CES 2012: The newbies worth knowing

A lot of the computing devices at the annual gadget fest were old or me-too products. Here are the real standouts

Credit: CEA
The most intriguing products for business users

The Consumer Electronics Show showcases thousands upon thousands of games, gadgets, and toys, and it's become the event where technology companies of all stripes market their previously announced priorities. This year was no different, with a gaggle of similar Android tablets and smartphones, a pack of thin-and-light Ultrabook laptops, and of course repeated previews of the Windows 8 and BlackBerry Tablet OS 2.0.

Despite those retread and me-too aspects of CES, a few products stood out this year as distinct, interesting, and appealing to users of business tech. Some of those, such as the amazing Lantronix xPrintServer for iOS printing, were also previously unveiled. What follows are the standouts that were truly new.

Credit: Corning
Gorilla Glass 2.0

It's not a product you can buy directly, but chances are your smartphone or tablet uses Corning's tough, scratch-resistant compound known as Gorilla Glass for its screen. Corning has reworked its formula for the material, resulting in Gorilla Glass 2.0, which provides the same durability when 20 percent thinner. Expect to see it make its way into tech products everywhere.

Credit: Nokia
Nokia Lumia 900

Nokia is betting its smartphone future largely on Windows Phone 7.5, and the Lumia 900 is its flagship smartphone for the United States, a market Nokia has been frozen out of for years. AT&T will carry the Lumia 900, a larger-screen, LTE-equipped big brother to the Lumia 800 released in Europe this past fall. The Lumia 800 got good reviews but not great sales in Europe; Nokia is hoping the Lumia 900 will get a stronger reception in the United States.

Credit: Motorola Mobility
Motorola Droid Razr Maxx

Samsung currently makes the crown jewel of Android smartphones, the Android 4-powered Galaxy Nexus. But Motorola hopes to change that with its new lineup, composed of the Droid 4 and Droid Razr Maxx.

Of the two, the Razr Maxx (to be available from Verizon for $300 with a two-year contract) is the more interesting smartphone, thanks to its very long battery life: 21 hours of talk time. It's otherwise a thicker version of the Razr, with the same Kevlar shell and unremarkable components. But the move to long battery life is a welcome one, especially given the relatively short battery life of many Android devices.

Credit: OnLive
OnLive Desktop

The only software item in our CES 2012 picks, OnLive Desktop is easily mistaken for yet another remote desktop access app for the iPad. But OnLive Desktop doesn't merely connect to your PC over your local network, as the rest do.

OnLive Desktop is Windows 7 and Microsoft Office for rent on the cloud, when Apple's native iWork suite won't do. If you have a 1.5MBps or better Internet connection, you can run Windows 7 and the Office suite from OnLive's cloud service. You needn't worry about leaving your PC on or opening an RDP port on your PC's network. The basic service is free, with 2GB of storage; monthly fees apply for more storage and support.

Credit: Belkin International
Belkin Thunderbolt Express

Apple pioneered the use of the amazingly fast Thunderbolt cabling last year, and many PCs will sport the Thunderbolt technology this year. Thunderbolt is so fast that Apple's newest Cinema Display monitors can act as a hub for FireWire, Ethernet, USB, and video, all driven to a Mac via a single Thunderbolt cable. Belkin's $299 Thunderbolt Express, due in September, promises to offer that same capability to any Thunderbolt-equipped computer.

Credit: Hewlett-Packard
Envy 14 Spectre

Pretty much every computer maker showed off an Ultrabook laptop at CES, with varying chassis designs and sizes but the same MacBook Air-inspired fundamentals of being thin, weighing little, draining power sparingly, and using SSD storage, plus Intel's own contribution of fast bootup.

Hewlet-Packard's Envy 14 Spectre (video) stands out not because it is in the Ultrabook camp but because of its innovative glass lid, which frees up the space normally taken by the frame to allow the use of a larger screen in the same space. HP claims it can fit a 14-inch LCD in the same laptop dimensions that normally hold a 13-inch LCD. It also supports near-field communications (NFC) short-range wireless. The base model ships on Feb. 8 for $1,399.

Credit: Vizio
Vizio computers

With all the PCs shown at CES, why select those from Vizio? After all, the company is known not for computers but cheap, basic-quality LCD TVs sold at discount chains. The answer: Judging by the units shown at CES, Vizio is doing cheap PCs with panache -- the "cheap chic" approach you might associate with Target stores. They look nice, and reviewers from the major consumer electronic sites have given them a thumbs-up in initial quality, not just chassis design.

When the Vizio all-in-one PCs and laptops ship later this year (dates and pricing are still secret), the expectations for what defines a low-cost PC could radically change, leaving those other plasticky Windows systems languishing on store shelves.