The 22 Coolest Gadgets We Saw at CES 2016

It’s all fun and games until a hoverboard bursts into flames.

By Techwalla contributors

You can rely on the annual Consumer Electronics Show to deliver an array of cool new tech that’ll wow and amaze, ho-hum gadgets that seem like retreads of last year’s mediocre entries, and goofy, crazy products that’ll never see the light of day—more or less in equal measure. To celebrate the zaniness of CES, read what Techwalla contributors who attended the show were most excited about.

1. Kube portable outdoor speaker

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The Kube is a portable outdoor speaker that makes a statement—a very loud statement. This waterproof, box-shaped behemoth can blast 125 decibels of clear, full-range sound over a distance of two football fields. Quite simply, it puts other outdoor speakers to shame. The Kube connects via Bluetooth to your Apple and Android devices, and it has a running time of 20 hours on an advanced lithium battery. Hefty at over 50 pounds, the Kube sports a 35-quart cooler in the middle and a handle at either end. The only things missing are the two beefy college kids to carry it. The folks at Kube would not reveal the item’s release date or pricing prior to an official announcement. —David Isaac

2. Vuze 360-degree camera

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The compact and elegant Vuze is a 3D 360-degree camera that lets you create your own virtual-reality videos thanks to eight ultrawide lenses that capture film in 4K. Shaped like a flying saucer, it fits in your pocket, making it easy to carry along on vacations. A large button at the top controls the camera, or you can operate it via the Vuze app. You can’t appreciate just how amazing this camera is unless you compare it to the competition, like Google’s Odyssey rig, a 16-camera GoPro monstrosity that retails for a sticker-shocking $15,000. The Vuze will retail for less than $1000 (the exact price will be announced in March) bundled with a VR headset, a tripod/selfie stick and Vuze’s film editing software. The Vuze starts shipping in August—and judging from the representatives of a major tech company jumping up and down in front of its CES booth, this camera has a bright future. —David Isaac

3. Ember temperature-adjustable mug

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Don’t like waiting for your coffee to cool down? Ember is for you. It’s the first temperature-adjustable mug—and thanks to its patented heating and phase-change cooling technology, it can lower a hot drink’s temperature by tens of degrees in minutes (a company rep says that the Ember can reduce the beverage’s temperature from 200°F to 135°F in 6 minutes). The best part is that it brings your drink to the temperature you prefer and then holds it there. All you have to do is rotate the bottom of the mug, which acts as a dial. A digital readout tells you the temperature. Ember will maintain your drink at that temperature for hours or, if you use the included charging coaster, all day. It’s not hard to foresee this technology finding its way into all mugs in the future. McDonald’s should take note, in the interest of forestalling lawsuits. The mug will sell for $129 and should begin shipping in April. —David Isaac

4. Crazybaby Mars levitating speaker

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No one needs a Bluetooth speaker with a magnetically levitating tweeter atop a monolithic subwoofer. But no red-blooded gadget freak will be able to resist the Crazybaby Mars, which, despite a Pointless Score of 10, has a Cool Factor of 50. The tweeter, which resembles a flying saucer, complete with circulating edge light, floats up from the base and hangs in midair, where you can tip it and spin it and grin like an idiot for hours. Oh, it delivers pretty good sound, too—like that even matters. Floating speaker! The Crazybaby Mars is available in black, space gray, and white, and carries a list price of $349. —Rick Broida

5. Chronos watch "smartener"

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A smartwatch offers a lot of value, but using it means ditching any watch you may already happen to own and love. Or not—if you slap a Chronos on the back of it. This wafer-thin little disc adds "smarts" to existing watches in the form of customizable vibrating notifications (calls, texts, appointments, and just about any other phone-driven event). It also supplies step-tracking and gesture-powered phone controls (so you could, for example, skip to the next song in your playlist just by tapping your watch). The rechargeable battery lasts about three days between charges. For anyone not enthusiastic about the current crop of smartwatches, Chronos might be the ideal old-school-meets-new-school solution. It’s available for preorder at $99, and is scheduled to ship this spring. —Rick Broida

6. WonderCube eight-in-one smartphone accessory

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In Star Trek, the Borg recognized the power of the cube. So do the makers of WonderCube, a tiny, keychain-friendly accessory that offers the following amenities: sync/charge cable (Lightning or microUSB), microSD card reader, OTG USB storage, emergency charger (via standard 9-volt battery), LED flashlight, and stick-on smartphone stand. Okay, that’s really closer to six functions in one than to eight, but all of them are quite useful. And the WonderCube measures just 1 inch square, so it can easily ride around in a pocket, purse, or whatever. Currently it’s a preorder-on-Indiegogo product, with an expected retail price of $69. That’s kind of steep, but just look at this adorable little thing! Resistance is futile. —Rick Broida

7. M3D Micro 3D printer

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Can a 3D printer be adorable? It can if it’s the M3D Micro, which is roughly the size of a square toaster oven and looks cute as the dickens. Even better, instead of turning broad into toast, it turns a special filament into just about any small object you can imagine. The Micro features auto-leveling, auto-calibration, a hidden compartment for your filament spool, and extremely simple software for setting up print jobs. Plus it comes in your choice of cool colors (though some of them—including white, clear, and silver—cost extra). The Micro starts at $349, but you’ll probably want the $449 bundle that includes a better warranty and a spool of starter filament. —Rick Broida

8. Lynctec Reeljuice portable power bank

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Lynktec’s Reeljuice was introduced last year, and came to fruition via Kickstarter. It stands out from the crowd of power banks at this year’s CES because it includes a built-in 48-inch retractable charging cable. That makes all the difference in how the unit works—power up as needed, no USB charging brick required. It has an integrated micro-USB cable and comes with a micro-USB-to-Lightning Apple-certified adapter. The Reeljuice is available in 5300mAh and 8000mAh versions, at $100 and $120, respectively. We wish that Lynktec had included a couple of USB ports on board to increase the device’s charging flexibility, but even without them it’s still an appealing option for road warriors. —Melissa J. Perenson

9. Samsung Portable SSD T3 storage drive

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It’s small. It’s light. It offers truly pocket-it-and-forget-it storage. But we’re not talking just gigabytes here: The Samsung Portable SSD T3, an update of last year’s model, packs up to 2TB of storage space in a palm-size external solid-state drive that weighs less than 2 ounces. Samsung will offer the drive in 250GB, 500GB, 1TB, and 2TB versions. The Portable SSD T3 comes in a newly designed shock-resistant metal case, and supports onboard encryption. Sequential read and write speeds can reach 450MBps via a USB 3.1 interface that uses the USB-C connector. It’s slated to arrive in February, though pricing was unavailable at launch (the previous-generation, 1TB Samsung T1 sells for $380). —Melissa J. Perenson

10. Nikon KeyMission 360 action camera

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Finally, one of the old-school camera dynasties is getting into the action camera game. Nikon launched a lot of gear at CES 2016—including decidedly more-than-just-a-gadget camera updates like the flagship Nikon D5, and the impressive D500, in the enthusiast category—but none more important in its corner of the universe than the KeyMission 360. Nikon’s entry into 360-degree shooting indicates that the company is setting its sights on the burgeoning virtual reality trend. Though the KeyMission 360 is a 360-degree-capable camera, you can shoot one-sided with it, too. Plus, this camera shoots 4K UHD, and it has built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. As yet Nikon hasn’t shared the camera’s release date, price, or basic specs like battery life—but whatever its strengths and weaknesses turn out to be, the KeyMission 360 is significant as the first in a planned family of Nikon action cameras. Until now, GoPro has practically owned the market for action cams; Nikon looks to be the first challenger that could successfully muscle in on the action. —Melissa J. Perenson

11. Speck Pocket VR viewer

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Sure, Oculus Rift is almost here—and we now know the price ($600). But for a more portable, pocketable, and affordable experience, you might want to try Speck’s Pocket VR. The cellphone case maker has paired a military-grade CandyShell Grip smartphone case with a pop-up VR viewer that has a unique collapsible design. The resulting virtual-reality experience is a throwback—much like Ye Olde ViewMaster—but the physical design is quite appealing. The Pocket VR is Google Cardboard-certified, so it will work with Cardboard-enabled apps. But it lacks the bulk of Cardboard, and that makes it perfect for on-the-go VR. The catch: You have to hand-hold the viewer. The Pocket VR will be out this spring, bundled with a case for the iPhone 6s/6 or the Galaxy S6, for $70. —Melissa J. Perenson

12. Nautilus Bowflex SelectTech 560 Dumbbells

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Wait a minute—smart dumbbells? Yes! Nautilus’s Bowflex SelectTech 560 Dumbbells reimagine how you can train with weights. Available this month, the pair of dumbbells cost $499, and are adjustable to weigh from 5 pounds to 60 pounds. Additional weight (up to 100 pounds) costs $249. The Bowflex SelectTech 560’s integrated sensor records the reps and weight lifted, so you no longer have to keep track of what you’re doing in your workout. You also get an audible cue when you complete reps properly—useful in preventing you from rushing through your exercises with a bunch of partial reps. In addition, you can view exercises via a 3DT app that syncs with the dumbbells to provide a customized workout and progress tracking. —Melissa J. Perenson

13. Cleer Lightweight LW Headphone

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Due out later this year, Cleer’s Lightweight LW Headphone has a unique design created by BMW Group Designworks. This headphone certainly lives up to its name: Its aluminum housing and minimalist design translate into a barely-there lightweight feel on your head, unlike many of today’s trendy monstrosities. The LW folds flat, thanks to a well-conceived three-way folding design, and it has soft leather ear pads and a headband. Pricing isn’t finalized, but it should be below $200, perhaps closer to $150. —Melissa J. Perenson

14. Asus ZenBeam E1Z portable projector/power bank

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Talk about a twofer: Asus’s ZenBeam E1Z is a "palm-size" portable projector that doubles as a power bank. The compact projector is about an inch thick and weighs less than many 6000-mAh power banks do. It works with Android and Windows, and connects to your mobile device (smartphone or tablet) via USB-A or micro-USB cable (the ZenBeam E1Z will come bundled with both cables). You can charge a phone or run the projector off the built-in battery for up to 3 hours. The projector is a bright 150 lumens at 854 x 480 resolution and can project images at up to 80 inches (measured diagonally). Asus expects the ZenBeam E1Z, which will ship in late March or thereabouts, to sell for between $200 and $230. —Melissa J. Perenson

15. Skyrocket Toys Mebo mini-robot

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Miniature app-controlled robots are the rage this year. Not all of them are as cute as Sphero’s BB-8, but Skyrocket Toys’ Mebo caught our attention. Due in fall 2016, this squat $150 robot lets you use an iPhone or Android app to control it as you steer it through your home. Mebo has some preprogrammed animations, and you can create your own. You can also choose how to manipulate its four-point articulated arm, complete with a claw that can grip objects such as snacks or drinks. Memo is equipped with a camera for live-streaming video and photos, and it even has two-way audio streaming. The robot’s six suspension wheels enable it to turn and maneuver on most any terrain, including carpet. We look forward to seeing Mebo interact with BB-8. —Melissa J. Perenson

16. Orbii robotic security ball

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Meet Orbii, your robotic security ball. Orbii is essentially a roving security camera that you control remotely via Wi-Fi. When you’re away from home and want to check up on things, simply maneuver it from room to room. No more static images of the back door. And no more need for multiple cameras. You only need one Orbii—or two, if you have a two-story home (Orbii doesn’t do stairs). But that still beats buying five stationary cameras. And unlike static cameras, Orbii gets smarter as it learns about your home. The basic model comes with a high-definition 720p camera, a speakerphone, a microphone, and wireless charging. Orbii’s modular design lets you go from there, customizing it with such additional features as a smoke detector, a temperature sensor, and a humidity sensor. Due to ships in November at a retail price of $299, Orbii is a CES Innovation Award winner. —David Isaac

17. Ripple Maker coffee-foam image/message printer

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Your favorite barista may draw hearts and smiley faces in the foam of your morning cappuccino. But bubble-based images are about to get a major upgrade thanks to the Ripple Maker. It prints any picture or message onto steamed-milk foam, using a cartridge that works like an inkjet printer—except that it squirts coffee extract. One cartridge can print about a thousand images. You connect to the device through an app that already contains thousands of pictures. And if you don’t find an image you like, you can upload your own. Printing takes only 8 seconds. The Ripple Maker has an automatic sensor so it can detect different widths and heights of cups. It’s already available in New York cafés and in the first-class cabins of planes operated by a major German airline. A Ripple Maker rep says the response from customers has been overwhelming. The device costs $1300 and is geared for coffee shops, hotels, and restaurants that make more than 250 cups of coffee a day. It comes with a $70–$80 monthly subscription that covers replacement cartridges and maintenance. —David Isaac

18. Neyya gesture-controlled smart ring

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I recently discovered a new kind of wearable: the smart ring. Okay, so it's not exactly a "world," as there are only about three smart rings that I’m aware of—but Neyya's gesture-controlled smart ring is actually pretty neat. It has a large, flat, black touch-sensitive surface that you can use to control various things, from your Roku set-top box to a PowerPoint presentation on your laptop. This chunky ring is designed to be worn on your index finger and turned inward so you can control it with your thumb. It also connects to your phone, so you can receive notifications and accept or decline calls--sort of like the Ringly smart ring, but with less aesthetic appeal and more functionality. Available now, the Neyya costs $139 for the titanium version and $179 for the gold version. —Sarah Jacobsson Purewal

19. Prizm streaming-account manager

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My initial reaction to Prizm—a small, three-sided pyramid—was skepticism. It isn't a speaker or a music player exactly; it's more of a music brain. Or something. But the more I thought about the concept, the more I liked it. Prizm is a little box that connects to all of your streaming accounts (Spotify, Pandora, SoundCloud, etc.) and smartly figures out the type of music you like based on your likes, dislikes, playlists, and channels. It then uses this info to play the perfect mix of tunes for you. But wait, there's more! Prizm also monitors ambient noise, recognizes who's in the room with you (via connected smartphones), and takes other factors into account, such as the time of day. So if Prizm hears a lot of people in the room and it's late on a weekend, it will start pumping party tunes. If you're the only one in the room and it's early morning, it'll play a nice wake-up playlist (or something). The first batch of Prizm pyramids will start shipping in February, with a price tag of $162. —Sarah Jacobsson Purewal

20. CHiP robot dog

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I used to think robot dogs were stupid. But then I saw CHiP, the spinning, ball-catching, trainable robotic pup from Wowwee and...clearly I was wrong. It doesn't hurt that CHiP's squashed nose and erect ears make him look a lot like my own French Bulldog (I asked a Wowwee rep what type of dog CHiP was modeled after, and he told me that one of the designers has a Boston Terrier). CHiP is not just super cute, he's also pretty intelligent. CHiP comes with a smart wristband that you wear so he knows you're his owner. You can use the buttons to encourage or discourage behavior (we’re talking about things like playing fetch, not things like peeing on the floor; CHiP isn’t programmed to mimic every kind of doggy behavior). He's packed with sensors that keep him from running into walls, and his paws have wheels that let him spin 360 degrees and do all sorts of tricks (though he can't jump). His sensors also allow him to feel touch—so yes, you can pet him. CHiP will start shipping this summer, and is available for preorder for $179. —Sarah Jacobsson Purewal

21. Snakeable USB cables

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Does a USB cable deserve to be on a 'best of' list? You bet it does. Snakeable USB cables have the one feature that we wish all USB cables—especially Apple-branded Lightning cables—had: armor at either end to protect them from breaking and fraying. I don't know about you, but every Lightning cable I've ever had has broken within a few months, and it's not like I'm terribly rough on them. But apparently daily wear and tear is just too much for them, which is why Snakeable has designed a moving strain relief system with ball joints at either end of the cable so you can flex the cable up to 90 degrees without breaking it. Plus, the cables come with a three-year warranty for extra peace of mind. Snakeable USB cables are available now (the Lightning cable is Apple MFI certified) for $30/each. —Sarah Jacobsson Purewal

22. Misfit Ray activity tracker

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One of the biggest issues I have with everyday wearables is that they look terrible with arm jewelry. They either adopt a watch-like design—which means you can't wear a watch with them—or they're all sporty and waterproof and tough. That's why Misfit's newest activity tracker, the Ray, is so appealing. This slim, bracelet-like wearable (which can also be worn as a necklace) was specifically designed for wearing alongside other items, such as watches and bracelets, without messing up the stack. The Ray has the same features as the Misfit Shine 2, including six-month battery life and automatic sleep tracking, and it looks even better. The Ray will start shipping this spring, and will cost $100. —Sarah Jacobsson Purewal