If LCD and Plasma HD televisions are the hottest items at CES this week (Toshiba unveiled no less than 20 new flat screens), GPS and mobile devices must rate a close second. We’ve already seen some groundbreaking new developments, including voice control and cellular-equipped GPS that will change the game for portable navigation when they arrive in Australia. Here are the highlights:GPS without satellite, and Google
There are two technologies we’re excited about, as they promise to help solve a longtime drawback of all GPS devices – losing the signal when you go into a tunnel, or between tall city buildings. Essentially, by combining extra sensors GPS makers hope to maintain a fix on your location, even if you lose satellite signal briefly.
Mio’s Navsteadi technology is one example, which didn’t get a lot of CES coverage, but looks very interesting. The system takes into account acceleration, heading data and closely coupled GPS to “improve positioning accuracy”. Mio’s local national sales manager Peter Farrigno told us the system should maintain a signal even in a tunnel.
“It’s a form of dead reckoning, it’s especially of aid when you’re in canon-esque type environments where there’s an enormous amount of signal loss,” he said.
Sony is pushing a similar concept, dubbed “Position Plus”, which kicks in when the signal is “weak”. Similar to Mio’s Navsteadi, Position Plus uses a combination of sensors to maintain your location, including pressure sensor, gyro and acceleration sensor. The first Sony device with the technology will be the NV-U83T, which was on show at CES and will be priced at USD$500 on its debut in the US.
|Sony's NV-U83T uses sensors to estimate your position when GPS signal is lost|
The other big news was the appearance of GPS devices that can connect wirelessly to third party search services. We’re not just talking about GPS phones here – Magellan, for example, has gained huge attention for adding GPRS data to its in-car Maestro Elite 5340. The Maestro has access to Google Local Search, so in theory, it should to check the weather forecast in another city before a holiday trip, or even search for local businesses – that’s if you have reception, and if they’re listed.
GPS devices already seem to be dividing into Google and Microsoft camps, which could mean these brands will become a buying consideration in the future if you have a particular fondness for either search. On the Microsoft side there is MSN Direct - Garmin for example is offering an optional MSN Direct receiver with its GPS units such as the Nuvi 5000. The unit will display traffic updates, fuel prices, weather reports, movie listings, and even news and stocks info.
While MSN Direct equipped GPS devices are in the US only for now, they provide a good idea of the explosion in third party GPS data that is on the way. In Microsoft and Google’s vision, it will be possible to plan your trip on your PC using local Web search, and then transfer map coordinates and routes to your GPS.
As we posted this story Mio confirmed for us that they are working on similar updates for their GPS range in Australia. Check back for an update on this soon.
|Garmin's nuvi 880 features "push-to-talk" voice recognition|
Voice control is also beginning to appear, with both Garmin and Magellan offering this feature. Garmin’s nuvi 880 comes with a “push-to-talk” wireless remote that you stick on your steering wheel. Say “where am I” and you’ll get your current coordinates and the nearest intersection. Interestingly Garmin claims the nuvi 880 doesn’t require training for the voice activation to work. Let’s hope they’ve got this right.The ultimate camera phone?
Phone makers have been promising photos that will rival dedicated cameras for a while. Sony Ericsson’s 3.2 megapixel K800i was good but not good enough, but now LG’s 5 megapixel Viewty (LG KU990) has us gob-smacked with extraordinary pictures.
We first saw the Viewty late last year, and the HSDPA phone has been getting more attention this week at CES and for good reason. It’s the top-end of the market in terms of phone-cameras (along with Samsung’s K850i), and in our short demo we were impressed with the performance, in particular the nigh shot mode. The Viewty shoots at up to ISO 800, and combined with some smart low-light circuitry, we got very clear results in a nightclub situation, with multiple light sources and reflections.
The first thing you notice on picking up the Viewty though, is how much it looks like a camera. The wide 3inch touch screen is vaguely iPhone-esque (we said vaguely, mind you), and it makes showing your photos to friends a pleasure. The Viewty also has DivX video playback, so it’s a potential mini movie device for train trips, though we hate to think what it does to your battery life.
|LG's Viewty: 5 Megapixels, ISO 800 low-light photos, 120fps video|
The Viewty’s other big drawcard is 120fps video recording, which we tested briefly. The results look good, but it seems gimmicky. Unless you’re regularly posting to YouTube don’t spend dollars for this feature alone. Meanwhile, expect more of these high end camera phones to appear – also on show was Samsung’s 5 megapixel SGH G-800.
The one thing Viewty lacks is WiFi. With data charges still steep for mobile broadband, we’re tipping WiFi to get much more important in smartphone/PDA phones this year, especially with the iPhone -- the Wi-Fi poster child -- on the way. At the moment, the number of phones with WiFi is a mixed bag -- you can already find it in devices like Nokia’s N81 and N95, but as far as we can see, there wasn’t a lot of it being pushed (in smartphones at least) at CES yet. One to watch for in 2008.ASUS’ mini PC
We have mixed feelings about small form factor PCs, but ASUS may well change our minds with the passively cooled Nova P22 shown off at CES this week. ASUS claims it to be the smallest “Mini PC” you can buy with a Core 2 Duo desktop chip, though we beg to differ - the Mac Mini is 16.5cm square and 5cm high.
|It's no Mac mini, but it's close at 23cm by 18cm (image: Asus)|
Despite the “below human hearing” claims, and the fact there are heat pipes and passive cooling, the Nova does have fans onboard. Interestingly, ASUS have angled the Nova at the home entertainment market. The unit has a noise rating of 25db, and it also supports Dolby Digital Live and DTS Connect speakers.
Here are some spec highlights: Core 2 Duo E6320, Vista Home Premium, GMA X3000 graphics, 1GB RAM, slot loading DVD-RW, DVI-out, 802.11n. The box measures 23.1cm x 18.4cm x 5.1cm.