CES 2022 travel-tech report: a new phone and a renewed laptop

Uncharacteristically light attendance at CES this week allowed me to pack uncharacteristically light. With so many tech-news sites canceling plans to send journalists to the Consumer Technology Association’s annual gathering, I knew I wouldn’t need my traditional CES accessory of a travel power strip to free up outlets in any crowded press room.

I also opted not to pack any of the WiFi hotspots I had sitting on my desk from the last update of Wirecutter’s guide to same. Even in the likely event of the show’s WiFi being its usual inadequate self, I figured I had sufficient backup bandwidth in the form of the new Pixel 5a in my pocket, the expanded mobile-hotspot quota on my account, and the T-Mobile 5G network my previous phone couldn’t use.

Photo shows my HP Spectre x360 laptop sitting on the wood floor of my home office, on top of which sit my CES badge, the laptop's charger, a USB-C cable to charge the phone, a USB-to-Ethernet adapter, headphones and my Pixel 5a phone.

My other smart move before heading out to Vegas was replacing my late-2017 HP laptop’s battery with an aftermarket unit, a bit of laptop surgery I did in October. All of this helped make CES much less of a gadget-abuse scenario in my return to covering it in-person after last year’s distanced, digital-only conference.

The Google Pixel 5a, the only new device in my messenger bag, acquitted itself especially well. On a good day, its battery can run well into the next afternoon, and even at CES–where I did rely frequently on the phone’s mobile-hotspot feature to get my laptop online–I never saw this Android device’s battery get into the under-33% state that would get me nervous. My charging the phone at lunch happened out of habit, not necessity.

I also quickly grew to appreciate how the 5a’s wide-angle lens helped capture some of the bigger exhibits on and off the show floor. The sole quibble I can think of: The phone reported that it restarted overnight Friday morning, and I’d like to know what caused that crash.

My HP Spectre x360, meanwhile, was one of the oldest items in my bag but felt much newer with that replacement battery. It was nice to sit down to watch a panel and not need a spot next to a power outlet. And for whatever reason, this computer ran much more reliably than it had at CES two years ago, without any mysterious reboots sometimes interrupted by boot-device-not-found errors.

Lower CES attendance, estimated by CTA Friday at “well over 40,000,” did not banish CES bandwidth struggles. My laptop did not always connect to conference WiFi networks–have I mentioned that Windows 10’s “Can’t connect to this network” is not a helpful error message?–but all three press rooms had abundant Ethernet cables. The $10 and change I spent on a USB-to-Ethernet adapter in 2012 has turned out to be an exceptional deal.

As before, I took all of my notes in Evernote, but this time the app generated a few note conflicts when I switched from phone to laptop and back. If I could click or tap a “sync now” button before each device switch, I would–but Evernote removed that bit of UI out of a belief that its automatic sync is now reliable enough to make it obsolete.

The other app I leaned on heavily during my time at CES was the conference’s own mobile app. I hadn’t bothered with that in previous years, but learning that CTA had hired Web Summit to provide this event’s digital platform made me want to try it. Unsurprisingly, the CES app looks and works like the Web Summit and Collision apps, so I didn’t have much to figure out.

As at those other conferences, I leaned on this app to manage my schedule while ignoring in-app connection requests in favor of the kind of networking impossible at last year’s CES: masked-face-to-masked-face conversations that ended with an exchange of business cards.

Weekly output: sustainability, Project Kuiper, Frances Haugen, AI benefits, wellness UX, Amazon Sidewalk, less Facebook, Microsoft vs. climate change, Apple vs. sideloading, HBO Max, Nothing, Tim Berners-Lee, Facebook at Web Summit, U.S. vs. NSO Group

Looking at this list makes me feel tired… or maybe that’s just the jet lag talking.

Photo shows the Corporate Innovation Summit program in the library of the Academy of Sciences.11/1/2021: How technology is driving sustainability, Web Summit

My first of four Web Summit panels took place at the Corporate Innovation Summit, an offsite gathering at the Lisbon Academy of Sciences Monday. There, I quizzed Rebecca Parsons, chief technology officer at Thoughtworks; Vincent Clerc, chief executive officer for ocean and logistics at Maersk, and Tolga Kurtoglu, chief technology officer at HP, about how their firms were working to slow global warming.

11/1/2021: Amazon is gearing up to take on Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite internet, Fast Company

I got an advance on the news that Amazon’s Project Kuiper low-Earth-orbit satellite broadband plans to launch its first two prototype satellites towards the end of next year–which will still leave it years behind SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellation.

11/1/2021: Facebook Whistleblower: ‘I Don’t Hate Facebook’ (But Zuckerberg Should Step Down), PCMag

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen helped open Web Summit with an onstage talk Monday night; writing that up led to me not having dinner until 10 p.m.

11/2/2021: Beyond the bottom line: The extra benefits of AI, Web Summit

Tuesday morning, I interviewed David Kiron, editorial director at MIT Sloan Management Review, and François Candelon, managing director and senior partner at Boston Consulting Group, about research they’d done in how artificial-intelligence software can make organizations smarter.

11/3/2021: How to win at wellness UX, Web Summit

Talking to executives at two health-tech startups–Nevada Sanchez, co-founder and vice president of core technology at Butterfly Network, and Alison Darcy, founder of Woebot Health–I had to ask “How do you convince people that you’re not the next Theranos?” I thought these two people fielded that query well.

11/3/2021: Amazon Sidewalk quietly walks on, Light Reading

This assessment of Amazon’s mesh-network project reflects a correction I requested Saturday after Amazon pointed out that the setup process on a new Echo device now gives people a chance to opt out of Sidewalk.

11/3/2021: Stop bothering me, Facebook: Not ready to quit? Try these 3 tips to quiet it down, USA Today

The last time I wrote a Facebook-diet column for USAT, the social network had yet to give its users a way to opt out of having it analyze their reading habits across the rest of the Web for advertising-tracking purposes.

11/3/2021: How Do You Hit Net Zero? Microsoft President Brad Smith Has an Idea, PCMag

Microsoft president Brad Smith used a Web Summit keynote to explain how the company plans to make itself not just a carbon-neutral operation, but to zero out all the carbon dioxide it’s put into the air since its founding.

11/3/2021: Apple Exec to the EU: Hands Off Our App Store, PCMag

Apple software executive Craig Federighi gave what I thought was a remarkably disingenuous speech at Web Summit urging the European Union to back off on a proposal to require that Apple allow “sideloading” of apps in iOS.

11/4/2021: HBO Max exec emphasizes curation and localization, FierceVideo

I wrote up an interview of HBO Max product-planning senior vice president Melissa Weiner, that took place at a virtual conference hosted by Fierce’s parent firm. I thought I’d have more free time in my calendar when I accepted the story assignment, but an early start to my Thursday allowed me to get this written without putting a dent in my Web Summit schedule.

11/4/2021: Can Europe compete in consumer hardware?, Web Summit

This interview of Akis Evangelidis, co-founder of the gadget startup Nothing, provided me with my introduction to Web Summit’s main stage.

11/4/2021: Tim Berners-Lee Wants to Put Online Privacy on a Solid Foundation, PCMag

Web Summit closed out with the Web’s inventor making a pitch for his privacy-optimizing startup Inrupt.

11/4/2021: Facebook finds few friends at Web Summit as techies turn out to hear from whistleblower, USA Today

I wrote a recap of how so many speakers at this conference teed off on Facebook–er, Meta–even as the social network now recasting itself as a “metaverse” company limited its presence at Web Summit to glitchy appearances via streaming video.

11/7/2021: U.S. blacklists NSO Group, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news network had me on Sunday to discuss the Department of Commerce putting the Israeli surveillance-software firm NSO (and three other offenders) on its Entity List of banned firms for its role in eroding human rights.

Speaking on an arena scale

LISBON–My fourth panel at Web Summit here was not like the other three. Or like any other panel I’ve done since what I’ve taken to calling “the performance art of journalism” became part of my repertoire. Because Thursday I spoke in front of the largest audience and in the largest room of my entire public-speaking life.

The interview I did on the stage of the Altice Arena here of Nothing co-founder Akis Evangelidis was the last addition to my speaking schedule, and the invitation I was fastest to accept. Every other panel I’ve done at this conference since 2016 has taken place on one of the side stages, where crowds can get into the hundreds; this venue, however, is a 20,000-seat facility, and I could not turn that down. As anxious as standing up there might turn out to be…

Photo of the path leading to the stage of the Altice Arena, with its colored backdrop visible at the end of this passage.

Thursday afternoon came, and with half an hour to go I wrote down my panel outline on the last vacant pair of pages in a paper notebook, nervous energy making my penmanship even sloppier than usual. Then a volunteer walked us over to the backstage, where Web Summit’s illuminated backdrop loomed a few stories above and a sound tech fitted us with wireless headphones. I had a last chug of water before we stood and waited in a small passage leading to the stage.

Then it was show time. The emcee called out our names, the entrance music I’ve heard before so many other center-stage Web Summit panels played, and we walked past a camera operator who was there to get video of our entrance–a little bit of rock-star treatment.

I waved hello to the crowd, sat down in my chair, and immediately realized that the stage lights were so bright that I couldn’t see more than a third of the way into the audience, although I could at least confirm that they were mostly on the floor and not in the stands. (The picture I took then came out so ill-exposed that even Google Photos couldn’t do much with it.) And without my glasses, I couldn’t hope to read people’s facial expressions. Hearing the audience was also tricky, with our own amplified voices clanging back at us off the arena’s concrete.

But I had my outline on paper before me and an engaging conversation partner to my right to answer my questions about the gadget startup he co-founded with other veterans of the Android-phone firm OnePlus. The 13 minutes on the countdown clock before us ticked down to 11 and 9 and 7 and 5 as our verbal tennis continued… at which point I realized that with one question left unasked on my notepad, I’d need to improvise. Panel clock management is always trickiest when you have only one other person up there.

That’s when it helped that we’d had sat down yesterday to go over the panel and then had another chat in the speakers’ lounge before heading backstage. We ended up finishing maybe 20 seconds over.

I might as well have had fireworks going off in my head as the audience applauded and Akis and I shook hands before exiting the stage. It was a moment the 2001-vintage me would have struggled to imagine, much less the grade-school version of me who dreaded giving a speech before a classroom. And it’s something I won’t be able to keep out of my mind the next time I’m doing a virtual panel and wishing I had a human audience’s feedback.

Weekly outpot: Web Summit podcast, cheaper hearing aids, Mark Vena podcast, Google vs. Roku, Amazon satellites, FTC broadband-privacy report, blockchain domains

This afternoon featured the longest bike ride I’ve done in, I think, five years. Observations: It’s good to know that I’m not too old and busted to clock 35 miles and change, Reston Town Center has grown up and out a bit since 2016, and the nap you have after a longer ride followed by dinner you cooked yourself is the nap of the righteous.

10/19/2021: EXCLUSIVE: Siemens & Maersk Chairman Jim Hagemann Snabe, The Next Stage Podcast

Web Summit’s podcast had me interview this executive about the sustainability efforts of his two companies, a conversation that I wound up having through my laptop and webcam in my hotel room in Philadelphia on the first morning of the ONA Insights conference earlier this month. We had a great chat and I learned a few things, which is always a good outcome of an interview.

10/20/2021: The Feds Are (Finally) About to Make Hearing Aids Cheaper, Easier to Buy, PCMag

I wrote up the overdue release of regulations to allow over-the-counter sales of hearing aids, using this piece to recount the long, strange trip this policy shift has taken through the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations.

10/20/2021: S01 E14 – SmartTechCheck Podcast, Mark Vena

This week’s episode of my industry-analyst pal’s podcast (also on video) had me and fellow tech-journalist guests John Quain and Stewart Wolpin discussing Apple’s product-launch event Monday. We agreed that the $4.99/month Voice Plan for Apple Music was a weird bit of product segmentation, and that people who don’t edit video for a living can ignore Apple’s high-end MacBook Pro models.

Screenshot of the story as seen in Safari for macOS10/21/2021: Google Says It Will Pull YouTube App From Roku on Dec. 9, PCMag

This became a longer-than-usual post for PCMag when Roku offered to show me their receipts of Google’s demands that it revise its search features to benefit YouTube–including a Sept. 2019 e-mail in which a Google executive called adding a special shelf of YouTube results to Roku’s standard search interface “a must.” I’m still waiting to see how Google will explain how that message squares with its past statements that it’s “never” asked for special search privileges on Roku’s media players.

10/21/2021: Satellites, Fast Company

This non-bylined item, part of the “Amazon Unpacked: A-Z” cover story of Fast Company’s November issue, popped up Thursday.

10/22/2021: FTC: Here’s How Much of a Snoop Your ISP or Wireless Carrier Can Be, PCMag

My third post for PCMag walked readers through a lengthy report the Federal Trade Commission released Thursday about the tracking habits at six major Internet providers–in which I also took care to remind readers of how fast Republicans in Congress worked to squelch pending broadband-privacy rules from the Federal Communications Commission in early 2017, even before the FCC could undo the net-neutrality regulatory foundation of those rules.

10/23/2021: The blockchain is making domain names more private—for good or bad, Fast Company

The Microsoft digital-defense report that I covered briefly for PCMag two weeks ago got me curious about domains stored on various blockchains instead of hosted at traditional registries–which the report called “the next big threat.” So I made some inquiries of my own and came to a somewhat different conclusion than Microsoft’s researchers.

Updated 3/21/2022 to add a link and description for the Web Summit podcast that escaped my attention when I wrote this post months ago.

Weekly output: One America News, how to exceed Comcast’s 1.2 TB data cap, tech and humanity, Big Tech, remote teamwork in a pandemic

We’ve finally reached the last month of this ordeal of a year.

11/30/2020: The Most Trump-Tastic Network Might Lose Its Biggest Carrier Next Year, Forbes

I’ve had this story on my to-do list since seeing a Bloomberg report this summer about the precarious prospects for One America News after its current carriage deal with DirecTV expires, reportedly in early 2021. It was gratifying to write this at last–and see it get a bigger audience than my other Forbes posts so far.

12/2/2020: Comcast’s 1.2 TB data cap seems like a ton of data—until you factor in remote work, Fast Company

After seeing some readers tweet their skepticism about anybody possibly topping 1.2 terabytes a month, I talked to three Comcast users who had done just that–and who, despite their technology backgrounds, could not identify an app or service that had pushed them over and which they could have foregone without excess pain. (One even sent screengrabs of data-usage stats from his Ubiquiti router, which Patreon readers got to see today.) The story seems to have resonated with readers, including a sarcastic retweet from Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) taking a whack at Comcast’s phone support.

12/2/2020: Technology: The key to making us more human, Web Summit

My first of two panels for this year’s online-only Web Summit had me talking to Ikea chief digital officer Barbara Martin Coppola and AI Now Institute co-founder Meredith Whittaker about various tech-ethics issues, from ways to shrink a global organization’s carbon footprint to tech-policy advice for the incoming Biden administration.

12/2/2020: Who’s afraid of Big Tech?, RI Digital: USA 2020

My second virtual panel of the week consisted of a discussion at Responsible Investor’s conference about tech policy in such areas as privacy and global warming. My fellow speakers: ClearBridge Investments analyst Hillary Frisch, Migrant Nation director Simon Zadek, and Responsible Investor co-founder Hugh Wheelan. My major line of argument: The most effective way to rein in the power of large technology companies would be to pass effective digital-privacy laws, but since that seems to be a task beyond the reach of Congress, we keep getting sidetracked into less-useful discussions about how we might make life less pleasant for one or two of the tech giants.

12/4/2020: Evolution from the inside out, Web Summit

My second Web Summit panel had me quizzing Weight Watchers CEO Mindy Grossman and Julien Codorniou, Facebook’s vice president for its Workplace collaboration platform, about how WW had to accelerate existing moves towards distributed work once the pandemic hit.

DVR debt, but for virtual-conference panels

For the past two months, I’ve been looking at the same five tabs left open in my Mac’s copy of Chrome. They’re all from Black Hat–as in, the security conference that happened online in early August, but which remains incomplete in my own viewing.

If this event had taken place in Las Vegas as usual, I would have watched almost all the talks I’d picked out from the schedule. That’s a core feature of traveling to spend a few days at a conference: All of the usual at-home distractions are gone, leaving you free to focus on the proceedings at hand.

Online-only events zero out my travel costs and offer the added benefit of vastly reducing the odds of my catching the novel coronavirus from a crowd of hundreds of strangers. But because they leave me in my everyday surroundings, they’re also hard to follow.

If I have a story to write off a panel–meaning a direct financial incentive–I can and will tune in for that. But for everything else at an online conference, it’s just too easy to switch my attention to whatever work or home task has to be done today and save the panel viewing for later, as if it were yet another recording on my TiVo. (Or to let my attention wander once again to Election Twitter.) It’s not as if other conference attendees will be able to note my absence!

So I still haven’t caught up with the talks at Black Hat. Or at the online-only DEF CON hacker conference that followed it. I haven’t even tried to follow the panels at this year’s online-only version of the Online News Association’s conference… mainly because I couldn’t justify spending $225 on a ticket when this conference’s usual networking benefits would be so attenuated. I feel a little bad about that, but on the other hand I also feel a little cranky about submitting a panel proposal for ONA 20 and never getting a response.

I would love to be able to return to physical-world events with schedules crowded by overlapping panel tracks that force me to choose between rooms. But there seems to be zero chance of them resuming in the next six months, even if a vaccine arrives before the end of the year in mass quantities. Web Summit, CES, SXSW: They’ll all be digital-only, happenings experienced only through a screen.

I should try harder to cultivate the habit of experiencing these virtual events in the moment, not weeks or months afterwards. Or at least I should try to catch up on the backlog of panels I’ve already accumulated. This last hour would have been great for that… except I spent it writing this post instead.

Update, 10/10/2020: It turns out none of those Black Hat panels were available for viewing anymore. Whoops! At least the tab bar in Chrome looks cleaner now, I guess.

Weekly output: megatrends, OneWeb, Andela, Saudi spying at Twitter, Kratsios on Huawei

My last business trip of the year wrapped up Friday when I came home from Lisbon after my fifth Web Summit conference–my fourth as a speaker. The next time I board a plane for work should be January 5, when I’ll head out for my 23rd CES in a row.

11/6/2019: Predicting tomorrow’s megatrends for a better today, Web Summit

I interviewed HP Labs chief technology officer Shane Wall about how he tries to forecast sweeping trends years in advance and what can lead that exercise astray. Along the way, we got to discuss his custom-made shoes. You’ll be able to see how that topic arose whenever the organizers post video of our session.

11/7/2019: OneWeb wants to blanket the planet in high-speed satellite broadband, Fast Company

I had to write this recap of a Web Summit talk by the CEO of this satellite-broadband firm twice after my first attempt didn’t get saved by Fast Company’s Web-based CMS. I should have known not to write directly into a client’s CMS when at a conference.

11/7/2019: How to win over a developer, Web Summit

In my second panel in Lisbon, I talked to Christina Sass, co-founder of the developer-training firm Andela. Unlike my earlier panel, this one featured audience questions–but routed through a Web app called Slido, which let us pick the ones we wanted and paraphrase them as needed. I prefer that to handing a microphone over to somebody in the audience and hoping they don’t ask a question that’s more of a comment.

11/7/2019: Saudi spying at Twitter, Al Jazeera

The Arabic-language news network had me on to discuss the arrests of two former Twitter employees for allegedly using their insider access to spy on Saudi Arabian dissidents. I made two points via Skype in a vacant conference room at Web Summit: Lots of tech companies give internal employees too much access (remember Uber’s “god view”?), and you’d be crazy not to think that other governments are trying to recruit their own moles inside U.S. tech companies.

11/9/2019: U.S. CTO: Don’t trust Huawei. Edward Snowden: Don’t trust anybody, Fast Company

The last Web Summit talk I watched wound up neatly dovetailing with the first, in that both U.S. chief technology officer Michael Kratsios and NSA leaker Edward Snowden each voiced grave concerns over untrustworthy communications links. They just didn’t agree on the solution to them.

Weekly output: 5G reality check, Business Access Media, 5G coverage maps

My last business trip of the year–at least, the last one I have on my schedule as of now–starts Saturday when I fly to Lisbon for the Web Summit conference. That’ll be my fifth trip to that event, my fourth as a panel moderator. In the meantime, I need the Washington Nationals to win two baseball games. Not one, not three, exactly two.

10/23/2019: What will 5G mean for you? A reality check on the hype, Fast Company

My first post in a series of twice-a-week “Connected World” posts that’s set to run through the rest of this year covered how the opening keynote at the MWC Los Angeles trade show wound up undermining some of the hype about 5G wireless I’ve seen at previous MWC conventions. No, I was not in L.A. for this; I thought about going but didn’t see how I’d sell enough stories to recoup my travel costs, so I watched the conference livestream instead.

10/24/2019: Business Access Media, Wynne Events

With this panel of journalists–including my fellow ex-Postie Neil Irwin–I spoke to a roomful of business-school PR types about where I look for stories, what kind of information from them might help me do my job and how to reach me. After a brief round of audience Q&A, the organizers of this event hosted at Georgetown University’s business school left the balance of this hour to one-on-one pitching from these publicists. I may have picked up a story idea or two from that.

10/25/2019: Where does your carrier offer 5G? That’s an excellent question!, Fast Company

My second Connected World post for FC covered how three of the four nationwide wireless carriers have yet to put their 5G service into their regular coverage maps. That’s kind of crazy, considering all the time these companies spend talking about how great their 5G is. That’s also yet another reason not to buy a 5G phone just yet.

Weekly output: Apple Tax on storage, CrowdStrike CEO, Facebook Pages, Rod Rosenstein on security and encryption

This year is officially in the home stretch, but some of this week’s work almost certainly won’t show up in my bank account until 2019. Remembering your clients’ varying payment schedules is essential to keeping some level of freelance accounting sanity.

11/28/2018: New MacBook Air and Mac mini show the Apple Tax on storage lives on, USA Today

As I’d pledged a few weeks ago, I returned to the subject of Apple’s belated updates to the Mac mini and MacBook Air to take a whack at these computers’ stingy entry-level storage allocations and the steep price to upgrade their solid-state drives. Note the correction on this column: I saw that Apple only offered a 256-gigabyte SSD on the entry-level iMac but stupidly neglected to check the storage options on other configurations.

11/29/2018: CrowdStrike CEO on political infosec lessons learned (Q&A), The Parallax

I talked to CrowdStrike chief executive George Kurtz at Web Summit and transcribed my interview on the flight home. Then this writeup–one not pegged to any breaking news–took a little longer to run.

11/30/2018: Facebook still hasn’t fixed this loophole for fake accounts, Yahoo Finance

This post started with some Thanksgiving tech support that revealed some highly sketchy pages in a relative’s News Feed, and then my inquiries with Facebook led the social network to nuke two pages with a combined 3.4 million Likes. Today, a reader pointed me to several other pages apparently run by the same people behind those two removed pages, so you probably haven’t read my last thoughts on this issue.

11/30/2018: Deputy AG Rosenstein calls on Big Tech to protect users, Yahoo Finance

Deputy U.S. attorney general Rod Rosenstein brought two messages to Georgetown Law’s Cybercrime 2020 symposium–and they contradicted each other to a fair amount.

Weekly output: social-media angst at Web Summit

Between Monday being a holiday, me coming down with a cold after Web Summit, and  our kid also home sick with a cold, this was a slow week.

11/12/2018: Should social media be regulated? Support seen at Web Summit for protecting user data, USA Today

I wasn’t quite sure what I’d write for USAT from Web Summit until I watched Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie’s enraged testimony there. A few other panels after that helped me flesh out this story idea, and I filed my report Thursday evening as the conference wrapped up. Then Wednesday, the New York Times published its account of Facebook’s self-serving, delusional response to early findings of Russian disinformation operations on the social network, and I felt like I’d been all too kind to Facebook in this column.