CES 2013 Small Business IT Highlights

Last week, retailers and tech enthusiasts descended on Las Vegas to check out what gadget makers have in store for the coming year.

Although dubbed the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the event plays host to plenty of devices that are equally effective in a business setting as they are in the home. Here are the highlights for small business and SOHO tech users.

Panasonic Tablets Get Tough

In the PC market, Panasonic has carved out a nice little niche for itself with the company’s Toughbook line of ruggedized notebooks. Now the company is doing it again with tablets.

During CES, the company debuted two new tablets, the Toughpad FZ-G1, a 10-inch Windows Pro model, and the Toughpad JT-B1, a 7-inch Android slate that runs Ice Cream Sandwich. Both tablets offer the toughened exterior features that have made Toughbooks a common sight in outdoor work environments, construction sites and other tech-unfriendly locations.

While chunkier than the vast majority of today’s sleek tablets, the new Toughpads offer bonuses like user-replaceable batteries and the capability to survive a fall (or a solid whack) largely unscathed. But those benefits come at a price.

When it hits selves in March, Panasonic’s 10-inch Windows 8 Pro Toughpad FZ-G1 will carry a whopper of a price tag: $2,899. The 7-inch Android-powered Toughpad JT-B1, which ships next month, starts with a very un-tablet-like price of $1,199.

Windows 8 Pro Choices Abound

Now that Windows 8 has officially launched, small business IT buyers are faced with daunting choices.

Tablet or touch-enabled notebook? How about a convertible or a plain, workaday laptop? Whatever your business needs, there is likely to be Windows 8 system that fits the bill.

Jay Paulus, Microsoft’s Windows small business marketing lead, has a good roundup of portable Windows 8 Pro systems for small and midsized business (SMB) that made the rounds at CES. They include the innovative Lenovo ThinkPad Helix, an 11.6-inch convertible with a “rip and flip” screen, HP’s EliteBook Revolve and the aforementioned Panasonic Toughpad FZ-G1.

HP Slims Budget Laptops

Need an affordable laptop minus the bulk? HP unveiled two new AMD-powered Sleekbooks during CES that put a new, space-saving spin on budget notebooks.

Starting at $479.99, the HP Pavilion Sleekbook houses an AMD A-Series APU, a 15.6-inch diagonal high-definition (HD) display and the company’s TrueVision HD Webcam technology for video conferencing. Upgrade to the TouchSmart Sleekbook and Windows 8’s touch-enabled features come to life.

The new 15.6-inch HP Pavilion Sleekbook went on sale on January 13. The TouchSmart edition hits store shelves on February 3rd with a starting price of $649.99.

Ooma Aims for Small Offices

VoIP specialist Ooma expands from its SOHO roots with a new affordable offering aimed at small businesses.

Ooma Office, as the company’s new product is fittingly called, focuses on providing big-business calling features at small-business prices. The service costs $19.99 per line per month and includes unlimited calling in the U.S. and Canada.

Features include virtual numbers, extension dialing, music-on-hold, ring groups, conference bridges, and a virtual receptionist that can answer and route incoming calls differently depending on a business’ hours. Ooma Office supports up to 10 lines and five phone extensions.

Small business owners also get a reprieve from expensive wiring jobs. The product supports Ooma Linx remote phone jacks, which use DECT 6.0 technology for wireless installations.

Ooma Office goes on sale next quarter. Prices start at $249.99 for a starter pack that includes the Ooma Office Base Station and two Ooma Linx remote phone jacks that support up to three phone extensions.

Biscotti XS Video Conferencing

If the webcam on your laptop or tablet no longer cuts it, it might be time to consider a dedicated video conferencing system.

Biscotti rolled out new hardware and services offerings at CES that bring HDTV-quality video conferencing to homes and offices. The company’s goal, according to CEO Dr. Matthew B. Shoemake, is to take the complexity out of making video calls and meetings.

“Video calling should be just as simple as voice calling. The Biscotti and MyBiscotti Cloud Services we are demonstrating at CES provide our customers with a convenient and comfortable video calling experience, allowing our customers to make and receive video calls as easily as picking up the phone or sending a text,” said Shoemake in a press statement.

The Biscotti XS platform supports Google, allowing it to operate with practically any computer or mobile device with Google Video Chat or the Android Talk App. MyBiscotti Cloud Services extend SIP and PSTN support to the platform, as well as video mail, multiparty calling, remote access and advanced video recording and sharing capabilities.

The new Biscotti XS TV Cam uses a dual-band, dual-antenna setup and Multiple In/Multiple Out (MIMO) technology for lag- and stutter-free HDTV video over a Wi-Fi connection (an Ethernet option is also available). HDMI connectivity and a keyboard remote round out its feature set.

Biscotti XS will be available in March. Prices start at $299.

EMC and Lenovo Team for Small Business Storage

When the leader in enterprise storage and a premiere business PC maker announce a small business IT partnership, chances are good that the small businesses technology landscape is about to shift in a major way.

At CES this year, EMC and Lenovo showed off their new joint venture, called LenovoEMC, which will bring a host of new server and network storage solutions to market this year. On the storage front, the new company will employ tech from an EMC subsidiary that has a long history of small NAS systems: Iomega (now LenovoEMC).

LenovoEMC used the tradeshow to give the industry a sneak peek at what the 2013 will offer for small business IT departments.

Storage products include all-new, virtualization-friendly ix2-300d and ix4-300d desktop models as well as high-capacity px2-300d, px4-300d and px6-300d NAS units that support SSD drives and business-grade features like asynchronous replication.

New rackmount models this year include the px12-400r and px12-450r, which puts enterprise capabilities like storage area networking (SAN) within the grasp of SMBs, remote offices and departmental networks.

Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Internetnews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

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