CES: Gadgets, from the corny to the cute

We reporters got the usual sneak peak at some of the gadgets on display at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, a couple days before the official start on Thursday.  Nothing struck us as terribly exciting or revolutionary, but there were a number of things that caught our eye. Just because they were cute, earth-friendly or designed to make life — or rather, downloads — a little easier. Here’s a selection of what we’ve seen so far:

Netbooks: OK, they’re not for making Photoshop collages or watching high-res movies (and the tiny keyboard can give you hand cramps after a while), but netbooks are light to carry and easy on the eye. We checked out the Asus netbooks, the smallest of which has a 7-inch screen. They have a new tablet PC model too, complete with a swivel screen and stylus. Lenovo also had netbooks on display.

Universal remote control: Not a big deal, but Logitech’s newest one is a sleek little gadget, with a 3.5-inch touch screen that fits easily in the palm of your hand. It’s an improvement on their previous universal remote, which had both a touch-based user interface and keys, the exhibitor told us. But it’s not cheap — she said it would retail for $499.95 from end-February onwards.

USB 3.0: The era of USB 3.0 is here, the folks from the USB Implementers Forum announced at CES. Data transfer speeds will get a lot faster once gadget makers begin making devices with the news standards. So, for example, you can download a 27 gigabyte high-definition movie in a little over a minute, or 8 gigabytes of photos from your camera in just 20 seconds. It will still all be compatible with USB 2.0 platforms, of course. Made me wonder for a minute about USB 1.0 compatibility… my work laptop still runs that standard.

Fuji’s green batteries: What’s green about these new AA and AAA batteries from Fuji apart from their color? They’re actually 94 percent recyclable. As the demo guy told us: “You could throw these into your backyard and it would be fine.” The batteries are made through a green manufacturing process and contain no mercury, but that doesn’t make them any pricier than your regular cells. ETA: around Earth Day.

Google enters Skype territory

Google’s at it again.

The Web search leader edged into Skype’s territory at on Tuesday with a feature that allows multitasking Gmail users to video chat, IM and email all at the same time.

Gmail and Google App subscribers can now gossip with friends or coworkers on a high-quality video screen and simultaneously instant message them in a Google Chat box.  The video screen can be popped out of the chat box and moved around a user’s computer screen.

Check out this YouTube video with Google engineer Serge Lachapelle to see how it works. A team of Googlers in Seattle, Sweden and Silicon Valley collaborated on the new app, which is available for both PC and Mac users.