Tech toys create buzz at CES

Even though the show floor for the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show doesn't open officially until Monday, a preview event Saturday night provided a sneak peak at what some of the more talked about tech toys might be this year.

Here's a rundown of the stuff I found interesting, in no particular order.

Some products are not yet available while some were recently released.

Niles-based Shure introduced three new in-ear headphones. In my holiday guide last year, I wrote that Shure's E500 line of headphones, at a pricey $500, were by far the best thing I stuck in my ears all year.

Well, it's too soon to say if these new models will rival those in sound, but the price points are friendlier. During a brief test at a loud and crowded event, I was impressed at how well the new SE310's reduced the external noise while delivering rich sound. The headphones drowned out the noise around me fairly well and at low volumes.

The SE310 will be priced at $250. I didn't get a chance to listen to the other two headphones, the SE210 ($150) or the SE420 ($350), but both weigh about 1 ounce and easily fit in the ear.

The pricier SE420 model includes a dedicated tweeter and woofer in each ear. The SE210 and SE310 models have what Shure calls hi-def microspeakers in each ear plus the 310's are tuned for more bass. And last year's E500's? They've been renamed SE530 and now sell for $449. The three new models will be available by mid-February, a Shure official said Saturday night.

In another accessory for your iPod (there's a lot of that at this year's show, shockingly), Duracell is launching a line of battery chargers for video and Nano iPods. These adapters looked nice and Duracell claims they will double the battery life between charges. As a bonus, the adapters include an FM transmitter, something Apple has yet to build into the iPod (but Microsoft has with the Zune). Hence the product's name, Power FM.

Both adapters cost $79 and can be found online at now or in bricks-and-mortar stores in the second quarter.

Gennum Corp., a Canadian firm that makes noise-canceling chips, is moving into the hardware market with what looks like a pretty cool Bluetooth earpiece for mobile phones. Priced at $129.99, which is high and sold at office supply companies like Staples and OfficeMax, the NX6000 seems promising. The profile sticking out of a user's ear doesn't look as dorky as other Bluetooth earpieces and a spokesperson said the "ear tip" is shorter for a more comfortable fit. I didn't stick them in my ear, but they looked nice. The NX6000 is now available, officially launched Saturday.

Another power-saving device that looks promising, but won't be available until sometime this spring for about $49, is the Ecosol Power Stick. The device looks like a USB thumb drive but plugs into devices ranging from BlackBerry's to iPods to provide juice when batteries are running low.

The company behind the power stick, Ecosol Solar Technologies, said users can just put the portable charger in a pocket and skip taking the power brick when on the road. I'm unclear how long a charge will last, but the device recharges by simple plugging the USB end right into a PC or laptop (so make sure you have that on your business trip before leaving the power bricks at home).

Parrot, the French company that makes fun Bluetooth devices, showed a new 7-inch digital frame that accepts photos sent via Bluetooth from a mobile phone, a camera (Kodak has a Bluetooth model) or even a computer. I gave a favorable review to Parrot's 3.5-inch digital frame last year, so the bigger model is welcome.

If your camera phone has at least 2 megapixels of resolution, these Bluetooth photo frames make a nice gift. But even an image during a test of phone with a 1.3-megapixel camera looked nice on the new frame, which holds 500 images. It will be available in the second quarter for $249; it's already sold in Europe.

Kudos to Chicago's Cobra Electronics for showing a smaller and more affordable car GPS device. The Nav One 2100 will be available in March for $299, a lower price than what's offered by most competitors. The 3.5-inch screen was sharp and the unit should fit nicely on a dashboard. Cobra's previous model, the Nav One, has a 5-inch screen and was priced at $999. It has since been reduced to $599, but I think there will be few buyers for that monster once people see the sleek 2100, available in March.

Cobra also showed a new radar detector, it's bread-and-butter product, that some people may find controversial. The wireless device (no more plugging into the cigarette lighter, err 12-volt battery) tracks which traffic lights have cameras mounted on them. Hence, when you are approaching a light with one of these cameras, the radar detector will let you know so you're not tempted to run the light and have a picture of your license plate taken and ticket sent to you in the mail. (The lights don't emit a signal, so Cobra created a database of these camera lights and updates are sent to buyers of this radar detector.)

A spokesperson for Cobra says these cameras are mounted at intersections known for traffic accidents, so the detector actually warns you that a potentially dangerous corner is coming up. I'm not sure I buy that argument, but you'll be able to buy this radar detector, the XRS R9G for $450 in March.

Another product set to launch in March is the S-XGEN mini-computer, from a company called Seamless Wi-Fi. The device, which runs on Windows mobile software and has a 20-gigabyte hard drive, weighs 14 ounces, includes a fold-up keyboard, plays music, movies and displays photo. It even has cellular connectivity, so it can be used as a mobile phone. Call it a personal digital assistant on steroids, but it's pricey at $1,395. It looks pretty cool, though.

Got a lot of digital media on your PC, like movies or music? A new software program, Vault 360 Platinum, stores and manages all that content. More impressively, it reformats the content so you can easily move it from your computer to you're smart phone or any other portable gadget. Can't leave home without Napolean Dynamite? This program, $50 from Bamboo Technology, will put it on your Q, if you like. The software is available now and it's PC-only for the moment.

In what may have been the coolest product I saw, a new aftermarket car stereo from Eclipse includes a removable GPS navigation system you can take with if you're going on a road trip and need to rent a car. The rest of the car stereo, which has a CD player, a USB hub for an mp3 player, a plug for an iPod and can receive satellite stations, stays in your auto.

The pull-out GPS device is made for Eclipse by Tom Tom, whose devices I've reviewed favorably in the past. This robust auto audio unit will be available at Circuit City in the spring, and the price will be below $1,000.

Finally, Internet radio meets Wi-Fi with the Infusion portable radio, made by Torian. It will be in stores sometime in February, priced at $299, and uses Wi-Fi to connect to countless Internet radio stations. This small, hand-held device works anywhere it can access a Wi-Fi network.


(Throughout the duration of the Consumer Electronics Show, technology repoorter and Tech Buzz columnist Eric Benderoff will file reports from the floor of the show in Las Vegas)