CES 2017 travel-tech report: My devices are showing their age

 

I took the same laptop to CES for the fifth year in a row, which is not the sort of thing you should admit at CES. I’m blaming Apple for that, in the form of its failure to ship an affordable update to the MacBook Air, but 2016’s Windows laptops also failed to close the deal.

My mid-2012 MacBook Air did not punish my hubris by dying halfway through the show and instead was content to remind me of its battery’s age by running down rapidly once past 25 percent of a charge. Seeing a “Service Battery” alert last fall had me thinking of getting the battery replaced beforehand, but my local Apple Store’s diagnostic check reported that I could hold off on that for a little longer.

2017-ces-gearWhen I had to recharge my MacBook, nearby attendees could also guess its age from the black electrical tape I had to apply to its power cord to cover a frayed area–yes, this is the power adapter I bought not even two years ago. In any darkened room, they might have also noticed the glow coming my from my laptop’s N key, on which the backlight shines through now that this key’s black coating has begun to rub off.

My Nexus 5X Android phone, my other note-taking device, kept bogging down as I was switching from app to app. If I could upgrade the RAM on this thing, I could–but, oops, I can’t. Its camera, however, once again did well for most shots, and T-Mobile’s LTE held up up except for press-conference day at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.

WiFi was once again atrocious. I’m not surprised by this, only that the Consumer Technology Association tolerated this kind of crap connectivity at its most important event.

Two hardware items I know I can and should easily replace before next year’s CES are the USB charger I took for my phone and my travel power strip.

The remarkably compact charger that came with my wife’s old Palm Pixi almost 10 years ago still functions as designed, but it doesn’t charge my phone fast enough. I only took that item to Vegas because I lost the charger that came with my Nexus 5X (yes, the one I almost misplaced last year at CES) at Google I/O. I should have packed my iPad mini’s charger, which replenishes my phone much faster, but I won’t mind buying a cheap, fast-charging, two-port USB charger. Any endorsements?

My travel power strip also charges USB devices slowly, but the bigger problem is this Belkin accessory’s relative bulk. The Wirecutter now recommends a more compact Accell model; remind me to get that sometime soon.

I’d written last year that I probably wouldn’t take my aging Canon 330 HS point-and-shoot for another CES, but I did anyway. I experienced my usual wishes for better low-light performance and the ability to touch the screen to tell the camera where to focus, but this camera’s lens cover also no longer closes without me nudging its plastic petals into place.

I should have spent more time at CES checking out replacements, but I only had time to verify that the Canon pocket-sized model that looked most appealing doesn’t take panoramic photos.

I’d like to think that I’ll address all of these hardware issues well before next year’s CES. I’d also like to think that by then, I will always remember to note a CES event’s location in its calendar entry.

Things I have learned from 20 years of CES

January 1998 brought something new to my schedule: a flight to Vegas (Southwest from BWI through Midway) and four days at the Consumer Electronics Show.

I’m pretty sure that at the time, I didn’t think this event would occupy my January schedule for the next two decades. But it has, and now that I have 20 CESes in the books I’ve learned a few things about the show.

ces-timeline• The timing is dreadful. Tearing yourself away from your family only days after the warmth of the holidays sucks—and having to deal with CES prep for the weeks beforehand doesn’t exactly put me in the Christmas spirit. If I could build a time machine, I would be tempted to let somebody else kill Hitler (on the theory that if I could construct such a device, so could many other people) and instead go back to 1973 to lobby the founding fathers of CES to hold the damn thing in early February.

• At the same time, the show often represents the first time I will have seen journalist and analyst friends in months. Catching up with these tech-nerd pals makes up for some of the family angst. Unfortunately, I’ve been doing this for long enough that some of these people have filed their last report; I had to cover this year’s show without the insight of Envisioneering’s Richard Doherty.

• The deliberate inefficiency of Vegas (casino-floor layouts are America’s answer to Tokyo’s inscrutable system of street addresses) is infuriating and has only gotten worse as CES attendance has zoomed past 175,000. I struggle to think of a major American event held in a place less capable of moving that many people around, in part because of its own choices: Not having the monorail stop at the Sands represents one of the worst unforced errors in the history of American transit planning.

ces-south-hall• Not getting a flu shot well before going to CES is one of the worst unforced errors in the history of business travel. I found out the hard way in 2009, when I spent five days after CES staggering around my house in a diseased haze–including the day when President-elect Obama toured the Post’s newsroom.

• Year after year, I never work harder than I do at CES. It’s not like I’m a foreign correspondent getting shot at… but when people who have never been to CES say they wish they could go, I struggle to respond with any graciousness.

• People will talk about the obsolescence of shows like CES, but most tech companies can’t pull an Apple and summon reporters to their own events. Having so many of these firms hawking their wares in one place helps me do my job of making sense of the tech industry–and the chance meetings that happen have connected me to good sources and new clients. As annoying as CES gets, it remains one of my more important journalistic and business-development ventures. It looks like I’m stuck with it for a while longer.

• After being from home for a few days and catching up other people’s CES coverage, I have realized once again how many things I missed–an event or a dinner I should have attended, a corner of the floor I overlooked, a vendor I should have met, a demo I should have checked out–despite spending five painfully long days immersed in the show. Whatever else 20 years of covering CES has taught, it hasn’t allowed me to not feel swamped before, during and after this thing.

Updated 1/11/2017 with some concluding thoughts.

Why yes, I did get your CES pitch. Again.

As I started working on this post, my phone buzzed and its screen lit up with a predictable subject line: “Are you going to CES?”

Of course it did. And of course I am. This January will mark my 20th consecutive trip to CES, the gadget gathering formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show–which itself will mark its 50th anniversary. So this December features not just my usual late and disorganized attempts to shop for gifts, but the annual wave of requests to book meetings at CES.

And just like last year, I have yet to address more than a small fraction of that correspondence. To save tech-PR types some time, here are my answers to the most frequent questions about my schedule in the first week of January. To save myself time, I copied much of this from last year’s post.

GoPro clusterAre you still going to CES?

Since I’m apparently serving a life sentence at this show, that would be a yes. I’ll be there from Tuesday morning through Saturday night.

Will we see you at our press conference?

Your odds are actually better this year, since my flight should land at LAS before 11 a.m. on Tuesday. That leaves me a lot more time for the events before the show officially opens Thursday. But that doesn’t change the basic problem of big-ticket press conferences at CES: endless lines to get in. Not be all “do you know who I am?!,” but if you can put me on whatever list frees me from spending an hour queued up in a hallway, it will help your company’s cause.

Would you like to schedule a show-floor meeting with [giant electronics company]?

Yes, probably. When one company’s exhibit space is a large fraction of an acre, getting a guided tour of the premises can be a real time-saver. I should have answered all of these pitches by now; sorry for the delay.

Can we schedule a show-floor meeting with [small gadget firm]?

Most likely not. The point of vendors paying exorbitant amounts of money for show-floor exhibit space is to provide a fixed target for interested attendees. So as long as you’ll have somebody there who can answer questions, I’ll get to you when I can. Hint: Telling me where to find your client in your first e-mail helps make that happen.

This general outline of my CES schedule may also be of use:

  • Thursday, the first full day of the show, I probably won’t go further than the Central Hall of the LVCC.
  • Friday will find me in the South Hall of the LVCC (it’s become drone central) and then probably in the Sands, where it looks like I’ll be moderating a panel on cybersecurity… which will actually be the second panel on cybersecurity I’ll do that day, because CES.
  • Saturday’s my day to cover everything else before what I’m sure will be a delightful 3.5-hour red-eye flight to O’Hare and then home to National Airport.

Can we set up a meeting at [Pepcom/ShowStoppers]?

Those two evening events, in which an outside PR firm books a hotel ballroom (Pepcom is in the Mirage, ShowStoppers at the Wynn), rents tables to various gadget vendors and caters food and beverages so journalists can have dinner on their feet, constitute an efficient use of my time because I don’t have to find these companies and find time for them. Can we please not then get all OCD by booking a meeting inside an event at a spot inside a location?

Strip trafficCan you come to our reception/happy hour/dinner/party? 

Pepcom and ShowStoppers have me occupied most of Wednesday and Thursday night, but if you have an event before or after them in someplace nearby, I’m more likely to show up. If your event has a couch I can fall asleep on, that might help too. If it will be in a place with no convenient way to charge my devices, that will not help.

Okay, jerk, we get that you’re busy. Are there any times or places that won’t cause you to whine about your trying circumstances?

So glad you asked! Considering how annoying it is to get around Vegas during CES, giving journalists a lift in exchange for a quick product pitch can be pretty smart–I’m surprised I’ve only gotten one offer along those lines. Breakfast is also a good time to try to get a reporter’s attention at CES, because what they do to bagels in CES press rooms should be a crime. And remember that I’m around through Saturday–my schedule should open up after the insanity of Thursday.

Any interest in the e-mail I sent yesterday?

If there is, I promise I will write back… in the next week or so… probably.

CES 2016 travel-tech report: Where did the battery anxiety go?

Something bizarre happened at this year’s CES, my 19th in a row: Neither my laptop nor my phone ever got into the red-line zone that leads me to start frantically searching for a power outlet.

My phone is only a few months old and so offers much better battery life than its predecessor, but my laptop is the same old MacBook Air I’ve had since 2012. Maybe I’ve learned something about power discipline; maybe the butt-in-chair time required to write all the stories I owed to various clients ensured sufficient opportunity to keep my devices topped off.

CES 2016 gadgetsI’m going to go with the second explanation.

Also strange: I never needed to break out the travel power strip I always bring to CES.

I did have one lesser power scare: I left my phone’s charger in a restaurant, and it’s not like I can count on random passerby having a USB-C charger. Fortunately, I’m not a complete idiot and had an extra USB-C adapter cable on me, and the restaurant’s staff found the charger and had it waiting at the hostess stand when I stopped by the next evening.

But while the electrons may have been obliging for once, other tech annoyances persisted. OS X’s curiously inept multitasking left my laptop locked up by runaway browser processes more than once (does the phrase “Safari Web Content” make your blood boil too?), while my phone twice showed a no-SIM-present error that I elected to dispel with a reboot.

Bandwidth was mostly fine except for Thursday, when neither my phone nor the two LTE hotspots I’d been testing as part of an update to a Wirecutter guide could get any useful bandwidth in the Sands. I had to camp out on a chair next to a loading dock to get back online.

The Nexus 5X’s camera was a massive upgrade over the Nexus 4 imaging hardware I carried last year, but I still took the bulk of my photos with my aging Canon 330 HS. I’m pretty sure that this is my last CES with this camera–although it still takes better photos overall than my phone, its lack of a built-in panorama mode is annoying, and I’m sick of invoking its photo-plus-video “Hybrid Auto” mode by mistake.

While I’m figuring out what camera will replace this Canon, I also need to think seriously about the software I use on my computer to edit and share pictures taken with a “real” camera. Apple’s Photos is a good image editor, but as an organizer it’s awful. Because its broken sharing feature ignores photo titles and descriptions when uploading images to Flickr–and because you can’t right-click a photo in the app to jump to its Finder folder–I had to export all 74 shots in my CES album to the Finder, then drag and drop them into Flickr from there.

If Apple doesn’t fix this app, I need to use something else. But what? Please share your own suggestions–and no, I’m not going to buy Photoshop for this–in the comments.

 

Weekly output: CES (x2), T-Mobile BingeOn, OLED TVs, Samsung Family Hub fridge, FAA and drones, UHD TV, patent trolls

As the following inventory of stories should suggest, I was pretty busy at CES. If you need further proof: My notes from the show exceed 8,000 words. I had delusions that I’d have the energy today to go through my photos from the show and caption, edit and upload the best of them, but that’s just not happening this evening.

1/5/2016: What Is CES, Anyway? A Quick Guide for the Perplexed, Yahoo Tech

This was the one post out of all these that I filed before making my journey to Vegas.

1/6/2016: Tip: How to Quit T-Mobile’s BingeOn Service, Yahoo Tech

And this is the post that I should have also written in advance. Instead, I finished it in the Mandalay Bay press room Tuesday afternoon.

CES 2016 OLED report1/6/2016: LG’s See-Through, Rollable OLED Screens: Here, But Not Cheap (Yet), Yahoo Tech

This wasn’t on my original story budgets, but LG’s presentation–and the broader issue of OLED’s long-term relevance–was interesting enough for my editors to accept my suggestion that I file an extra post about this.

1/7/2016: Samsung’s Family Hub Smart Fridge: Would You Believe It Keeps Beer Cold, Too?, Yahoo Tech

The headline came to mind almost right away, and the rest of the post (for once) mostly wrote itself. In the interest of full disclosure, we own a 2014-model Samsung fridge that has no connected apps onboard but which also does a fine job of keeping beer cold.

Make drone-registration post1/8/2016: FAA: Over 181,000 Of You Have Registered Your Drones So Far, Make:

This is the first thing I’ve written for Maker Media’s site. It went up later than I wanted because a) I took my time writing it and b) the newsroom got hit with a round of layoffs. Ugh.

1/8/2016: The State of Ultrahigh-Definition Television: Will This Be the Year It Makes Sense to Upgrade?, Yahoo Tech

My annual state-of-the-TV report from CES had me feeling more charitable about UHD’s prospects than before–but still not interested in upgrading until at least next year.

1/8/2016: Consumer Electronics Industry to Government: Do Something About Patent Trolls, Yahoo Tech

This panel Friday morning had a great lineup (hint: anytime you can hear NewEgg’s Lee Cheng rant about patent trolls, show up), and then I had the chance to quiz U.S. Patent and Trademark Office director Michelle Lee afterwards.

1/8/2016: CE-NO thank you: 5 things I could do without from CES, USA Today

My thanks to my editor for suggesting a CES angle that hadn’t already been completely picked over; my apologies to the guy whose name I misspelled in the piece for reasons I completely don’t understand (see my comment on the story for the details).

Things I did not get around to doing in five days of CES

LAS VEGAS–Another CES is in the books for me. I’m departing a day later than most people, and I still did not have time to cross everything off my to-do list. I’m not going to say I missed all these things, but the show still feels a little incomplete without them:

GoPro clusterAttend CES Unveiled: The show’s opening reception is always a total zoo, but it also represents my first chance to say hi to all the tech-nerd friends I haven’t seen in months. Unveiled was never going to happen once my tardy booking of flights (meaning, Oct. 4) left no reasonably priced options that would get me into Vegas in time for the event but not with hours to kill beforehand.

Take a taxi or a shuttle van: With Uber and Lyft finally operating throughout the city and even picking up passengers, I did not have to bother with either McCarran’s horrendous taxi line (with a ripoff $3 credit-card-payment surcharge waiting at the end of the ride) or the long wait for a shuttle van to depart. I did, however, have to learn that there’s a floor 2M between floors 2 and 3 in the T1 parking deck, on which you must meet a ride-hailing service’s vehicle.

See the opening keynote: Intel CEO Brian Krzanich’s keynotes have been more substantial than average at CES, but I didn’t finish a few work chores in the Mandalay Bay press room Tuesday to get to the Venetian in time for this year’s presentation. I’ll have to watch it when I get home.

Get to Pepcom’s Digital Experience: This reception is a great way to catch up with a wide variety of smaller exhibitors and get a decent meal, but a Yahoo Tech team dinner had to take priority.

CES security stickerHave my bag searched: This year’s CES was supposed to involve screening of everybody’s bags. But the security-pocalypse we all dreaded never happened. Nobody ever searched my bag on any of the times I entered a CES exhibit, not even when I got a green “Security Approved” sticker placed on it Tuesday morning. I am fine with that; I faced a much bigger risk every time I had to cross six- or 10-lane roads designed with an “Auto über alles” mentality.

Take a show shuttle from the convention center: I only took one of the official show shuttle buses Tuesday morning. The rest of the week, I either walked to the convention center (I found an Airbnb room only 10 minutes’ walk away) or took city buses up and down the Strip.

Ride the monorail: Not staying in a giant hotel on the east side of the Strip made this high-priced but traffic-independent ride irrelevant on most days. I should have taken it Thursday night, though; going from the convention center to the Cosmopolitan by bus took about an hour.

Strip trafficSee VR porn: This is apparently a thing now, and I did not clear time in my schedule–in the interest of science!–to attend the demo my friend Sascha Segan wrote up at PCMag.com.

Test-drive the Chevy Bolt: I had to blow off an appointment to test-drive this compact electric vehicle because I needed to finish writing a couple of stories. Read my Yahoo colleague Daniel Howley’s report to see what I missed.

Gamble: Not staying in a hotel with a casino waiting downstairs severely lowered my odds of getting in any blackjack time. And by the time Friday night’s events were wrapping up, I was too tired anyway. Considering that I had the Terminator for a dealer the last time I gambled here, that may not be the worst thing ever.

Weekly output: 2015 tech fails, apps versus mobile sites, 2015 in tech policy, CES newbies, OS X Keychain, how to read CES stories

 

A few stories I’d filed earlier went up this week, lending a false sense of my output. Tomorrow, I depart for my 19th CES in a row, and even after all that experience I’m still not quite sure what I’ve signed up for.

USAT tech-fails column12/30/2015: Tech fails: The year’s worst consumer gadget calamities, USA Today

My editors elected to run the column that appeared online last week in Wednesday’s print edition. Can’t lie; that’s still neat.

12/30/2015: Tip: Does That Site Really Deserve To Be An App On Your Phone?, Yahoo Tech

I’ve had this topic on my story-ideas list for a while, and now it’s finally posted.

12/30/2015; The Year in Technology Policy: It Wasn’t All That Bad!, Yahoo Tech

My latest take on this evergreen end-of-year topic found me in a better mood than usual.

12/31/2015: Tip: How to Cut Old Passwords Out Of Apple’s Keychain, Yahoo Tech

Like my other tip this week, this was something I’d had on my mind for a while.

1/1/2016: CES 2016 Survival Guide: What Newbies Need to Know, Yahoo Tech

You’ve read earlier versions of this how-to here in 2011 and 2013. This time around, I think I did a better job of monetizing my thoughts.

1/3/2016: How to read the hype of CES, USA Today

This weekend’s column takes another break from the usual tech-Q&A format to offer advice about interpreting the impending deluge of CES coverage.