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CES 2020: checking in with 2019’s best tech one year later

Each and every CES, technology companies pull out all the stops to show off the boldest, most outlandish, and experimental products to wow the public, impress journalists, and plant flags in the sand that competitors will take note of. Sometimes, that means a ludicrously large and expensive television or, in some cases, a modular gaming PC. It could be a concept electric vehicle or a sophisticated pet robot.

But what often goes unsaid after the flurry of announcements and the fading excitement is the eventual fate of these products. After all, CES is among the safest places in the tech industry to announce what might become vaporware in the future — without being held accountable for actually shipping a real device to consumers. But that’s also part of the fun. Companies know they can get away with something a little more out-there or something just plain weird when it’s under the banner of CES where wow factors and envelope-pushing take priority over ship dates and price points.

That’s why we here at The Verge feel it’s necessary to take stock of the big CES product announcements and categories of 2019 (as well as some stragglers from years prior) to see where they stand. Some, of course, will always be prototypes. Others are surprising in that they not only shipped but are also finding dedicated consumer audiences. Here’s what’ve managed to dig up on the past products of CES. (Be sure to check out last year’s roundup for a look back at CES 2018.)

Image: LG

Current status: Delayed indefinitely

Originally announced at CES 2018, LG’s stunning rollable OLED TV was promised to ship sometime in 2019, at the very least for South Korean customers. That never happened. Instead, the product’s global launch was pushed back to 2020 while LG said it was aiming for a late-2019 launch in Korea. Then at IFA, LG said it may not arrive outside Korea until 2021.

We still don’t know how much the TV will cost, or what size options it will come in. It’s still not available for sale even in Korea. But earlier this week, LG gave us a sneak peek at what it plans to show off at CES next week: an all-new rollable display that falls from the ceiling like a projector instead of rising up out of a TV stand on the floor.

GIF by Chris Welch / The Verge

It’s an interesting concept, and perhaps this one is slightly more viable than the rollable prototypes LG has been showing off these past few shows. Maybe the company will have more to say about its entire rollable lineup come next week, and hopefully we get some type of release window or pricing details.

Photo: Samsung

Current status: Available now

Samsung has been playing up next-gen MicroLED display technology for years now, starting with “The Wall,” an eye-popping modular 146-inch 8K screen introduced at CES back in 2018 that was composed of a series of bezel-less units that could be plugged into one another like Lego. It sounds like quintessential CES vaporware. Why would anyone buy this, and wouldn’t it cost a fortune? Better to show it off as a concept and move on.

Yet apparently, Samsung actually went through with commercializing The Wall. After introducing a smaller 75-inch version of its MicroLED display, this time in 4K and not 8K, Samsung announced in July 2019 that it would start shipping an even larger option you can actually buy. Called the Wall Luxury, this 219-inch 6K or 292-inch 8K MicroLED display is available as a series of modules you have installed as one single unit.

You can also get a 73-inch 2K model (composed of four modules) or the 146-inch 4K model (composed of 16 modules). But some third-party retailers have listed individual modules at $16,000 each, meaning you be paying more than $500,000 for the 292-inch version. Of course, to actually acquire any of these, you have to call Samsung directly.

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Current Status: Available now

Alienware’s Area-51M was a first-of-its-kind gaming laptop. It has both an upgradable CPU and GPU, removing the two biggest compromises to settling for a gaming laptop over a traditional tower-style PC. But when it was first announced at CES last year, it had the air of one of those trade show prototypes that made for good headlines, and yet, it seemed as if it might be too impractical to warrant turning it into a full-fledged consumer product.

Thankfully, Alienware has treated the Area-51m like a legitimate product, and you can buy one right now if you so choose and it wouldn’t exactly break the bank — as far as gaming laptops go, at least. Alienware began selling configurations of the Area-51M in late January 2019, and it’s since supported the laptop with additional, albeit pricey, GPU upgrade kits if you bought a version with a lower-end GPU. (The cheapest version of the laptop still starts at $2,000, and that’s not even for one with an Nvidia RTX card.)

Reminder: it lasts basically 30 minutes on a charge while gaming, so this is much more of a portable desktop gaming PC than it is a laptop. But it so far delivers in all the ways Alienware initially promised last year. What we are waiting for now is whether Alienware can maintain this model by making it compatible with future, to-be-announced GPUs from Nvidia and AMD, not just existing Nvidia RTX ones.

US-LIFESTYLE-COMPUTERS-HEALTH-AUTOMOBILE

Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

Impossible Burger 2.0

Current Status: Available now

Impossible Foods made a big deal out of coming to CES last year to announce its brand-new plant-based vegan burger patty. Treating a new variant of the Impossible Burger like a tech product was a savvy marketing strategy; it smartly leans into the lab-grown meat narrative by giving it a futuristic aesthetic. It also disarms those who might be wary of a future where real red meat is supplanted by treating the plant-based alternative like a tech innovation we should be celebrating. And the press coverage out of CES treated it as such.

Luckily for Impossible, its new patty didn’t flop. The company began rolling out the Impossible Burger 2.0 shortly after CES at a number of restaurants around the country. It has since replaced its initial patty, which contained wheat protein, with its new, gluten-free 2.0 one, which uses potato proteins instead, as the primary Impossible Burger you can get at restaurants all over the country and now even at grocery stores, too.

Photo by Jordon Golson / The Verge

Electric Cars

Current status: Chevy Bolt now available; the Byton M-Byte is waiting to ship; Faraday Future FF91 may never ship

With the rise of electric cars and all manner of smart gadgets invading the auto industry over the last decade, CES has become as much of a car show as it is a standard consumer electronics one. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the slew of car companies that try to plant their flag in Vegas every January. Over the last few years, we’ve seen a number of big electric car debuts, and not all of them made it out of the gate on time.

Chevrolet revived its electric car dreams with the Chevy Bolt, a reimagined all-electric version of its discontinued plug-in Volt. It was first shown at CES in 2016, and a year later, it actually hit roads in Europe and the US, right on schedule. The latest 2020 version comes with a range of 259 miles, making it cheaper and longer-lasting than the lowest-cost Tesla Model 3, which the Bolt officially beat to the affordable electric car market. (That said, the Model 3 has since vastly outsold the Bolt and remains a much more popular EV.)

The same cannot be said for electric car startups Byton and Faraday Future. Both companies have used CES to show off prototypes, concepts, and supposedly soon-to-ship real products. But both have also hit serious snags along the way. Chinese EV startup Byton has been working for years to get its all-electric M-Byte SUV out the door, and it first showed off its EV at CES 2018 with plans to sell a production model in late 2019. At last year’s CES, Byton did not seem all that much closer to actually producing its car, but it did show off a gigantic dashboard-spanning screen.

Image: Byton

Since then, Byton has revised its ship date for the M-Byte in China to mid-2020, with the US and Europe to get it in 2021. It’s still being kept afloat, thanks to a deal with state-owned Chinese automaker FAW Group, and we’ll have to see whether the company can realistically release its SUV later this year, let alone at the promised price of $45,000.

Faraday Future hasn’t been quite so lucky. Many of the company’s ongoing struggles originate from the terrible management of founder Jia Yueting of Chinese electronics and entertainment giant LeEco. But that hasn’t stopped Faraday from having a big presence at CES over the last few years. It showed off its first planned production vehicle, the FF91 all-electric SUV, at CES 2017, a year after opting to show off a ludicrous concept car because it didn’t have something more concrete to show off. At the time, Faraday was promising an official FF91 launch by 2018. But everything since then has been nothing short of a disaster.

The company’s last few years have involved numerous production delays, layoffs, management shuffles, and just general financial chaos related to the company’s relationship with its primary investor, a Chinese property company called the Evergrande Group, and Yueting’s ongoing debts both in China and the US. It’s not clear whether any of the company’s rather futuristic-looking Tesla competitors will ever make it off a production line.

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Foldable smartphones

Current status: Huawei Mate X available now; Microsoft Duo slated for holiday 2020 launch; Motorola Razr launching later this year; Oppo still in development; Royole FlexPai available now; Samsung Fold available now

Foldable phones became one of the more exciting stories of last year’s CES, with at least one manufacturer showing off a prototype and some promising to show new concepts in the coming months, while a handful of other phone makers were rumored to be working on versions of their own.

Out of the gate first was Royole’s FlexPai, a clunky but still functional foldable phone that made the rounds at CES but which former Verge reporter Vlad Savov called “charmingly awful.” Samsung had only teased its Galaxy Fold a few months prior at its developer conference, making the FlexPai the first official foldable on the scene.

And to Royole’s credit, it did ship the thing. Starting in March, the Royole began selling a developer version of the FlexPai in the US, while an additional consumer version went on sale in China. The price was steep at a little more than $1,300 for the cheapest configuration, but Royole can definitively say it was first, even if the company hasn’t really made a splash since.

Following the FlexPai, Huawei and Oppo both unveiled similar folding phones during MWC in February of last year, while Xiaomi has been teasing an ever-evolving version of its take on the foldable for quite some time now. Unfortunately for Huawei, its foldable Mate X that was originally slated to launch in September got pushed to November, and even then, it’s a China-only model. But it is, in fact, shipping. The company is still reviewing whether it wants to launch the phone globally at all. As for Oppo, the company’s foldable hasn’t been seen since MWC, and Xiaomi has been similarly silent.

Samsung had a rather messy go of it with its Galaxy Fold. After teasing the device in October 2018 and unveiling the product in February just days before Huawei revealed the Mate X, Samsung was poised to be the early and dominant foldable phone leader — that is, until reviewers got their hands on the product.

Numerous tech media outlets reported serious issues with the device involving both a protective layer of the screen that could be removed and put the display at risk and debris getting in the foldable hinge and distorting the screen. Samsung canceled the launch and went back to the drawing board to iron out the kinks in the Fold, and months later, it claimed that it fixed it. It launched officially in South Korea and the UK, and then later the US starting in September with some notable fixes to the hinge and a harder-to-remove screen protector. But it still costs $1,980 and ranks up there with Samsung’s most fumbled product launches in recent memory, alongside that whole exploding Galaxy Note 7 debacle.

As for the other foldables, there’s Motorola’s new foldable Razr, which doesn’t have a specified release window after the company delayed a December preorder date and a planned January 2020 launch. There’s also the Android-powered Microsoft Duo, which the Windows maker surprised the industry with back in October. That has a planned holiday 2020 release window. Meanwhile, LG, Lenovo, and Sony are all said to be working on foldables as well, and perhaps we’ll see some new models at this year’s CES or MWC. We already know Samsung and Huawei are working on new versions of their respective models.

Photo by Shannon Liao / The Verge

Current Status: Not yet available

Nothing screams overindulgent CES smart home nonsense quite like a $7,200 toilet. Yet that’s precisely what Kohler showed up to Vegas with last year, and it understandably generated some bewildered — but also quite intrigued — sentiments among the press. “Kohler’s smart toilet promises a ‘fully-immersive experience,” was our inspired headline, which leaves enough open to the imagination to wonder what exactly you might get out of a luxury smart toilet.

For those who are indeed interested in the Alexa-powered toilet, Kohler, unfortunately, hasn’t had much to say about the product in the last 12 months. The one shown off at last year’s CES was officially the Numi 2.0, as it’s an upgrade to the existing $9,000 Numi Comfort Height toilet that came out way back in 2013. Yet the 2.0 model now has a Q2 2020 ship window listed on Kohler’s website and no concrete pricing information beyond the $7,200 the company quoted when announcing it.

But let’s be real: if you want this ridiculously expensive smart toilet, you’re going to wait however long is necessary to buy it. I mean, read this product description: “In the dark, as you walk up to Numi 2.0, the integrated nightlight helps to guide you, the lid will open and treat you to a warm seat; when you walk away, it flushes and closes.” Gadget perfection, if you ask me.

Current status: Still (and likely forever) a prototype

Razer has a penchant for showing up to CES with products it quite clearly recognizes have little to near-zero consumer potential. That’s why it typically puts “Project” in front of the name of these devices, like it did in 2014 with Project Christine, in 2017 with Project Valerie, and in 2018 with Project Linda.

Last year, we checked in on Project Linda, which was Razer’s attempt at creating a phone-laptop hybrid that involved placing the phone into a laptop connector that turned the phone into both the brains of the laptop and its trackpad. The verdict: Linda is never coming out, as you might have guessed after first hearing about it. The same goes for Christine and Project Ariana, a prototype projector that extended the color palette of whatever was on the display across the entirety of a wall as a kind of showcase for its Chroma lighting technology.

This year, we thought it would be a good idea to take a look back at Valerie, a three-monitor gaming laptop display that, while not as ambitious, is certainly more practical (or as practical as a triple-monitor laptop can get). Razer designed Valerie as a kind of fold-out gaming laptop, so you could turn a 17.3-inch screen into an ultrawide monitor that’s three times the width. It looks kind of ridiculous, like most gaming peripherals do, but not overwhelmingly so. You could mistake it for a set of external monitors if you didn’t look close enough to see the attached keyboard.

Razer Project Valerie

Photo by Vlad Savov / The Verge

Unfortunately, despite this being a slightly more reasonable in that I could actually see this being commercialized, Project Valerie has disappeared like all of Razer’s other experimental projects. There’s still a nice Razer landing page for it here, and some intrepid DIY YouTubers have since developed their own hacked versions. But an official Valerie monitor setup is not happening ever, although Razer CEO Ming-Lian Tan did once hint that the company was “still working on the hinge.”

However, one inspired individual decided that they just needed to have Valerie, so they stole not one, but two prototypes from the CES show floor back in 2017. One would hope that, if not caught and charged with the appropriate crimes, this daring thief is at the very least enjoying the three-monitor setup to this day. Because no one else will ever be able to.

Image: Asus

Current status: Available now

Asus’ ROG Mothership was yet another entry in last year’s burgeoning not-really-a-laptop market — otherwise known as a portable gaming desktop, if you’ll excuse that oxymoron. It’s a 17-inch, 10-pound portable gaming PC that technically could run on battery power. But it wasn’t really designed to be used that way. Instead, Asus developed it as a standalone monitor with a detachable, full-size keyboard that acts as the monitor cover when closed, with the idea being that you could hook up your own gaming mouse if you wanted a proper MKB setup and game on the go, so long as you plugged in promptly when its battery began to die.

Sounds like vaporware incarnate, right? Apparently not. Asus begin selling the device a few months back for $6,499, in only one configuration. But that said, that gets you an Intel Core i9, RTX 2080, 64GB of RAM, and 1.5TB SSD, all packed right under the 144 Hz G-Sync screen. It doesn’t get more top tier than that, and that’s a good thing considering nothing about the Mothership is remotely upgradable. Then again, if you’re buying a $6,499 computer of this variety, keeping it up to date is probably not a big concern.

Image: Asus

Current status: Never shipped

Asus’ Bezel Free Kit was one of the most interesting gaming gadgets of CES 2018. It used vertical lenses to refract the light from a display so that the image could reliably stretch across one monitor to another, or even two on either side at the same time. Effectively, it let you create one seamless image across three monitors, with only a tiny amount of visual disturbance noticeable. Unfortunately, this is one of the few items on this list that has fallen off the map completely. Asus hasn’t said anything about the product since announcing it, despite saying it would start shipping in 2018, and the website for the product doesn’t look like it’s been updated in almost two years.

Image: Google

Current status: Still a prototype

Google has made a big effort over the last few years to increase its profile at CES, especially as its digital assistant war with Amazon has all but taken over the smart home market. At last year’s show, Google made the pitch that its Assistant could power all manner of devices by basically piggybacking off a more powerful nearby device, like a Google Smart Display or Home speaker. That way, you could put little screens on any number of gadgets, and even power those screens using low-cost E Ink, without that device needing a processor capable of running the full Assistant software.

Google’s conceptual vision for this was a small E Ink circular display you could affix to your bathroom mirror. For its actual physical prototype, the company 3D-printed a little E Ink smart display that could mirror important daily updates about, say, the weather or your commute. It was a cool concept, but Google hasn’t really talked about it since, and the entire idea, which Google called Assistant Connect, has gone pretty much nowhere in the last 12 months. We’re bound to hear more about Google Assistant next week at CES, but it’ll be interesting to see if the company revives this idea or if it becomes the next tombstone in the Google Graveyard.

Current status: Available now

Shaving giant Gillette coming to CES 2019 with a notable product was on its own a rare sight. Even rarer was the company putting the device, a heated razor, up on crowdfunding site Indiegogo. It was a successful campaign, hosted by the company’s in-house product development team known as GilletteLabs. And the idea is a simple one backed up by years of research. The battery-powered razor has a built-in heater that almost instantly brings the blades up to either 120 or 110 degrees Fahrenheit. That way, you get the equivalent of a hot towel shave baked directly into the razor blades.

Unfortunately, the $200 razor didn’t quite live up to the hype, according to the team at Wirecutter. Writer Dan Koeppel said the heated razor seems appealing at first, but it fell short of being effective enough to warrant the price. After consulting a proper barber, Koeppel concluded that you’re better off just using hot towels and pressing them against your face than paying 20 times the cost of a standard Gillette razor for one that heats up on its own.

Image: Bell

Current status: Still in development

Bell has made a big bet on the future of personal transport, and it involves hybrid-electric flying cars. Formerly known as Bell Helicopter but rebranded as a forward-looking technology company, the Texas-based aviation firm best known for producing the V-22 Osprey helicopter for the military has been coming to CES since 2017 and talking up its work on so-called electric VTOL, or vertical take-off and landing vehicles. Bell, among dozens of other aviation startups and industry heavyweights like Boeing and Airbus, sees a big opportunity and a lot of money to be made in developing lightweight, electric aircraft that straddle the line between car, helicopter, and plane.

We haven’t seen an actual flying car from Bell in action yet, but that hasn’t stopped it from using its aerospace bona fides to ink a deal with Uber to fill out the ride-hailing company’s eventual air taxi fleet scheduled to go live in 2023. Still, Bell is promising that its own model, called the Nexus and classified as a hybrid-electric air propulsion aircraft, will be among the most sophisticated of the air taxis when it arrives in the middle of the decade. So far, Bell has shown off some impressive renders of its cabin and exterior design. Hopefully, the Nexus evolves from a render to a real-life aircraft sometime soon.



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