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The Verge Awards at CES 2018: Hey Google

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The CES crowd seems to be dwindling every year as more tech companies wait until events like Mobile World Congress or their own developer shows to announce new products. But at CES 2018, even though we saw fewer things, they were also more interesting than previous years. We also saw Google, for the first time, make a spectacle out on the convention floors, fighting back against Amazon’s Alexa takeover.

Cover CES enough times, and you’ll also see trends start and grow from the show floor booths. Fingerprint readers that are directly embedded into touchscreens, for example, might be the new standard — just as the Qi wireless standard became universal this year now that Apple has adopted it on its latest iPhone models.

While there’s no one breakout product that stole the show this year, these are the pieces of technology that will shape 2018, and beyond, in tech. —Natt Garun

Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

Best in Show

Synaptics’ Clear ID fingerprint sensor

CES tends to have this weird duality where devices from the far-out future sit alongside iterative updates to gadgets from the here and now. There’s rarely a futuristic object from the near future. But this year, we got exactly that in the shape of a Vivo smartphone with the fingerprint reader built into the display. A Synaptics optical sensor sits just under the display and peers through the gaps between the OLED dots to recognize the unique pattern of your fingerprint. Using it feels just like any of the physical biometric sensors we’re used to — except it no longer requires dedicated space on the front of your phone, and thus allows for some very sleek, no-compromise designs. The best part is that the Synaptics optical fingerprint reader is already in mass production, and 2018 looks set to be full of new smartphones that use it. Vivo is just the beginning. —Vlad Savov

Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

Most in Show (Formerly best hype)

Google Assistant

How do you beat a voice assistant that’s absolutely everywhere at CES? By being even more everywhere. After two years of Alexa being the dominant voice assistant at the show, Google came out in full force, making sure the Google Assistant was inside more gadgets — and more types of gadgets — than its opponent. Now, maybe that’s because everything already seems to have Alexa built in. (Many of this year’s gadgets supported both assistants, if not more.) Google also got its Assistant into a wide variety of products, ranging from speakers, screens, headphones, pet feeders, infotainment systems, TVs, a light switch, and yeah, even more speakers. You really couldn’t go more than a few minutes this year without hearing about a new Google Assistant integration. While Alexa may be integrated in more things (roughly 4,000 products to Google’s 1,500 compatible devices), more people paid attention to Google Assistant this year than ever.

We certainly don’t know that all of these will be good, or even useful, but this year made it very clear that the battle over voice assistants is still getting started: Google is keeping pace with Amazon, third parties aren’t choosing sides, and we’re all going to end up with a lot of choice — even if that could lead to a lot of confusion when one of your smart gadgets accidentally gets set to Bixby. —Jake Kastrenakes

Photo by Chris Welch / The Verge

Best TV

Samsung’s The Wall

In its quest to come up with a better TV than LG’s OLEDs, Samsung took a major leap forward at CES 2018 by introducing The Wall. The Wall is a modular TV that uses MicroLED technology — with many of the same perks as OLED, but fewer drawbacks — to create its incredibly bright, splashy picture. The Wall’s modularity allows it to be customized to any practical size. Is it going to be expensive when it launches this spring? Undoubtedly. Is it a bit weird to see seams running through a TV when you’re looking at it up close? Sure. But The Wall stood out as something new when most TV makers like LG, Sony, and TCL played it safe this year with modest improvements to their products from a year ago. —Chris Welch

Photo by Sam Byford / The Verge

Best Robot

Aibo

While robots struggle to become useful beyond vacuum work, many manufacturers have been relying on charm to get by. Huge LCD faces, emotive eyes, endearing movements, and… not a lot of robotics. But this year, Sony showed how a truly charming robot should look and act, and resurrected a beloved product in the process: Aibo is back. Filled with sensors and servos, Aibo’s adorable movements, lifelike responses, and undeniable status as a good robot dog won our hearts this year. And after all, what could be more useful than love? —Paul Miller

Photo: Sennheiser

Best Headphones

Sennheiser HD 820

The headphones industry is in a state of major flux, so it’s fitting that its best exemplar at CES was an unfinished but gorgeous pair of audiophile cans. Sennheiser brought only four demo units of its brand-new HD 820 closed-back headphones, each of them handmade especially for the big show. We won’t be seeing these $2,400 headphones on sale until the summer, but they still wowed CES visitors with their unique Gorilla Glass window on the sides and that characteristic Sennheiser flagship sound. Sennheiser has a supremely well-regarded set of audiophile headphones in the HD 800 S, and the HD 820 are simply a closed version: the difference is that the new headphones can be listened to without disturbing others around you. —Vlad Savov

Photo by Chaim Gartenberg / The Verge

Best CES

Project Linda

It might not be practical. It probably won’t ever ship. But Razer’s Project Linda prototype is undeniably the most “CES” product out on the show floor. Let Google throw around how useful and practical its Assistant is now. Across the hall, Razer is shoving a smartphone into a laptop, using it simultaneously as the brains and the trackpad, and forcing you to challenge what you thought the line between a phone and a laptop could be. I mean, just look at this thing! It’s like a concept car for gadgets, being both aspirational and sensational, even though it might never ever ship.

Project Linda feels like a product that was pulled out of a future that might never be, yet somehow it’s here in the real world to see and touch and use today years ahead of schedule. And even if that vision will be shattered when everyone leaves Vegas and Linda ends up shelved alongside dozens of other CES prototypes, at least for one week we all could dream. —Chaim Gartenberg

Photo: Nvidia

Best Gaming

Nvidia’s Big Format Gaming Displays

I’m not really a proponent of 4K gaming. It doesn’t make a profound difference on all but the biggest of TVs, and even then I think it’s often not worth the hit to performance and frame rate. But Nvidia’s Big Format Gaming Display — the BFGD — gets you the best of both worlds. It’s a display spec with manufacturers including Asus, HP, and Acer on board; all models use 65-inch 4K 120Hz panels with HDR capability. But the real breakthrough is that they work with Nvidia’s G-Sync technology, bringing the unbeatable smoothness of a high-end gaming monitor to a far bigger screen size. And although Nvidia is careful to point out that BFGDs aren’t TVs, the company is building in its excellent Shield streaming box anyway. —Sam Byford

Photo by Natt Garun / The Verge

Most Touching

My Special Aflac Duck

Point blank, a lot of CES is just useless junk, and we fully expected something with Aflac branding all over it to be equally bad. Instead, we got a heartwarming robot toy that has no camera, no voice assistant, and no games. It does, however, have the capability of comforting children battling cancer to help them feel less alone in their fight, and take control of their emotions in a situation that’s very uncontrollable. Sniff. The toy won’t be sold, but instead given to children at care centers nationally for free. Extra sniff.Natt Garun

Photo by Sam Byford / The Verge

Best Monitor

LG 5K Ultrawide

LG’s 34WK95U is looking like an amazing monitor for desktop productivity. It’s a 34-inch 21:9 5120 x 2160 panel with 98 percent P3 color gamut coverage and Thunderbolt 3 connectivity. In other words, it’s ultrawide, ultra vibrant, and ultra convenient. It also supports HDR for times when you want to kick back with a movie after a hard day’s multitasking. It’s going to be expensive, but there’s nothing I want more on my desk this year. —Sam Byford

Photo by Jake Kastrenakes / The Verge

Best Laptop

Dell XPS 15 2in1

It’s been a relatively quiet CES year for crazy laptops, but Dell has managed to stand out. The new XPS 15 2-in-1 combines the tablet features you’d expect with a new Maglev keyboard. Dell is using a brand-new mechanism that relies on magnets. Magnets beneath each key now provide additional feedback, creating a clickier keyboard than you’d normally expect from 0.7mm of travel. It feels a little odd at first, but I liked the clicky keyboard after using it a little more.

The XPS 15 also flips over like a Lenovo Yoga, and it’s one of the first to include Intel chips powered by discrete AMD Radeon RX Vega M GPUs. Intel and AMD haven’t worked together since the ‘80s, and I’m hopeful this might mean we’ll see a lot more regular (not giant) laptops that are capable of playing games in the future. —Tom Warren

Photo by Eargo

Most Useful Health

Hearing aids

I’m deeply skeptical about CES health gadgets because most of them are useless. You have headsets and trackers and connected everything to harvest data, but half the time the data is inaccurate and the gadget is overpriced. And even when it’s accurate, it’s usually more information than any of us know what to do with. Tracking every minute of your sleep or every beat of your heart doesn’t mean anything without useful context, which is exactly what gadgets are bad at providing.

The one category that shows promise this year is smart and stylish hearing aids from companies like ReSound, Oticon, and Eargo. About 80 percent of people with hearing loss don’t wear aids, in part because of the stigma. By making hearing aids “cool”— whether through design or through their ability to be connected with doorbells — these companies are encouraging people to get the help they need. Instead of inventing a problem or saddling us with unrealistic performance expectations, these companies improve tech that serves an existing problem that more and more people will have as we age. —Angela Chen

Photo: DJI

Best Accessory

DJI Osmo Mobile

DJI’s Osmo smartphone stabilizer is fantastic for turning your smartphone videos into smooth, professional-looking shots, but the original $299 price tag was just too high for most consumers. The new Osmo Mobile fixes that, with a $129 price tag that makes it way more affordable, along with nearly quadruple the battery life. Your new vlogging career awaits. —Chaim Gartenberg

Photo: Daimler AG

Best Car Tech

MBUX

I was all set to mock Mercedes-Benz for using CES to first, launch its own infotainment system for future cars (yawn) and second, making everyone say “Hey, Mercedes,” to issue voice commands. But the mocking stopped when I saw the new Mercedes-Benz User Experience in action. Automakers have been getting closer and closer to making their own in-car infotainment systems act more like operating systems from Apple or Google, and therefore be more natural to use. It’s not perfect (there’s no Google search, for example), but the fact you can tell your car it’s too cold or warm inside and it actually changes the temperature of the heating / ventilation system is cool. And Mercedes made it work, along with awesome ambient lights that either glow cooly or warmly, depending on what you told it to do. Alexa who? —Zac Estrada

Photo by Sean O’Kane / The Verge

Best Rideable

Ford Ojo scooter

It may not be the most thrilling or unique idea we saw at CES this year, but the Ford Ojo scooter is one of the best light electric vehicles I’ve ridden. California company Ojo has taken the best things about a number of other electric scooters and put them all here in one place. It’s fast, has an abundance of range (up to 50 miles), and it’s built like a tank. The $2,150 price tag for the fully loaded model might spook some people, but this is the rare case where it feels justified.

Like other years, there were many different forms of electric skateboards, scooters, and bikes at CES this year. Some of them are wild, but many of them aren’t very practical. Other designs might turn a few more heads on the street, but the Ford Ojo scooter is one of the rare rideables that can get you where you’re going even if it’s far away. —Sean O’Kane

Photo by Tom Warren / The Verge

Best VR / AR

Vive Pro

HTC’s new Vive Pro comes with all the upgrades its virtual reality headset needed: a noticeable resolution bump, built-in headphones, and a new wireless adapter. That means Vive owners will be able to use full room-scale VR without any cumbersome cables. Of course, you still need to set up Valve’s obnoxious laser towers, and you still need a powerful gaming PC to use SteamVR software. But the Vive Pro is an interesting challenge to the Rift, which Oculus has been aggressively discounting for months to spur VR adoption. We’ll see how the VR platform wars heat up after this. —Nick Statt

Photo by Dami Lee / The Verge

Best Disaster

The CES Flood / Blackout

It’d be easy to just write this category off as a fun joke about how all of CES is a disaster. But here at The Verge, we take things more seriously, which is why the Best Disaster award goes to the torrential CES flood that drowned Las Vegas on the first day of the show. Drenching the city with its first precipitation in months, the rain threw all of CES for a loop, flooding streets, closing Google’s much-hyped playground, and leading to endless taxi lines.

But the biggest ramification of the rain wouldn’t hit until a day later when condensation from the downpour would blow a transformer, leading to a massive power outage in the now infamous #CESBlackout that shut down the convention center for nearly two hours, right at the peak of the conference. —Chaim Gartenberg

Photo by Alix Diaconis / The Verge

Least-Threatening AI

Omron Forpheus Ping Pong Bot

I’m not being sarcastic when I say that this massive AI ping-pong robot isn’t in the least bit threatening, but rather the opposite. It doesn’t have voice or facial recognition, so there’s no chance of it ever abusing its AI powers to spy on us. Rather, the only thing it recognizes is a good, clean game of table tennis. (Okay, technically, it recognizes the ball in a 3D space, and the player’s movements to determine their skill level, too.) As Forpheus and I played, a cutesy, high-pitched voice encouraged me with messages like “This rally is fun!” and “You’re getting better!” Listed in the Guinness World Records as the world’s first table tennis tutor, its LED net displays the player’s skill level, which is constantly updated as the robot learns more about you.

After starting out at a skill level of 55 out of 100, I’m proud to say that training with Forpheus brought me up to 77. It’s too bad that Forpheus isn’t for consumers (it was just created to showcase Omron’s technologies), because my experience was just like playing with a friend who’s really, really good at ping-pong. —Dami Lee

Photo: LG Display

Best Prototype

LG Display rollable OLED TV

LG Display is a nominally separate company from LG Electronics, whose job it is to advance the state-of-the-art of display technology and wow CES visitors with outlandish prototypes. The 65-inch rollable display that the company brought to this year’s show is a perfect example. It’s OLED, it has a 4K resolution, and it looks absolutely stunning. But it can also roll down into its base, rather like a projector screen flipped on its head, and thereby adopt different aspect ratios. The TV goes from its native 16:9 to a wider 21:9 cinema mode at the press of a button, and it can also be hidden away entirely for a discreet home theater look. —Vlad Savov

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