The Top 10 Tech Trends We Saw at CES 2021

A reflection of today's 'normal'

CES 2021, the first all-virtual event in the show’s 54-year history, is now in the books. Fewer exhibitors signed up than in recent years, but CES remained the launchpad for hundreds of new products across health tech, personal computers, televisions, and more. Here’s every hot trend we saw at the show.

Tech Comes to Masks

2020 made the face mask a key part of every wardrobe, and tech dove head-first into the market at CES.

Razer, best known for gaming laptops and peripherals, swept the show with its bizarre yet ingenious Project Hazel. Charlie Bolton, director of industrial design at Razer, called the mask "our answer to what the world’s smartest mask can be." It’s an N95 mask with a built-in voice amplifier to prevent muffled speech, and a transparent front to let others make out your expression. The only problem? It’s just a concept, with no concrete release date or pricing.

Of course, Razer wasn’t alone. Maskfone showed the AirPop Active+, a smart mask with sensors that track your breathing, and Amazfit introduced a mask that claims to clean filters with UV light. LG reminded the world of its PuriCare Mask, a personal air purifier that’s already for sale, though only in a few countries across Asia and the Middle East.

UV Radiation Nukes Entire Rooms

Hospitals sometimes use UV radiation to sanitize surfaces. Now, UV technology is making its way into products for homes and businesses.

LG kicked things off with CLOi UV-C, a robot built to hose down gyms, restaurants, spas, and other businesses with UV light. Unipin and Ubtech also (virtually) wheeled in autonomous UV robots, including Ubtech’s $40,000 Adibot-A.

A Ubtech sanitizing robot in a bedroom,
Ubtech

UV sanitization also appeared in personal devices. LG is adding it to refrigerator water dispensers, Kohler is putting it on toilet handles, and a company called Grenlite showed off a sanitization device for personal vehicles

Don’t expect it to work like magic, though. While studies have found UV sanitization effective in hospitals, that doesn’t mean it will work elsewhere. The effectiveness of UV devices in public spaces is an open question.

Air Purifiers Clear Your Worries

Though normally present at the show, air purifiers are usually crowded into corners of booths to make room for more exciting products. This year, they were featured in several keynotes and presentations.

Portable air purifiers were the breakthrough trend in clean air. LG placed its PuriCare Mini personal air purifier, which already is available, near the start of its keynote. OneLife brought an air purifier with a filter that can be cleaned in a dishwasher.

Luftqi’s Luft Duo has washable filters and takes on internal UV lights that promise to clean air as it filters through. Scosche showed the FrescheAir, a portable purifier with a HEPA air filter that’s designed to fit comfortably in your car’s cup holder. 

As with UV sanitization, the benefits are hazy. Air purifiers are effective at filtering out large particles, but only in controlled spaces. What about viruses? According to the EPA, "by itself, air cleaning or filtration is not enough to protect people" from an airborne virus, though a HEPA purifier can help if it’s the right size for a room. 

Television Goes Big. Really Big.

As movie theaters remain closed, in some cases permanently, fans are looking to replicate the experience at home. Aaron Dew, director of product development for TCL North America, said during the company’s North American product showcase, "By far the biggest sales growth was in the biggest TVs. Sales of TVs 70 inches and bigger were up 80% from 2019."

In response, TCL revealed its new XL-Collection of 85-inch TVs. Pricing will start at just $1,600 for the 4-Series Roku television, while the 8-Series model will feature 8K resolution. TCL also said it will bring 8K resolution to its mid-range 6-Series line by the end of 2021. 

TCL isn’t alone in the pursuit of size. Sony revealed an 83-inch OLED television, the A90J Master Series 4K, which also will be available in smaller sizes. This is among the largest OLED televisions yet, as most OLED models top out at 65 or 77 inches. 

AMD’s Rise Brings Choice to Laptops

AMD continued its successful run at CES 2021 with the reveal of new Ryzen H-Series processors for laptops, as well as HX-Series processors for gaming laptops. These directly battle the Intel Core i7 and Core i9 processors that have dominated high-end laptops in the past.

AMD’s CEO, Dr. Lisa Su, said during the company’s keynote that its new CPUs will appear in "more than 150 ultra-thin, gaming, and professional notebooks." 

AMD processors are available and competitive at every price point. This includes gaming laptops, like Lenovo’s Legion 7 and Legion 5 Pro, and ultrathin Chromebooks, like the Acer Chromebook Spin 514. AMD hardware will power cutting-edge systems like the Asus Zephyrus Duo 15 SE, a dual-screen gaming laptop. 

Pour One Out For 2-in-1s

The 2-in-1, a laptop that can convert into a tablet, seemed like a revolution at CES 2012. Lenovo showed off attractive IdeaPad Yoga, Intel boasted about its power efficient processors, and Microsoft was still trying to make Windows a touchscreen-focused OS.

Someone using an HP Elite Folio
HP

Fast forward to CES 2021, and the 2-in-1 borders on extinction. HP’s Elite Folio, a premium device clad in vegan leather, was the only PC at the show to prioritize 2-in-1 design. Most devices that are technically 2-in-1s, like the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga, seemed to throw in the feature just to check a box on a list. 

This trend was worsened by Qualcomm’s weak showing. The company’s laptop processors enable thinner, lighter 2-in-1 devices, but remain unpopular with laptop makers. Lenovo’s IdeaPad 5G was the only Qualcomm-powered PC at the show, and it’s not even a 2-in-1. 

Autonomous Driving Takes a Back Seat

Automotive companies, a fixture at recent CES shows, were notably scarce at virtual CES. Audi, GM, and Mercedes-Benz were the only major automakers to hold official press conferences or presentations. Ford, Toyota, and Honda skipped the show. Major players in autonomous cars like Waymo, Voyage, Uber, and Lyft, also were absent, though representatives of these companies did appear in a handful of round-table discussions.

This is a large, though unsurprising, shift from the past five years. Autonomous cars often have been featured prominently at the show, with CES giving companies a chance to have business partners and journalists experience the technology first-hand. Lyft let anyone call an autonomous car during CES 2020, an offer I took advantage of. 

Autonomous driving likely willreturn in force if CES 2022 can be held in person.

Personal Fitness Gets Intense

Personal fitness was on the rise before lockdowns forced gyms to close, but the events of 2020 led to a massive spike in announcements at CES 2021. Bowflex won a CES Innovation Award for its Bowflex VeloCore bike, one of several new devices it showed at CES 2021.

NordicTrack jumped on the smart mirror bandwagon with the Vault, a mirror loaded with display and sensor technology that will walk you through a variety of workouts. 

Don’t have room for expensive equipment? Ultrahuman thinks it has the answer with its app-based personal fitness service, which provides classes led by fitness celebrities. Or, if you’re into yoga, you could try the Yogifi Series 1, a smart yoga mat that can track biometric data and log progress.

Wearables Wear Out Their Welcome

While fitness surged, wearables that aren’t focused on fitness stumbled. Only a handful of companies came to the show with wearables designed for everyday use.

Fossil showed up with its Gen 5 LTE smartwatch, a WearOS watch with cellular connectivity. Skagen brought the Jorn Hybrid HR, a watch that blends basic smartwatch features with a classic design. Amazfit and Honor also had new watches or bands.

Smart glasses struggled. Lenovo, JLab, and Vuzix had frames to show, but they all suffer from bulky design and modest battery life, issues that hold back mainstream interest. 

Home Tech Keeps Up Momentum

The home tech industry was happy to seize opportunities presented by a year of stay-at-home work and entertainment, though the most innovative products span several categories.

Pet tech did well thanks to products like Petpuls’ A.I. dog collar, which tracks your canine friend’s sleep, movement, and even barking. MyQ, a company known best for garage doors, introduced a smart pet door that can be opened and closed remotely through a smartphone app.

A family choosing ice-cream flavors for the Coldsnap machine.
Coldsnap

In the kitchen, LG brought its Instaview technology to ovens. This tinted oven window becomes fully transparent with a quick tap to its surface. ColdSnap introduced a Keurig-like small appliance for ice cream. Once you’ve made a frozen treat, you can stuff the leftovers in an attractive, slim refrigerator from Samsung’s Bespoke line, which is coming to North America after making its debut in Europe.

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