CES is perhaps best known for its spectacle, the grand showcase of the products you’ll likely never see outside of CES, much less ever purchase.
This year, things were a little different on the CES show floor. Sure, there was plenty of spectacle and dumb stuff — one just needs to see the toilet with Alexa to affirm that — but there was also a lot of useful iteration on the ideas we’ve been seeing at CES for years. Instead of crazy new technologies, convoluted buzzwords, and concepts that will never come to fruition, we saw more actual products that people will be able to purchase and use over the coming year.
Perhaps the biggest trend of the year has been a unique feeling of cooperation between companies, which has enabled an interoperability of services and devices on a scale that’s greater than we’ve seen before. Just look at Apple’s services showing up Samsung, Sony, LG, and Vizio TVs or smart home gadgets that don’t just work with a single virtual assistant, many can be controlled by Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple’s HomeKit.
That means that instead of competing on hardware exclusivity, companies have to compete on the quality and features of their services, leading to better experiences for consumers. It’s a win for us.
Of course, by the time the next CES or two roll around, there are sure to be new exclusive features and services that will lock people to specific hardware, and we’ll be back where we started. But until then, we’ve got a little bit of freedom of choice to enjoy. —Dan Seifert
Best in show:
MicroLED was the major theme for TVs at CES this year, even though it’s been around for a couple of years already. The biggest proponent of MicroLED technology is Samsung, which is utilizing it to create a 75-inch 4K TV that’s built from modular panels. You can rearrange those panels like pieces of a puzzle to create different shapes and display sizes — even stacking them into a vertical-oriented screen to watch Instagram Stories, if you really want to.
This is all possible thanks to the smaller size of the MicroLEDs, which, like OLED, don’t require a separate backlight and can be used in super thin panels. They also have image quality that rivals OLED due to the lack of a backlight, yet the claim is that they don’t have any of the longevity problems OLED TVs face.
The 75-inch TV is just the first of Samsung’s MicroLED TVs to arrive. But by this time next year, we’ll probably see a bunch of options flooding the high-end of the TV market. —Dan Seifert
What if buying a big, bulky gaming laptop didn’t mean figuring out what to do with a big, bulky doorstop once its aging components no longer play the latest games? For years, we’ve been dreaming of gaming PCs with upgradable CPUs and GPUs, and the Alienware Area-51m is genuinely trying to make that a practical reality. Not only can the 17.3-inch laptop be configured with a Core i9-9900K desktop processor and Nvidia RTX 2080 mobile graphics, which are among the fastest gaming components in existence today, but it’s designed so you can easily disassemble this laptop yourself to upgrade each of them as well as the storage and RAM. Alienware admits it doesn’t know whether future chips from Nvidia and AMD will actually fit onto its modular boards, but it says it’s committed to making them fit if it’s physically and electrically possible. It’s the closest we’ve ever seen to the dream being delivered. —Sean Hollister
The war on laptop bezels has reached its zenith. There’s essentially no room left on our displays to even consider putting a webcam on it. Smartphones have solved this problem with the controversial notch, but at CES 2019, we started to see a different approach: the neganotch, which instead of adding a jutting black bar into a screen, appends on top to house things like the camera and anything else that you’d need there. The 13.9-inch HDR contoured glass display that Lenovo put in its new Yoga S940 is a stunning upgrade, but it’s the neganotch that’s the icing on that cake, letting Lenovo offer things like Windows Hello and even advanced eye tracking without ruining the razor-thin bezels it achieved. —Chaim Gartenberg
Best monitor / display:
Monitors take up a significant amount of modern desk space, and now Samsung is trying to free up some of that desk real estate. The company’s new space monitors can fold flat against a wall or cubicle, allowing them to free up space when you’re not using your PC. Samsung has created 27- and 32-inch models, and both clamp to the surface of a desk and adjust to be pulled toward you or moved to be flat against a wall. If you’ve got a small desk or limited space, these look ideal. —Tom Warren
A 65-inch rollable display prototype we saw at CES 2018 turned into a real TV from LG Electronics just one year later. That’s pretty impressive by CES standards. But more impressive is the TV itself, which puts LG’s best-in-class OLED technology into the sleekest form yet, and that’s after the company already made a “wallpaper” TV. It’s a stunning screen that rolls up whenever you’re not watching something and rises from its base the next time you are. Watching that process can be mesmerizing — much like this TV’s 4K HDR picture quality. Just try not to think about how much it’ll cost once it goes on sale this spring. —Chris Welch
Effortlessly combining a party speaker, a karaoke machine, a snack table, and beer cup holders into one device, Sony’s beer speaker (aka the GTK-PG10, if you’re a cop) is ridiculous to its core. But somehow, the design and the feature set here manage to elevate what should be a joke into something almost elegant: sure, it may be a dedicated beer-holding karaoke party speaker, but it’s a really thoughtfully designed dedicated beer-holding karaoke party speaker. And isn’t that what technology is all about? —Chaim Gartenberg
Best thing that now has a virtual assistant:
Of all the many, many things that Google added Assistant to at CES — from Sonos speakers to oven range vents — the most important one turned out to be Google’s own product. Putting Assistant inside Google Maps seems like a minor thing, but it is a major Trojan horse for the iPhone. Millions of people have Google Maps open when they drive. Surely, millions more have bothered installing the Assistant app on the iPhone. Now, they’ll have Google Assistant up in their face. I look forward to the next year when Google finally realizes that Maps has become bloated and pulls something out. Our vote is the text messaging feature. —Dieter Bohn
While there were plenty of out-there gaming laptops and PCs unveiled this year at CES, the most meaningful announcement was Nvidia’s mobile RTX chips. While not as powerful as its top-of-line desktop RTX GPUs, the new trio of chips will deliver unprecedented performance to gaming laptops that start shipping with the 2060, 2070, or 2080 later this month. We’re now close to the moment when the delta between laptop and desktop gaming shrinks to a negligible level, and Nvidia’s steady march of progress is enabling 4K / 60 fps performance on portable, battery-powered machines for the first time. —Nick Statt
Best Apple news:
We thought a cheeky ad about privacy might be Apple’s biggest “presence” at CES, but then the announcements began. It started with Samsung: an iTunes Movies and TV Shows app is coming to the company’s TVs, as is support for AirPlay 2. Sony, Vizio, and LG soon followed with their own AirPlay 2 news, adding HomeKit integration as well. Sending content from your iPhone, iPad, or Mac to the TV screen is going to be so, so much easier soon, assuming you’re ready for a TV upgrade.
The iTunes video app, seemingly exclusive to Samsung TVs for now, is yet another big hint that Apple has major ambitions for original content. —Chris Welch
If you’ve fantasized about a smart toilet complete with mood lighting and the surround sound of birds chirping, then CES has you covered. The Kohler Numi 2.0 Intelligent Toilet might fulfill most people’s toilet fantasies. It’s Alexa-enabled so you can command it to flush or read you the news while you’re hands-free.
Kohler promises a fully “immersive” experience and the bidet helps with that. You can add on a seat warmer and at the base of it, the swirling colors could match any gamer’s RGB setup. CES has often been about outdoing the competition by adding a voice assistant to an extravagant appliance and this smart toilet captures that spirit to the nth degree. —Shannon Liao
Best thing that wasn’t at CES
Only a fidget spinner AirPods case called the ZenPod could bring The Verge’s newsroom to a halt. It’s not a fidget spinner in the way that we usually think of it. Instead, it’s a case for an AirPods case with a built-in anodized aluminum spinner with steel bearings. It costs more than a fidget spinner, at $30, but look at that leather! Plus, it has three color options: black leather with a black spinner, black leather with a silver spinner, and brown leather with a silver spinner. We all want this case for a case and demand that it comes to CES next year. —Ashley Carman
Best smart home:
Ikea wasn’t at CES, yet it still pulled off a victory in the smart home category this week. The company that put designer furniture within financial reach of most people is now doing the same for smart blinds. Starting on April 1st, US Americans will be able to fit their homes with the new Fyrtur blinds. Priced between $110 and $180 in Europe, they’re a fraction of the cost of incumbent solutions. They’re also compatible with Ikea’s burgeoning Tradfri lineup of inexpensive smart lights, sockets, sensors, and switches that are in turn compatible with Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri. Imagine your blinds automatically lowering at sunset or lifting with your alarm clock, and you’ll begin to understand our enthusiasm, especially after Ikea launches its low-cost Sonos speakers this summer. The home of the future will be affordable, and it’s almost here. —Thomas Ricker
My favorite thing about Lovot, a childlike robot with big, expressive eyes that follows you around and begs to be hugged, is how proudly its makers Groove X tout that it doesn’t really do anything. Practically every gadget at CES promises to be useful in some way, but for a company to show up and say, “Our robot is not useful. In fact, it’ll probably get in your way” feels revolutionary.
That’s not to say that the Lovot isn’t an advanced piece of technology. Fifty sensors on its fuzzy body respond to touch, the three cameras on its canister can recognize up to 1,000 people, and it follows you around cooing adoringly, asking to be loved. It’s absolutely possible to form an instant emotional attachment to this robot, and that’s its only goal.
Last year’s Best Robot award went to Sony’s Aibo dog, and it’s further proof that we don’t really want robots that over-promise how useful they can be. We just want them to be harmlessly cute with zero chance of a robot uprising. —Dami Lee
Corsair pulled an Apple move with this one. The gaming gear maker worked with a supplier to develop teeny tiny RGB LEDs and then essentially bought the production line for them. The assembly for a typical decorative LED is the size of a fingernail, but Corsair reduced the required space to that of a head of a pin. One hundred Capellix LEDs can fit into the space that was previously occupied by four conventional ones, and the Capellix lights are brighter, more efficient, and easier on the battery.
LEDs are everywhere around us, from the timers on microwave ovens to the gorgeous visuals of the latest Samsung or LG TV. In gaming circles, they’ve been quite crude and basic (and cheap!), and what Corsair has done with its new Capellix part is turn those decorative LEDs into something much more sophisticated and refined. We’ll see Capellix on RAM sticks first, to be followed swiftly by wireless keyboards and mice, which will have much brighter and complex lighting than we’ve known so far. —Vlad Savov
AT&T’s “5G E” icon is so blatantly designed to confuse and mislead that it manages to encapsulate every fear about wireless carriers’ ruthlessness and lack of trustworthiness in just three tiny letters.
As we race into the 5G era, AT&T has decided to kick things off by slapping a fake 5G sticker on phones that are only connected to 4G LTE, supposedly to highlight faster pockets of its wireless network… even though they aren’t that fast and seem to be outpaced by the speeds you’d get from LTE on Verizon. It sets a horrible precedent, and it means that as true 5G phones and networks launch over the coming year, it’ll be harder than necessary for consumers to figure out what they’re actually getting. —Jake Kastrenakes
Highest screens to wheels ratio:
This was one of the slower news years for the automotive side of CES. Instead of lots of new things, we wound up seeing a lot of iterations and refinements. Take Byton, for example, an EV startup that made its big debut with an electric SUV at last year’s show. The headliner in 2018 was the giant windshield-spanning screen that dominates the interior of Byton’s SUV. This year, the company returned to show off that it had added yet another touchscreen to the center console, bringing the total to at least five. (Who knows if others might be added before production later this year?)
There are dozens of companies that are trying to reimagine what the inside of a car should look like if and when they become fully autonomous. Byton’s one of the few trying to totally redefine that now. The startup’s answer involves a lot of new technologies like AI and facial recognition, but it all hinges on a ton of pixels. It might not be your cup of tea. But it’s pretty much the most CES idea around. —Sean O’Kane