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The Best Designs of CES 2011

best designs of ces 2011
It's a strange paradox: at the world's largest consumer electronics show -- the circus extravaganza in which the work of thousands of industrial designers is laid bare before the masses -- most of the stuff we find is total crap. Students and experimental designers don't often find their way to CES, probably due to a lack of startup capital or a conceptual design that's unfeasible on a large scale. As we sift through the zillionth iPhone 4 hard-shell case with the "funky" patterns (as faux-retro geometries seem to have taken over in 2011), we get a little depressed. And then, lo! There among the landfill of dreck, we stumble upon the rare gem -- well conceived and lovingly designed products, that are not just a riff on someone else's more successful original. So check out our favorite design diamonds from CES this year, and appreciate their true rarity.

sifteo blocks

What can we say that hasn't already been said about these marvelous little gaming blocks? Among a sea of been-there, done-that tablets craning their necks for just a little bit of the iPad's limelight, it's truly heartening to see an entirely different approach to displays, interfaces and devices in general. The fact that a couple of MIT Media Lab students were able to move their concept project to production -- especially in this slumping economy -- should serve as an inspiration for student designers everywhere.

samsung d8000
Samsung D8000

Your writer isn't much of a TV geek, but it's hard to deny the sheer beauty of this razor-thin HD display. The 0.2-inch bezel is barely there, giving you the impression of some kind of 'Minority Report' floating monitor. The viewing angles are extreme (as we stood nearly perpendicular at one demo), and the perks (e.g., 3-D capability, Wi-Fi enabled, Samsung apps) are lovely value-adds. But the real score is in the bright, crisp, practically hovering picture.

polaroid GL20
Polaroid GL20

Naysayers will immediately dismiss Lady Gaga's video/camera glasses by Polaroid as a gimmick, but we have to give the company some credit. After all, this is no point-and-shoot with the Lady's visage slapped across the back. Time and money went into the research, development and production of these possibly game-changing shades, and no one can say that they weren't one of the most original products to debut at the show. Weird, conceptual and fashion-forward are not typical traits of the products unveiled at CES.

polaroid gl30
Polaroid GL30

Even if you're still not buying into our pro-Gaga glasses gushing, can you at least be swayed by the GL30 and its deliciously retro-futuristic lines? A throwback to the cameras made obsolete by the retirement of instant film, the GL30 updates the traditional with a pop-out LCD and the ability to either print your snaps (with Polaroid's ZINK tech, on a three-by-five inch photo), or save/share them digitally. It's not loaded up with fancy features, because, just like its Instant predecessor, it's not a pro's tool; it's just a party camera. And it continues Polaroid's tradition of thinking outside the typical form factor.

parrot dia
Parrot DIA

Your writer had to go and check out Parrot's DIA (conceived by NoDesign), despite the fact that one of the Switched crew had already experienced a hands-on with the futuristic photo frame. It just must be seen to be believed; the diaphanous display seems unfit for 2011, as if it had come here from some 'Star Trek' century. Sure, you could slip something in the lightbox-like space between the illumination and the display, but this is a design that calls attention to and preserves negative space, instead of one packed full of features and muck. The result is an effortless product that's more of a design piece in and of itself than a holder for your crappy snaps.

motorola xoom
Motorola Xoom

Last month, if we'd been asked to name a possible (but still unlikely) successor to the iPad's lofty throne, we would have said the Galaxy Tab. But CES always brings new things, and we were quickly swayed by Motorola's just-announced Xoom, which will be running the latest version of Android. Slimmer and lighter than the 'Pad, the Xoom sported our favorite display of all the myriad tablets shown this year. (And with over 100 tablets on deck, that's no easy feat.) The front and rear cameras, 720p video recording and micro-USB slots are nothing; the real gold is in its upgradeability. When LTE/4G becomes available, you need only change out a piece of hardware.

xi3 z3ro
Xi3 Z3RO

The Xi3 modular computers were already gorgeous, energy-efficient little boxes on their own. Having the traditional motherboard split into three parts allows the computer to streamline its processes and scale its network -- using less than 20 watts while the 64-bit x86 dual core processor runs at 2.0GHz. Impressive little machine! But the company wanted to throttle all of the unused processor juice, and debuted a solution this year: the Z3RO. Acting as a sort of workstation, up to four Z3ROs can plug into a single modular computer, sharing the processing power for simple tasks like word processing, business applications and Web browsing.

miniwiz peanut
Miniwiz Peanut

We ran across the eco-oriented Miniwiz at CES last year, wowed by its fantastic booth made of recycled plastic bottles and solar cells. This year, Miniwiz's designs got a little bit bigger, moving up from solar-powered fans to personal and commercial lighting solutions (low-powered, naturally). But we especially loved the multitasking Peanut, an iPad stand and speaker with six removable, parabolic layers crafted from pressed wood scraps. The "shells" are sturdy enough to act as bookshelves, stools or table bases, turning a single piece of recycled audio equipment into an entire living room set.

black and decker ishred
Black and Decker iShred

"And in the Year of Our Tweet 2011, prophetic tool artisans Black and Decker finally built the Mr. Fusion, as foretold by the book of 'Back to the Future,' giving us the Earthly gift of His Most Hallowed Flying DeLorean." Oh, if only. But Black and Decker did unveil this vertical paper shredder, which uncannily resembles the power supply for Doc Brown's time machine in the BTTF sequel. The tall design eliminates the possibility of paper shredder injury, as the top feeds the paper to the shredders below, well out of sight and reach. But why call it something as uninspiring as the iShred? Maybe it will play MP3s in the next version?

Moneual RYDIS H1004
Moneual RYDIS H1004

This retro-weirdo robotic air purifier couldn't help but capture our hearts, just as it did the CES Innovations judges. Looking not unlike some kind of 'Lost in Space' trash bin (and we say that in the nicest way possible), the tongue-twisting Moneual RYDIS H1004 is really designed for the elderly, sort of like a Roomba for volatile organic compounds in the air that can contribute to disease. It patrols a given area for pollutants, and even includes a computer (running Windows 7 and featuring a LCD touchscreen) that communicates with a Wi-Fi enabled wristwatch in order to monitor the health of the patients in its care. (Photo credit: Unplggd)

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