While this year’s CES has transformed from an exhausting Las Vegas trade show to a never-ending series of livestreams to be enjoyed in the comfort of your own home, we’ve certainly had no shortage of weird and wonderful tech announcements – alongside more sober presentations from the likes of Intel, AMD and Nvidia who only announced boring stuff like graphics cards and processors.
We’ve been taking notes on the coolest stuff to catch our eye, and at the end of Wednesday we think we’ve got the definitive list. Without further ado, here are the 10 coolest bits of tech announced at CES 2021.
1. Asus ROG Flow X13 convertible gaming laptop
Asus brought fire to this year’s show, with a seemingly unending cavalcade of gaming laptops, monitors, motherboards and peripherals. For me though, the highlight of their offerings was the ROG Flow X13, a diminutive 13-inch gaming laptop with three (!!) graphics cards. You can choose between integrated Vega graphics from the Ryzen 5980HS processor, a discrete GTX 1650 GPU and a tiny external RTX 3080 graphics card.
That last option is only available if you pick up the 2021 ROG XG Mobile enclosure, doubling the price, but it should unlock a ridiculous amount of gaming performance in an incredibly compact design – and the enclosure also powers the laptop and provides a ton of extra USB ports for peripherals while it’s connected. Not bad for something smaller than the average gaming laptop power brick.
There’s plenty more to love about the ROG Flow X13 itself too, including a 360° hinge, a choice of 4K or 1080p 120Hz 16:10 displays, high performance LPDDR4X-4266 memory and 100W USB-C fast charging. Of course, all of this won’t come cheap, but the Flow X13 is still an immensely exciting laptop that’s worth knowing about.
If you’re after something a little more traditional, Asus has updated their popular Zephyrus G14 laptop with a Ryzen 5900HS CPU and RTX 3060 graphics; there’s also a new 15-inch G15 that has up to an RTX 3080 and a more affordable Tuf F15 with an 11th-gen Intel processor and up to an RTX 3070.
2. Razer Project Hazel smart face mask
Razer is well-known for making forward-looking yet slightly unrealistic ‘concept’ announcements at CES, and 2021 is no different. Project Hazel is billed as ‘the world’s smartest face mask’, a surgical N95 respirator, active ventilation, UV cleaning and a voice amplifier. The design is fantastic too, with a clear section around your mouth so that people that read your lips or grasp your expression; there’s even a built-in light so people can still see your face at night. Oh, and there’s RGB lighting, because we’d be disappointed if there wasn’t.
There were very few products announced at CES where I immediately said, “wow, I want one of those” and really meant it, but for Project Hazel I’m 100 per cent on board. If we’re going to be fighting COVID for weeks and months to come, then I’ll be damned if I do without a rechargeable face mask that blows out hot air, lights up in millions of colours and gives me a booming voice. Razer, take my money.
3. LG LG27GP950 4K 160Hz HDMI 2.1 monitor
“What’s the best HDMI 2.1 monitor?”
That’s a question I got a lot last year with the release of the Xbox Series X and PS5, and the only real answer was that there weren’t any – unless you counted LG’s 48-inch CX OLED as a monitor. Now though, HDMI 2.1 displays seem to finally coming to market, and the most exciting I’ve seen so far is LG’s LG27GP950.
This catchily titled display has a 4K resolution and can be overclocked from its 144Hz native refresh rate all the way to 160Hz, a new high for a 4K monitor. Over HDMI, you’ll be limited to 4K 120Hz, but you do get all of the usual HDMI 2.1 features too, including Auto Low Latency Mode and HDMI Forum VRR, as supported by the Xbox Series X/S. There’s also G-Sync and FreeSync for using the display with AMD or Nvidia graphics cards. Finally, the Nano IPS panel used meets the rather strict DisplayHDR 600 requirements, meaning it can hit 600 nits of brightness for HDR highlights that really pop.
Of course, the LG27GP950 won’t be the only HDMI 2.1 monitor on the market this year. There’s the Eve Spectrum, which I recently had a chance to test (sadly sans working HDMI 2.1 support) and other recent announcements like the Asus PG32UQ, a 32-inch HDMI 2.1 monitor that could be a better choice for those with bigger budgets and bigger spaces. I’m sure we’ll see other options too, which is great news for anyone searching for the best monitor for their PS5 or Series X.
4. LaVie Mini (and Lenovo ThinBook Plus Gen 2) weird laptops
Lenovo brought a cool Switch-like gaming PC concept to the show in cooperation with NEC, the LaVie Mini. It’s got an 8-inch 1080p touchscreen and Intel 11th-gen processor with Iris XE graphics, but the interesting part is how it works – it can be used as a handheld device or slipped into a dock to work more like a super-tiny laptop. It looks like a similar experience to the GDP Win Max, a fixed form factor laptop with an integrated gamepad. I’ve been testing one of these recently and hope to share my thoughts on soon.
Lenovo also announced a bunch of slightly more traditional laptops, including one that caught my eye: the ThinBook Plus Gen 2, a laptop with a 12-inch e-ink touch display on the back of the standard screen. The e-ink portion is bigger, higher-res and has a higher refresh rate than the original model that appeared at last year’s show, hopefully making it more useful for note-taking, to-do-list ticking and calendar-checking. E-ink feels perennially just like it’s about to break out of the e-reader category, so perhaps this will be the standout success that makes e-ink laptops viable?
5. LG A1 – the first affordable OLED?
For the past two years, LG has made our top recommended 4K TVs for gaming, thanks to their incredible OLED panels and willingness to include forward-looking gaming features like 120Hz panels, variable refresh rate support and HDMI 2.1 ports. The newly announced A1 OLED flies against all that by sticking with a 60Hz panel, not offering variable refresh rate support and retaining the old HDMI 2.0 standard.
That sounds pretty lame, but the mere existence of the A1 suggests that this OLED TV is going to be significantly more affordable than its BX predecessor, thereby allowing a whole new population to experience the benefits of OLED – near-infinite contrast, wide viewing angles, perfect pixel-response time and so on. All of these can really make games come alive, to say nothing of films and TV, so the prospect of a sub-£1000/$1000 OLED is exciting.
6. HyperX Alloy Origins 60 mechanical keyboard
Yup, the HyperX Alloy Origins 60 is just a tiny keyboard – and it’s awesome. 60 per cent designs have been in vogue amongst mechanical keyboard enthusiasts for some time now, and over late 2020 and early 2021 we’ve seen the mainstream slowly catch up to that mania. The idea here is that the compact design allows much more space for your mouse and still includes all of the most essential keys for gaming, with the rest accessible via a Function layer.
The Alloy Origins 60 comes with PBT keycaps, normally a premium aftermarket upgrade, HyperX’s own red linear switches, a detachable USB-C cable and reprogrammable keys. HyperX are offering the Alloy Origins 60 at $100, a lower price than the Fnatic Streak 65 ($110) or Razer Huntsman Mini ($120), so if the quality is there then this could be an excellent introduction to the new smaller size.
7. LG UltraFine OLED Pro 4K PC monitor
OLED is the future. Sure, there are still issues surrounding burn-in, and Mini LED TVs are pretty cool, but after experiencing an OLED screen for games and movies – those inky blacks, the near-instant pixel response time, the viewing angles, the vibrance – it’s hard to go back to an old-school LCD. That’s why I’m super happy to see LG’s UltraFine OLED Pro, a 32-inch 4K monitor with a proper OLED screen. It’s a more manageble size than the previous best OLED monitor for content creators, the 48-inch LG CX TV, and it comes with more useful inputs like DisplayPort and USB-C with 90W Power Delivery.
It won’t be affordable – UltraFine displays never are – but it marks an important first step towards OLED screens becoming viable on the desktop. This should be an awesome choice for designers and content creators, who’ll be able to make use of that high pixel density and excellent colour accuracy, and it gives companies like LG an opportunity to figure out how best to adapt OLED for desktop use. LG Display, part of the same chaebol as LG Electronics, are making a bunch of 20-32 inch displays over the next year and I pray that as many as possible will make it into monitors like this one – except, you know, cheaper.
8. XPG Mana caffeinated chewing gum
XPG announced a bunch of internal and external SSDs – including PCIe 4.0 models that should be fast enough to work as expandable storage in the PS5 – but we’re not interested in those. Instead, we’re talking about their gaming gum, which is packed with exciting ingredients like caffeine (for attention), lutein (for eye health) and mint (for flavour). While Razer was technically the first tech company to offer gaming gum, and Acer has been doing Predator Shot energy drinks for a while now, endless CES 2021 writeups do make the prospect of caffeinated chewing gum very tempting.
9. Razer Project Brooklyn – the ultimate gaming chair
Yup, Razer made this list twice. As well as creating the ultimate COVID-protection accessory, the company known as ‘Lightning Snake’ in China also revealed their Project Brooklyn gaming chair concept at this year’s show.
The chair looks fairly ordinary at first, but then you notice that it has a desk built into the arm rests for your keyboard and mouse… and a 60-inch rollable OLED screen (!!) that deploys from behind your head. Oh, and there’s RGB lighting, haptic motors for insane vibrations, a carbon fibre seat and cable routing for your peripherals. In a quieter year this insane combination could well have taken the top spot uncontested, so it speaks to how 2021 is going right now that Project Brooklyn only just scrapes a mention in this list.
10. TCL’s all-8K 2021 6-series lineup
I knew I wanted to include one of TCL’s CES 2021 announcements in this roundup, but I couldn’t decide between their scroll-like rollable displays and their upcoming 6-series TVs… but ultimately it’s the TVs that have to get the nod as they are actually coming to market and will be worth knowing about. The long and short of it is that each of the company’s mid-range 6-series TVs will be 8K models, bringing the entry point for 8K screens down substantially – although we only have historical pricing as a guide here, as TCL hasn’t announced final prices just yet. These models will also include TCL’s second-generation Mini LED backlighting, something that giants LG and Samsung are adopting for the first time in some of their 2021 TVs.
8K gaming is technically possible today in some games with DLSS and a very high-end graphics card – even if it doesn’t really make sense – so there’s an argument to be made that picking up an 8K TV provides a small degree of future-proofing… as long as you don’t intend to upgrade again for another five or ten years. Regardless, it’s an interesting development and one that could spur the beginning of mainstream 8K adoption.
Phew, that just about does it! It was a load of fun to cover all of these new products and concepts, and there’s still so much announced this year that didn’t make the cut – Dell’s 40-inch curved 5120×2160 monitor, WD’s 4TB external SSD, new laptops from Acer, Razer, Lenovo and Asus, the list goes on and on.