Over 3,000 exhibitors and 1.85 million square feet of eye-popping innovations later, annual gadget industry gala the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has finally wrapped in Las Vegas, leaving frequent travelers surprised in more ways than one.
An evolutionary, not revolutionary, year for technology, key revelations nonetheless spanned the entire spectrum, including the weird (hooray, Internet-enabled forks), wild (see: self-driving cars), and wacky (enter the robotic spider walkers). Happily, a few—i.e. smartphones and tablets with PC-grade power, Android-powered cameras, and remote home security system—may even make sense to the lay viewer. Big trends in 2013: Smart—a.k.a. online-enabled—everything, mass interconnectivity between gizmos, and growing set-top performance from pocket-sized devices, courtesy of performance-obsessed chipmakers like AMD and Qualcomm.
Related: Best Travel Gadgets
Too busy sprinting between connections to enjoy scene-stealers including 110-inch 4K or OLED (read: ultra-crisp, high-def) televisions and table-sized touchscreens, however? No sweat. Try one of these pocket rockets—among the year's top travel gadgets, and each destined to find a welcome home inside any purse or carry-on—instead. So what if they lack the sheer stopping power of living picture windows the size of billboards? All are infinitely easier to cram in an overhead bin, and infinitely more practical in-flight companion.
Sony Xperia Z (pictured): The most intelligent thing about this hyper-powered 'smart' phone? Not the device's 4G LTE high-speed performance, quad-core Snapdragon processor (read: serious computing muscle) and 13MP camera, which produces images on-par with point-and-shoot rivals. Rather, think real-world practicality: An anti-shatter 1080p HD screen, dustproof jacket and water-resistant capabilities guard against spills on pavements or accidental swan dives into hotel toilets. Be glad for the insurance—its price tag could set you back upwards of $800.
Spare One Cell Phone: Dial H for 'Hallelujah.' A $99 emergency cellie capable of holding a charge 15 years, this little lifesaver also runs on just one AA battery. Don't have a SIM card handy? You can still dial 911 if a GSM tower's nearby. Providing up to 10 hours of talk time—more than enough to say HEEEEEEEEEELP!—it also offers emergency tracking features, extreme weatherproofing and a built-in light source. Action sports buffs and extreme tourists should put it on speed dial.
Trakdot Luggage Tracker: You've just touched down in Barbados—unfortunately, your suitcase hasn't. Thankfully, you can pinpoint its exact location with this black-and-orange, GSM chip-equipped monitor, packable in any bag, then easily tracked using a companion app, or email/text updates. Costing $49.95 plus $12.99 annually, the notepad-sized and FAA-approved gizmo (battery-powered, it automatically sleeps once aircraft reach certain speeds) travels with ease. Whether you will too presumably depends on what time zone said luggage has arrived in.
NVIDIA Project Shield: That hyper-powered PlayStation Vita gaming handheld? So 2012, man. Today's kids (including us oversized ones) will instead soon be raving over PC chipmaker NVIDIA's take on portable play, which marries a traditional button-/joystick-sporting pad with 5-inch HD clamshell touchscreen. Paying $40 for stripped-down versions of set-top amusements? Forget that: Able to run Android apps and output them to TV via HDMI cable, or stream computer games over a WiFi network, you can enjoy endless alternative lo- or hi-fi experiences to go on-demand.
Polaroid iM1836: Add the Android operating system (think one-touch photo sharing apps and easy upload to WiFi networks), Bluetooth support and interchangeable lenses, and voila—you get a $400 connected digital camera. While shutterbugs will appreciate the compact's features, which include 18MP photos, 1080p HD video capture, and 10-300mm f/3-5.6 zoom options, online-enabled upsides prove equally promising as multimedia creation abilities and swappable perspectives. Think downloadable applications that endlessly extend the device's features, and boundless potential for fun Facebook posts.
Lenovo Yoga 11S: Many tablet makers opted for a 'bigger is better' strategy this year, cranking out ridiculously oversized 18.4-inch to 27-inch models, while others (see: Razer's Edge gaming unit) focused purely on ratcheting up horsepower. So from practicality's standpoint, this year's most promising portable computing pick actually takes the form of a so-called 'ultrabook' (lightweight touchscreen) PC that mimics slate computers' best features instead. Running Windows 8, the lightweight $799 unit actually folds to become a tablet on-command, offering travel-ready flexibility without sacrificing laptop-level performance.
Bestselling futurist and international speaker on strategy and innovation Scott Steinberg heads corporate training firm TechSavvy Global. A leading global trends expert and high-tech business authority seen in 400+ outlets from CNN to NPR, you can connect with him at AKeynoteSpeaker.com.
Photo courtesy of Sony