CES 2019: When Low Tech Beats High Tech

CES is known for being a high-tech love-fest, where approximately 180,000 strangers gather to gawk at geeky gadgets—some of which will never see the bright light of day shining outside the Las Vegas Convention Center. CES 2019 was no exception. There was more new, high-tech stuff than any single human being could see, even over the course of the six days this human being was in attendance. Interestingly enough, though, two low-cost, low-tech items designed to defeat much more sophisticated pieces of smart, high-tech gear caught my attention as much as any of the other flashier, higher-tech devices sprawled across what felt like (to my feet, anyway) a bazillion square feet of convention floor space: the Smartē Mute+ and the TV Jockstrap.

For want of a better description, the Smartē Mute+ is a 1.19-inch tall, 3.75-inch round cap that's specifically designed to fit on top of most current versions of the Amazon Echo, Echo Plus, and Echo Dot smart speakers. (Sadly, it does not work with the 3rd generation Echo Dot.) But the Mute+ isn't a fashion accessory. It's a sound-cancellation device that, when installed on top of an Echo and turned on, "cancels any voice or noise, near or far, from the smart speaker's microphones." The Mute+ is battery operated (three AAAs are included), features a low-battery indicator light, and includes a clear outer edge that allows the Echo's light ring to be visible. The Mute+'s built-in timer can be set for up to one hour, during which time six LEDs on top of the device remain lit to assure you that the Mute+'s cancellation technology is engaged. According to the company, the Mute+ can remain on the top of the Echo device even after the timer has finished (or the Mute+ has been manually turned off) because it only affects the Echo's microphones when it's active.

The Mute+ is available in black or white directly from the company's website for $29.99. As of this writing, the Mute+ is on sale for $24.99—but no word on how long the deal will last.

On the tech (and naming) scale, the TV Jockstrap is about as low as you can go. It also goes about as low as you can go when you strap it around your TV in order to completely black out the annoying—or game-spoiling—crawl that's ever-present on news and sports broadcasts. The inventor of the TV Jockstrap, Richard Pisani, told me he and his wife were tired of seeing the scores of other games sprawled across the bottom of the TV screen when they were watching sporting events that had been recorded on their DVR. In addition to being annoying, the crawl would sometimes inform them of the results of games they had also recorded but had yet to watch.

The ingeniously clever TV Jockstrap is a soft, adjustable, black, elastic strap that can wrap around the bottom or top of the TV screen. Out of the package, the TV Jockstrap is said to be capable of fitting flat-screen TVs "up to 75-inch class" and can be cut (if desired) to eliminate excess length when used with smaller TVs. It's stupidly simple and yet incredibly effective. It has a low-tech price, too. Currently available only from Amazon, the TV Jockstrap has a $16.99 list price. Also as of this writing, the TV Jockstrap is on sale for $12.99—but no word on how long the deal will be available.