It’s time to look beyond merely bigger TVs and yet another me-too tablet. CES 2015 promises a wave of compelling innovations, bringing together more than 3,500 exhibitors and 150,000 attendees to see what’s next in tech in Las Vegas. Tom’s Guide, sister site Tom’s Hardware and Laptop Mag will be hitting the show floor in full force to help you decide what devices and breakthroughs need to be on your radar.
What do we expect? Think smart home gear that truly lives up to the name, fitness wearables you can throw in the wash and high-tech cars that nearly drive themselves. You’ll also see new flagship smartphones — possibly even from Samsung — and affordable LCD TVs that close the picture quality gap with OLED.
Here are the seven biggest trends to watch at CES 2015. And stay tuned for our CES Top Pick awards, which we will announce Jan. 8.
Flagship Phones From Sony and LG ... and Samsung's Galaxy S6?
Rumor has it that Samsung could pull the trigger on its next big smartphone at CES, which would be quite a departure from its typical February unveiling at Mobile World Congress. According to GSM Arena, analysts told Korean News source Chosun Biz that the Galaxy S6 could debut between Jan. 6 and 9.
The Galaxy S6 will reportedly boast a bigger, 5.5-inch display that could be curved on both edges. Given the disappointing sales of the Galaxy S5, Samsung may be looking to generate early buzz for its next flagship.
Sony’s Xperia Z4 seems much more of a lock for a CES unveiling, as the company has already provided a preshow tease. The follow-up to one of our favorite smartphone cameras may get a quad-HD, 5.5-inch screen in addition to a faster Snapdragon 810 chip.
Also keep an eye out for a new curved smartphone from LG. According Android Authority, we could see the G Flex 2. Last but not least, Kodak will show off a new Android-powered camera phone manufactured by the Bullitt Group (also known for making Catepillar's rugged smartphones).
4K TVs Make Quantum (Dot) Leap
OLED TVs will likely continue to be the gold standard for high-def televisions, but not everyone has a CEO-style budget. And most TV makers are shying away from OLED due to the expense. Enter quantum dot technology, which uses nanocrystals that emit different colors — depending on their size — to offer richer colors and better saturation at a more wallet-friendly price.
LG has already announced quantum dot TVs for early 2015, and Sony and TCL have sets with the technology in the market. Samsung tends to march in lockstep with LG, so don’t be surprised to see the company unveil quantum dot 4K TVs of its own at CES 2015. That’s on the higher end of the market, though. Also expect lots of 4K sets priced to move more quickly than today’s models — well under $1,000 — and a new wave of curved TVs.
MORE: Top TVs Money Can Buy
Fitness Trackers: From Wrist to Clothes
Fitness trackers were one of the hottest sellers during the holidays, and that momentum should continue well into the new year as people try to stick to those resolutions. Fitbit’s Surge “fitness superwatch” will be on display, set to go on sale in January, and we expect several more wearable hybrid devices that combine activity tracking with smartphone notifications. Garmin, whose Vivosmart is our current top fitness tracker, will also be on hand to show off its new wares. Alcatel also announced it will be showing off its Onetouch Watch series at the show.
Not a fan of wristwear? Companies like Sensoria are making everything from socks and sports bras to fitness shirts that can monitor your heart rate and other data. There’s also OMSignal, which sells a smart shirt that tracks heart rate, breathing, steps, calories and more. Athos’ smart fitness wear (shirt, shorts) goes a step further by reading your muscle effort. Expect to see more trackers you can throw in the wash at CES.
Core M-Powered MacBook Air Killers
Intel's new Core M processor is enabling laptop makers to create systems that are superslim and yet completely fanless. The new Samsung ATIV Book 9, which will be shown at CES, is a great example. The 12-inch device weighs just 2.09 pounds and is only 0.4 inches thin. It doesn't have a touchsreen, but the display's 2560 x 1600-pixel resolution puts the current MacBook Air (1440 x 900) to shame.
We anticipate many other Core M-powered laptops and 2-in-1 hybrids to debut at CES 2015 from the likes of ASUS, Dell, Lenovo Toshiba and others. In our reviews thus far of other Core M laptops, such as the Lenovo Yoga Pro 3 and HP Elitebook Folio 1020, Intel's chip has provided solid but not spectacular performance. Core i5 CPUs are faster, but if you place a premium on portability Core M should satisfy.
Don't be surprised to see Apple's rumored 12-inch MacBook Air to use Core M when it launches during the first half of 2015.
Simpler Smart Home Gear
CES 2014 saw a flood of smart home tech, but very few of the devices caught on with the masses. Now more and more companies are trying to bring the simplicity of the smash-hit Nest thermostat to their own categories.
For example, Ring and SkyBell will be battling it out to be your digital doorman, complete with a wide-angle video stream to your smartphone or tablet. Other companies will be joining the fray as well.
Coming Jan. 4 (according to its website), Myfox promises to reinvent the home security system with tags you can attach to a door or window. The company says an alarm will be triggered beforea break-in is attempted. As for smart home hubs that control multiple devices, new players will enter the market at CES.
Connected Car Wars Heat Up
The battle between Google and Apple is moving from your smartphone to your dashboard. For example, Hyundai will debut a new head unit at CES 2015 that integrates both Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay. That means you’ll be able to get directions, listen to music and enjoy other apps regardless of which OS powers your handset.
Look for Nvidia to make some car tech noise at its CES press conference. And we’re not just talking about infotainment. The company says that it will showcase advanced driver assistance systems, a precursor for self-driving cars.
Also at CES, Ford will be showing off its new Sync 3.0 system, powered by BlackBerry’s QNX technology (no more Microsoft under the hood). Expect a simpler interface, smoother performance and easier upgrades via Wi-Fi. Expect updates for Chrysler’s Uconnect system as well.
3D Printers for Less Than a Laptop
Despite a lot of hype, 3D printing remains mostly a curiosity for consumers, but a few companies will try to make the technology a lot more accessible and affordable at CES.
Think 3D printers that cost less than $400, with an emphasis on compact design and ease of use. Makers of 3D printers know that finding good stuff to print can also be a challenge, so look for devices that integrate more tightly with online marketplaces for ideas.
MORE: Top-Rated 3D Printers
The 3D Printing Marketplace section at CES will be double the size of last year's, and all of the top names in the space will be present. These brands include 3D Systems, Formlabs, MakerBot, New Matter and XYZprinting.
VR and AR Headsets Get More Real
It’s hard to believe that the Oculus Rift debuted at CES nearly two years ago now. Since then, the company got scooped up by Facebook, partnered with Samsung on the Gear VR headset (which works with the Galaxy Note 4) and has continued refining its own prototypes on the way to a consumer release. At CES 2015, Oculus will be showing its latest Crescent Bay prototype and hopefully providing a taste of how its headset will interact with Nimble VR’s hand- and finger-tracking input. Oculus acquired that company in December. A final shipping date for Oculus would be nice, too.
Sony hasn’t said much about its Project Morpheus virtual reality headset, but we hope to hear more from the company about its progress at its CES press conference. On the augmented-reality front, we’re excited to get our eyes on a near-final version of the SiME smart glasses offering, which runs full Android and is targeting a $500 price.
Now It’s Your Turn
What do you want to see at CES 2015? Tell us what you think in the comments.
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Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.