All of the laptops and desktop PCs announced at CES 2017

The days of the boring, stodgy, incrementally upgraded Windows machine has passed. PCs now come in the form of both dependable laptops that follow the steady march of CPU and GPU progress and experimental and forward-thinking designs that reimagine how we work, play, and create. Here at CES 2017, those two worlds collide. In the process, we get a glimpse of where the most simultaneously ubiquitous and enduring consumer electronic device — the personal computer — is headed next, and what it will be like when we all inevitably arrive.

AT&T wants to help your self-driving car talk to the world

When it broke ground late last year, the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti, Michigan, was said to be country’s largest testing facility for automated and connected cars. Now, the site has a data provider. The telecom giant announced today that it is teaming up with the center to provide exclusive network resources needed to advance driverless technologies.

That means AT&T will work with the center, car companies, and tech startups to test automated and connected vehicles. It’ll also provide network service to allow the cars to talk to infrastructure, pedestrians, and to another car. This technology, called vehicle-to-everything (V2X), is currently be tested by a number of major automakers, suppliers, and tech companies.

“We want to create a safe, scalable and cost-effective driverless future. To get there, we have to do it together,” Chris Penrose, president of Internet of Things Solutions at AT&T, said in a statement. “The American Center for Mobility will provide an environment that will further cross-industry collaboration. Together, we’ll pave the way for innovations that change how we think about driving.”

A few weeks ago, the US Department of Transportation proposed a new rule that would require all new light-duty vehicles to include vehicle-to-vehicle communication capabilities to avoid collisions and accidents on the road. The American Center for Mobility, which is being built at the historic 335-acre Willow Run facility, will be a key site for the testing of these new vehicle technologies.

“For a car to be fully connected and automated, it needs to be able to ‘talk’ to everyone and everything around it in a highly secure manner,” said John Maddox, president and CEO, American Center for Mobility in a statement. “AT&T is bringing its cellular network strength and industry leadership into a comprehensive [connected and automated vehicle] test facility, and we’re thrilled to have them as our first industry collaborator.”

Ricoh’s new 360-degree camera can live stream for 24 hours

Ricoh is trying to push its 360-degree cameras into live streaming territory with a new camera called the Ricoh R. It looks similar, if a bit more rugged, to the Theta S and the cheaper SC that have come before it, but it’s company’s first spherical cameras that can apparently live stream without a bunch of workarounds.

The Ricoh R can live stream 2K, 360-degree video at 30 frames per second. The camera also stitches the images from the dual lenses together in real time, and Ricoh says that — when hooked up to an outlet — the camera can live stream that 360-degree footage for up to 24 hours.

Why exactly you’d want to execute a 24-hour live stream in 360 degrees is a great question, and it might be why Ricoh is marketing the camera as a “development kit.” (In the press release, Ricoh says it hopes the camera will find its way into the hands of entertainers, gamers, educators, and researchers.)

So for now, it seems, you won’t be able to buy the R on store shelves like you can with the Thetas. But the Ricoh R is promising evidence that the company is building on the groundwork that was laid by those Theta cameras. What the Thetas lacked in image quality they made up for in ease of use, and any continuation of that is welcome in such a new format.

The HiMirror Plus scanned my face and told me I have wrinkles

The HiMirror Plus is a new smart mirror that’ll scan your face and tell you what’s wrong with it. It looks for wrinkles, red spots, pores, fine lines, and brightness levels. The mirror’s a harsh critic, yes, but the idea is that you’ll track your skin as you change beauty products, so you’ll know what’s working and what’s not. Also, you can watch yourself slowly age! That’s fun. The mirror rates each part of your skin on a scale of 100 with 100 representing skin perfection

I tried out the new HiMirror Plus, which is the second version of this device, at CES this week. My skin is generally good. I don’t break out much and on the whole I don’t need to wear much makeup, so my ratings were all within the 90s, not to brag or anything. Although the device did tell me I have wrinkles around my eyes, which was news to me! I did have makeup on, though, so I kind of cheated the mirror. Ideally, my hair would have been pulled back and I’d have a bare face.

The difference between the HiMirror Plus and the HiMirror Basic is the Plus’s light simulation. It can re-create five lighting scenarios, like a brightly lit office or grocery store, so you never look like a clown in your makeup. Unless that’s your look, which is cool, and these lights can ensure you achieve it. The Plus can also store 14,000 photos, as opposed to 2,000, and it supports up to six different users.

What’s really nice about the HiMirror is that its designers recognized that you don’t want to scuff up your $259 purchase, so to control it, you can use either gesture or voice control. I can only vouch for the gesture control because it was insanely loud at CES, so the voice control wasn’t working well. The mirror also protects your data by only unlocking the scan and data review mode when you’re looking in the camera. Although you can always cover the lens for safe measure.

The mirror also doubles as a streaming device that plays music from Spotify or streams YouTube video. This feature is set up through the mirror’s companion app. I didn’t see it demoed.

Overall, the HiMirror Plus is a discerning critic for your bathroom that could make you way more paranoid about your skin, or maybe help you. I have plenty of friends who love to test beauty products, so I can imagine the HiMirror helping track their skin’s transformation. I’d be interested in trying it out over a longer period of time.

This JBL subwoofer would’ve been great in 2004

JBL has announced the BassPro Go, a “hybrid automobile subwoofer and portable speaker” that would’ve been groundbreaking a decade ago. The BassPro Go can connect to your car’s sound system and operate as a standalone 8-inch subwoofer to add some probably-not-that-great bass to your car.

But when you’re ready to leave your car you can detach the speaker and use it over Bluetooth with up to 15 hours of playback time. Seems pretty basic right? Well given that it’ll cost you $600 to get your hands on the BassPro Go, it gets a bit more ridiculous.

Let’s be clear, no Bluetooth speaker should cost $600. Period. I don’t even know why I’m still typing. The JBL BassPro Go will be available this summer. Have a good day.

No, this toothbrush doesn’t have artificial intelligence

Every year, the marketing arm of the tech industry huddles around a simmering cauldron of PR gumbo and fishes out a single word or phrase that will embody the hope — and hype — of the latest generation of gadgets. Previous examples have ranged from the charmingly vague (the “Internet of Things”) to the idiotic (the use of “smart” as a catch-all modifier) and the merely hopeful (“3D TVs” were doomed from the start really.) In 2017, though, you should prepare for the over-use of the latest favorite: artificial intelligence.

It’s clear that AI and machine learning had an impressive 2016. There were advances in features for consumers, like image and speech recognition, but also significant research achievements — including a milestone victory for machine over man played out via ancient board game Go. But these successes have created an AI halo effect that gives a reflected shine to any tech company that invokes the concept of artificial intelligence. This, in turn, can lead to breathless coverage that inflates the significance of what is often, at heart, just data analytics, or a Wi-Fi connection.

In the world of consumer tech, this borrowed glory is applied to a range of gadgets, from appliances to wearables. Look at this Kickstarter campaign from last year for a pair of headphones dubbed the Vinci. Its creators say the gadget is “powered by AI,” an impressive-sounding claim that, in terms of actual functionality, boils down to just two features: one, you can control the UI with your voice, and two, the headphones will give you music recommendations based on listening habits. So, if you like to put on jazz in the evening, guess what the Vinci is going to play you tomorrow night. (Hint: more jazz.)

There are plenty of other examples too, with many coming out of this year’s CES:

  • The Bonjour alarm clock (an Amazon Echo with a screen), which promises its “AI algorithms [will] ease your morning routine”
  • The Sleep Number 360 Smart Bed, which appear in its ads as an anthropomorphized AI bed that tells users in a breathy voice: “I can feel your heart rate, your breathing, your movement.”
  • The Kolibree toothbrush, which claims to have its own “embedded AI”
  • Or LG’s new range of appliances, which the company says are powered by deep learning and come with their own “artificial intelligence engine

But is your toothbrush really artificially intelligent? Is your washing machine? No.

While it’s not technically lying to describe these gadgets as “artificial intelligence,” it’s hardly truthful either. The letter of the law is different from the spirit of the law, and while the methods of machine learning and AI will have been used to create the algorithms that power various features, that’s not the same as saying this pair of headphones or that fridge is artificially intelligent.

The phrase used in many of these releases — “powered by AI” — brings to mind the artificial intelligence in films like Her; semi-sentient computers that can joke with you, understand you, look after you. It’s no coincidence that many of the gadgets that are described as possessing or deploying AI are ones that look after you in some way. We know through cultural instincts what the fully-automated, human-coddling house of the future looks like, and we know that the current reality is far less sophisticated.

It’s not just fly-by-night Kickstarter campaigns making these claims either — big tech companies which do important AI research make similar exaggerations. Just look at the video Mark Zuckerberg made about the “home AI” he coded in 2016. It seems almost petty to point out that the AI in this clip isn’t real and that Zuckerberg didn’t create a computer that’s teaching his baby Mandarin, but it’s worth saying it all the same: he didn’t. It’s not real.

Zuckerberg’s video is a goof, something intended to make you relate to a individuals whose vast wealth has completely overshadowed his human-ness, but it also illustrates how the tech world takes advantage of the AI myth. A few fictional flourishes here, a gag or two there, and your imagination fills the gap between current functionality and the sci-fi future. Yes, you can turn off the lights with your voice, by is that any better than using a clapper?

None of this is to say that AI isn’t important in tech right now, and home assistants like the Echo and Google Home do clearly demonstrate the potential for machine learning-powered voice interfaces that can control our surroundings. But we’re also seeing — at CES and elsewhere — the usual parade of hucksters and carnival barkers who are happy to add just two letters to their vocabulary in the hope that it will improve sales. Artificial intelligence is still a dream rather than reality.

LG’s new flagship 4K OLED TV is stunningly thin

LG is defending its champion-of-TV-picture-quality crown here at CES 2017. For a few years running, the company’s dedication to OLED sets has earned it rave reviews and the loyalty of home theater buffs. It’s been rumored that LG is (finally) about to get some competition in OLED 4K TVs from Sony, so this year the company needs to find another way to stand out. And it’s doing that through presentation. This is the new LG Signature 4K OLED W series. The W stands for wallpaper and refers to the TV’s new “picture-on-wall” design. It’s a two-part system: the main display up top, and a Dolby Atmos soundbar below it. That soundbar also houses the TV’s primary guts, HDMI inputs, and so on.

The screen itself is a 4K HDR OLED panel that measures just 2.57-millimeters thick. That’s the 65-inch model; the W also comes in a 77-inch size. But the point is that it’s very, very thin. Hard to believe thin. At 17 pounds (again, we’re talking the 65-inch version), it’s fairly light too.

This is possible because OLED technology doesn’t require the same backlighting (and thus extra space) as LCD sets. Separating the TV’s brains from the panel basically allows LG to make a dumb, beautiful screen that plugs in — via a proprietary cable — to the soundbar underneath. You can’t put this TV on a stand on some table; the only honorable option is to mount it to the wall. When I asked LG’s executives whether there is any tradeoff whatsoever in making a TV this thin, they insisted that it delivers image output on par with and better than last year’s top-end models.

LG has nonetheless made slight improvements to image quality across its 2017 OLED lineup, which includes the B7, C7, E7, G7, and the W7 featured here. (The other models have a less radical design and are modest upgrades to last year’s family.) The main upgrade is that they’re capable of getting brighter “where needed” in certain scenes. They all support every flavor of HDR video, as well: HDR10, Dolby Vision, and HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma). Technicolor apparently lended some “color science expertise” related to calibration and reproduction technologies to LG in the making of these sets, as well.

WebOS continues to be the underlying software platform on these TVs and, now at version 3.5 on LG TVs, is mostly unchanged from 2016; it remains very colorful and probably the most “fun” TV interface from the major brands, but that by no means makes it the best. I’m sure there will be people wishing these TVs ran Android TV or Chromecast instead. LG says it has “partnered” with Netflix, Amazon Video, and Vudu this year, likely just to give 4K and HDR content more prominent placement in the interface.

As for the soundbar, LG says customers with their own surround system can bypass the Dolby Atmos bar if they’re already running a better setup. But unfortunately you’re still stuck with the big soundbar taking up room on a table in this scenario; there’s no option for a smaller companion box for the flagship OLED — at least not yet. It sounded pretty good in our brief demo time, and seeing the two circular speakers rise from the left and right sides when you power it on is rather cool. (Yes, they automatically retract back into the body when you’re done.

LG isn’t revealing final pricing for its new signature 4K OLED yet, but you can bet it will be very expensive. Probably more expensive than any consumer line you’ll see at CES from competitors like Samsung and Sony. Thankfully you’ll get (mostly) the same great picture quality if you step down to a less pricey model in the 2017 LG OLED lineup.

And this is really what CES is all about: a flashy, your-eyes-can’t-believe-it technology marvel of a TV. Prototypes of this “wallpaper” display actually curled at the edges, but LG advises against trying that with the shipping consumer display. Speaking of which, the 65-inch Signature OLED W will start shipping in February and arrive in stores by March. A handful of Best Buy stores will also be showcasing the TV and taking preorders starting January 5th. The 77-inch variant won’t arrive until a little later.

Photography by James Bareham.

LG’s new midrange smartphones offer improved cameras and battery life

LG announced the latest iterations of its midrange smartphones today at CES 2017, with new versions of the K-Series line and the LG Stylus 3. All the new devices represent upgrades over the previous versions of both the Stylus and K Series products, with the 2017 models adding things like improved cameras, larger batteries, and on the top models in the range, integrated fingerprint sensors.

The Stylus 3 is perhaps the most powerful of LG’s new mid-range products, with a 1.5GHz octa-core processor, 3GB of RAM, a 5.7-inch screen, and — as the name implies — a suite of stylus-based features. Additionally the Stylus 3 has a 8-megapixel front-facing camera, and 13 megapixel rear shooter with a 3,200mAh removable battery.

LG K Series phones

The 2017 K Series offers a range of 4 models: the K10, the K8, the K4, and the K3. The highest specs are found in the K10, which has a 5.3-inch screen, a 120-degree wide-angle selfie lens and 13 megapixel rear camera, as well as a fingerprint sensor, metal frame, and a slightly curved glass screen. However, it’s still a midrange phone, which means that the exterior of the phone is still a fairly light and cheap plastic shell that’s a far cry from the more premium materials on LG’s flagships. Specs decrease down the line, with the 5-inch K8 and K4 each having progressively slower processors and weaker hardware, with the 4.5-inch K3 rounding out the bottom of the K Series. And while the K10 and K8 both run the latest Android Nougat, the K4 and K3 are stuck with last year’s Marshmallow.

LG isn’t giving any pricing or release date information for the new smartphones however, but commented that it would largely be dependent on US carriers who choose to offer the devices.

LG claims its new Gram 14 laptop has 21 hours of battery life

LG’s latest attempt to blend ultra-thin design with high-end performance may have solved one of the company’s most pernicious problems. The Gram 14, announced today at CES, is similar to its predecessor in many ways. There’s still no touchscreen, and the device is just as thin and weighs the same as the 2015 model, coming in at just 2.16 pounds. That’s still light enough to retain the weight crown for its size class. Yet the real differentiator this go around is battery life. LG claims the Gram 14 tops out at 21 hours on a single charge.

It’s a bold claim, especially considering the flaws of the original Gram, itself a pretty brazen MacBook clone. In trying to bring down the laptop’s profile and weight, LG ended up with a overpriced gadget with abysmal battery life. In our review, we found the Gram struggled to last more than just five hours. Whatever LG has achieved between then and now would have to be a remarkable feat of engineering, because 21 hours of battery life is a more than double the claims of Apple other PC competitors. Of course, the Gram 14 will have to be tested when we get our hands on a review unit, and it may fail to achieve that milestone under heavy use. Still, even 15 to 16 hours would be a stunning feat.

  LG

LG has provided some details as to how it may have achieved the battery performance while retaining the light and thin frame. The Gram 14 now has a full metal body, which the company says is constructed out of a nano carbon magnesium alloy. The metal is a first for a LG product, and could be one of the company’s secrets behind the device’s longevity. By producing weight loss in its material design, LG may have been able to squeeze more juice into the product. LG says there’s also a new display technology behind the screen bezel that allows the IPS panel to achieve its brightness and resolution benchmarks while cutting down on component weight.

Still, we don’t know for sure whether the device will live up to the company’s claim. LG is also holding off on announcing pricing and availability for the Gram 14. The original Gram’s biggest issue was that it asked an Apple premium for a device out performed by far cheaper laptops. So the true test here will be whether this latest Gram has finally cracked the right blend of component choice and material design to achieve a battery that lasts — and all for the right price.

In 2017 cars are at the frontier of technology

The thing that keeps me coming back to cars is how they creep into most every aspect of our lives. The obvious reason is that we spend a good portion of our time inside of them. An overwhelming 91 percent of Americans use their personal vehicles to get to work, the average American spends 55 minutes behind the wheel a day, and Americans make 1.1 billion trips everyday, according to the US Department of Transportation.

Car companies have been right in our face for a long time, but now tech companies are getting involved. The biggest shift in the perception of the automobile in America, is that in 2016 cars became part of the tech industry’s mission.

Only a year ago, if you read the comments on our car reviews, it seemed like Verge readers were divided in two camps — those who thirsted for car coverage and those who thought car companies— excluding a rare bird like Tesla — had no place among our focus on gadgetry, big ideas about security and data, and the promise of progress. It felt like the auto industry had crashed CES as the uncouth guest flashing around marketing dollars.

But 2016 was the year of surprising realignments, in virtually every aspect of society, and suddenly it became hard to find a tech company purveyor that didn’t express an interest in some aspect of autonomous car technology or wasn’t in talks with a major automaker. Car culture, which up until recently was infused with 20th century nostalgia, has piqued the imagination as transportation concepts are called into question. Artificial intelligence, LIDAR, and data security are now part of everyday car speak.

As we head into 2017 and CES abuzz with car news, we can make predictions about what’s ahead, but in reality none of us has a clear idea of what comes next. And that’s where I struggle to make forecasts. In my wildest vision, I imagine an autonomous trucking service will quietly set up shop in a remote western state to make weekly deliveries, a car company will launch a subscriber service as experiment, or a US city that will announce plans for a self-driving only zone. I imagine rideables that have wicked new designs, Uber flying to a pickup destination near you, or a new electric car company going belly up. I imagine a coalition of government and industry players that push some more practical version of hyperloop plans forward. I imagine a company, in a gutsy move, taking the steering wheel out of its car to brag about reaching level 5 autonomy in public testing, in the same way car company engineers used to street race in the 1960s, after dark when no one was watching.

But in 2017, I could also see progress hampered. A major car company could spiral into bankruptcy if its business model for manufacturing or overseas sales is challenged by political forces. I could see engineering and technician shortages increase, as not enough Americans pursue training in their fields and the diversity in the auto industry’s highest ranks continue to be abysmal. If the government dials back on emissions standards, car companies may abandon plans to make efficient cars. I could see a patchwork of self-driving laws causing heated legislative battles when the next fatal accident happens.

These are uncertain times in the world, and in a time of such flux, the automotive industry is subject to the unpredictability that looms large. Technology we have learned, can catch us by surprise, create logical solutions, but in 2016 we were reminded that it can also let us down. And so can humans.

Chevy Bolt drive galleryChevy Bolt drive gallery

A decade ago, we were told that electric cars were the future. Yet even in an ev-friendly state like California, for every electric car consumer, there are 97 drivers who will still buy gasoline powered engines, especially when gas prices go low. Thousands of car companies and big ideas have come and gone. The history of automotive industry is made up of more failure than progress.The jury is still out on who will win in this era. Will Tesla go the route of Tucker or Ford? Will the Chevy Bolt and Model 3 ever capture more business than the Ford F150?

While none of us know what’s ahead, here’s what I hope will happen in the world of transportation. I hope that new ideas and innovations will delight us, surprise us, and keep us safer and cleaner. I hope that motorsports like Formula E will become a growing, fertile ground for understanding how to make cars fast, clean, and fun. I hope that the industry will be conscious on the impact it will have on the planet instead of focusing on short-term profits. I hope that our investment infrastructure will not only mean patching up roads, but also mean rethinking how public transportation plays into getting people from all walks of life around town. We have an opportunity to learn from our mistakes, and continue to race toward a future where transportation keeps us connected, and human.