Tens of thousands of tech enthusiasts were in Las Vegas last week for CES 2022 – the annual consumer electronics show – one of the most influential gadget trade shows in the world. But even more notable? How many people opted to cover all the latest tech unveilings from a distance for the second year in a row, thanks to the current spike in COVID-19 cases. Attendance was down more than 70% according to the CTA, the group that organizes the tradeshow.

As Mike Snider reported in USA TODAY’s preview, several big companies such as Amazon, Google, Lenovo, GM, IBM, and Microsoft pulled out of in-person attendance and pivoted to digital participation, and so did a majority of the journalists who cover it every year – including me. But that hasn’t stopped many of us from getting a first hands-on with some of the top gadgets and biggest trends in tech heading our way. Here are some of the standouts:

Screens to Savor

LG’s G2 OLED evo-G series presents the pinnacle of OLED tech and the brands brightest, most advanced 4K picture quality to date. It’s like bringing the cinema into your living room. There are astonishing amounts of contrast and a positively jaw-dropping color gamut, resulting in realistic images beamed into your eyeballs at home, all while being thinner than ever — so it looks flush for that whole art gallery feel when not gaming or streaming. It even uses AI to enhance image and sound quality to detect and enhance faces and objects. The G2 series introduces a new 83” model & the world’s first 97” OLED to go alongside the standard 55 inch and up. Comes out late Spring 2022, no word on pricing yet. 

Lenovo Thinkpad Z13

A gadget specifically aimed to better exist with our lives and our planet is Lenovo’s latest ThinkPad Z13. Perfect for work on the go, it looks sharp with its 100% recycled, stain-resistant black vegan leather top and 75% recycled aluminum body. A communication bar at the top of the screen allows for a larger sensor camera and dual-array microphones, while the Dolby Voice and Dolby Atmos speaker system delivers more immersive audio for better conferencing. It also allows for super-narrow bezels and an impressive screen-to-body ratio.

I’ve been able to spend a few days with it already and it hits all the sweet spots for progressive design, beefed-up security, and more modern collaboration features – much of what makes up our new norm of a more mobile, hybrid workforce. It goes on sale in May, starting at $1,549.

Samsung Galaxy S21 FE 5G

Samsung's new Galaxy S21 FE boasts impressive battery life.

One of the biggest trends I’m seeing so far is the notion of “comfort tech,” which is just like comfort food, but for gadgets. It’s the devices we know the best, already love, and count on for a myriad of reasons overall, but tweaked to make us feel even better about how much time we spend with them.

One example here is the just-unveiled Galaxy S21 FE 5G. Every year, Samsung polls fans about their favorite phone features and then combines them into a less expensive “fan edition,” and this is the result. The S21 FE includes a 6.4-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X display with 120-hertz refresh rate, and flagship processing power. The pro-grade camera system sports three rear-facing cameras including a 3x optical telephoto 8MP camera, while the front camera has a 32-megapixel ultrawide lens as well.

I’ve had it since last week, and the battery life is stellar – it truly lasts all day – and comes equipped with fast charging, so there’s hardly any downtime. It’s also a hair slimmer than the S20, comes in four colors including Olive Green and Lavender, and goes on sale Jan. 11 for $700.

Kohler PerfectFill

Once Kohler's PerfectFill Smart Bathing Technology arrives, you won't have to ask your partner to run a bath for you. You can just ask the company's app.

On this topic of “comfort tech,” Kohler also debuted its PerfectFill Smart Bathing Technology on Monday. It’s a “drain kit system” that lets you preset a bath to your ideal temperature and depth using a voice command or the Kohler Konnect app. I would love to have a full, perfectly heated bath waiting for me when I step in the door after a long day at work or auto-fill the kids’ bath – but not as full or as hot as mine. You can set up as many as 10-different presets, so everyone can have their own “bathing experience,” including the family dog.

A spokesperson for Kohler told me over the phone that this new gadget is all about “automating things in our homes that we don’t want to think about,” and that it’s like being able to preheat an oven with an app. I guess since watching water fill in the bathtub is a lot like waiting for water to boil, it’s efficiency – and luxury – that someday in the not-so-distant future, we won’t know how we lived without it. The price to pay for this kind of smart home tech is a major splurge at $2,700 when it comes out later this year.

Saving the Planet: Piana Technology

Another prominent trend emerging out of these early hours of CES 2022 is more focus on innovation to save the planet. An Atlanta-based company called Piana Technology showed me its E/SMART ecosystem, a “high-performance non-woven fiber technology” made from recycled materials that can replace the polyurethane (PU) foam found in everything from mattresses and car seats to furniture and insulation.

“I don’t think people fully comprehend the damage we’re doing to the environment,” Andrea Piana, the company’s CEO told me over Zoom. Piana said by just replacing the PU foam in many mattresses, his company could help offset as much as 3 billion pounds of CO2 every year.

“The modern world is reliant on materials of the past. If we want to maximize our human potential, we must develop new technologies that adapt alongside us,” Piana added.

Piana E/SMART fiber will be in smart sleep products at one of the nation’s largest retailers as earlier as later this month, with pricing and more details to come.

Targus Cypress Hero: Trackable Backpack

Thanks to the built-in location tracker in Targus' new backpack, you can locate it using the Find My app, which could come in especially hand if someone steals it.

Targus also unveiled an eco-friendly backpack made from recycled materials on Monday – with “Find My” technology built in. Thanks to the built-in location tracker, you can find the backpack using the Find My app, which could come in especially handy if someone steals it. Conversely, if you misplace your phone, you can press a button in the backpack to ping it. Targus says the updated version of its  Cypress Hero comes with a replaceable battery that’s chargeable via USB, and that it will be available in spring/summer 2022 for $149.

 Bicycle Playing Cards NFT

NFT’s – or “non-fungible tokens” are having their breakthrough moment — from curiosity’s to commonplace — a way to own something no one else in the whole entire world does — and then display it on your new fancy OLED screens or smart digital frames. There’s a ton of buzz around Bicycle Playing Cards NFT drop. In December Bicycle went back to the future with the launch of its first-ever NFT “Genesis Collection” featuring a deck of cards transformed 1000 years into the future … one of the first times we watched something we all have in our homes today evolve overnight to become more relevant than ever for generations to come — I mean just imaging being the only person in the entire to own the Ace of Space or Queen of Hearts … maybe a Joker — so incredibly cool. 

Anker’s Latest Portable Power Stations

Staying charged up is more critical than ever, and Anker just released their latest lineup, including this 535 Portable Power Station, which totally caught my eye because we relied on these to drive across the country twice last year. They’re also great power up our lives during storms, wildfires, and what’s particularly special about this one is that you charge up several devices at once, with AC outlets, fast-charging, all varieties of USB and even an auto-outlet. The device itself takes just over two hours to power it up, and it has a 6-times longer lifespan than industry standard. Availability: 4 JAN 2022 Price: $499

What was the most intersting part of CES 2022 for you? Be sure to let us know in the comments section!