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CES 2012 Recap: Vegas!

When I was invited by Nokia with a couple weeks of heads-up notice to join them in Las Vegas for the CES exhibition, I was more than happy to push schoolwork aside and finally meet, in-person, the people who have made this blog of mine possible. The fact that it was all their treat only made it more sublime of an opportunity, one I happily accepted! However I did miss the first week of the school term, so ever since I returned I've been working quite diligently to get caught up with what I'd missed. In addition to this post, I've had a so-called First Take on the Lumia 900 on the back burner, something I plan on having done very shortly.

Day 1: Travel Day
The process of how I got to Las Vegas was quite straightforward. A friend of mine gave me a lift to the local airport in the late morning, where I checked in for my one-layover trip to Las Vegas. My connection was in Salt Lake City, which turned out to have a lot of delays, one of which involved the flight headed to my Eugene airport. This turned into a small problem, because I had been scheduled for a flight from Salt Lake to Las Vegas with a mere half hour or so to run from gate to gate. An hour-long delay in leaving was not going to be a good thing for me.

Somehow, perhaps at the expense of dozens of extra fuel spent to make sure we would arrive in Salt Lake on time, we parked at the gate with about 5 minutes till my connecting flight was supposed to depart. I would have made it, had there not been a few very flustered folks arguing with the ticket-counter attendant about why they couldn't all A.) make their original itinerary and B.) do it all together. I decided to give up my seat on the spot (without any promise of compensation), but happily I got a reward for my deed regardless: a first-class seat on the next flight five hours later, a very generous meal voucher and a coupon good for a substantial discount combined with the meal voucher.

At this point I decided that, although I was going to be missing the undoubtedly amazing dinner with the @Nokia_Connects crew and the rest of the bloggers, so I decided to go get myself some dinner and try some of the local beers. Out of the 5 different pints I tried, only two tickled my fancy, with a third acceptable though nothing to write about. (Even though I just did.) Soon as I heard the boarding announcement, I grabbed my bags and got myself settled in my cozy chair for the short hop over to Vegas. I sat next to a very intriguing fellow who would be representing Sharp at the fair, but unfortunately I never got to see him again after we both exited the plane.

After a small snafu with figuring out how I was supposed to get from the airport to the hotel, I caught myself a cab, overpaid (I think), and tiredly got myself checked into my room, at which point I was given this funny looking thing by the concierge:

After finding my way to my room and getting settled in, I flipped over this card and saw instructions that said I should use Foursquare to get myself checked in at the hotel. I'll be honest, I was never really sold on the whole idea of location-based online check-ins, so I had never actually given Foursquare a gander. So for me, the first thing I had to do was get myself a Foursquare account, install it on my device(s), then lastly check-in. It took a long time, since the room's WiFi was terribly slow and every single nerd, journalist and PR-rep was in town, so my cellular data was unbelievably slow as well. I soon figured it out and got myself an award for my first check-in, at which point I promptly fell asleep since I had an early morning ahead of me and I really hoped that the @Nokia_Connects team would also be asleep. (The back of the card said that something amazing would be brought to me, which from the twitter activity I'd seen, meant a sweet bag of things delivered to my door. Literally. More on this momentarily.)

Day 2: Absolute Surprise!
Boy, if I had been able to predict what the @Nokia_Connects team had in mind for me on my first early morning, I would probably tell myself to get into investing. For a start, I got to meet some of my fellow bloggers, also here because of @Nokia_Connects. We were a bit early to the meeting point, so at this point I was mostly just kicking the air and wishing I had a coffee or a couple more hours of sleep. However I was soon distracted when Katie came around the corner, introduced herself and handed me a Lumia 710 to use. At this point my brain was having a bit of a crisis, as I wasn't sure what I should be doing; my eyelids still wanted to close and nap, while the social bit of me was having a blast with the introductions (I also met Meg, Tom, Simon and Frank right off the bat at this point) and my inner nerd was screaming at me to play with the 710 while I had the chance.

As it turns out, I got a chance to do a bit of all three. We were all ushered outside, put onto a van (which I absentmindedly forgot to read the side of to figure out what we were about to do) and driven about a half hour out into the canyons. Once there, everything became clear: we were going to go zip-lining! I once had a friend who had one of those kids' backyard zip-lines which ran from his porch to a tree at the other end of the yard, but it was nothing compared to this. We were going to be zooming along over the canyons at speeds at least three times as quick as what we'd ever accomplished with that childhood memory. The @Nokia_Connects crew had something up their sleeve, though, and set Jimmy and Juan (fellow bloggers) to the task of showing just what our 710 phones were capable of. While mid-run, Jimmy would take a picture and get it to Juan, via Facebook I believe. The catch here is that Juan would hopefully get the picture by the time Jimmy reached him at the end of the run. And it worked! They even made a video out of it, here you go:

This was one of the most fun things I've ever done, despite the fact that I really could've dressed warmer. (You'll see me in the black button-up shirt in the background of the video.) Once finished, though, the @Nokia_Connects crew weren't done with us just yet. Just as we were returning back to The Strip, we drove by a helicopter outfit. Richard (yet another blogger) and myself both started to comment on how pretty the choppers were, when suddenly our van turned into the parking lot for them. You can probably imagine the looks of glee upon our faces and the sheepish grins that the @Nokia_Connects guys were wearing. This was about the time I had an epiphany about the Foursquare service: everyone who checked in to the waiting lobby was rewarded with some helicopter-themed fridge magnets, no cost! (I checked in, but bypassed the magnets. I didn't want to add more weight to my check-in bag.) Without further ado, here's the helicopter video:

Having completely pleased my inner child at this point (I was no longer sleepy whatsoever), my mind was buzzing with possibilities for what the last and final surprise activity on our agenda would be. However I wasn't given too long to dwell, as we all soon met up and were given a sneak peak at the Lumia 900. By sneak peak I mean we saw it about 30 minutes before the official CES 2012 keynote announcement on an LCD panel, but didn't actually get to see one in person. Or, not yet anyway...

I tried to get into the Microsoft CES Keynote but failed miserably. I did manage to stream it on the web back in the room, which worked well enough.

That night we met up for some drinks and phone conversation. Us bloggers and @Nokia_Connects shot some discussion questions back and forth throughout out mingle session, and we all left feeling a bit more like good friends. At least, that's how I felt.

Day 3: CES
We all met early to go over to the New York: New York casino for breakfast with a couple of Nokia product managers. Along the way I couldn't help but babble about how much fun the rollercoaster built into the casino was, which prompted one of the @Nokia_Connects crew to single me out and let me know that the ride was what the next challenge would be. While admittedly not as extreme as the first two surprise activities they'd planned for us, I was nevertheless looking forward to it. I also managed to keep it to myself- not sure if I had to, but it did say "Surprise Activity" on the agenda, so...

At breakfast we met with two product managers, each one responsible for either the Lumia 710 or the Lumia 900. While I didn't make a very big deal out of it at the time, I wish I had played with the white Lumia 710 that was brought to breakfast, instead being much more distracted by the prototype Lumia 900 that was causing all of us bloggers to forget about our eggs and pancakes. We nevertheless got some time to fire off whatever questions we'd had in addition to getting some hands-on time with both Lumia devices (obviously, since we'd all had a 710 in our pocket already).

In addition we were sort of introduced to Nokia Pulse, a sort of in-house Twitter. While obviously still a beta with a couple of features missing, it worked quite well for our purposes, creating a closed group of bloggers, the @Nokia_Connects team and the product managers from breakfast. During the extent of CES we used the service to point out various items of interest to one another, commenting on each other's posts as well.

It was then time to hit the CES floor! Many had split off from breakfast early to be one of the first streaking through the opening doors at CES, but I chose to stay back, head to the hotel first and then caught a cab with Richard to the expo center. Once we arrived we decided to head straight for the Nokia booth, which turned out to be a bit of a wild goose chase for us, as we walked literally the entire floor before arriving at the Nokia booth. Once there, however, I was quite impressed by the amount of attention Nokia had managed to attract. In addition to a very attractive booth adorned with colored glowing cubes, WP7-tile lollipops and screen cleaners, there was yet another Foursquare attraction: check-in to the booth, and one received a code. Enter the code on one of the computers in the booth and one could possible win a prize! I was crossing my fingers and hoping for a Lumia 710 or even the Monster headphones, but I didn't have any luck. Bummer.

Eventually I met up with my father, who happened to be attending CES on his own schedule for his own work-related reasons. We met only briefly before heading back to The Strip, mostly because the dry weather had resulted in a pair of cracked and bleeding hands and a nasty rash on my neck. Unfortunately, coming from such a humid environment as Oregon has severely affected my skin.

After some rest I met up a bit early with Richard for some conversation at the same bar as the night before for some hockey and talk about life. Eventually we were joined by our blogger buddies and @Nokia_Connects, who took us off to The Stratosphere for a dinner "On Top of the World." By the time the main course came around, I was quite stuffed off of the appetizers and whatnot, so I'm afraid I really only poked at the dessert before setting down my fork. The view, on the other hand, never got boring. We even got to see a few people bungee jumping from the top floor!

Day 4: More CES
This day broke with yet more CES free time. I made it my goal to meet my father to look at a list of booths he'd written down, since his interests align quite well with mine very often. Indeed, he didn't disappoint:
I became overjoyed to realize I had come across a Tesla Model S, their new electric car, parked smack-dab in the middle of the NVidia booth.
There was also a demo that I became inexplicably attracted to: an ASUS Transformer Prime outputting 3D HDMI to an active-type 3D television located right above it. While the game itself was a bit lacking, the technology was surprisingly good. The little Prime tablet itself is also a very slick piece of tech.
I forget exactly who it was, but someone was running a demo of a 3D semi-augmented reality clothes-store of sorts. The idea is simple, twirl in front of the Kinect-esque camera, which captures your body shape and converts it to a 3D model. Then clothes, already put into 3D, can be put onto your 3D avatar's body. While it isn't (at this point) able to fairly represent how a fabric feels, moves or looks in different light, it does appear to do a pretty good job at showing how they hang in a neutral stance. Thus one can figure out how different sizes of an article of clothing actually fit, from the comfort of their own home. They even had a weird infrared-style preview which would show stress points on the fabric to help with fitting. As someone who hates buying clothes online because of fit variations, this seems like something I'd happily use if given the chance.
One of the hot attractions for us phone-types was Fujitsu's demo of their waterproof phones. Many companies were touting their waterproofing techniques, but none was quite as overt as Fujitsu's. They had a fish tank filled with 6 phones and a tablet, all looping a video of a fish (in lieu of real fish). Unlike many other waterproof phones one can buy in the US market, these weren't your average older-tech + weatherizing, but rather cutting-edge + waterproofing (read: difference means not necessarily rugged). They had a bunch of big bowls filled with water and were encouraging people to dunk Fujitsu's phones and tablets in them, which was a bit of a delight for my inner-kid once more.

However Fujitsu has no plans to enter the US phone market, at least right now, so it was more of a fantasy playground than tech I actually wanted to go out and buy. What did get my attention was the Parrot AR drone, which I'd seen on the internet but never in person. Since I got my start in "gadgetry" with R/C models, this type of tech application obviously remains very close to my heart.

Lastly, who can forget the Nokia booth itself? Seeing how I was already equipped with a 710, I took some time showing off the Lumia 800 and 900 to my father and demonstrating the audio accessories Nokia had brought to the show. He and I were both curious to hear the quality of the Play 360 speaker, since neither of us had heard the thing in action before. The showroom floor was quite loud, but I was still surprised by the amount of quality midrange and bass the thing could crank out. Treble was of course present, but for smaller speakers I tend to judge their lower-frequency performance more critically, hence the omission there. I really feel like I'd love the chance to give one of these a poke with a stick some day from the comfort of my own home, as I'm curious about if the sound actually has a big body to match the frequency performance... I'll have to ask @Nokia_Connects to see if they can't throw me a bone!

At about this point I split off from my father and ran off to Caesars Palace to meet with another Nokia PM. I somehow managed to take the most lengthy way possible from their lobby to the restaurant we were eating lunch at, but I still managed to get in and share what I'd found. The PM brought up Nokia Pulse, which I wish I had participated more in, but I was borderline too far away to speak up and my peers were doing a good enough job speaking what was on my mind. (I mostly had a few UI questions and enhancement suggestions.)

Following lunch we finally went for the New York: New York Taxi Cab rollercoaster ride! It seemed a lot shorter than the last time I enjoyed it, but I still had a lot of fun. At this point it was mostly just myself, Jimmy and the @Nokia_Connects crew themselves, so it was a fun way to get to talk to some people who do essentially what I might be interested in doing some day, after I finish school.

After a bit of time to grab some food and take a nap, we all met back up to walk over to the Nokia US party in the Caesars Palace Centurion Penthouse. I will never forget that place. Not what you might call the largest or most extravagant penthouse ever, but the night was amazing. (Pun not intended.) There were Cirque du Soleil performers, a strange type of harp, tasty drinks with exciting LED ice cubes (with Nokia branding on them, too, nice touch) and of course people from all different corners of Nokia's US operations along with an excellent atmosphere. (It's kinda hard to beat the top of a building in Vegas.)

Day 5: Time to Leave
As day five broke, I realized my week with like-minded people was at an end. I packed my bags, checked out of my room and then headed straight to the dolphins. (For those not in the know, we were staying at The Mirage, famous for its dolphins and wild cats.) Here's a video I took of that:

After having caught some early afternoon entertainment, I headed into the casino for some froyo, of course forgetting to check-in on Foursquare... doh! I could've gotten a free shake for having done that! Instead I paid for a bowl of something, can't even remember anymore. Froyo finished, I got my bags and headed to the airport, where I first ran into Meg from @Nokia_Connects in the terminal and then my own father soon after she left to catch her flight. I then had two easy flights back to Eugene, both of which I had nobody sitting next to me.

It was a great trip. I can't wait to do it again someday.