convention Center to show off the latest in consumer electronics gizmos, make deals, and exchange interesting viruses to get the inevitable conference cough.

This year's CE has been about par for the course – dull keynotes, some interesting gadgets and a hell of a lot of dross. We've taken a look at some of these to save you traveling to the fetid hell that is Las Vegas.

The good

AirBar: One of the most consistent complaints Apple fans have had about the new MacBooks (besides the poor spec, high price, and lack of upgradability) is that they have no touchscreens.

Airbar

Now, however, Apple and PC owners can add touchscreen capabilities with AirBar, a nifty little device that sits under a laptop screen and scans upwards for finger gestures. It's a cheap and cheerful way of adding a function many people want.

There is a hitch – it uses USB 2.0, so Apple fans will still have to get a converter to USB Type-C for the latest MacBook line. But it's a cunning invention that is unobtrusive and very useful.

Samsung Chromebook Plus: With Chromebooks gaining ground slowly but steadily, Samsung has unveiled a couple of new models, but it's the Plus that really caught our eye.

Samsung Chromebook Plus

It's got a lot of power under the hood, a 12.3-inch touchscreen HD display, supports stylus use, and is double-jointed so that it can pass as a tablet. It can also run Android apps within the Chrome OS, albeit sometimes with limited functionality. But if you're a Chromebook fan it's well worth a look.

Alexa on Smartphones: Amazon's personal assistant Alexa might only be sitting in the Echo at the moment, but that will change.

alexa

Huawei was the first smartphone manufacturer to build Alexa into a smartphone with its Mate 9, but it won't be the last. The technology will be going up against Siri on iOS and Google's Assistant, and its success is by no means certain.

But enough people seem to like Alexa and more competition in this sphere is always welcome. Alexa on mobile may be another Fire-like failure, but Amazon's making a serious play and may pull off popularity.

Willow breast pump: At first sight this was heading for the bad category – tech bros telling women how to manage their feeding – but after having talked to some mothers, it looks like rather a good idea.

Willow

Conventional breast pumps are clumsy and cumbersome devices. The Willow is quiet, can be worn while doing other things, and expresses a baby's nutrition without inconveniencing the mother.

The firm will make a lot of money from the consumables (plastic milk bags and sterile tubes), but the idea is a good one and should prove valuable.

The Bad

Autonomous cars: Various motor manufacturers have been showing off their autonomous vehicles and the results have been very mixed.

Faraday

Faraday unveiled its electric supercar, and we're a tad cynical about the whole thing. It's likely to have the lifespan of a snowflake in a blast furnace.

Other manufacturers will probably have longer lifespans, but it's still very early days for the self-driving car. Certain functions have been added but we're a long way from never having to drive the commute, and that's assuming legal and liability issues can be worked out.

Acer Predator 21X: OK, we all know gamers pay over the odds for a good gaming laptop, but Acer is asking $9,000 for the 21X and that's more than a touch too much.

Acer

Yes it has a curved screen, and plenty of grunt under the hood. But bring one of these to a gaming convention and everyone's going to be wondering who has more money than sense – and it won’t be hard to spot the suspects.

Yes, gamers spend money. But come on Acer, don't take the piss.

Artificial intelligence: It seems as though everyone has a product claiming to have AI built in – but that's not how it works.

HAL

It's possible to get an intelligent system if you have the processing power and data-handling capabilities, but too many people at CES seem to think that putting a low level of predictive software in something makes it the equivalent of HAL.

We've seen people claiming to have AI smartwatches, for goodness sake. If the IT industry wants to avoid AI becoming nothing more than a buzzword, it needs to pull itself together and stop over-egging the pudding.

VR/AR: We had hoped to see some real advances on the virtual and augmented reality front, but there was precious little to be seen.

Lenovo

Lenovo had a lowish-cost headset (pictured), but it's very much a me-too device along the lines of Oculus or HTC. There was little added in here to really excite users.

There were plenty of startups showing off prototype VR/AR devices but it's unlikely that many of them will see the light of day in a commercial setting. It seems we'll have to wait a little longer for a bold, new, virtual future.

And now, the Bonkers

Project Valerie: Speaking of ripping off gamers with dumb ideas, Razer took this a stage further than Acer with Project Valerie.

Valerie

Valerie is a three-screen laptop – yes you read that right. As well as the main screen there are two full-size secondary screens that pull out from the lid. The result is a laptop that looks as ridiculous as it sounds – it's neither possible to use it on your lap and the whole unit is chunkier than a 1990s Apple Powerbook and requires a whole desk to use.

We know this is only a concept design and it may never see the light of day. But it's certainly fitting the bonkers moniker.

Microbot Push: Now we're all for robots at The Reg, but the Microbot Push is just plain madness.

Microbot

It's a "robot" that pushes buttons and claims to turn dumb devices into smart ones. You stick the $42 device over a button and can then push it remotely using a smartphone app.

Bear in mind that it's seemingly designed for equipment with big red buttons, that plenty of objects you sensibly want to control from your phone over the internet won’t have such a button, and that things like kettles probably won’t be able to use it, so you can't even make a cup of tea with it, and you have something destined for landfill very soon. You're not going to hook this thing up to the emergency stop button on your workshop equipment or industrial machinery, right? Shit.

Satnav jeans: French firm Spinali Design has come up with smart jeans for women, because everyone knows how useless women are at directions and the addle-headed little dears need all the help they can get.

jeans

The jeans, and jean shorts, come with builtin chips and a vibrating gizmo on each side that rumble to direct the wearer (not even kidding). Link these jeans to mapping software and one leg or the other will vibrate to tell the wearer which direction to go in without needing to remove your smartphone from a bag or pocket.

Frankly, if I gave my wife a set of these, she'd punch me, and with good reason. You'd be better off saving your money and getting a cab instead.

Kérastase Hair Coach: We've covered this once but it has to make this list.

jeans

The idea is simple, in both senses of the word. The $200 hairbrush has sensors to monitor how you brush your hair and how roughly, whether it's wet or dry, and a microphone to listen out for dry hair tangles. It then feeds all that data into an app that checks local weather and wind speed.

The app will then recommend a suitable hair product to use on the day (Kérastase is the posh hair products arm of L'Oréal) and how to style yourself. Or you could just look out of the window and figure it out for yourself. ®

Honorable mentions

Here are some photos from CES 2017 of ludicrous gear snapped by one of our favorite Twitter accounts:

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