Most Exciting Fall Tech 2021
Last Thursday marked the return of Pepcom NYC, a consumer tech industry press event. We took a trip out to Manhattan to meet with manufacturers like Worx, Seagate, and TCL so that they could show us some of their latest gadgets and upcoming products. While this year was a bit smaller than previous shows due to COVID, there was still plenty to see. Here’s the most innovative gear from the show with features and aesthetics that stand out from competitors in their respective categories.
Smarter Robot Lawn Mowers
We’re no strangers to lawn-mowing robots, so we were excited to see Worx’s latest Landroid models packing some impressive features. With microblades that cut to the edge of your lawn’s perimeter and an adjustable blade height (from 1.5 to 3.6 inches), the Landroids ensure an even and deep trim. The starter Landroid Model S is perfect for smaller yards up to ⅛ with a 2.0Ah battery. The premium Landroid L triples the battery and cut distance up to 6.0Ah and ½ acre lots.
Programming the robots is as simple as using the smartphone app or onboard LCD screen. And when the battery is low or rainfall starts getting heavy, the Landroids automatically return to their base station. If you’re worried about the bots running over sticks, rocks, or the occasional lawn dart, the floating blade system automatically adjusts cutting clearance height to avoid any obstructions. Worx also included a neat party trick: You can pop out the Landroid’s battery and swap it into over 35 models of the brand’s power tools.
A Cordless Vinyl Turntable
A portable vinyl record player wasn’t on our bingo card for Pepcom this year, but Victrola surprised us with the Revolution GO—the world’s first portable, rechargeable, Bluetooth record player. I had plenty of reservations about the table from a design and sound standpoint because of the portability, but walked away impressed by the onboard speakers’ full stereo sound and passive bass radiator. You can even stream a vinyl record to other external Bluetooth speakers via the GO. While we wish the folding handle had a more rounded shape for grip, it’s comfortable, and there’s a shoulder strap to distribute weight evenly across your body.
Look close enough at the dust cover in the picture above and you can see grooves inside of it, which act as record holders for up to five albums. Victrola claims the GO offers a 12-hour battery life, but without a visual battery indicator we were unable to calculate an estimated battery drain rate during the three hour event. If you love the way vinyl captures every note, the GO is the best vinyl player option for bringing that sound with you. I don’t know if I’d necessarily bring the GO to the beach, like Victrola’s reps at the show kept using as an example. But for a gathering of friends or simply moving a music setup between rooms, this is a really helpful device.
Smart Home Devices With Extensive Integration & Control
GE’s appliances have been a staple in American homes for over 116 years. With a relatively recent jump into the smart home space with the Cync lineup, GE’s devices offer plenty of control and integration options at an affordable price. At the moment the complete system consists of the Indoor Smart Camera, Full Color Floodlight, and Outdoor Smart Plug. Integrating smoothly with Google and Alexa smart hubs, the Cync app itself allows for some deep customization and control, boasting features like TrueImage capture, which overlays lighting color selections over your space in real-time for a preview. The Indoor Smart Camera offers a privacy shutter, built-in SD card for local storage, and a 1080p resolution. It looks crisp on a phone display, and the local card storage makes it easy to save recordings without a subscription.
The outdoor smart plug allows for advanced programming capabilities based on the time of day or custom scheduling, independent control over the two sockets, and scene control. While GE brought the possibilities of the plug to life using a timely holiday light demo, I can see this being really useful for outdoor TVs or speaker systems in warmer climates. I wish I could have thrown some water at the plug while I held it, as GE claims that the device is all-weather safe for exposure to rain, dirt, and snow.
An Affordable 8K TV For The Sharpest Image Quality
Front and center at the event entrance stood the new 8K 6-Series TCL television. With a higher color range and sharper resolution than 4K TVs can produce, native 8K content looked noticeably crisper on the display. We actually have this model in our testing lab at the moment, and we’ve found that even 4K content upscaled to 8K looks better, with the AI preventing any artifacts or distortions in the sharper picture. The biggest draw outside of performance is the $1,999 price tag for the 65-inch model. This is much lower than best 65-inch 4K TVs available with the performance and 8K capabilities offering more bang for your buck.
There are two HDMI 2.1 ports to plug in the latest gaming consoles and streaming devices for viewing in 120-Hz 4K and 60-Hz 8K content. The speakers are good enough, but audiophiles will definitely want to migrate an existing sound system or upgrade for the best home theater or gaming setup available.
Studio-Quality Portable Recorder That Doubles As A USB Mic
Small enough to slide into your palm or pocket, this portable recorder doubles as a USB condenser microphone for professional audio. That means you can record a podcast or music and take calls with the microphone for up to 12 hours on battery or plug it in over USB for a constant power source. Despite the noise of the packed Pepcom venue hall, my audio test recordings had minimal background chatter, and my voice sounded full, without any distortion.
To achieve rich audio from direct sound sources and the surrounding environment, the Tula microphone uses cardioid and omni mics. The cardioid microphones face the front of the device to clearly capture interviews or personal recordings from a single direction. Omnidirectional ECM capsules pointing in various directions capture a surrounding sound—better for live performances or group talks. The tech that achieves this mix of portability and sound quality is great but takes up room—I wish the device allowed for more than eight gigabytes of internal storage. If you want to attach a lavalier microphone, the headphone jack also doubles as an audio-capture input.
A Smart Lock And Video Doorbell Combined
The Lockly Vision smart lock includes a built-in video camera and biometric fingerprint scanner. You can see who’s at your door with a glance of the app and unlock your door with a passcode, fingerprint, app, voice control, or with your original keys. During my demonstration, I was unable to make out the code entered on the keypad’s screen from three feet away thanks to Lockly’s PIN Genie software. Built to prevent peaking, the keypad’s display shifts around the position of passcode numbers so that your taps can’t be mimicked.
The lock includes a Wi-Fi bridge, so you can connect it to your smart-home ecosystem of choice and remotely lock the door or talk to visitors from anywhere with an internet connection. For side doors, the Lockly Flex (coming later this year) pares down the feature set to just the fingerprint lock and Bluetooth operation, making it much more affordable at a third of the Vision’s price.
Plug And Play SSD Drive For Xbox Series X|S
While Seagate drives are fast and reliable across computers and gaming consoles, the Xbox SSD proved to be our favorite drive at the show. With a PS5 or PC, you need to properly seat a stick-like SSD, which takes a bit of time and skill. The Xbox drive is a cartridge-based, plug-and-play system that clicks right into the console. You still get the rapid read and write speeds of an internal SSD, just with a better design that now goes up to two terabytes.
The Beskar Ingot drives offer high performance versions of the Firecuda PCIe Gen4 NVMe SSD and SATA drives in a stylized look straight from The Mandolorian. While these drives won’t be available until later this season, they’re awesome for any fan or collector who wants to spice up the look of their PC’s interior.
A Flashlight That Jumpstarts Your Car Battery
Combining a car jump starter, a phone charger, and a flashlight into one device, the Scosche PowerUp 600 Torch can streamline your emergency car kit. The 600-amp flashlight jumps engines up to eight liters and diesel engines up to two liters three times from a full charge. You won’t be able to look across a dark field with the 300-lumen bulb, but the flashlight will provide illumination of the immediate area in a pinch.
In scenarios where you simply need to provide your phone or laptop with juice, the 2,000-mAh battery serves as a portable power bank. The torch comes fully charged, and the battery will hold that charge for up to six months. The grip felt quite sturdy and withstood some bangs on a table and five-foot drops without suffering any dents or dings.
A Virtually Indestructible Smart Flip Phone
The Cat S22 rugged touchscreen flip phone is tough, packs Android 11 OS, and has retro physical touch keys. The rubberized TPU outer is quite grippy, and the hinge offers a satisfying opening click and snap upon closing. Running the phone on T-Mobile 4G LTE, demo web pages loaded within seconds, and the Google Assistant support was swift.
With an IP68 rating and MIL SPEC 810H certification, the phone is waterproof, chemical-resistant, survives drops, and can withstand extreme weather changes. If you work in a setting that might not be gentle on smartphones, such as a trade or construction, the CAT S22 is easy to use and built to last, with the full feature set of an Android smartphone.
A Kid-Safe Cell Phone and Smart Watch With GPS Tracking
The Gabb kids phones aren’t as tough as the CAT S22 above, but they’ll withstand plenty of daily abuse while offering enough functionality. Parents can track their children using GPS, while kids can call and text but (most importantly) not access the internet. The Z2’s slick physical design rivals any Android smartphone today without any of the smarts, so you don’t have to worry about your offspring accessing sites and apps they shouldn’t be.
The Gabb Watch is a smartphone watch ideal for younger children. Little ones can make calls, send pre-set texts or voice messages, and count their steps with an easy to use watch. The optional virtual pet app built into the device requires walks, washes, and food to teach caretaking skills and responsibility. It’s cute and brought me back to my childhood Tamagotchi days.
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