CES 2018 Review – Jabra Bluetooth earphones, music hall Turntables, Anker & MyCharge Batteries, Netgear Arlo Home Security and 10 Gigabit Ethernet switches, Ring, Lutron’s Caséta, Surecall Fusion 2Go 2.0, Sony Alpha S7 III, Adobe Lightroom, & Light L16

The ginormous 2018 Consumer Electronics Show held each January is the largest showcase of what you might expect is consumer based electronic gear. The reality is that everything from chip vendors, tools, musical instruments, bed manufacturers, audio manufactures, consumer electronics, and the giants of the industry are there. It’s also one of the most difficult shows to attend from a logistics standpoint, but once you give up on making too many appointments, you come to just go with the flow. John Mulhern III has already offered some insights into the trends of the show here are a few more products of note.

1)         Wireless headphones and earphones are even more popular if that’s possible. The difference is that they continue to get better, and many of them are completely wireless, so they go in your ears, no wires at all between them, rechargeable by themselves. Jabra showed off a continuation of their line, now in its third generation, with the new Jabra Elite 64T which they brand as “True Wireless Earbuds” and Voice Assistant Enabled for Siri, Alexa, & Google Assistant. Sporting 4 microphones they are capable of good noise rejection, and the runtime is 5 hours. Enough for even the longest training run, or subway ride, they even track your workout. The audio quality is good, and they fit snug in your ears. With the latest generation of wireless earphones, the question isn’t how good are they, but whether you prefer a cable to connect them, or as individual earphones is a question that only you can answer. Losing one is reasonable fear, but with their snug fit, that shouldn’t be an issue. The Jabra 65t Elite is a solid choice for the truly wireless music lover.

For more information visit: https://www.jabra.com/bluetooth-headsets/jabra-elite-65t

2)         On the audiophile side, vinyl and turntables are still the rage. Among our favorites are those from music hall, run by the affable Roy Hall, who sports the best Scottish brogue this side of the Atlantic. From affordable turntables like the mmf-1.5, which is a belt-driven model, sports a music hall melody cartridge, S-shaped alloy tonearm, and a built-in phono preamp, so it will work with a set of powered speakers, or turned off, it's perfect for a system that has a phono level input. And at $399.99 it’s a great buy, as well as handsome. At the other end of their matrix is the MMF-9.3, which is a manual belt-driven turntable with a pre-mounted Goldring Eroica LX moving-coil cartridge, and triple-plinth construction. This is a “no holds barred” audiophile turntable at $2,395.00 that demonstrates Music Hall’s product range. They also showed off their electronics line, offered visitors superb Single Malt Scotch which no doubt contributed to the popularity of their crowded suite in the Venetian Towers.

But, if it’s any indicator of the audiophile industry, a few years ago, three floors of the hotel were needed for all the vendors, this year, there was basically only one floor, and that wasn’t completely full. Central Hall had many headphone and earphone vendors, so once again a bifurcated experience to figure out the state-of-the-art in audio reproduction. How many vendors commit to the Venetian Suites next year, will be a revealing glimpse into the importance of CES to those companies, or at the very least to the approach they take to showing off their goods.

For more information visit: http://musichallaudio.com/turntables/

3)         Rechargeable Batteries. Everywhere you turned someone was offering rechargeable batteries to charge the rechargeable batteries in your phone. Our favorites combine a built-in 120-volt plug with integrated cables, so there is nothing to lose or remember. But, what really captured folks attention, were large batteries, capable of starting your car, or running appliances in nature. Anker showed the PowerHouse, which is a 434-Watt Hour power supply. Want to use your CPAT machine while camping, or charge your laptop over 6 times? Or possibly stop a humanitarian crisis, then a high-capacity battery like the PowerHouse is a good fit.

Need to start your car when it’s dead? The new hot ticket are small batteries with enough juice to start your vehicle when you forgot to turn off your lights. There are a few differences, some of the earlier models worked through your 12V power socket, but most of the better models like the MyCharge Adventure Jump Start, which comes with a 6600 mAh battery, has spring clips to attach directly to your battery. It isn’t limited to use with your vehicle, it also has an integrated Micro-USB cable, and USB port. Another feature to look for is polarity protection, important since putting a cable on the wrong terminal can be very dangerous, with the possibility of an exploding battery, no laughing matter. So, protection against that is an important consideration. It has a flashlight, which we found very useful during a recent power outage. MyCharge has long been one of our most trusted battery vendors, and they manufacture solid units, including a new batch of powerful USB Type-C units. While we saw a great many phone batteries, some wireless for the new iPhones, some promising faster charges, fancier cases, etc., it seemed that really large batteries for power hungry use were the trend to watch.

For more information on Anker visit: https://www.anker.com/deals/powerhouse2

For more information on MyCharge visit:  https://mycharge.com/collections/adventure-series/products/adventurejumpstart

4)         Home Security systems were as popular as free drinks at a casino. The field is starting to consolidate a bit, with more voice activation in systems utilizing Amazon’s line of Alexa based products. Even if you don’t own an Amazon Cloud Cam, most competitors were enabling Alexa based controls. Apple Siri and HomeKit are almost as popular, but Amazon’s juggernaut can’t be denied. Most of the home security systems are similar, with powered and rechargeable cameras, that work indoor or outdoor, and most require Wi-Fi to operate, although there are some cameras that can also record to an SD memory card, handy if you suffer an internet glitch. The powered cameras are almost all HD, so capable of very clear video, even in the dark. The smartphone app interfaces continue to be easier to use, more flexible, but the cost to use them is important to consider, since purchasing the units are only part of the equation. The Netgear Arlo system is one the most popular, with options for different cameras ranging from the Arlo Baby to monitor your children, to indoor and outdoor models. The Arlo Go is the first rechargeable video camera with a LTE cell connection, and the newly added Arlo Security Light which is very cool. The key to the Arlo system is its high level of integration with other Netgear products, along with Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, and Google Assistant, it’s fully compatible with existing services. One other feature is that the free Arlo Basic Plan allows for 7 days of cloud recording with up to 5 cameras, which is one of the best bargains in the field. We predict increased popularity for the Arlo system.

For more information visit: https://www.arlo.com/en-us/

5)         Ring is taking over your neighborhood. Ring was recently acquired by Amazon in February 2018, the Ring Video Doorbell 2 is their second-generation product. They have a complement of related products including a FloodCam which combines a hard-wired camera with a motion activated flood light, and their original StickupCam has been superseded by the Spotlight Cam series, which offer hard-wired, rechargeable, and our favorite, solar powered with a battery backup. What makes Ring different, is their refined neighborhood watch ecosystem. The Ring system isn’t cheap, and by the time you add in some door chimes, the monthly service fee to maintain videos, and a couple of Spotlight Cams, it can quickly add up to some serious change. We suspect that most people will only purchase the Video Doorbell model, but from what we have seen it’s a bit addicting, once you have one camera, then another one makes sense, and another, and well, you know… one can’t be too secure. One expense to consider with the Ring ecosystem is that you only receive 30 days of cloud recording, after that you need to purchase a plan that start at $30 per year, which at $3 a month is pretty reasonable. We expected to review their updated Spotlight Cam and Floodlight Cam, but review units weren’t available at press time. We hope to review the entire system in the future, since most consumers start with the Video Doorbell, then purchase additional cameras, so it’s important to consider these systems as a whole.

For more information visit:  https://ring.com

6)         Home automation ranges from easy to install products like the SwitchMate that use a magnet to stick to existing switches, to expensive and complex digitally controlled showers from Moen, which require a plumber to install behind your walls. Lutron’s Caséta system is a case in point. With a variety of smart switches, and lighting controls, it now supports Alexa. Add to the mix are the addition of smart switches and lighting to home security systems, and you will have your entire home controlled by one vendor.

For more information visit: http://www.casetawireless.com/Pages/Caseta.aspx

7)         Cell phone boosters. As soon as Cell Phone technology was unleashed upon the public, so were dead spots or poor reception. In the early days of the iPhone there were cases that promised to extend the range with an additional antenna. For the most part, those cases looked better on paper, then their actual performance in the field. And with the different cell protocols and transmission technologies used by different carriers, the early cell boosters required purchasing a model that matched your provider’s technology. Over time the technology was able to boost signals from different carriers and technology. The Surecall Fusion 2Go 2.0 is a more robust approach. It has an outside antenna for your car, and an internal antenna, powered by your 12 Volt power socket. If you live in an urban area with good coverage, this type of unit might be overkill, but if you spend a lot of time on the road, or in more rural areas, they can really boost your signal. This assumes you have a signal to begin with, since they can’t amplify a non-exist signal. It boosts voice, text & 4G LTE signals for all North American cell carriers, including AT&T, Sprint, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon. They make a more powerful version for RV’s, and according to the company, it increases signal strength & extends battery life for multiple users on all cellular devices and improves 4G LTE data speeds and connectivity for more miles of uninterrupted coverage.

For more information visit: https://www.surecall.com/signal-booster/vehicle/FUSION2GO-3/

8)         Gigabit Ethernet has been standard on most devices for almost two decades, with Cat5e copper cabling as the hard-wired solution of choice. While Cat6a is faster, it’s more difficult and expensive to install, and as a result hasn’t been as widely adopted or upgraded. Fortunately, a new generation of 10 Gigabit switches is arriving at more affordable price points. With the new Apple iMac Pro capable of supporting 10Gb Ethernet, as well as Nbase-T industry-standard 1Gb, 2.5Gb, and 5Gb link speeds, you need a quick and easy switch solution. One solution is NETGEAR who is the first networking vendor to introduce fixed configuration 10GbE copper switches to the SMB market. They have a variety of choices including light managed, smart managed and fully managed switch models. 10 Gigabit Ethernet was introduced in 2012, but the expense of upgrading all of your existing cabling, led to a less than enthusiastic embrace. Now, with the ability to use existing copper at 10 Gigabit speeds, we should expect to see adoption of the faster standard at long last.

For more information visit: https://www.netgear.com/landing/10gigabit.aspx#tab-10gbecoppercomesofage

9)         Digital Photography is at an interesting place, with declining sales of DSLRs, and  Sony leading the technology charge with updated cameras, sensors, and technology not matched by Canon or Nikon in the mirrorless space. The newly introduced Sony Alpha S7 III brings the features of its most expensive A7R III, swapping out the 42MP for a 24MP sensor, saving roughly a grand. Nikon’s D850 DSLR has earned plaudits for its resolution, high-sensitivity, and dynamic range, but the real innovation is coming from Sony, and they show no signs of slowing down. Even though physics controls the size of the lens in relation to a full-frame sensor, the presumption is that the mirrorless design is smaller, but mount a fast zoom and the size differential isn’t there. But, mirrorless offers some other advantages, and the quality of the Sony glass and sensors are probably the actual reasons shooters are adopting the system.

For more information visit: https://www.sony.com/electronics/interchangeable-lens-cameras/ilce-7m3-body-kit

10)       Adobe wasn’t officially at CES, but no matter, you can’t escape Adobe’s influence. Recent improvements to Photoshop Lightroom CC Classic are subtle but serious refinements and feature adds. One of the most important is the ability to highlight dust, and Range Masking allowing you to tailor the tools to specific tonal ranges. Most importantly for many users is Adobe’s admission that Lightroom wasn’t fast enough, so recent updates have concentrated on increasing performance. Faster Folder searches, more options for Collections, and improvements using the Auto functions. The addition of Photoshop Lightroom CC, for mobile based use does blur the lines a bit for photographers but it shows Adobe’s commitment to taking advantage of the current move toward mobile use, or maybe more accurately, mobile based editing. The latest update is noticeably faster, and a joy to use. Adobe seems ahead of the curve, introducing features that feel like refinements, but in reality are major steps in imaging technology that unlike Eureka Park’s startup offerings, are immediately available to users.

With Computational Photography becoming mainstream as evidenced by the recent Apple iPhone releases, and the Light L16 camera, expect Adobe to be all over it. Lightroom can read files from the Light L16, but not with the feature set of its dedicated Lumen software. How Computational Photography intersects with the public is still an unknown, with the serious teething problems evidenced by the Light L16 camera and software, serving as an advisory for the adopton of the bleeding edge of imaging technology. But it does point the way, with a 50MP camera that fits in your pocket, along with a variety of focal length lenses. Keep an eye on Light to answer the question of who precisely is the customer profile for a $2,000 first generation camera and software. We have never been hands on with a review sample except at some trade events, so as a result, we can't accurately judge how the theory of computational photography compares with the reality of the L-16. Hopefully in the future, Light will start sending cameras to reviewers for current appraisals, until then visit the Light Facebook group for honest assesments.

For more information on Adobe visit: https://www.adobe.com/products/photoshop-lightroom-classic.html

For more information on the Light L16 visit: https://light.co/camera

Harris Fogel, posted 2/28/2018