The 5 coolest things to come out of CES

This year the 4G hype has become a reality

Anyone who's attended tech conventions over the past five years has heard plenty about 4G wireless networks, but this year the hype has become a reality.

Also read: AT&T LTE service to launch in mid-2010

That's because two U.S. carriers now have 4G networks up and running, with a third slated to get its own 4G network off the ground by midyear. And as you might expect, this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas has showcased smartphones and tablets designed to take advantage of these newly operational high-speed wireless networks. In addition to hardware, there was also an update to the Android operating system that is optimized to work on tablet computers.

While there are a lot of terrific products to highlight from this year's CES, the following five really caught our eye and should be a good indication of where the gadget world is headed in 2011.

AT&T's LTE network

While this isn't really a product that you can touch or see, it will be delivering high-speed data to your favorite device starting this summer. AT&T still hasn't given a specific timetable for when and where its first 4G services will launch, but the carrier assured attendees yesterday that it will have LTE-capable smartphones and tablets ready for sale when the 4G network goes live.

The carrier also said Verizon and Sprint are currently the only major wireless carriers that offer 4G services, as Verizon launched its LTE network commercially last month while Sprint and Clearwire have been rolling out their WiMAX network across the country for the past two years. AT&T's commitment to launch LTE in the U.S. this year leaves T-Mobile as the only major U.S. wireless carrier to not set a timetable for rolling out 4G services.

The Motorola Atrix 4G

The Atrix 4G, which will actually run on AT&T's 3G HSPA+ network, has a dual-core 1GHz processor that will deliver the highest processing power of any smartphone on the market. What makes the device even more striking are its accessories, as it can be purchased with a laptop dock that lets the device's screen, applications and capabilities to all be integrated into a laptop.

During a demonstration video yesterday, Motorola showed how a laptop could take data directly from the smartphone and edit it as though it had originated on the laptop itself. It also showed how the laptop could be used to enact such crucial smartphone functions as text messaging and voice calling when integrated with the ATRIX.

RIM's PlayBook 4G

We've known about Research in Motion’s PlayBook tablet for a few months now, but RIM announced this week that it would be releasing a special 4G model that would run exclusively on Sprint's WiMAX network. The tablet has a 1GHUz dual core processor and is slightly lighter and thicker than Apple's popular iPad. And unlike the iPad, the PlayBook is tailored for the enterprise since it features all the same wireless security features that BlackBerry devices have and it comes installed with HD videoconferencing capabilities. RIM says in addition to releasing the 4G PlayBook, it will also release a Wi-Fi only version of the device in the first quarter of 2011.

Android 3.0, a.k.a., "Honeycomb"

There has been a lot of buzz surrounding the tablet-centric version of Google's popular Android mobile platform and CES attendees got their first chance to try it out this week. Included among Honeycomb's features are a Gmail application that's formatted into two columns; a GTalk video chat application that takes advantage of both front- and rear-facing cameras; and an updated version of Google's Chrome browser.

Motorola's Xoom will be the first tablet to utilize Honeycomb and will be available on Verizon's 3G and 4G networks. Prior to the debut of the Xoom, Samsung's Galaxy Tab was the only tablet to run on Android, although it uses the 2.2 "Froyo" edition that is not optimized for tablets. Google has said that tablets based on non-Honeycomb editions of Android will not properly run applications downloaded from the Android App Market.

Cisco's Cius

The Cius figures to be the RIM PlayBook's biggest initial competitor in the enterprise tablet market. Although Cisco decided to go with Android 2.2 as its operating system, the tablet is very much centered on Cisco's own enterprise products including its native VPN client, TelePresence video conferencing, WebEx SaaS for streamlining business processes and Cisco Quad collaboration platform that integrates social networking tools with enterprise tools such as calendar, VoIP and instant messaging. The big news from CES is that the Cius will be coming to Verizon this March and will run on its 4G LTE network. So if you're an IT department looking to try out both Verizon's 4G network and Cisco's business tablet, you can now kill two birds with the same stone.

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