CES Returns in 2018 – Here are our picks from the show floor
Another new year, another Consumer Electronics Show in January! While CES isn’t as important or exciting for the world of PCs and Windows as it once was, there are still some interesting and often bizarre products launched at the show that may pique your interest. To save you scouring the nerd-news on the internet, we’ve once again picked out our stand-out products and news items from the show.
We start with the news that Microsoft Cortana is to be joined on the Windows PC by Amazon’s digital assistant Alexa. Alexa has been in several smart-home products and now Amazon wants to roll the technology out to other platforms too. According to various sources, Alexa has 25,000 “skills” compared to Cortana’s measly 230, making the Amazon digital assistant much more flexible. Even so, we’re not sure that digital assistants are terribly useful on most PCs anyway. What’s the point of trying to talk to your computer when it’s quicker to type or use the mouse? It’s hard to see Alexa coming to Windows as anything but a blow to Microsoft, who hoped Cortana would gain traction on other platforms after users found her indispensable on their PCs.
Initially, Alexa will be coming to Acer, Asus, Lenovo and HP systems, with wider availability almost certain to follow. Alexa was also seen at the show spreading her digital wings onto smart washing machines, lighting devices and microwaves.
Smart-phones – With the disappointing news that Windows Phone is to be discontinued, there were, as you may have expected, no new Windows Phones at the show. Microsoft is now concentrating on bringing Android and iOS into the Windows ecosystem as smoothly as possible, allowing you to work seamlessly between your phone and your PC. There were the usual mix of new phones announced from major players such as Sony and LG, but little of specific interest to Windows users.
Tablets – Windows tablets remain a popular alternative to both Android and iOS tablets, offering greater flexibility and professional computing power than the alternative products. As we’ve seen in previous years, the line between laptop and tablet gets increasingly blurred, with many devices offering either removable keyboards or flip style screens that can fold down and convert into a tablet.
Asus’ impressively equipped Zenbook Flip 14 is one machine that caught our eye. Featuring the latest 8th Generation Intel CPUs, a fancy active stylus pen with 1024 pressure levels and fast charge technology, this convertible tablet/notebook is highly desirable. Expect to see it on the shelves in March for around $900. Click here to read more about the Zenbook Flip 14.
Lenovo had a range of Windows tablets on show. Their swish looking ThinkPad X1 Tablet was another eye catching convertible. Reminiscent of the Microsoft Surface, this little power-house packs an 8th Gen Intel processor, 13 inch 3K display, dual Thunderbolt ports, support for Windows Hello (facial recognition, allowing you to log onto your PC by simply looking at it) and comes with the digital assistant Alexa pre-installed. Another feature of this machine that many long-time PC users will appreciate is its “Field Serviceable” hard drive and battery. Not so long ago it would have seemed absurd, but as tablets and laptops have gotten smaller, more and more of them have used custom, integrated parts for their hard drives and batteries that can’t be removed and replaced easily.
Prices for the new ThinkPad X1 are yet to be confirmed, but this is clearly a premium product. Click here to read more.
Laptops – The laptop remains the most popular way to buy a PC, with portability and enough computational power to suit most users. This year at CES there was lots of buzz about more affordable gaming laptops thanks to new collaborative graphic chip designs from AMD and Intel.
HP had updates to its popular Spectre range of laptops. While a solid but unremarkable machine, this laptop will be the first to have an Intel CPU coupled with AMD Radeon RX Vega graphics. This is notable as AMD have been a long time rival of intel, who previously preferred to develop their own graphics processing units. It’s hoped this partnership will lead to affordable yet powerful laptops that will be almost as great for gaming as they are for working on.
If portability is your highest priority, Acer’s Swift 7 now holds the record for the thinnest laptop in the world. This slim little device is just 8.98mm thick. Despite it’s diminutive size it still manages to have a Core i7 processor, 8gb ram and a 256gb SSD. Price is expected to be around $1,699 or £1,400.
Beloved by business and anyone needing a no-nonsense, powerful work laptop, Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon (6th Gen) was the captain sensible of laptops on display at the show. Packing an 8th generation Intel processor, Thunderbolt and USB ports and a choice of full HD or 3k displays, this laptop has the power and specs to suit all business professionals. Lenovo claim their laptops are “tested against 12 military-grade requirements and more than 200 quality checks to ensure they run in extreme conditions”, making them ideal for life on the road (we’re not sure if that includes children’s sticky fingers however). Read more about the Thinkpad Carbon here.
Traditional PCs – The traditional tower or desktop PC still offers the best bang for the buck for creative professionals, gamers and power users. Even in this sector, smaller is becoming more popular, with few hulking towers on display.
Intel were showing off their NUC8i7HVK, or “Hades Canyon” mini-PC. Boasting the latest in Intel Core i7 processors, this little powerhouse was designed to power virtual reality experiences, despite being smaller than the average PC graphics card at 8.7 x 5.6 x 1.5 inches. Still, this is relatively big for a mini-PC, to make up for the increase in size, the machine packs Thunderbolt and USB connectors, twin Displayport outputs, HDMI, Wi-Fi and Ethernet. Tom’s Hardware has the full scoop here.
The “All in one” form factor remains popular too. Forgoing the bulky tower or desktop case, an all in one PC places all the hardware inside the monitor, minimising clutter on your desk. Asus showed off a range of these neat little PCs, each boasting an eighth generation Intel processor, but only a relatively humble Nvidia GeForce MX150 GPU. CNET.com has more details on these machines here.
We’ve mentioned the HP Sprout computer before, a custom designed workstation for graphics professionals and 3D artists. If you like the Sprout’s 3D scanner, but don’t need the full Sprout PC, you can soon get the camera as a standalone peripheral. This clips over your monitor and can then scan any item placed beneath it, turning it into a 3D object. If you’ve gotten into Windows Paint 3D or mixed reality, it’s a great little accessory, though at around $600 not one that’s exactly cheap. Ars Technica have the full scoop here.
Awesome accessories – Hard drives come in all shapes and sizes, but if you want affordable, you have to choose between high capacity and high speed. Sadly that doesn’t look to be changing any time soon, but if your pockets are deep enough, say hello to the Thunderblade V4 from Other World Computing. Touted as the fastest external hard drive on the market today and available in capacities up to 8TB, this beast of a drive will set you back at least $1200 when it launches later this year. Get the scoop from OWC’s webpage here.
CES is always about bigger and better, so what better place to preview the worlds biggest gaming monitor, The Nvidia BFGD monitor. No, the ‘F’ in the name isn’t an expletive, it stands for “Big Format Gaming Display”. At a whopping 65 inches, it’s certainly what most people would consider big and could easily replace a TV in a living room. Unlike any TVs on the market however, the BFGD has gamer specific features like GSync, low input lag and 120hz output. Definitely a contender for the best TV for any serious gamer. Pricing is yet to be announced but you can read more about these new monster monitors on Nvidia’s website here.
Elsewhere on the show floor there was the usual mix of weird and wonderful, from machines that fold your clothes to see through self driving delivery busses. Overall though there were few surprises for PC users this year, but some welcome and interesting updates to existing hardware.