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Sound-isolating headphones let you really hear your own voice

Onvocal-mix360

Image: Mashable, Pete Pachal

LAS VEGAS — Have you ever worn noise-canceling headphones and wished they were, you know, not so noise-canceling?

That’s the idea behind OnVocal Mix360, a pair of behind-the-neck headphones that let you adjust exactly what you hear.

The headphones themselves are sound-isolating, passively blocking out most ambient noise. But the magic happens when you pair your Mix360 with the accompanying app (iOS and Android), which lets you adjust the levels of the three sounds you’re experiencing: the music you’re listening to, the ambient noise and your own voice.

OnVocal Mix360 app
The Mix360 app has sliders for adjusting exactly how much ambient noise you want to hear.

Image: Mashable, Pete Pachal

You control all three inputs with sliders on the app. When you make an adjustment, the Mix360’s three microphones go to work, bringing in the sounds you want to hear — similar to Bose’s noise-canceling earbuds.

You might want to go completely music-only for the duration of a subway ride, for example, but then turn up the ambient noise when you get to where you’re going — to avoid any unfortunate collisions.

Trying out the Mix360 at CES 2105, I came away impressed with how well it did its job. It did take a second for the adjustments to kick in — but when they did, a noise-filled ballroom went from muffled to crystal clear. There is a bit of artificiality to the sound at first, but that sensation quickly goes away.

When you turn up your own voice, you’re in for a surprise. The headphones render it in the way that others hear it, not you. “Do I really sound like that?” will likely be your first question.

The Bluetooth device is rated at 9 hours of battery life for music listening. The Mix360 will be available in May, but you might not like the sound of the price tag: $299.

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LG launches the G Flex2, doubles down on the curved smartphone

Lg_flex_2_smartphone

Image: Christina Ascani/Mashable

LAS VEGAS — LG Electronics revealed what had become an open secret at CES by Monday morning: It’s launching the G Flex2, the second in its line of curiously curved Android smartphones with supposedly scratch-resistant rears.

The Korean electronics giant is heavily promoting the device as an extra-tough “self-healing” smartphone, even more so than its predecessor. LG boasts that its own internal chemical processes have taken Gorilla Glass, as used in the first iPhone and just about every smartphone since, and made it significantly tougher.

“The probability of the glass cracking is reduced by 30%” compared to the previous G Flex, said Dr. Ramchan Woo, the company’s head of smartphone planning.

To demonstrate just how impermeable to damage the device is, Woo jumped on the phone and sat down heavily on it at a press gathering Sunday. And though LG reps were quick to prevent members of the media from videoing his efforts, the phone survived.

LG G Flex2 flexible smartphone bendable

Image: Christina Ascani/Mashable

Still, we were encouraged to throw the device around, drop it, try to bend it out of shape (we failed), and even attempt to scratch the scratch-resistant back. (On that front, I succeeded in etching a tiny scratch into it without much effort, lightly using a USB charger — sorry, LG.)

Here’s how LG will be demonstrating the scratch-proof nature of the G Flex 2’s rear at its CES booth starting Tuesday: with a wire brush.

No price or launch date for the new phone was announced, though it’s expected to launch in Korea in January and in the U.S. sometime in the first half of 2015. An LG spokesperson said that it would be priced “at a premium” compared to its other phones. AT&T and Sprint confirmed they would be bringing the phone to the U.S., as they did its predecessor.

The new model tackles our biggest problem with the original G Flex: namely, it has a proper HD 5.5-inch screen at 1080p rather than the relatively grainy 720p.

It also has the distinction of being the first smartphone announced to employ a powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 chip, optimized for the Android 5.0 OS, also known as Lollipop, which it will be running.

LG has doubled down on the whole concept of curved design, as you can see from this effusive portion of the official press release:

The G Flex2 goes beyond its predecessor’s groundbreaking 700mm radius curved profile. The new smartphone harmoniously incorporates a symphony of curves ranging from a radius of 400mm to 700mm across the front, back, sides and top-to-bottom edges. The dynamically curved layers deliver a sleeker and more dynamic look to G Flex2.

The company still insists on the genuine benefits of its harmonious symphony of curves: that it cuts down on screen glare when watching videos, that it curls more naturally around your mouth when making calls and allows the microphone to cut out more ambient noise.

But it doesn’t address the fundamental problem with the design, which we found for the original G Flex: you can’t really carry it anywhere but your back pocket, and the unit is large enough that it is in constant danger of falling out of that back pocket when you sit down.

It’s not the potential fall that would kill the phone; its resilience is no joke. Rather, the possibility of losing the G Flex2, or having to hunt around on the floor for it, is much greater compared to regular smartphones. Still, it’s hard not commend LG for taking a risk on design.

G Flex2_1

Image: LG

The G Flex2 is also streets ahead of the competition when it comes to taking selfies. Not only is it smart enough to let you trigger the 2.1 megapixel front-facing camera by making a fist, it also knows you’re most likely to take a selfie from slightly above — so that when you lower the phone after snapping the shutter, it automatically gives you one look at what you just shot.

In short: if you’re a selfie nut, and you like to carry your phone in a tight back pocket, and you live in constant fear of dropping or cracking your phone, then get excited. Your perfect mobile device is on its way.

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Beam Remote Sends Your Head Anywhere in the World

LAS VEGAS — Cross-country and international travel is expensive. Three or four trips to London, Paris or Taiwan a year and you’re spending at least $16,000. What if you could spend that much and be in Europe and at home as often as you want? That’s what Suitable Technologies’ Beam Remote Presence System promises.

The roughly 5.5-foot-tall system is available now and on display at CES 2013. I got to take it for a drive and have to say, it’s a pretty cool system.

Here’s how it works. Beam connects to your network via a Wi-Fi or cellular broadband connection. It has a large LCD screen atop two slim bars and a rolling base. There’s also a charging station. Beam usually starts there so it’s fully charged when you’re ready to “travel.”

If you’re controlling Beam, your view is via your computer or laptop. You drive Beam with a joystick or, more commonly, the arrow keys on your keyboard, while Beam cruises along at up to 3 miles per hour. Your webcam beams your face to the Beam device, so your disembodied head looks like you’re wherever your Beam is. It’s like your own personal transporter, without the dangerous (and currently impossible) Star Trek hardware.

Lance and his Beam Buddy

Controlling Beam is remarkably easy. I got a 30-second tutorial and was soon following someone around Beam’s Palo Alto offices. The display helps guide you by showing directional overlays on top of the video feed that mimic the direction and driving directions you’re sending to the remote presence device. Beam’s two cameras show you what’s ahead of you and what’s at your “feet.”

When you’re done with your remote meeting or making the rounds at a hospital, you simply drive Beam back to its charging station, spin around and back into the charging base.

I had a great time driving Beam around and meeting people at Suitable Technologies’ offices. What would you do with a remote presence device? Let me know in the comments.

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Toyota’s Self-Driving Car More of a Smart Co-Pilot

LAS VEGAS — Are we ready for self-driving cars? Google’s got some competition on the road these days. Toyota introduced its Advanced Active Safety Research Vehicle at the 2013 International CES.

We got a chance to catch up with Jim Pisz, corporate manager of North American business strategy for Toyota to learn a little more about the car and why they’re building it. As it turns out, while Toyota is on the road to developing an autonomous-driving car, they’re really most interested in what they learn from the car.

Pisz says this Lexus-branded car is a research vehicle with a wide range of tech. That includes LIDAR, which is a group of lasers spinning 10 times per second, creating a 360 degree, birds-eye view of what’s around the car. That works along with radar on the front and sides, high-def cameras and multiple GPS devices. The thing is literally bristling with tech. All this collective wizardry determines the car’s exact location, as well as the location of vehicles and objects around it.

While the goal, he says, is for the car to recognize, process and react, Toyota believes an autonomous car is not a driverless car, at least initially and for the foreseeable future.

More CES 2013 Coverage