The closest thing Europe has to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is Berlin’s IFA, or “Internationale Funkausstellung.” Held annually, it’s the continent’s biggest consumer electronics trade show, where companies from around the world come to exhibit their latest audio, video, mobile and other devices. And although the “funk” in the title comes from the German word for “radio” – the event dates back to the 1920s – this year’s edition was enlivened by plenty of cool gadgets – advanced new tablets and televisions, plus genuine innovations in audio and virtual reality.
This year, Billboard gave awards to 15 products that seem essential, innovative, or in some cases just plain cool. Winners include pioneering virtual reality products but also new items that elevate standard technology beyond everyday reality, such as solar-powered earbuds and futuristic-looking aluminum gaming PCs.
BEST BLUETOOTH SPEAKER, HEAVYWEIGHT DIVISION — Fender Indio2
Designed by the Southern California team responsible for Fender amplifiers, and packing 60 watts of power and two 3.5-inch woofers, the Indio2 is a Bluetooth speaker worthy of the legendary instrument company’s name – and design style. The Indio2 – which is $380 in black and $400 in tweed – runs on a rechargeable lithium battery (good for up to 25 hours of playback), plays music wirelessly or through a 3.5mm jack, and can pair up with another speaker like it for stereo sound that can get loud enough to bother the neighbors. Just one question: Why doesn’t the volume go to eleven?
BEST BLUETOOTH SPEAKER, LIGHTWEIGHT DIVISION — Boompod Zero
Not every outdoor occasion calls for a serious speaker – sometimes you want one you can throw into a backpack, or even a purse or jacket pocket. The Boompod Zero, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, is perfect for such occasions. The sound is solid, especially when two speakers are paired, and, at $40, the price is right. These speakers are waterproof and small enough to fit in a beach bag, plus available in an array of colors, with new ones coming soon.
BEST PSYCHEDELIC SPEAKER — Duomondi Spero 16
You got your psychedelic light in my speaker! You got your speaker in my psychedelic light! Duomondi has designed the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups of high-end sound and vision. Its Spero speakers are diagonal cubes on stands suitable for sculptures, and their angles light up. (The light show can be customized with an app, of course.) The sound is serious, too: The mid-tier, portable Spero 16 (price not yet available) packs 45 watts of power, and each individual unit has left and right stereo speakers, plus plenty of bass. They can pair, too. This is the art of noise.
BEST OVER-EAR HEADPHONES — Soundcore Space Q45
Over-ear headphones are better known for sound than innovation, but Anker’s $150 Soundcore Space Q45 scores well on both. The sound is impressive, thanks to 40mm drivers – plus customizable with the company’s HearID technology – and the adaptive noise cancelling technology is powerful enough to quiet planes, trains and automobiles and flexible enough to turn down indoors where there’s less background noise. Users can choose from among five levels of transparency and noise cancelling to better focus on their favorite music.
BEST EARBUDS — Jabra Elite 5
The Danish company Jabra has roots in the hearing-aid business, and it focuses on making earbuds that fit, a decidedly unflashy strategy that results in more comfort and less chance of them falling out, plus better sound. (Better fit – also called “passive noise cancellation” — means less background noise and thus higher audio quality.) The $150 Jabra Elite 5 also has Hybrid Active Noise Cancellation, which is more effective across a wider range of frequencies, and an app that lets users personalize their sound settings.
BEST EARBUDS UNDER $100 — TECNO True 1
Available at the end of the year for between $70 and $90, Tecno’s True 1 may not be the best audiophile earbuds out there, but they offer an impressive value for under $100. They have adaptive noise cancellation of the quality usually offered in more expensive products and a mic setup for crystal-clear phone calls – plus software to optimize performance in an impressive variety of scenarios and a customizable equalizer to personalize sound according to a user’s preferences. They look pretty sleek, too.
BEST EARBUDS FOR A(NOTHER) GREEN WORLD — Urbanista Phoenix
At this point, there’s only so much you can do with earbuds. So Urbanista gave the built-in battery in its Phoenix line — due later this year but not yet priced – a conceptual recharge. The earbuds charge in a case, as most do, but the case itself is light-powered – it charges fastest in the sun, though even a good lamp will power it up. The sound is solid, the concept is cool, and the convenience can’t be beat. Let the sun shine in.
BEST SCREEN OF THE FUTURE — TCL’s curved 34″ mini LED gaming monitor
This state-of-the-art gaming monitor doesn’t have a planned price or release date — or even a name! — but its image quality garnered plenty of attention at IFA. It has an immersive curved screen — perfect for gaming — with advanced Mini-LED and a 165Hz refresh rate. It’s sharp enough to make viewers feel they’re in a game.
BEST SCREEN, PORTABLE DIVISION — XGIMI Halo+ Projector
If you want to bring a great show to the great outdoors – imagine watching Yellowstone at Yellowstone – XGIMI’s $850 Halo+ projector will do the trick. It’s a serious projector (1080p, 900 ANSI Lumens and a maximum 200-inch screen size) with Intelligent Screen Adaption to simplify screen alignment, and it’s a battery that can last up to two-and-a-half hours. Perfect for a camping trip that’s less about gazing at stars than watching Star Wars.
BEST SCREEN, SPYGLASS EDITION — TCL Nxtwear S
TCL’s Nxtwear glasses look like a virtual reality rig from the future, but they offer a wearable computer screen right here in the present. The forthcoming Nxtwear S – expected in some markets in the fourth quarter of this year, but no price information yet – contains two 1080p micro OLED displays, which can show the equivalent of a 140-inch display, plus in-glasses speakers. (Good news for those who wear regular glasses: It also offers basic corrective lenses that clip in underneath.) TCL promotes the product as ideal for air travelers working on confidential documents, but in Berlin it didn’t take long for conference-goers to point out that it will inevitably, and regrettably, be used to watch porn on public transportation. Willkommen to the future!
BEST GAMING PC (THAT LOOKS LIKE THE FUTURE) — Bleu Jour Move Ultimate PC
Gaming PCs have been available in super-cool form factors for well over a decade. But if you want to walk into an e-gaming tournament like you pwn the place, the powerful Bleu Jour Move Ultimate PC could be your weapon of choice. Starting at about $1000 – and maxing out at over four times that, depending on the buyer’s choice of processor, graphics card and storage – the Move Ultimate comes in an aluminum case, and in several über-fashionable colors, like a lunchbox from Elroy Jetson future punk phase.
BEST NEW MOBILE PHONE — Honor 70
Tired of filming concerts without being able to focus on the singer? The Honor 70 has an industry-first “solo cut” mode that uses dual cameras, the new Sony IMX800 sensor and advanced image software to let users film a scene and choose one person to focus on. (It can follow and focus on a lead singer or a single kid in a school play.) It’s perfect for video and pictures. The phone looks good too, with a screen that bends around the edge of the phone. Honor has no plans to sell the device in the U.S., although it will work there; it sells for €550 in Europe, and American gadget heads shouldn’t have a hard time finding one.
BEST NEW TABLET — Honor Pad 8
The new Honor Pad 8 has eight built-in speakers and sound tuning technology that make it perfect for listening on the go – it has big sound for a thin tablet. The visuals are impressive, too: It has a sleek 6.9mm body and a 12-inch 2K display. The device can also connect to the Honor 70 with the company’s Magic-Link software. Like the Honor 70, this €350 tablet won’t be marketed in the U.S. – but it will work there, and it shouldn’t be too tough to find.
BEST WINDS OF CHANGE — Dayholi VR Dome
Virtual reality cannot live on glasses alone. So says Dayholi, which makes a VR Dome Dayholi.com that can add “wind” and smell to the visuals and sound transmitted through glasses and earphones. (“Wind” comes from fans that vary in speed and direction, and the company has already synthesized several smells that the dome can diffuse. (Smell-O-Vision anyone?) Could the VR Dome make virtual reality seem more real? Right now the price starts at $25,000, but there is a market for rentals and it’s one hell of a conversation piece.
BEST SOUND OF THE FUTURE — Mimi Hearing Wellbeing Platform
The Berlin start-up Mimi is a pioneer of “audio personalization” — it tests a user’s hearing, then offers customized presets based on it. It doesn’t offer a consumer product, instead, it partners with earphone makers and other companies to integrate its software into their products. The idea is to create perfect sound for a particular listener – not some imaginary ideal.