While most of the crowd at CES 2009 in Las Vegas was drooling over TVs, digital cameras, car tech, and home theaters, TechRepublic scouted out the best new technologies for businesses. Here's our list of the top biztech products at this year's Consumer Electronics Show.
See also: The general Best of CES Awards, from TechRepublic's sister site CNET.
ASUS Eee PC T91 Convertible Tablet
With its first Eee PC - one of the big hits at last year's CES - ASUS helped launch the worldwide Netbook market into the stratosphere in 2008. This year at CES, ASUS unveiled a new model called the Eee PC T91 that features a touch screen and a flip-down convertible tablet display. ASUS has tweaked the tablet interface so that you can use a standard stylus but also made it a touch screen that responds to human hand gestures.
The T91 runs on a 1.33 GHz Intel Atom processor, is an inch thick, weights about two pounds, and has an 8.9 inch screen with LED backlighting. Plus, it includes a built-in TV tuner and GPS. The product will be released during the first half of 2009 but pricing information has not yet been released. With all of the features being packed in to this product my fear is that the price will be so high that it will no longer be priced like a Netbook, but ASUS CEO Jonney Shih said that the company is committed to making the price very attractive.
Photo credit: ASUS
Netgear 3G Mobile Broadband Wireless Router
3G mobile broadband can bring Internet access to places where you can't get Wi-Fi or don't have DSL, Cable, and other services. At CES 2009, Netgear announced that it wants to make it easier than ever for small teams to share 3G broadband with its new 3G Mobile Broadband Wireless Router. This could be a great solution for small offices in remote locations, temporary offices, mobile offices in RVs, and teams at events. It essentially allows you to share one 3G broadband card instead of each worker needing a separate card. It costs $129, but that does not include the cost of the 3G card or the cellular broadband service.
Photo credit: Netgear
DisplayLink is a USB display technology and not one specific product, so it is a bit of a strange fit for this list, but since it offers important benefits for IT departments I had to include it. I first saw DisplayLink at last year's CES and they have made a lot of progress in one year.
The technology, which allows a computer to connect to up to six displays over USB, is now embedded in many LCD displays and USB-based docking stations from big vendors such as Lenovo, Samsung, and Toshiba. This can allow IT departments to standardize docking stations across the enterprise so that they don't have to switch every time a user gets a new laptop, and it simplifies docking for users so that they only have to plug in one USB connector to get all their peripherals plus multiple monitors. For those who need more than two monitors, DisplayLink allows you to do it without buying extra graphics cards.
The technology is even embedded in several projectors now, so that connecting a laptop to a conference room projector - a common problem that results in a lot of IT calls - can be as easy as plugging in a USB cable.
Photo credit: DisplayLink
Samsung Pico Projector
What if you could avoid the conference room projector problem all together by simply bringing your own projector to your presentations? Projectors are too big and clunky, right? Not any more they aren't. Several vendors at CES were showing off miniature projectors about the size of a smartphone.
The most impressive of these projectors - which are based on DLP projection technology - was the Samsung Pico Projector. It even has its own internal storage where you can drop your PowerPoint files and run your whole presentation straight from the device. Alternatively, you could hook up your laptop or smartphone to the mini projector and the run the presentation that way. This isn't going to run a presentation in a big lecture hall, but it would be great for sales people, project managers, and executives who do lots of short presentations in small conference rooms. The product will be released during the first half of 2009.
Photo credit: Samsung
Getting users to actively participate in energy-saving activities is tough because it can sometimes impede productivity and it's often difficult for users to realize how much of an impact their actions can have. A new product called EcoButton deals with both of those issues in helping users conserve power on their PCs.
When users walk away from the PC they simply hit the button to quickly drop the PC into a low-power mode. When they return, they hit any key on the keyboard and the computer quickly springs back to life, but when it does it shows a splash screen with stats showing how much money and carbon emissions the user has saved that day and for the life of the PC (while it's used EcoButton). Hit the keyboard one more time and it takes you back to your work. Right now, this is a good solution for small business. Later this year, EcoButton will be releasing a commercial version of the product that will be friendly to corporate IT departments.
Photo credit: Jason Hiner
HP Mini 2140 Business Netbook
Netbooks have been designed as entry-level computers that are primarily used to access the Web. However, more than a few business professionals have snapped them up to use as highly portable machines that they can easily take on the road. At CES, Hewlett-Packard became one of the first big vendors to tailor a Netbook at the business crowd with the HP Mini 2140.
This little powerhouse has a standard configuration of an Intel Atom 1.6 GHz CPU with 1 GB of RAM (expandable to 2 GB), a 160 GB hard disk, a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, and a 10.1 inch LED-backlit widescreen display that offers 1024x576 or 1366x768 resolutions. It also includes several features that are found in HP's line of EliteBook business laptops: Magnesium alloy casing, HP DuraKeys, and HP 3D DriveGuard. Plus, you can load Windows XP Professional or Windows Vista Business on this machine. And the cost is $499.
Photo credit: Hewlett-Packard
Fujitsu S300 Scanner
I've been happily using photo scanners for almost two decades, but I have never found these scanners to be very useful for digitizing business documents. The scanning quality of the documents is usually inconsistent and the OCR software typically mangles enough characters that it's faster to just have an intern or a clerical assistant re-type the document. Fujitsu has changed that with a product line that brings document scanning to the desktop with one killer feature: It actually works.
At CES, Fujitsu announced its S1500 scanner, which replaces the top-of-line S510 desktop document scanner. However, Fujitsu also demoed its SnapScan S300 Scanner, which is a step below the S1500 but still good enough to blow my socks off. This slim line scanner can handle a stack of documents at time, it has two cameras so that it scans front and back simultaneously, it automatically reads text and flips scans to portrait or landscape mode, and it can quickly turn your whole stack of documents into a multi-page PDF, with document-level encryption and password protection if needed.
It's also the most accurate business card scanner I've ever seen (plus it imports easily to Microsoft Outlook) and I've seen it perfectly reproduce the formatting of documents imported into Microsoft Word. The S300 costs $295.
Photo credit: Fujitsu
ThinkPad W7000ds Dual-Screen Mobile Workstation
Lenovo has built what it considers to be the ultimate laptop for engineers, photo professionals, and CAD designers. This 11-pound monster includes a full keyboard with number pad, built-in Wacom tablet next to the touchpad, options for dual and quad core processors, up to 8 GB of RAM, both discreet video and high-end NVIDIA graphics, up to three internal hard drives (with options for RAID 0 and 1), and an integrated color calibrator. However, the most innovative feature is the display. The main WUXGA screen supports 1900x1200 resolution, and it also includes an integrated second display that pulls out from behind the main screen and features a WXGA screen with 768x1280 resolution. These models start at $3500.
Photo credit: Lenovo
BEST OF SHOW: Palm Pre
In 2008, most tech pundits and commentators had abandoned Palm and left it for dead. The once-great PDA and smartphone maker had been eclipsed in the burgeoning smartphone market by Apple and Research in Motion, the Palm operating system was badly out-dated, and the company hadn't released an innovative hardware device since it first launched the Treo line in 2003.
At CES 2009, Palm surprised nearly everyone by stealing the show with the unveiling of its new Palm Pre smartphone and the Palm webOS that runs it. The Palm Pre is a slim, elegant phone with a full-length touch screen and a slide out keyboard. The user interface of the new Palm features several new innovations that will keep Apple and RIM on their toes. The biggest innovation is the multi-tasking in the new Palm webOS, because multi-tasking has been a major limitation on smartphones - including the iPhone - up until now. Palm has broken away from the window concept and created a multi-tasking interface that relies on a "deck of cards" as its model. A user just pushes the center button on the Palm and then flips through open apps and clicks one.
The buzz about this phone from CES attendees was so intense that there were even BlackBerry and iPhone users who were talking about switching to the Palm Pre when it comes out during the first half of 2009. If you would have told me that before CES, I probably would have laughed my head off. However, if Palm delivers a fast, usable device based on the prototypes they showed at CES then they will definitely have the first real challenger to the iPhone in design, interface, and smartphone Web browsing.
Photo credit: Palm
Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.