CES 2007 impressions and gear review

The big show (CES 2007) has come and gone and I am back home and I have been giving a lot of thought to the gear I took to the show and how it performed in the field.  It is important to realize that this show is mammoth, the main show floor is in the convention center and is acres large.  You could take a day and a half to try and cover all of this floor but it’s not all there is.  There are a lot of exhibits in the Sands Expo which is a cab ride away and then a lot of the press conferences and OEM exibits are in the Venetian Hotel and other similar locations.  There is a lot of walking of course which means you want your gear to be as light as possible but there is also a lot of cab or bus riding from one venue to another so you also want that gear to be as small as possible.  So how did my gear hold up?  Read on after the jump to find out.

I should list the gear that I took to Vegas so you get a feel for the load I was carrying for miles each day (I’m not going to put links for everything, just Google it):

  • Fujitsu P1610 Tablet PC (extended and standard battery)
  • Novatel V620 EV-DO PC Card modem
  • Lamy Accent 4 in 1 pen/ stylus
  • ThinkOutside Bluetooth mouse
  • BatteryGeek Portable Power Station
  • Casio ExiLim camera
  • M-Audio MicroTrack 24/96 audio recorder
  • Netgear Travel Router
  • Zune

All of the gear (with the exception of the Netgear router) was carried each day in the Booq bag that I have used for a couple of years.  This bag is very comfortable to wear all day on the back yet holds everything very organized for rapid extraction when needed.  The travel router stayed in the hotel room as my room had blazing fast wired ethernet (5500 kbps both up and down) so I used the router to make my own hotspot, which let me work comfortably anywhere in the room.

The first two days in Vegas I attended the Microsoft Vista RTM Labs and the venue was very packed and we were working all day in a very tight area.  Most of the attendees were having a tough time fitting their laptops or Tablet PCs in the small area but Rob Bushway and I were easily situated with our Fujitsus and we could work in either Tablet or laptop mode.  Speaking of Rob, he gave both the Booq bag and the Lamy pen a good look and was very impressed with the utility of both.  The wireless connectivity in the conference was either spotty or nonexistent so I just left the EV-DO card in and stayed connected all day each day with nary a worry.  I can’t wait until I can upgrade this card to one with the new and faster Rev. A, it would have come in handy since the network in Las Vegas has been upgraded by Verizon.  I used the P1610 in slate mode most of the time and took notes in ink as I usually do.  I didn’t worry about battery power and didn’t take a power adapter with me for the Fuji because frankly I just didn’t need to.  The extended battery gets me ~6 hours and the standard battery ~3 hours so I can go all day.  I did carry the BatteryGeek battery with me in case I wanted to top off one of the batteries for some reason.

It was interesting to see that of the four Tablet PC MVPs attending the Vista RTM Lab two of us use the P1610 and the other two use the Lenovo x60.  It was fun watching the Lenovo users balancing the x60 on the small table or on their laps while Rob and I breezed through with our Fujis.  It also indicates which Tablet PCs are hot right now, at least until the new ones announced at the CES are available.

Once the CES started up the routine became, well, anything but routine.  I was up fairly early each day and writing posts for 3 web sites and then off to the show, which usually meant a 15 – 30 minute wait in a cab line to get to the convention center.  I really appreciated having such a light load and small bag while standing in these lines.  It was also cool to be able to process email and check my RSS feeds while standing in line, something that generated a lot of attention from my fellow travelers.  More than one blog post I wrote from the show was written standing in one line or another.  That’s what you call mobile tech in practice.

Throughout each day of visiting exhibitor booths I used the Casio camera a lot and also pulled the Fujitsu out of the bag to make notes of import.  My Nikon camera bit the dust a couple of weeks before the CES so I brought my wife’s Casio camera and it held up very nicely.  It is small enough to fit in a shirt pocket so it was always handy for the quick snapshot.  The pictures weren’t always the greatest but it was more than adequate to grab the photos I needed. 

Ces_2007_036_1Kevin and I roamed the convention center and the Sands Expo each day and since his Q1 died the day before departure (poor Kevin, I felt so bad for him) he carried his Toshiba M205 Tablet PC everywhere.  It was quite the contrast to see our two Tablet PCs in use and on more than one occasion I found Kevin sitting on the floor outside the Press area with his M205 plugged into a wall outlet to keep it charged enough to last all day.  It made me really appreciate having the small, power-stingy P1610 with me, I’ll tell you that.

The night before the show proper we attended the keynote address delivered by Bill Gates, a largely ho-hum speech with no real surprises and nothing new announced, except the home server appliance that will be released by HP later this year.  The keynote seemed to drag on and on and when it was finally over Kevin, Dave Zatz and I headed over to the Digital Experience exhibition, where a lot of companies were giving a preview of what they would be showing off in their booths during the CES.  Kevin and I had a good conversation with the Fujitsu people, and got to see the OQO Model 02 up close and personal.  We ran into too many people to name including fellow bloggers and MVPs and it was a fun social event.

Day one of the CES proper we headed up to the Press room where they had breakfast laid out with wired ethernet at the tables.  We were soon joined by Dave Winer and spent a good 30 minutes chatting with Dave while our Tablet PCs were connected to the web.  Dave’s MacBook looked like it had been run over by a truck but it was still ticking.  He’s a really nice guy and it was a pleasure meeting him in person, one of the biggest draws for attending a massive show like the CES.  Doc Searls dropped by for a bit to talk to Dave, but I didn’t see what gear he was carrying as he didn’t stay.

We then headed over to the press room where they had table after table with ThinkPads for press use, along with several printers for generating hardcopy (does anybody do that anymore?).  It was in this press room that I finally met Dwight Silverman of the Houston Chronicle in the flesh.  We’re both based in Houston but had to go to Vegas to finally meet.  Dwight and I both had Zunes so he squirted me a song to see how well it worked (it worked fine) and we had a nice chat.  Dwight was carrying the T-Mobile Dash and even though he’s not a fan of Windows Mobile devices he indicated he was really liking the Dash, in fact he wrote a nice review of it once he returned to Houston.  I have to admit it fit very nicely in my hand too so I can see why he was enjoying using it.

The rest of Day One Kevin and I roamed different booths and looked at a lot of things but were both a bit taken aback at the lack of things new and exciting.  We visited the UAStarcomm booth to get a look at the XV6800, the next generation model of the XV6700 we both use.  The 6800 sports EV-DO Rev A but it was nowhere to be seen, they only had the XV6700 and didn’t even have literature about the 6800.  Strange.  I was beginning to catch a cold and feeling worse as the day progressed so we returned to our respective hotels.  I decided to rest up so the cold wouldn’t wear me down too much so Kevin headed out to the ShowStoppers event that night.

Ces_2007_025Day Two of the CES found us back at the main show floor until lunchtime when we headed to the [email protected]’s exhibition.  This is a press-only luncheon exhibition where we had a nice lunch and got to see some exhibitors up close and personal.  Martin Smekal and Gail Levy of TabletKiosk were there exhibiting jointly with Via and as always it was fun to chat with them both.  They had a bank of UMPCs on display, all running the Via processor which was cool to see all in one place.  Next door was the OQO display so we had a good look at the next generation of the handheld device.  It appears that OQO has addressed the shortcomings of the first generation model and I am anxious to get my hands on the Model 02.

Ces_2007_035We hung around Piero’s for a couple of hours and then headed over to the Aladdin for the highly anticipated Tablet PC meetup.  This meetup is always the high point of the trip for me and this year’s didn’t disappoint.  I finally got to meet fellow podcast host Marc Orchant in person and it felt like we’ve known each others for years (which we have).  He’s a great guy and it was fun chatting to a real face instead of a Skype avatar.  There were at least 100 people there and I got to talk with so many of them I am not going to try to name them.  I had a good chat with the Motion Computing folks, TabletKiosk (again), OQO, and of course, Microsoft.  The demonstration that Dustin and Sears gave us of the new Origami Experience blew me away and you should check out Kevin’s post about it.  I had such a great time that I’d like to thank all the sponsors and organizers, especially Lora Heiny for all the hard work to pull this off.

I gave a few people the chance to play with the Fujitsu P1610, including Kevin and Matt Miller.  Their comments on the MobileTechRoundup podcast we recorded later that night says it all- great Tablet PC with a touchscreen.  Everywhere I went people were curious about the P1610 and very impressed by the mini-Tablet.  I know it served me well the entire week in Vegas and would hate to think what using a larger Tablet PC would have been like.  I know Kevin really missed Sammy.

The Tablet PC meetup was great but as all good things must come to an end so it was with this, too.  Matt, Kevin and I headed over to the Bellagio to record a MobileTechRoundup show in the BlogHaus sponsored by PodTech (Robert Scoble) and Seagate.  We got to see the fountain show at the Bellagio that was just starting up as we approached the hotel, a sight that is always good.  We headed into the BlogHaus where we immediately ran into trouble as Kevin was not on the list to get in.  Matt and I vouched for him and the security guard finally relented and up we went to the suite.  PodTech did a great job as the suite was very nicely laid out to accomodate a lot of people.   The living room was decked out with a big screen HDTV for viewing web stuff, there was lots of food and drink, one room had a long table to accomodate 12 or more bloggers, and the main bedroom was decked out with xBox players playing on another big screen.  We ran into Dwight Silverman again in the blogger room, I swear he can sniff out free WiFi better than anyone. Dwight was blogging away on the black MacBook with the Core 2 Duo processors, that is a sweet notebook.

Ces_2007_043Matt, Kevin and I settled down in a back corner of the xBox room and set out to record the MobileTechRoundup show.  We recorded it on the M-Audio MicroTrack I brought along which did a nice job and made recording the show a breeze.  While the audio quality was not as good as our normal shows it was more than adequate for recording a live show in the field.  The MicroTrack encodes to MP3 on the fly while recording so when the show was done we had a good MP3 file within seconds.  We had a special (uninvited) guest host on the show which is not surprising since there were a lot of people passing through the BlogHaus the entire time we were recording.  Valerie made for an interesting guest and the show is the funniest one we’ve ever done, so if you haven’t listened to it yet don’t miss it.  After the show we all headed back to our respective hotels, well at least Kevin and I did, Matt probably headed out for some party, social butterfly that he is.  I stayed up very late in the hotel room blogging and editing the podcast since I had to bleep out quite a lot of Valerie’s comments on the show.

On Wednesday Kevin and I got a late start and met up at the Sands Expo to check out the exhibits at this venue.  We visited a lot of booths including the Fujitsu booth to see all the Tablet PCs they had on display.  We covered the whole floor and resisted the urge to visit the Adult Video show going on in the same place, and instead headed back to the convention center where we had lunch with Gail Levy of TabletKiosk.  We got a good rundown on the new i440 slate they debuted at the show.  The i440 has a dual digitizer with a twist, the user switches between passive and active digitizer to fit the task at hand.

After lunch we met up with Douglas Krone, the CEO of Dynamism who brought a bunch of cool imports to show us.  We saw everything from ultra-thin notebooks to desktop toys, and it was a pleasure to meet Douglas in person.  That evening Kevin and I had a nice steak dinner at the TGI Fridays in the Orleans Hotel and ruminated over the show and how it lacked a WOW factor.  It was nice to see the UMPC platform heat up with a number of new devices finally appearing and of course the OQO Model 02 was visible everywhere you look.  We hope to get our hands on one to see how it holds up in the field.  After dinner we both hit the slots and Kevin won $300, which he promptly took over to the Roulette table and gave some of it back to the casino.  It was a nice enjoyable evening in what had been a hectic and tiring week.

Hpim0244The next day I checked out of the hotel and headed out to the airport for my return to Houston.  I enjoyed listening to my Zune in the airport and on the flight.  The night before I visited the Zune Marketplace and downloaded some great music to put in my "Guitar Greats" playlist and I rocked all the way home.  Dwight Silverman and I were on the same flight and we had a good chat at the gate while awaiting the boarding call for the flight.  I got to meet fellow Chronicle blogger Rick Roberts at the gate.  Rick writes the Sound & Vision blog on the Houston Chronicle and he was carrying the biggest notebook computer I’ve ever seen.  It’s great to be home and now I face the monumental task of catching up with my work and preparing for the coming week.

In retrospect I have to say I am very happy with my mobile gear loadout and it served me very well over the course of the week.  I don’t believe I could have a smaller, lighter bag of gear which causes no compromises in any area.  The Fujitsu and friends in the Booq bag kept me as in touch and productive as if I was back in my office.  I am totally pleased with my gear and how it performed for me in the field.