I got the chance to check out a lot of wearables on and off the showroom floor at CES this year. Needless to say it was sensory overload. But having had some time to let the Vegas dust settle, there are some that really stuck out. From Pet Wearables to Virtual Reality headsets, here are the wearables that topped my "Best of" list from CES 2015.
Best Virtual Reality Headset: Sulon Cortex
My time with the Cortex was hands-down the most memorable experience at CES this year. Developed in Markham, Ontario by Sulon Technologies, the Cortex is an all-in-one augmented virtual reality headset which means that it can offer both VR and AR. The device also features gesture controls so you don't need a controller as well as continuous scanning of your environment for up to 20 metres to incorporate your physical surroundings as part of the experience.
I was given a demo of the Hydra game at the Sulon booth at CES where the room I was in showed a portal in front of me, not unlike Stargate, when I put the Cortex on. I was still able to see the room as is, but the portal obviously was only seen through the headset. When I walked into the portal, the room transformed into a cave where I was on a platform surrounded by lava and in front of me was a Hydra (dragon). The Cortex was able to recognize my hands when I lifted them up for me to see them and I used them to shield me from the Hydra's fire or to push fire back at the Hydra in an effort to kill the beast. Once I was successful I walked back through the portal, back to the room I started in.
The Cortex is currently planning on releasing a developer version for around $500 in the Fall of this year. The demo I had was with a prototype headset but they were also showing off the final design of the Cortex which is pretty impressive looking.
Runner-up: Samsung Gear VR
Best Video Glasses: Avegant Glyph
Avegant raised over $1.5 million for its mobile personal theater glasses back on Kickstarter last year. The Glyph combines headphones with a pair of video glasses giving you everything you need to watch movies, TV or play games while out of the house. What sets the Glyph apart from other video glasses I saw at CES was its Virtual Retinal Display which projects images directly onto your retina. As someone who needs to wear glasses, I appreciated the ability to just put on the Glyph without my own specs and make some adjustments to see the picture clearly. I got a demo of a prototype of the Glyph where I watched "How to Train Your Dragon" in 3D and also saw the eyes of a DJI drone and was pretty impressed. I was most impressed with the aesthetic and quality of the final design of the device which Avegant was featuring at its booth. The headset felt comfortable, premium and would definitely be something I'd be proud to whip out of my bag and put on in the subway.
Runner-up: Vuzix IWear
Best Smartglasses: ODG
Osterhout Design Group (ODG) caught the industry by surprise when it announced it was planning to release a pair of consumer augmented reality glasses later this year. The company had previously been focused on enterprise and military. The team were demoing a version of its glasses at CES. Ultimately the experience of ODG is like having access to a tablet in front of your eyes hands-free. Unlike Google Glass, which is monocular, ODG's pair of glasses have HD stereoscopic dual displays. My short time with the glasses felt similar to the Epson Moverio BT-200 but the design and comfort of ODG's pair is much more geared towards the consumer. To control what is on the screen, ODG is offering users various options including a trackpad on the temple, Bluetooth ring or controller. The smartglasses will run Android Lollipop when it launches and will also support its own OS, Reticle. No date or retail price although its said they will be priced under $1000.
Runner-up: Sony SmartEyeglass
Best Smartwatch: Blocks
Blocks is making modularity its killer USP in the smartwatch space. The Intel "Make It Wearable" challenge finalist was showing off some design prototypes of its smartwatch users build themselves. The idea of customizing a watch to better suit a users' needs was the most innovative smartwatch concept I saw on the floor. Users will be able to select blocks which house various sensors and components like an accelerometer or battery to build the perfect watch in the same way Google is working on Project Ara. Blocks didn't have a working smartwatch to demo at CES this year but the team is committed to getting this device to market and are ramping up towards a crowdfunding campaign in the summer.
Runner-up: Sony SmartWatch 3 (Stainless Steel)
Best Fitness Wearable: Parrot Zik Sport
Parrot unveiled its biometric headset concept, Zik Sport, at CES Unveiled. The pair of headphones are designed by Philippe Starck and are equipped with sensors that measure your run. The device and companion app show data related to your activity, heart rate, running cadence and things like ground contact time to show if you are landing on your left foot or right foot more. The company had a prototype and demo app on display at the pre-CES event to showcase some of its features. Parrot was tight lipped on the release date and pricing but it is expected to come out later this year.
Best Smart Wear: Athos
Athos didn't have an official presence at CES this year but I was able to meet up with them while in Vegas to get a hands-on with a pair of smart shorts which measure heart rate, breathing and muscle effort. In the iOS companion app, I was able to see various muscle groups light up to show how hard they were working during an exercise like a squat. The app also highlighted any unbalance in the use of a muscle group, for example left glute versus right. Athos is the only smart wear that has EMG (electromyography) sensors to measure muscle effort. The company is now shipping its smart shirts and smart shorts for both men and women
Best Wearable Camera: Nixie
Nixie blew everyone away when they demoed its wearable drone on stage at the Intel keynote last week. The wrist-worn drone unclasps from your wrist, and is thrown away from you like a boomerang, to then fly away, turn around and take a picture of you before it comes back. Although I wasn't able to get a personal demo of the device, I was able to catchup with co-founder Jelena Jovanovic who walked me through the company's vision to become the next generation of personal photography and its goal to make Nixie more wearable, improve the image quality and safety features to ready it for market. No date has been announced for when we will see these guys on our wrist.
Runner-up: Narrative Clip 2
Best Brain Wearable: Thync
My most shocking experience at CES happened outside of the showroom floor at a suite in the Wynn where I got a demo of neurosignaling wearable Thync. Thync uses electrical stimulus to alter your mood, making you either more calm or more energized. The device is one of the first wearables I have tried which has an objective of changing your life rather than simply measuring and monitoring it. From my small time with it, I can say it worked. After thirteen-minutes with Thync during an Energize Vibe, I left with a pep in my step and fully motivated to tackle the chaos at the convention centre. Thync is planning on releasing its brain wearable later this year.
Best Kids Wearable: hereO
Kid wearables have some real potential in keeping children safe and connected to their parents and guardians at all times. hereO showcased its GPS smartwatch for kids at CES Unveiled. The company raised over $200,000 on Indiegogo last year for its wearable which is designed specifically for children ages three and up. The app allows guardians to locate the child at anytime on a map in the app, get alerts when a child has reached a specific location and offers a range of emergency services.
Runner-up: GizmoPal by LG
Best Pet Wearable: WonderWoof
Pet wearables was definitely a huge trend at CES this year. My favorite of the bunch is the fun and quirky bowtie for dogs, WonderWoof. From a design perspective, WonderWoof's app and accessory are colorful and well thought out. The device has an accelerometer and Bluetooth which captures information on both your dogs activity and whereabouts within range of your smartphone. The app also features some neat little bonuses such as a social network for dogs where instead of following they "sniff' each other. And as a cat owner, I appreciated that on the company's roadmap is WonderWhiskers. WonderWoof is currently taking pre-orders and will have a suggested retail price of $99.
Runner-up: Tagg GPS Plus
Best Wearable App: BMW Remote Valet Parking Assistant for Samsung Gear
There weren't a ton of smartwatch apps on display at the show this year but the two most memorable I saw allowed you to control your connected car with your wrist. BMW were showcased its smart valet system for the BMW i3 electric car in the Samsung booth using a Gear S. With a push of a button on the smartwatch app, the driverless car came up to pick up its owner. The app also lets owners see some of the vitals of the car. This app unfortunately won't be seen anytime soon, at least not from BMW. BMW stated that this demo was a concept only and that the technology required to offer this to the masses is 5-8 years away.