Gets serious with tablets, 4G, NAS, pocket projectors

Road warriors are about to get a powerful tech makeover as CES 2011 brings mobility advances on every front.

CES 2011 has plenty to offer the consumer world, but increasingly it brings major business tech advances, too. This year, we're seeing a flood of new offerings that will make doing business on the road easier, more engaging, and a whole lot more productive. Thanks to a host of new tablets, a flurry of 4G wireless offerings, some cool new networked storage options, and a bunch of itty bitty projectors, this CES is shaping up to be a road warrior's fantasy.

While many of the products shown here in Las Vegas tend to take a year to hit the market, most of the business stuff we've seen looks ready to get down to work.

Tablets Galore

Those who doubted the viability of tablets in early 2010 had reason to be skeptical. With only a scant handful of devices available, slates looked like a hard sell. But with more than 50 tablets poised to hit the market in the coming year, that skepticism appears to be waning.

One of the most anticipated tablets of 2011 is, of course, the BlackBerry Playbook, a 7-inch slate with two cameras and a 1GHz dual-core processor. The Playbook, which will sell for "less than an iPad," supports RIM's BlackBerry Enterprise Server just like any BlackBerry, and runs Flash 10.1. This is no Android slate, though: Instead the Playbook runs a proprietary BlackBerry Tablet OS built on QNX.

The overwhelming majority of tablets debuting here at CES are Android-based. Samsung, Dell, Motorola, Cisco, Asus, and Lenovo (among many others) have announced Android-based tablets for 2011. Most of the newly announced tablets will run the upcoming Android 3.0 ("Honeycomb") OS, which is exclusively designed for tablets.

Windows 7 continues to appear on new tablets as well, though Steve Ballmer dedicated a significant portion of his CES keynote address to touting the ARM processor support that will come with Windows 8, suggesting that even Microsoft senses that the current Windows OS isn't all that compelling on slates.

Still on the horizon is HP's WebOS-based tablet announcement, which is now set to occur after CES.

What makes this year's tablet hype different from last years is that we're now seeing real products -- lots of them -- that will actually ship within the next couple of months. And this crop of slates is far more diverse than anything we've seen to date, with a host of data-connection options and a variety of operating systems and app ecosystems. Between the tablets here at CES and the forthcoming iPad 2, anyone looking to put slates to work will find something worth adopting in 2011.

4G Wireless

Some of the new tablets announced here at the show -- as well as a number of laptops -- feature built-in support for 4G wireless networks. For instance, Cisco's Cius tablet and Samsung's Galaxy Tab will run on Verizon's LTE (long-term evolution) network, and LG's G-Slate will run on T-Mobile's HSPA+ network. But with or without slates, 4G is coming on strong this year.

Not only have we seen a variety of 4G tablets, laptops, mobile hotspots, and USB dongles, but at long last the 4G phones have begun to emerge in earnest. Motorola's Droid Bionic will come to Verizon in the second quarter of 2011. The Samsung Infuse and HTC Inspire are set to hit AT&T's HSPA+ "4G" network.

It's worth pointing out here that 4G wireless networks are not all created equal, and the term "4G" has taken on a vague meaning in the wireless marketing world. Verizon's LTE network is the only U.S. wireless network to date that's founded on a generally accepted 4G technology. Sprint's WiMAX network is more of a middle step between 3G and 4G. And T-Mobile and AT&T appear to have simply adopted the 4G designation for their existing 3G HSPA+ networks in an effort to keep pace in the advertising race.

Dubious terminology aside, all of these companies are clearly taking the increased demand for mobile data service seriously, and road warriors will see some substantial bandwidth gains in the year to come. Perhaps more than any other trend at CES this year, the 4G explosion stands to radically improve mobile productivity.

Cloud-Connected Storage

Getting remote access to your business data is about to get a whole lot easier -- particularly for SoHo users. Several storage vendors have launched new network-attached storage offerings here in Las Vegas, and the big theme in NAS is cloud access.

Pogoplug, which has become the company to watch in small-office storage, has enhanced its cloud-connected NAS drives with a new feature called Pogoplug Video that will instantly stream any video content on your drive directly to your mobile device over the Web. While this is obviously cool for home consumers, it's also a win for sales pros looking to keep their latest product videos at hand.

Buffalo Technology has launched a new NAS drive, the CloudStor, based on Pogoplug's technology. The company has also updated its strictly-business TeraStation Pro line with a five new options ranging from the 2-bay Duo to an 8-bay model that can scale up to 24TB while still occupying only a corner of one person's desk. (And, of course, there's a rack-mounted option for SMB data centers.) The TeraStation Pro is a great option for small to mid-sized companies looking for an affordable backup and recovery system, because it can automatically replicate itself when paired with a second TeraStation in another location. Like the CloudStor, it features cloud connectivity for workers on the go, albeit with more robust business-grade security via Active Directory.

Synology has also refreshed its business-class storage line with a couple of new DiskStation offerings. The new DS211+ offers 6TB of storage capacity and a truckload of remote-access and streaming options for everything from Web sites to Internet radio. For bigger businesses, the DS1511+ scles up to 45TB while offering all the Web-connected versatility of the DS211+ and some finer business-class admin features.

The clear sign here is that small-business storage is rapidly adopting many of the Internet-connected whistles and bells of enterprise-grade solutions, but without the enterprise-grade cost and complexity. This will make it easier than ever for small companies and SoHo workers to put their data in the cloud without subscribing to cloud services.

Pocket Projectors

Pico projectors are continuing to evolve, and this year we're seeing a variety of new devices that are pushing the envelope in terms of resolution and picture quality while shrinking the footprint of the devices themselves. I checked out a variety of new products based on Texas Instruments' new DLP Pico HD chips, and the range of pocket-size high-definition projectors is impressive.

Whether you're just looking for a svelte table-top unit that you can toss in a briefcase or you want a truly pocketable projector, there'll be plenty of choices in 2011. HP, LG, Acer, Dell, ViewSonic, and a long list of other companies are integrating the Pico HD chips into their projectors this year.

Unlike last year's pico projectors, the new HD devices kick out some pretty impressive video quality. I watched a sampling of high-def video on a new Samsung phone built around the new chips, and it maintained surprisingly good image clarity and brightness in a room with normal ambient light.

Of course, there's plenty of other hot new tech coming out of CES this year, and PCWorld is covering it all. Check out our complete coverage of CES 2011.

Tags MotorolaCESstoragehardware systemsConsumer Electronics Show (CES)nastablet PCprojectorsDellnetwork-attached storagelaptopstablet PCsLenovotablets

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Robert Strohmeyer

PC World (US online)

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