Ten CES tips for first timers

It’s hard to believe we’re within a month of CES again. January’s event for 2014 was my first trip there and having scoured the web for first-timer guides, I thought I’d use my experience to write my own.

The first thing to note about the Consumer Electronics Show is that it’s vast. Extremely vast. You’ll need all four days, and if you’re attending with friends or colleagues, so much the better as you can split up and cover more ground. Sadly, I’m not attending in 2015, but the feeling is that this is one big conference trip you can make every five years, as I expect the technology will evolve gradually rather than seeing big step changes every 12 months.

So I’ve racked my brains, read my blogs from the trip itself and put together a top 10 of tips for first timers. I hope you find it useful and do let me know your thoughts.

1. Wear comfortable footwear

My pedometer read 22 miles after four days of scouring CES. Your shoes need to be super-comfortable, sturdy and worn-in a little – new shoes might start to rub. Regardless, be prepared to walk. And walk, and walk some more, and then more again. Each evening my legs and feet were shot – a bath after each day to take the weight off your feet may help.

2. Bring some moisturising chapstick

What?! Are you serious? A bloke recommending lipstick? Oh yes; Vegas’ weather is mild during the day, cold at night but the air is super dry. You won’t believe how quickly it will dry out your skin. For that reason also, bring the odd jumper or sweater as it can get nippy at night.

3. Use the CES Daily magazine to find restaurants

In the Vegas guide section of the excellent CES daily magazine, I found a number of recommended restaurants with budgets and ratings included. This was invaluable. You’ll be tired at the end of each day at CES, so being able to plan ahead is pretty neat.

The best from 2014’s visit were Strip Burger, McCalls at Stratosphere Hotel and my favourite of all, Mon Ami Gabi at Paris Paris. The latter does a truly sumptious breakfast; try the grapefruit and pancakes!

4. Research then revisit

My colleague Dave and I wandered around for the first two days, splitting up to try and cover more ground, as well as find areas that we found personally interesting. Then we used the last two days to revisit exhibitors in more detail. For instance, the BMW area was very interesting as they were giving away test drives in their new i3 electric car. But as it wasn’t a primary interest for our research, we moved on, only revisiting and talking to companies we wanted to follow-up on.

5. Your smartphone battery will last a day

One common theme to the guides I’d read last year was that you needed to bring along lots of portable battery chargers to keep your smartphone alive, such as HP’s Power Pack. However, unless your smartphone’s battery is at the end of its life, you don’t need such things. If you’re glued to your phone while at CES, you’re missing out. Sure, take photos, but you don’t need thousands of images to sort through later. I came home with 550 photos and videos, including all the Vegas sights too. So get your head out of your device, enjoy the show and charge up at night.

6. Wi-Fi is hard to come by

A definite weak point of CES. There is Wi-Fi around but none that was usable all the time. Any that were genuinely free were probably scavenged so quickly that other users couldn’t take advantage of it.

This year, outside in the car park, cloud documentation company Box were doing some presentations in a large marquee. As their site was away from the main exhibition halls, their Wi-Fi was running quite nicely and I dropped by a couple of times to get online. Difficult for us foreign visitors without costly data plans to switch on.

7. Stay for the week – or longer!

If you’ve managed to justify the business trip to Vegas, it would be shameful to fly in for the event and then straight home again. We flew out on a Sunday and set up some meetings either side of CES with our suppliers to make it as worthwhile as possible. At the end of the week, my wife flew in for 48 hours so we could enjoy Sin City together. There’s plenty to do; The Gun Store being a real highlight!

8. There are lots of headphones and smartphone covers at CES

With so much super-cool gadgetry to take in, you might be thinking that you can spend all four days in just one hall. In some ways, this is true. But there is a lot of dross. Without wishing to sound too harsh, there were dozens of Chinese manufacturers showing off things like headphones and smartphone covers.

The problem is that at CES, none of the groundwork is done for you. You have to pound the carpet (and tarmac) to find it. Sure, this is part of the charm, and there is the CES online planner. But you will find yourself admiring lots of headphones.

9. It can get busy

Some aspects of CES were crazy busy. There are shuttle buses, but the pre-trip warnings I’d been given held true – the queues were almighty. We stayed at Circus Circus, a couple of blocks from the Vegas Convention Center and a 20 minute walk. This probably explains why my feet hurt at the end of the week, but walking was quicker. Check your hotel on a map and figure out your best options for the week.

10. The swag ain’t great

If you’re thinking you can walk away from CES at the end of the week, pockets sagging under the weight of the latest kit, think again. Freebies are limited to the odd pen and notebook. Even USB sticks are rare, given the numbers of attendees. It’s all about the tech and I guess by not giving too much away for free, the exhibitors can lower their costs which means free registration for all next time round.

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