5 Most Awesome Things at CES

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Palm Pre is All Win

Finally, someone has announced an iPhone killer that we can all get behind. The Palm Pre surprised everyone at CES with its best-of-all-worlds specs and features. We’re talking about a multi-touch phone with slide-out QWERTY keyboard and a truly innovative web-integrated user interface.

Early impressions indicate a really smooth and fast interface and web-browsing experience, with all the productivity and media features that we’ve come to expect from a modern smartphone. It’s as if Palm designers made a list of everything that was lacking from the iPhone and made a point to incorporate it here. Real GPS, MMS messaging, USB port, and removable battery lets Palm blow a raspberry at the competition. Copy and paste is just gravy. But too bad it won’t be converting iPhone users anytime in the near future – the Pre is a Sprint exclusive.

Touch is Really Good

Img credit: pcmag.com

We’re as guilty as everyone who’s compared large touch-screen displays to the gesture-controlled interface shown in the movie Minority Report, but this year’s CES was the first time that futuristic technology actually felt within our grasp (or touch, at least). Intel’s booth showcased a prototype touch screen on a special glass pane with images projected onto it. The single-touch capacitive panel let us intuitively maneuver around a 3D representation of a showroom to read about Intel’s Core-i7 processor.

What was special about this demonstration wasn’t the technology used in the touch screen, but the unique implementation with a transparent panel. This prototype may not have practical applications or ever come to market, but we’re still enamored by anything that’ll take us back to 2002 and let us relive that awesome Minority Report scene.

Windows 7 Charms Us with Betta

It might’ve been the worst kept secret at CES, but announcement of the Windows 7 public Beta was still music to our ears. And despite initial download-server woes last Friday, this beta release has been pretty successful for Microsoft. We were surprised at how easy the installation process was, whether from installing on a new partition, upgrading from within Vista, or even running with Boot Camp on a Macbook Pro.

The OS’s performance also doesn’t disappoint – it’s been as stable as rock – and the new UI improvements (taskbar, UAC, libraries, etc) feel like substantial improvements to the Windows user experience. And with the beta ending in August, there’s a real possibility of Windows 7 being dated for sometime this year. The sooner we can forget about Vista’s growing pains and look forward to a fresh Windows restart, the better.

Ultra-Thin is In

The central CES hall was predictably dominated by fleets of flatpanels, but the models unveiled this year were noticeably more modest than in years past. Gone were 150” monstrosities and the battle for the largest screen size, replaced by the newest fad in LCD monitors – ultra-thin displays. Hitachi debuted a line of 1.5” deep HDTVs, while Pioneer and JVC both amazed us with prototypes that measured less than 10mm thick. But it was Samsung that showed everyone up with their 6.5mm thin panel, taking home the “thinnest TV” title. Advances in LED backlighting is what enables the these displays to be so anorexic, with the possibility of going even thinner once OLED technology is more developed. We don’t know if these ultra-thin displays will make good role models for the next generation of image-conscious televisions, but we have to admit – they’re damn sexy.

Don’t You Dare Call These Netbooks

img credit: Brian Solis

While every system maker was showing off new netbooks, Dell and Sony bucked the trend by revealing systems that defiantly reject the netbook moniker. Dell’s 13” Adamo is a new brand that looks like a Macbook Air-killer with its svelte form-factor and minimalist aluminum design. Hardware specs for this stylish ultra-portable have yet to be released, but Dell confirmed that this will be a high-end product produced in limited quantities.

img credit: Gizmodo

Sony, on the other hand, showed off a device that doesn’t quite fall into either the netbook or UMPC categories. The almost purse-sized Vaio P runs on a 1.33GHz Atom processor, 2GB of Ram, and boots into Vista, but also uses a Sony XMB-like instant-on OS for access to media and the internet (via built-in 3G). Starting at $900 (and going up to $1500 with storage upgrades), the Vaio P is another device that, unlike netbooks, doesn’t trade power for portability – if you can afford it.

Bonus: Light Attendance

Attendance falling 22% from last year may be a sign of the struggling economy, but at least it made walking through the typically packed exhibit floors much more manageable.  We didn’t have to weave through swarms of packed crowds to make our meetings, and even the legendary taxi line waits (well over an hour in the past) were bearable. Hopefully exhibitors weren’t too discouraged by the emptier halls and will return next year.

Check back tomorrow for our Worst of CES picks!

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