Jonathan Takiff: CE Week chock-full of new tech gadgets

Skanz is a social networking platform that you wear on your wrist.
Skanz is a social networking platform that you wear on your wrist. (YONG KIM / Staff photographer)
Posted: June 29, 2011

THE GIZMO: The consumer electronics industry turned New York City into a tech wonderland of product showcases and seminars recently. And they called it CE Week.

SPECTRUM GRAB: In his keynote speech, Consumer Electronics Association president/CEO Gary Shapiro called for Americans to sign a "Declaration of Innovation," supporting policies that promote creative and economic growth for U.S. tech concerns.

Tops on the agenda - Senate passage of the Spectrum Act (S-911) to reclaim and then auction-off broadcast TV frequencies to relieve the "spectrum crunch."

Broadcast TV frequencies are "waterfront property" that's being wasted, Shapiro said, as only 8 percent of Americans are watching over-the-air TV. Meanwhile, new high-tech gadgets are fast running out of their allocated spectrum space. Smartphones use 24 times as much signal capacity as traditional cellphones, tablet PCs transmit 122 times as much data as traditional cellphones. Wireless usage will multiply in the U.S. by 40 times in just a few years.

A return of maybe six or seven TV channels (a bunch were already repurposed when we switched from analog to digital TV) will allow today's broadcasters to carry on unimpeded, while filling the expansion needs for smartphones/tablets/etc to 2014, Shapiro hopes.

Uh, but what then?

TABLET STUFF: A staggering 42 million (estimated) tablet computers will be sold in the U.S. this year, up from 17 million in 2010. It's speculated that tablets are even replacing small TVs on shopping lists, given how you can watch (bandwidth-hogging) Netflix and YouTube streams and movie disc downloads on 'em.

Adding fuel to the fire are the dozens of new tablets coming from established makers like HP and Toshiba, and upstarts like Vizio.

Yeah, that price-cutting TV maker (now responsible for 25 percent of LCD TV sales in the U.S.) aims to pull the same stunt with tablets, starting with an eight-inch Android 2.3 model. The Vizio Via has a responsive, high-resolution touchscreen, built-in GPS, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth connectivity and some special touches. Like the ability to function as a universal infrared remote control for 95 percent of the electronics sold in the U.S.

To hit a $349 price, Vizio Via packs just 2GB of user accessible RAM, though its MicroSD card slot supports an additional 32GB of flash memory "that the consumer can buy for much less than Apple would charge you," said Vizio co-founder Ken Lowe.

SNARING SOCIAL BUTTERFLIES: I spotted dozens of new apps and devices boasting some dumb, social networking twist.

But if I were a hustling sales person or a single guy on the prowl for romance, I could really wrap my mind around Skanz, unveiled at CE Week. Skanz is a social networking platform that you wear on your wrist - on a "fashion band" decorated with your very own QR (quick response)-coded "Socialprint."

Meet someone on an elevator who you want to share your name, number, email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Skype info with? Just let him take a picture of that barcodelike symbol on your wrist with his QR app-equipped smartphone. In a wink, the new introduction will be taken to the mobile "Skanzsite" you've established with everything you want to share, which can also include favorite photos, videos, music and more.

Mobile phone cases with your "Socialprint" also will be available for purchase ($15-$20). Get in on the ground floor at skanz.com.

IN YOUR FACE: While Nintendo now holds a monopoly on glasses-free, stereoscopic viewing with the 3DS portable game system, AT&T is just a couple of months away from introducing the LG-made 3D-capable Thrill 4G smartphone.

Users will capture and share 3-D images and 3-D videos with the phone's twin lens cameras, plus play 3-D video games and 3-D YouTube videos (there's a whole section posted) on the LG phone's 4.3-inch "parallax barrier" touchscreen or a connected 3-D TV screen. The phone will be priced competitively with other premium smartphones.

GRAY ZONE: While electronics have traditionally been pitched to young people, there's now a huge boomer crowd with a taste for tech and special needs. At Panasonic's CE Week demo space I discovered the KX-TG6591T, a new cordless phone with three exclusive features. Tone Equalizer (actually on all 2011 Panasonic cordless phones) invites users with a mild- to moderate hearing loss to easily boast the frequencies (treble, midrange or bass) that clarify the conversation. This model also stands out with a rubberized grip, bulging at the top shape and nice sized buttons that have won an ease-of-use commendation from the Arthritis Foundation. Plus, Talking Caller ID and Any Key answer features help when you can't find your glasses. $59.95 buys the base station and one cordless phone. Five more extension phones can be added at $19.95 each.

Send email to takiffj@phillynews.com.

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