My 7 Favorite Gadgets of the Year

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?

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):