Every year I look back at all of the products I’ve tried and then select the best ones I reviewed of the year. As a longtime hardware designer and reviewer, I love this stuff. From the Apple iPhone 4S to the best coffee maker, cameras and household gadgets, here’s what I consider to be the best tech of 2011.
This is first in a series, to be continued tomorrow. Notice all the prices listed here are likely now much lower due to the passing of the Christmas holiday. Let’s go.
Best household gadget – The Nest Thermostat is a stunning product from Nest, a startup created by a former Apple exec who clearly had the offbeat idea to bring Apple’s aesthetic to the mind-blowing and exciting world of — well, thermostats. Before you yawn, notice the Nest Thermostat reduces energy consumption — it learns your habits, learns when you’re home and away, knowing the weather at your location, and remembers your setback preferences at night. If it knew when you were sleeping, awake, bad or good, it’d be danged close to Santa.
It uses WiFi, sports a large circular LCD display, motion sensors and a powerful processor. Priced at $250 but cheaper with holiday deals, find it at Nest.
Best household appliance – The Breville Dual Boiler Espresso Machine is a breakthrough for coffee drinkers the world over. Well healed coffee drinkers, that is. It is able to create, and I testify to this, espresso drinks equal to those from the best Italian barrista-operated machines. And the machine is t easier to use than most you’ve ever tried. (Prices vary, $1200 is SRP. Shop around.)
Best Smartphone – The Apple iPhone 4S has an all-new 8MP camera that shoots excellent stills, plus HD video and Siri, impressive voice recognition technology that understands much of what you ask it. A fun thing to play with, for sure. Check out Siri’s answer to the meaning of life. Aside from that, its answers are far more accurate and helpful than voice-recognition assistants I’ve used on Android and other phones. With its dozens of other improvements the Apple iPhone 4S is easily the most versatile, easiest to use smartphone of any on the market. I prefer it to anything else in its class or price range. It’s about $300 with a new contract, from AT&T (editor: not advised in San Francisco Bay Area), Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile.
Photo Credit: Apple
Best Android smartphone – Android phones are a bit rougher around the edges than Apple iPhones, but for geeks like me, they’re a bit more fun in all their complexity and fancy specs. The best of the bunch: the Samsung Galaxy S II with its large, gorgeous AMOLED display, light weight, 4G speed (where available) and ultra thin form factor.
Photo Credit: AT&T
Best Camera – The best camera, with price being no object, is the Leica M9. It costs upwards of 5K — not bad, actually, for pros who want a full frame 18MP sensor in a rangefinder body. Praised by pros, it brings back the essence of serious photography when photographers took time and care was taken to create memorable images. Its amazing optics and Kodak sensor create images unparalleled in quality. Compared to a DSLR, you do have to sacrifice auto-focusing and a slower response time in exchange for a lighter and more compact camera with these capabilities. But if you’re a photographer, I bet you’ll be carrying it everywhere.
Best Pocket Camera – The Canon PowerShot Elph 300 HS is one of the best choices for a simple automatic ultra-compact, point-and-shoot camera with an attractive price. It’s one of the thinnest digital cameras with a 24mm wide-angle lens and 5x zoom ($149).
Photo Credit: Canon
Best In-Car Auto GPS – Nothing I’ve tried has matched the GPS in Audi’s 2012 A7. The huge display uses Google Earth to create realistic images of the terrain, even showing buildings. It’s always connected to the Internet to assess traffic and adjust your route in real time. The bad news is the car costs almost $70,000. I’m current trying out the much more affordable 2012 Acura TL and it also has an excellent GPS system with lots of other technology that I will report on soon.
Photo Credit: Audi
Best iPhone GPS App – While Android phones have a built-in GPS with turn-by-turn spoken directions, the iPhone has none. But the Navigon app (available for Android, Windows Phone 7.5 Mango also) makes up for that and brings the full functionality of a stand-alone personal navigator to the iPhone. It works in both landscape and portrait modes, displays maps in 2D and 3D and offers spoken turn-by-turn directions. Costs $59.99 plus $19.99 per year for traffic, from the folks at Navigon.
Photo Credit: Navigon
Best Phone Device – Verizon’s 4G MiFi credit-card size wireless adapters from Novatel and Samsung bring Verizon’s speedy 4G network to our computers and iPads. The speed is almost 10 times faster than 3G (20 Mbps download and 7 Mbps upload), and it is now widely available in hundreds of cities, including my hometown of San Diego. In my testing, websites downloaded in two to three seconds. Love it!
Photo Credit: Samsung
Both of the products are similar in size and performance. The Samsung has more logical indicators, but occasionally dropped its connection. The Novatel has a cryptic display that’s hard to remember, but didn’t drop its connection as often. ($50 for the Novatel and $100 for the Samsung with a new plan at $50 per month for 5GB of data Verizon.com).
Watch tomorrow for the second half of my series, which will include the best in tablets, notebook computers and more. So glad to be part of aNewDomain. Happy New Year. A version of this piece appeared in my regular column in the San Diego Daily Transcript, where I am a technology correspondent.