On Location - CES 2012

Las Vegas saw plenty of action again as the Consumer Electronics Show went into full swing this week in the Nevada desert, with tons of new mobile gadgets and companies there to show off their wares for 2012. Eager to build on my first experience from last year, I spent considerable time covering the exhibit floor looking at devices and meeting with both manufacturers and vendors.

While not everything at the show was being "on show", I managed to get a good indication of what users will be seeing later on in the year, and in some cases as soon as a few weeks. Slates continue to be a major theme as they were last year, but there were just as many new notebooks to show off as well. Read on to see everything I was able to find!


Being familiar with the territory this year, I managed to get a head start on Tuesday morning as I headed for the south hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Except that it took me longer than planned to cover the entire show. Maybe the crowds were larger, maybe I spent more time with more vendors this year, or were my feet just slow? There was certainly plenty to see, lots of people to talk to, and many miles of walking!

I got to see quite a lot of interesting new products as far as netbooks, notebooks, slates and accessories go. While some gadgets and companies I expected to see at the show were strangely absent, many newer entrants took their spot showing off devices worthy of a closer look.


Readers of lgpOnTheMove know that notebooks are the number one item here, so it's no accident that I would be featuring the number one performance notebook for 2012. Much like Eurocom and Sager, Ace Computer, based out of Chicago, sell and build units from Clevo. On display was their X58-based Raptor, a beast of a machine featuring a desktop-class Core i7 CPU, dual graphics cards, triple hard drive capability and 17.3" display. More exciting, however, was the X79-based Raptor 7, featuring the newest and most powerful socket 2011 hexa-core desktop CPU. Unfortunately, Ace couldn't quite get their Raptor 7 prototype to the show, but have indicated full retail shipments to begin in February. Considering that the Core i7-3960X alone runs over $1000, pricing for the fully-loaded X79 behemoth will easily run in the high four digits.

Over in the Microsoft section of the show, I was able to catch HP's refresh of their Envy 14 notebook. It's about time users get to enjoy a 1600x900 display on the small and sexy Envy, but HP also includes a back-lit keyboard, digital volume dial, and beats audio system. Weighing in at 5.7lbs with an MSRP of $1049.99, the mobile Sandy Bridge notebook doesn't quite compete with ultrabooks on thinness or weight, but rather offers an optimal audio and video experience for music and HD movie fans. Much like it's predecessor, you'll need to pony up for an external optical drive.

A far more interesting notebook on display came from Toshiba. The Portege M930 is a 13.3" ULV Sandy Bridge unit with a unique mid-mounted display hinge. The design allows the 1280x800 touch display to work in either notebook mode, opening like a clamshell, or lie flat on top of the keyboard and operate much like a slate. Weighing in at just 4.2lbs and only 1.1" thick, it makes for a light touch PC with capabilities current Android and Apple slates cannot match.

Of course, such swivel touch display notebooks today could be considered concept devices, being exhibited purely to make a case for Windows 8. Sony also had a concept prototype displayed very similar to the Toshiba model, using a different type of hinge mechanism, but without any specs listed. With the upcoming Windows 8 OS integrating touch functionality in the UI, manufacturers are apparently readying their designs for this year's major release from Microsoft, assuming of course that MS keeps to a H2 release schedule for Windows 8.

Ultrabooks were all the rage this year at CES, with HP, Toshiba and Lenovo, among others, showing their Macbook Air challengers, much to Intel and Microsoft's smug satisfaction. The show stopper, without any doubt, was Asus with it's newest Zenbook UX21. Mocking netbooks with it's 2.4lb weight and razor thin 0.7" profile, the uber-sexy notebook serves up ULV Sandy Bridge internals, 11.6" 1366x768 display and 128GB of SSD storage. The downer is the price, at $1199, which is still above the target sub-$999 price envisioned by Intel.


I managed to spot more than one Cedar Trail netbook at the show from Lenovo, Toshiba and Asus. With the attention being focused on slates and ultrabooks, however, very little information was being shared regarding the 32nm Atom successor. I was unable to find a HP 210 Mini with Cedar Trail, or track down a Toshiba NB305 with the same. I'm guessing they were at the show somewhere, perhaps hidden under a counter... Cedar Trail is definitely here today, so netbook fans can feel comfortable knowing that the versatile 10" mobility and productivity tools are not dead yet.


In a much more toned down fashion as compared to last year's show, slates were still plenty and getting the attention. Of interesting note was that there were no Windows tablets being displayed. They were there at the show, but vendors choosing to hide them from view, only showing them when a specific request was made. I can attest to this first hand, having one discussion with a manufacturer openly admitting that he chose not to display Windows hardware. The reason? Obviously Windows 7 has lost it's cool, while Windows 8 is still yet to be released.

Of the Windows 8 slates I did see, many were being shown with Cedar Trail internals, proving that the updated Atom platform is adept inside a slate form-factor. While these units weren't from the big name manufacturers, their presence makes the argument for Windows 8 slates all the more plausible. Don't be surprised if CES 2013 gets flooded with Windows 8 slates!

The image shown here is another such example of a Windows 8 slate, complete with a keyboard docking unit. It's very akin to a two-piece netbook, with the screen and keyboard separated. But while many slate fans appreciate a hardware keyboard accessory, I find it somewhat superfluous - attaching a keyboard defeats the whole mobility advantage of slates.

How well this hybrid solution competes with the netbook will be something I'm interested in seeing pan out. For the first time now, slates and netbooks will be available with identical internals, software and OS. That will really give the consumer choice, being able to pick just a screen to use, add on a detachable keyboard, or go both full-time with a netbook. In any event, x86 hardware paired with Windows will open up applications Android and Apple slates can only dream of.

Cedar Trail too slow for you? Samsung had this Series 7 slate showing off with it's ULV Sandy Bridge internals. The 11.6" 1366x768 display, 7 hour battery life and 2lb weight are very appealing specifications. And while it may be shipping with Windows 7 today, you can bet it will be running Windows 8 the minute Microsoft makes the official announcement. MSRP $1099.

Razer, a company better known for it's gaming peripherals, had one very interesting prototype on display in the form of their Project Fiona gaming slate. Packing controllers on either side of the screen, the Core i7-equipped 10.1" concept device could well be not only the handheld to beat when it comes to portable gaming, but take PC gaming to a new level as well. It will be interesting to see the reaction of gaming enthusiasts.


Zalman had a large booth this year with a ton of interesting gear, but something that did catch my eye was their newest notebook cooler, the ZM-NC3500 PLUS. Much the same as the ZM-NC3000S I personally own and use, the updated cooler comes with a 220mm variable speed fan on an aluminum housing. But rather than use drilled holes, the NC3500 now has a full-face mesh panel to provide near-unimpeded airflow. In addition, the back of the unit now has four USB ports to double as a hub. I'm hoping to get my hands on this unit to see how much better it cools compared to the NC3000S which I was so impressed with previously.


You know things are going well for you when you hand out 5x more business cards than the year before. I'm also happy to now be familiar with the territory at CES and come prepared for every show. Just as I did last year, I had a blast attending CES 2012. The products I saw were amazing, my discussions with exhibitors very encouraging, and the people I talked to extremely friendly and open. Most importantly, I feel I've given lgpOnTheMove some much needed exposure. With the show winding down to a close, it's now time to cash in on my networking efforts and see what gets delivered next on my doorstep. No doubt, the following weeks and months will come with a lot of activity here on lgpOnTheMove, so stay tuned for more articles and reviews!


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