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My favorite thing so far at CES

An innovation borne of ingenuity, not thousands of engineers

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Image: Netatmo

Today’s big CES news was all about TVs. LG and Samsung have figured out that they need to make the equivalent of concept cars for TV: stuff that grabs your attention, is a little outlandish, and will be purchased by precisely 28 people (29 for the good stuff). Chris Welch went out and looked at all of it, so I encourage you to click through the links below. The video with Samsung’s rotating Sero TV in particular is great.

I’ll let Chris do a proper analysis of the TV trends at CES later in the week instead of doing something myself here. The pixels need just a little more time to warm up anyway. Instead, I want to briefly write about my favorite CES announcement so far.

Yesterday I wrote about how CES is a place where we can actually pay attention to the things smaller companies are making instead of only caring about the giants. So I’m putting my newsletter where my mouth is and writing about my favorite thing so far, which happens to come from a company you might not be familiar with.

It’s the Netatmo’s HomeKit smart lock, which uses physical NFC keys.

When you hear NFC, you probably just think of tapping your phone on to something. So you’d naturally assume that this is just a smart lock you tap an NFC key on to open it.


It’s an actual key-shaped key. You have to put it in the lock and turn it, just like a regular key. But where a regular key has a bunch of teeth that have to be ground into it by a locksmith, this key uses NFC.

I love it because it gives you many of the benefits of having a smart lock with way fewer downsides. Let me explain:

  • Because it uses NFC to authenticate into the lock instead of ground-down metal, you can program these keys yourself. You don’t have to go visit a locksmith to “change your lock” or to get a new key made. You can just order some keys and tap a few buttons in an app.
  • Because these keys are just NFC codes and the locks are just NFC readers, there’s no reason a single key couldn’t unlock multiple different locks. You could mix and match access to doors however you like just as if you were some kind of office manager.
  • Because it’s a physical lock and doesn’t have a motor in it, you can power it with four AAA batteries and don’t need to change them very often. It unfortunately doesn’t offer all the advanced remote unlock features you get with more sophisticated locks, but that tradeoff might be worth it.
  • Because it’s a smart lock, you can still unlock it through the app (or with HomeKit) if you lose your key.
  • On top of all that, Netatmo doesn’t charge you a monthly fee.

Netatmo is a French company that’s been around for eight or nine years and while it doesn’t technically count as a small business because it was purchased by Legrand in 2018, it’s still a damn sight smaller than Amazon, Google, Apple, or Samsung. Its products are elegantly designed, too.

Most of all, I really love this product because it uses technology that has been sitting around for literally YEARS. Netatmo simply sat and thought about how best to deploy it in a way that solves some of the problems smart locks are designed to solve while avoiding some of the problems they also create. It’s just clever.

When a tech innovation comes from a big company, it’s usually because that company has vast resources, giant factories, and thousands (if not tens of thousands) of engineers. The Netatmo smart lock is an innovation borne not of brute corporate force, but of smart people thinking about practical problems and finding practical solutions for them.

Even if it doesn’t have all the features you might want and even if you end up buying something fancier, you still have to admire the whole idea here. It’s the sort of product that make you go “why didn’t I think of that?”


└ Samsung’s new Sero TV can rotate vertically for your TikTok and Instagram videos

To pull off its clever rotating design, the Sero has an integrated, non-removeable stand that includes a 4.1-channel, 60-watt speaker system inside. That stand provides enough vertical clearance to prevent the TV from hitting the floor whenever it flips into portrait.

└ Samsung details its stunning bezel-less 8K TV

The new QLED 8K uses 99 percent of its front surface for the display. There is a bezel, but it’s hard to perceive at just 2.3 millimeters. The TV itself is incredibly thin at 15 millimeters. Samsung has on-device, AI-powered upscaling for making content appear closer to native 8K resolution. There was a dearth of 8K content at last year’s CES, and absolutely nothing about that situation has changed for 2020. That’s what makes the idea of buying this TV so hard to recommend

└ Vizio’s 2020 lineup includes its biggest TV yet and first-ever OLED

Vizio’s lineup is really big and the OLED switch is a big deal for the company, but overall I can’t help but feel like this is still a company trying to recover from huge mistakes a couple years ago. There was a big bet that people would want a tablet instead of a TV interface that didn’t pan out and an attempted sale to LeEco that REALLY didn’t pan out. I own a Vizio TV from a few years ago and every time I use it I can sort of feel the sadness emanating out from the firmware that struggles to run it. Hopefully we’re looking at a turnaround here.

└ Vizio’s new soundbar rotates its speakers for better Dolby Atmos surround sound

TVs that rotate! Soundbars that rotate! What else can we rotate? I am hoping for a streaming box that doubles as a Lazy Susan for appetizers. (Also, just now I have learned that we may never know why they’re called Lazy Susans.)

CES PC news

└ Here’s Lenovo’s first eGPU enclosure and a ‘gaming laptop’ to go with it

We’ve been hearing promises that people would be buying thin and light gaming laptops and big external GPUs for years now. They’re here now -- they’ve BEEN here -- and I have to say I don’t know that this is going to really happen for the industry. I am a little sad about that, because more modularity seems better to me. I would be happy to be wrong about all this, but I doubt this Lenovo rig is going to be thing that makes me wrong.

└ Acer updates transforming Spin laptops with Intel 10th Gen chips

I don’t know for a fact that this is Acer’s bread and butter laptop these days, but that’s how I think of it. Good to see it get the latest chips.

└ Acer’s ConceptD 7 Ezel is a smaller transforming laptop designed for creators

└ HP’s updated Elite Dragonfly G2 is the first laptop with a built-in Tile tracker

I have to say I’m genuinely shocked that Tile hasn’t tried harder to just license its brand and get built into every damn thing imaginable. Maybe with Apple’s competitive Tag still out there in rumorland, Tile might pivot and do just that. Seems like a smart idea to me.

└ HP’s 15-inch Spectre x360 gets upgraded with smaller bezels and a good trackpad

CES News that isn’t TVs or PCs but still

└ After being banned in 2019, Lora DiCarlo returns to CES with two new sex toys and awards

We went a took a look at one of them last night at the CES Unveiled press event and it really is quite remarkable. You can see why it had won an award the previous year. We’ll have a more detailed story up tomorrow after this newsletter hits your inbox, watch out for it.

└ Arlo’s new Floodlight Camera doesn’t need any wiring

Arlo tells The Verge that the faceplate delivers 2,000 lumens of brightness when running on battery power. That’s less bright than the 3,000 lumens Amazon-owned Ring’s Floodlight Camera can produce, but Ring’s camera must be connected to the electrical system in your house. You can also wire Arlo’s Floodlight Camera to your electrical system, and if you do, Arlo says it can shine at 3,000 lumens as well.

└ Suunto’s first Wear OS smartwatch is taking on Garmin with outdoor offline maps

It’s easy to dunk on Wear OS and I like easy things so I dunk on Wear OS a lot. In a world where it had been better managed and there were better chips for it, I think that we’d see a lot more innovation in watches like this, using Google’s platform. It should be an extensible platform, not just a thing that lets Fossil say it has smartwatches in it stores.

This isn’t a small watch, with a 50mm (1.97-in) face and a body that’s over a half-inch thick. But that isn’t unusual for watches that can be worn while swimming laps (it’s water resistant up to 50 meters) or weaving a mountain bike down a tree-topped trail.

└ Samsung’s new Galaxy S10 Lite and Note 10 Lite phones are deeply confusing

More news from The Verge

└ Anki’s toy robots are being saved from a digital death

└ Toripon is a great way to relax by taking pictures of cute virtual birds

Raise your hand if you miss Pokémon Snap for the Nintendo 64.

└ GoPro Karma drones grounded worldwide, thanks to possible GPS glitch

└ Fisker debuts $37,500 electric SUV with a solar roof

Fisker has always been a man known for ambitious vision — his company is also trying to bring a solid-state battery to market, for example — but he also often has trouble executing. Even if the Fisker Ocean hits the market in the time frame he’s targeting, it will enter an increasingly crowded market populated by far more than just Tesla’s electric vehicles.