You have to expect the weird at the Consumer Electronics Show. The electronics industry's annual gathering is a rich ecosystem for gadgets, drawing all kinds of companies that promote gizmos with strange designs, outrageous prices or even impractical uses. Here are 10 strange devices I saw at this year's CES -- not that I expect to see all of them prosper in stores, or even make an appearance in them. While the Consumer Electronics Show may be a forgiving environment for gadgets, the market is not always so kind. (Disclosure: I write a weekly blog post for the Consumer Electronics Association, the Arlington, Va., trade association that runs CES.)
LG's OLED TV Televisions using organic light-emitting diode technology are finally showing up in big-screen sizes. LG's upcoming 55-inch set is only about a sixth of an inch thick and, the company says, delivers deeper blacks and faster response times than LCDs. But it's not cheap: Going by a third-party estimate of $8,000 (LG won't talk prices), you'd pay about $447 for every tenth of an inch of thickness saved compared to LG's priciest 55-inch set today.
Sharp's 8K TV Speaking of impractical TVs, Sharp displayed an 85-inch "8K" display -- as in, eight times the resolution of HD, or more than 33 million pixels. That level of detail made it easy to read street signs four blocks away in a telephoto shot of a Washington, D.C., street. This won't be on sale anytime soon, but around the corner Sharp was demonstrating a 4K set that automatically "upconverted" HD resolution (does this mean the economy's officially turned around?).
Ultrabooks Intel has noticed that Apple's MacBook Air is an attractive laptop and wants PC manufacturers to step up their game. "Ultrabook" laptops designed to its guidelines offer a similar combination of lightweight, compact size, long battery life and stylish design (the chip maker even whipped up a cleaner "Intel inside" sticker for them). But many -- like Apple's laptop -- are too thin to accommodate standard Ethernet or HDMI ports, and their vendors can still gum up the works with an inept software bundle.
Sony's Tablet P Speaking of competing with Apple, this year's CES brought a fresh crop of tablets that may or may not incorporate lessons from last year's disastrous debuts. The most unusual among them: Sony's Tablet P, with a dual-screen folding design that allows it to fit in some jacket pockets. The company hasn't announced a U.S. price, but don't forget to factor in the cost of AT&T wireless service.
Samsung's Galaxy Note You should have no trouble reading your e-mail on the Galaxy Note's enormous 5.3-in. display -- but this AT&T phone's enormous screen may make it incompatible with some pockets. And I'm afraid to find out how the Note's LTE wireless support affects its battery life, considering the poor performance of other LTE phones.
Nokia 900 Many buyers have yet to notice Microsoft's worthy Windows Phone 7 operating system yet, so the Redmond, Wash., company hopes to change that with phones like this sleek model from Nokia, which combines a 4.3-in. screen with support for AT&T's LTE service. But I have to wonder why the Nokia rep demoing it would not let me use its software.
PowerTrekk Fuel Cell This compact fuel cell turns water and a disposable "PowerPukk" cartridge into electricity and water vapor. Stockholm-based myFC plans to get this into REI stores in May at a price of $229, with extra pucks going for $3 to $4. I did get one to charge my phone -- at least I think I did, since its battery-gauge icon showed it was receiving juice while its battery-settings screen reported otherwise. Solar-cell chargers represent tough competition; so do AA-driven chargers.
Samsung's Wi-Fi Cameras Samsung hopes to keep cameras relevant next to phones with Wi-Fi connectivity: Some of its upcoming cameras wirelessly link to Android and iOS phones for quick photo geotagging and uploading -- plus using your phone's screen as a remote viewfinder. Unlike last year's mediocre SH100, this one apparently doesn't require paying for "tethering" on your phone.
LG's Internet-Linked Appliances I am still not sold on the utility of a web-connected refrigerator, but LG and other manufacturers are moving on to adding Internet smarts to other major appliances. The Korean firm showed off fridges, stoves and washers that allow their owners to control them remotely and check up on their energy use and maintenance needs from a smart phone or computer.
Romo the Robot Las Vegas startup Romotive decided it would be easier to build a robot if you let your smart phone be its brains. Its $99 Romo crawls around on miniature tank treads, with an Android, iOS or Windows Phone device plugged in on top. I'm not exactly sure what you'd use one for around the house -- but I'm sure the hackers who have the device back-ordered through April will think of something. For more articles, analysis, blogs and news from the Consumer Electronics Show, visit our Wide Angle: CES 2012.