CES 2014: The year technology got stylish

Hard drives that look like art, speakers that look like handbags and a riot of colour accessories: how CES went designer.
Written by Mary Branscombe, Contributor on

Maybe it's the Mac Pro looking like the most stylish garbage can you ever saw. Maybe it's because of smartwatches and wearable fitness sensors, because when you wear something (rather than just carrying it) you care about how it looks as well as how it works. Maybe it's just because technology is aimed far more at consumers these days.

Whatever the reason, it's nice to see more devices that are stylish as well as functional showing up at CES, and not just the bling-laden iPhone cases and colour-changing speakers of previous years.

Tylt has been offering its flat cables, Y-shaped dual chargers and the excellent wireless charging stand in bright colours for a while. Innergie is bringing out red, black, yellow and blue versions of its excellent external chargers (which pack in more battery power than most by using laptop-grade batteries) and even a red version of its new compact notebook charger, and the tiny new laptop charger FINsix will start selling in March will have a stylish red metal case.

FINsix laptop charger
Small, red, shiny; the FINsix laptop adapter is far smaller and neater than the standard power brick

Netgear is pitching its high performance wi-fi range extender at gamers, but the red and black design is also pretty stylish if you need to put it next to the TV. D-LINK was showing off prototypes of a wi-fi router the size and shape of a coffee can, in multiple colours.

Most fitness tracker look like a pedometer on a large rubber band; Fitbit and the other tracker makers are offering the bands in several colours now, but it's still the sporty look. For the June sun exposure sensor, Netatmo came up with something that looks much more like costume jewellery, with a faceted gold or silver crystal pierced by tiny holes for the sun sensor; you can wear it on the leather bracelet or clipped on as a brooch. The accompanying app is very obviously aimed at women, showing icons of a floppy sun hat and shades to warn you to cover up on sunny days.

The prototype 'smart jewellery' that Cellini built to show off CSR's Bluetooth chipsets is a little more unisex; a metal pebble on a plaited leather cord that flashes different colours to show you iOS 7 notifications.

smart jewellry
If you don't want a gadget on your wrist, how about round your neck?

Simplehuman's magnifying mirror is designed for women too, because the close-to-daylight white LED that lights up automatically when you get close to it is good for applying makeup. But it would be just as handy for men who want to see clearly to shave, especially with the new smaller model - and the one with a wall mount, which still charges over USB so you don't have to worry about wiring it in.

The Stelle audio clutch is definitely aimed at women; it's a Bluetooth speaker tucked into a shiny clutch purse in colours from gold, silver and copper to turquoise, red and snakeskin. It's fun and girly - and it sounds good as well. Or there's the Audio Pillar, which comes in a range of patterns and designs so you can match your décor, from brushed metal to brown-and-beige patterns that look as if they come from Burberry or Gucci.

clutch audio
A speaker - in a handbag....

La Cie has also been putting storage in stylish French designs for a few years. This year it will have two spherical USB 3 drives. One is a shiny silver globe you'll have to keep polishing fingerprints off, but we love the Cubulto, which has a gold metal base and rubberised top; pull off the tip to reveal the USB cable or push the top to make it tip over and then bounce back upright like a Weeble. You could leave the Cubulto out and tell everyone it's modern art and they'd never guess it's 16GB of superfast storage.

Cubulto: art or 16GB of USB 3?

As you walk the halls at CES there is still plenty of disturbing design, like the pyramid bedside lamp that has a pharaoh's head hollowed out of it for the light to shine out or the violin clock (yes, it's a clock made out of a violin), but this year it's far easier to find gadgets that look stylish and work well.

And it's clear that 'design' is no longer synonymous with Apple white polycarbonate or Apple milled aluminium either. You can pick kit to co-ordinate with a red Lumia if you want. Or you could get one of the limited edition all-in-one PCs decorated by artists for Korean manufacturer Moneual with paint, office accessories or painstakingly applied hand-cut metal flowers.

moneual PC
The 3D flowers represent Korean architectural styles

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