Hands-on with the crazy projects from Samsung's secret lab

The biggest surprise? They could actually be useful.

Just like most major companies, Samsung now has a secret incubation lab of its very own, dubbed Creative Lab. Last week the company revealed it'd be showing off its first batch of projects here at CES, so we hustled over to check them out as soon as we could. Samsung had three concepts on the floor: Rink, a hand-motion controller for the Gear VR; Welt, a smart belt that tracks your waistline; and TipTalk, a strap that can be placed on any watch for smartwatch-esque features.

After trying each of the projects out briefly, I was most struck by how useful they seemed. Samsung has a bad habit of developing software and hardware that are more gimmicky than truly practical -- but that wasn't the case here. Rink, which is made up of two hand units and an additional sensor atop the Gear VR, is an intriguing solution for the virtual hand-tracking dilemma. It was comfortable in my hands, and it managed to track each of my fingers individually as I shot down bad guys in an Iron Man–esque Gear VR demo. I haven't tried the new Oculus and Vive Pre controllers, but it definitely offered more finger articulation than I've seen from any other VR controller.

I also appreciated the fact that Welt looks indistinguishable from a normal belt. There's no unwieldy box of electronics -- all the brains are contained near the buckle. The straps have no tech in them and feel like any normal belt. I honestly didn't notice much of a difference from the belt I was wearing when I tried it on.

Unfortunately, I didn't have it on long enough for any significant tracking to take place, but in theory it could be useful if you wanted to keep an eye on your waistline. On top of tracking how much your belt size changes, it can also detect belt tension, how long you've been sitting and how much you've walked.

Finally, TipTalk is the sort of thing that could be useful to someone who loves her current watch but wants the features of a smartwatch. It's basically just a strap that can be attached to any watch. TipTalk buzzes to make you aware of incoming notifications, it tracks your activity and, most intriguingly, it lets you hear phone calls just by holding your finger up to your ear.

It uses bone conduction to make that possible, the same technology that Google Glass employs to handle audio. The feature definitely works -- I was able to hear a call while wearing the TipTalk -- but the volume was too low to be functional in the noisy CES environment. Still, if Samsung's lab folks iron out the kinks, that alone could be a killer feature.

All of these projects are just concepts, but elements of them might head into future products. It's the sort of freewheeling innovation Samsung needs if it wants to keep up with the rest of the tech world. Don't forget that the company blamed its current mobile woes on its lack of software expertise. If it wants to improve, Samsung needs to experiment more.