CES Champions

2012 Consumer Electronics Show’s Best: Galaxy Note to Vizio (PHOTOS)

Dan Lyons rounds up the top new products at CES, from the new Razr Maxx to Android TV.

(clockwise from top left) Julie Jacobson / AP; Motorola; Microsoft Inc.; Razer

(clockwise from top left) Julie Jacobson / AP; Motorola; Microsoft Inc.; Razer

The annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is a strange mixture of heaven and hell. It’s heaven for gadget geeks who can wander through 2 million square feet of cavernous conference halls seeing thousands of new gizmos. But to get at the goods you must endure a crowded, noisy, dirty, uncomfortable spectacle that at times feels like something out of Dante’s Inferno—idiots in headsets hawking stuff, women dressed like escorts from outer space handing out fliers, acres of flat-panel TVs, mindless cocktail receptions where you are trapped by executives who drone on endlessly in garbled marketing speak.

This is consumerism gone mad, greed gone off the rails, a bleak massive statement about the emptiness of a culture driven by fear and desperation and a belief that technology can put meaning back into our hollowed-out souls. Best of all, it takes place in Las Vegas, which is sad enough already. Honestly, if you can go to CES without experiencing an overwhelming desire to throw away your TVs and cellphones and computers and go live in a cabin in the woods, then you are a stronger person than I am.

Still, roughly 140,000 people descended on Las Vegas this week. With any luck you were not one of them, and you opted instead to let other people do the dirty work and report back on what was worth seeing. If so, here, in a nutshell, is the best stuff from this year’s show.

VIZIO, Inc. via AP Photo

VIZIO COMPUTERS

Best known as a maker of good but inexpensive flat-panel TVs, Vizio stunned everybody at the show with a new line of notebook and desktop computers that look as sleek and cool as Apple’s MacBook Air and iMac computers—and bear a striking resemblance to Apple products. The Vizio machines run Windows, however. Another difference: the Vizio desktop machines hide the guts of the computer in the base, rather than in the screen. They also have an HDMI port, so you can plug an Xbox 360 into your computer and use it like a TV. Vizio also introduced a 10-inch tablet, some huge TVs, and a little box that handles streaming video, akin to the Roku or Apple TV devices.

Julie Jacobson / AP Photo

SAMSUNG GALAXY NOTE

This device is either a huge smartphone or a small tablet—or maybe it’s both. The Galaxy Note has a 5-inch screen and has been a huge hit overseas. Now it is headed for the U.S. It has a gorgeous screen and comes with a stylus (they call it the “S Pen”) for taking notes. No wonder Samsung has leapfrogged Apple to become the top seller of smartphones in the world. The Korean electronics giant rolled out an overwhelming array of new products, including tablet computers and so-called smart TVs that let you hook your TV to the Internet and download apps and games. Some of its new smart TVs can be controlled with voice commands and motions, and even have face-recognition software.

David Paul Morris / Bloomberg via Getty Images

GOOGLE TV

Google’s software for hooking TVs to the Internet got a boost from Sony, Vizio, and LG, which all announced new sets that have Google TV built in. So far Google’s attempt to crack into the TV business has been, well, a bit of a flop. The first version of Google TV came out on a special box from Logitech that you had to attach to your TV. It was clumsy and didn’t work very well. This new attempt may go better. Oddly enough, however, Google TV faces competition from another Google product—the Android operating system, originally created for mobile phones, now is being built into some TVs.

Daniel Acker / Bloomberg via Getty Images

LENOVO’S ANDROID-POWERED TV

Is this a TV or a computer? The answer is yes. Chinese computer maker Lenovo showed off a 55-inch TV that runs a version of Google’s Android operating system, which was originally designed for smartphones. The TV runs the type of dual-core microprocessor that typically gets used in tablet computers or netbooks. It has a built-in webcam and uses voice controls.

Motorola

MOTOROLA DROID RAZR MAXX

The Motorola Droid Razr was already a fantastic phone—slim, light, top-quality design, with a powerful processor, big screen, and 4G LTE network support. The one drawback, however, was battery life. Phones that run on 4G LTE networks are notorious battery hogs. Motorola has fixed that with the Maxx, which manages to incorporate a massive battery without bulking up the phone. (At only 8.9 millimeters, it’s still thinner than Apple’s iPhone 4S.) Motorola claims the Maxx has enough juice to play eight movies, or provide 21 hours of talk time, on a single charge. Three words: I want one.

Microsoft Inc.

WINDOWS 8

Microsoft showed a sneak peek of the next version of its Windows operating system, Windows 8. The new program is designed to run on traditional PCs as well as tablets. The new Windows will boast a sleek user interface called Metro that uses big, chunky tiles and looks a lot like the interface on Windows Phone. It’s radically different, really gorgeous and modern—a leap past Apple’s design. It is due to arrive in the second half of 2012.

Nokia

NOKIA LUMIA 900

“Best phone of 2012 CES,” raves ZDNet, and it’s easy to see why. The Lumia 900 runs Windows Phone 7.5 and has all the latest and greatest tech guts (8-megapixel camera, 4G LTE speed, 4.3-inch screen, 1.4 GHz processor), but more important, it just reeks of quality and European design flair. I haven’t used the Lumia 900 yet, but I recently spent some time with its little brother, the Lumia 800, and as I wrote on The Daily Beast, that was in many ways the nicest phone I’ve ever used. The Lumia 900 retains the same design language but in a larger package. A lot of people have written off Nokia and Microsoft as has-beens in the mobile space. This phone makes you believe a comeback is possible.

Razer

RAZER PROJECT FIONA

For now this wacky-looking gaming tablet is only a concept, but Razer says it is trying to gauge interest in the device, hoping to bring it to market by the end of this year at a price of about $1,000. The Fiona is a 10-inch tablet with two game-controller handles attached. The tablet runs Windows on a speedy Intel processor. CNET gave it a “People’s Choice” award at CES.