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My 7 Favorite Gadgets of the Year

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The year is coming to a close, and I can think of no other 12-month period that saw such amazing growth in the scope of mobile gadgets. Of course, this time next year, I’m likely to repeat myself because mobile processors in phones are getting more powerful just as mobile broadband networks are revving up speeds. It’s hard to imagine it was only five years ago that I first experienced 3G data speeds, and today I can surf the web on the go at least ten times faster!

Since I get to play with gadgets on a regular basis, I thought I’d summarize a brief list of my gadgets of the year. While companies often send me devices to review then return, I’ve personally purchased all the gadgets on this list. Of course, we all have different needs and device requirements, so my faves are likely to vary from yours. Be sure to let me know if I missed any that are on your list!

Apple (s aapl) iPad. I bought the 32 GB, Wi-Fi model on the first day of availability and have absolutely enjoyed this device. My son was so enamored with it he saved up, bought his own 16 GB iPad and tag-teamed with me in an early video review.

Aside from the excellent touch interface and all-day battery life, apps for the slate turn it into a multi-purpose device. For example, I decided the iPad can take the place of my beloved Kindle 2 (s amzn), which I sold just days after using the iPad. The iPad can be my Kindle, my Netflix (s nflx) screen or my video gaming device.

Google (s goog) Nexus One. When Google announced this 1 GHz Snapdragon device with a new version of Android in January, I knew I had to have it. In fact, I ordered the device at the full $529 price tag while standing in a taxi cab line at the Consumer Electronics Show. The Nexus One arrived at my hotel and I shared my first impressions on video. While so many other Android devices have appeared this year, many with better features in one way or another, none have swayed me from my Nexus One. Thanks to the custom ROM community, I’ve likely flashed the device a hundred times or more this year, gaining new features or interface tweaks along the way. That kind of flexibility, combined with still relevant specifications, and performance-boosting updates direct from Google, have given me a year of enjoyment like no other smartphone I’ve owned prior.

Microsoft (msft) Kinect. I was getting tired of having my kids beat me in video games. Since I’m still in shape, relatively speaking, getting a Kinect sensor for our Xbox helped reverse that trend, and I have video proof that I now reign supreme, at least when it comes to Kinect games. Microsoft’s new gadget that lets you be the game controller is almost magical; it’s technology done in a way that’s intuitive and nearly transparent. Not only does it impress me with gaming, but Kinect is already spawning new virtual methods of interacting with computing interfaces. I can’t wait to see where programmers take the Kinect in 2011.

A DIY home automation system. I wanted to make my home smarter in 2010 but rather than buy a pre-made system or have it professionally installed, I went the do-it-yourself route. Starting with a small computer roughly the size of the current Apple TV, I added light switches and a thermostat that can be controlled intelligently and remotely. For example, I programmed my system to turn on the outside lights 15 minutes before sundown each day. That time changes daily, but my home is smart enough to know that and adjust. Thanks to mobile broadband and apps for both iOS and Android devices, I can manually control the lights and temperature from practically anywhere. Next year, I plan to add remote sensors to my garage doors and a webcam or two. With all of the gadget deliveries here, that might help Fed Ex and UPS!

Samsung Galaxy Tab. Although my iPad ranks high, a very recent purchase of a Galaxy Tab with integrated 3G may rank even higher. No, the Android interface and experience isn’t quite as fluid as the iPad, and there’s a wider breadth of good software for the Apple device, but the Galaxy Tab holds its own. Even better: I find I’m taking it everywhere because it weighs just 13 ounces and has a 7-inch display, roughly half the size of my iPad. Samsung has done a great job customizing some of the more important apps too; email, calendar and contacts all look spectacular on the screen. While the camera sensors aren’t top-notch, they’re usable for standard images and video chatting.

Canon S95. Last year, I purchased a solid Canon DSLR which takes outstanding pictures and even high-definition video, but I wanted to travel lighter this year. However, I wasn’t willing to give up too much image quality and control over my pictures, so it took me months to replace my bulkier camera. I eventually ended up with the pocketable Canon S95, and I wish I hadn’t waited so long. The large aperture (f/2) of this pint-sized point-and-shoot enables outstanding low-light images. It has a fully automatic mode, but offers many of the same controls I had on my DSLR. There are even modes for panoramic and HDR images. Carrying the S95 is like having a full-featured DSLR in my pocket.

Apple MacBook Air. After years of toting ultra-portable notebooks and netbooks, the newest Apple laptop was a breath of fresh air. It’s not cheap, but the improvements brought by flash storage, higher resolution screen and greater battery life are well worth it for me. Thanks to the SD card slot, I can quickly grab images from my Canon S95, which uses a standard memory card. For some, the Air won’t be a primary laptop, but it easily meets my needs. I’ve even edited and encoded high-definition video without a hiccup on the light and thin Air, so it will definitely be my device of choice when I travel to CES in two weeks.

Which is the best? If pressed to pick my personal favorite among these, it would actually be the Galaxy Tab. That may surprise many, but the device offers a similar experience to the iPad while gaining a level of portability. The Tab works as a 3G mobile hotspot, so I no longer need my Verizon MiFi (s vz) — a super-useful device that debuted last year. In fact, since I bought my Tab, I’ve only used my Nexus One smartphone for the occasional voice call, which is very telling. The Tab is more useful than my handset, thanks to the bigger display, yet it still goes everywhere with me. Maybe I need to look at a cheap prepaid handset for voice calls in 2011?

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30 Responses to “My 7 Favorite Gadgets of the Year”

  1. Great article and excellent comments.
    I have been tossing and turning since second week of December about whether to get the MacBook Air and buy the portable 500g drive. Or the Macbook Pro. Love the portability of the Air though. But I use a lot of contracts and not sold on using the cloud to store my docs.
    Also, I am on Sprint and currently use the Samsung Galaxy Epic 4G. Love this phone. The Galaxy Tab just seems like a bigger version of my phone and I was set on the Ipad for my morning Starbucks run. But after reading this article, I will take a look again at the Tab.

  2. ok left vine

    Your son Tyler is really cool. (I think he may have found a job after all). He really seems to know his gadgets (at least he knows what he likes and doesn’t like about them…and hey..what else is a review about anyway, right).

    It is also nice to get the perspective from other consumer age groups.

    I would enjoy seeing more father / son tag team reviews.

    (… and a wi-fi only Galaxy Tab)

  3. I too got the tab and love it. I paid big bucks for it but got one with phone capabilities that work on the USA carriers and rooted it. Not a perfect device but it is all I need. Very impressive device. Kevin will you hack yours to enable the phone feature? What specific case did you buy for your tab?

  4. I’m a casual tech fan, so I’m probably in the minority here. But I’ve never even heard of the Galaxy Tab until a few days ago, yet everyone seems to think it’s even better than the ipad. Says how amazing the Apple marketing is.

    Not too important a comment, I know. But, figured I’d toss it out there.

    • Actually, it’s a very important comment as it hits upon the marketing challenge that not only Samsung, but other tablet competitors do and will face. Regardless, if you get a chance to play with a Tab, I say go for it. It’s not the “best” tablet for everyone but there are some pros when compared to the iPad. Some cons too, but mobile tech is all about tradeoffs. ;)

  5. Final comment from the parent to the kid: “now you gotta get a job! … Nice job”. Seems like the kid earned his next couple of devices and some downloads too with that video. Nice work both.

    • You’re right – I’d never have an $8,300 laptop on my list. ;) Just kidding – given that we have different needs, I’m not at all surprised by the variance in our lists. Have a great holiday and thanks for sharing your list of winning tech! :)

      • I suppose I should disclose that I would never in my right mind BUY a $8300 laptop – DP Xeon, netbook and the wonders of Windows remote desktop do the same for $$$ less :-)

        Merry Christmas to you too Kevin! Hopefully I’ll catch up with you finally in Vegas in two weeks!

  6. Here is a challenge Kevin …
    If you find it interesting – test a 5″ android. Currently that is only the Dell Streak which you can customize (ask Jenn how) with 2.2. But Acer … Acer is talking about 4.8″ Android in April. You must have your connections to help with that :)

    Anyway – my point – consider the magical size to be 4.8-5″. Its big yet pocketable and you can still use it for voice. 7″ is cool but not completely mobile.

    And the final words – is my prediction to you from a year ago. You were skeptic in your reply on these forums but I want to reaffirm my statement … by 2013 we are all going to be using a 4″ that turn into 7-8″ when unfolded. I think we have seen glimpses of that this year.

    • Challenge accepted, Tal! Well, once I get my hands on a Streak, that is. ;) I’ll swing by the Dell booth at CES and spent some time with one for sure. And I think you’re on to something. Right now, the trend is getting smartphones in the hands and pockets of consumers. But after that, screen size and usability may dictate the next change: potentially towards larger screens on devices that are still portable. Will that be folding displays like you suggest? Maybe, but I don’t think it will happen that fast. Will be exciting to see the market develop though!

    • Tal,

      I have the iPad, Streak and the GTab.
      The GTab is my go to mobility device and has completely changed how I use my other devices. Like for Kevin and others my smartphones is now almost exclusively used for voice, text and media when my other hand is occupied. And I have DJSteve’s excellent Tom on my Streak.
      To me the GTab is the magical size.
      Completely agree with you on the folding screen device, but feels like it’s at least 2 years out.

  7. interesting. I have almost the same colpection of gadgets. Macbook air (running windows through vmware), galaxy tab and htc desire for me, while my wife gets the ipad and an iphone 4. The MBA would have to be my fave, with the tab a close second. I use the macbook for all my work (my only computer), the tab for surfing and reading,and my desire for calls or content if I dont have the others with me. Works brilliantly for me

    typing this on my tab!

    • I use the Air for all of my work too, minus some video / podcasting stuff on my iMac. But I can so much with the Tab in more places, so I’m ranking it higher on my personal list for now. But you can’t go wrong with an Air if it meets your needs. :)

  8. I also picked up the Ipad when it first was released and still use it. But since getting the Galaxy Tab a couple weeks ago. The Tab has also been my go to device and use it more than my phone to check email, tweeter, use the Navigation, and browsers. It is so portable that I can put in my back pocket with the Scocshe case I just picked up. The Tab has also become my first choice mobile device. Works great when using Word, Excel, Email, and to communicate with others while working at a table on the go, using BT keyboard.

    • Totally agree with you: the added portability is actually a feature to me. While I miss the better media options and app selection on the iPad (haven’t used it since getting the Tab), the best tablet is the one you have with you. ;)

      I haven’t tried using the Tab with a BT keyboard, so I may dust off the old folding Stowaway unit to try it. Now that I have a case for the Tab, I can prop it up which lends itself to using a wireless keyboard.

      • Rodfather

        I tried it with the old ThinkOutside Sierra Stowaway Bluetooth keyboard and it works fine. Also with the Apple Wireless keyboard, which feels great. The Kensington bluetooth mouse works too, but it’s awkward using a pointing device on a touchscreen OS. BTW, the Verizon Tab doesn’t support Bluetooth HID pairing for some reason.

  9. The Galaxy Tab is certainly the most successful so far challenger to the Apple iPad, but at this point iPad seem to fend it off when it comes to their respective customer satisfaction levels. Your readers may be interested in our ongoing analysis of Samsung Galaxy Tablet customer’ reviews. We also compared their ratings to those of iPad.
    We specialize in automated aggregation and analysis of customer reviews posted online, mining their opinions and quantifying qualitative information found there.