As another year is coming to a close as we head quickly into a busy holiday season. This has been a very busy year for the tech industry. Advances have put more powerful computers in our pockets, better cameras in our bags, and another wave of gaming systems that crank out even more FPS than we could ever ask for.
2012 has thus far been a wild ride. The release of Windows 8 in addition to an increasingly strong tablet market has changed the way many analysts think about the future of computing. One can only guess what 2013 will bring, but for now we have a stunning selection of gadgets to choose from this holiday season.
Here are my top pics for 2012.
Best Full-Size Tablet: Apple iPad Fourth Generation
The fourth generation iPad features a stunning A6X processor and hits all the points of a solid tablet. Where it might be a toss-up between the Nexus 10 and the iPad, the edge in this one comes down to sheer numbers. With over 250,000 apps made specifically for the tablet form factor in iOS, it’s hard to deny that Apple has a leg up in terms of app support on the tablet.
The Microsoft Surface also came close here, but ongoing issues with performance and an inherent manufacturing problem with the touch keyboards makes it a gadget I wouldn’t personally recommend until the next generation is available.
I’m Android user at home, and while I do enjoy many of the exclusive features on my Android tablet, the available apps on iOS make the fourth generation iPad my pick for 2012.
Best Budget Tablet: Google Nexus 7
The Nexus 7 was Google’s first official hardware entry into the tablet market. Recent revisions in late 2012 have only improved on what began as a stunning budget tablet. On the specs sheet, it blows away anything else in its price range, and the fact that it is supported directly by Google only makes it that much more appealing.
The iPad mini is too expensive to be considered a budget tablet. At over $320, it falls in the same price category as other full-featured tablets such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab. I wouldn’t count it out as a favorite choice during the holidays, but it just doesn’t quite match the value of the Nexus 7.
Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD is also a good choice, but many users find the Amazon branch of Android too limiting and focused on content consumption rather than creation.
Best Smartphone: Google Nexus 4
I had a very hard time determining a victor in this category. I’ve been using the LG Optimus G (a cousin to the Nexus 4) for the past week and feel that if it came with Android Jelly Bean it would easily take this pole position due to its inclusion of LTE and microSD.
That said, the Nexus 4 delivers the best Android has to offer with a stunning display, camera, and a processor (Qualcomm Snapdragon™ S4) which is boasted to be the fastest found in any smartphone today.
The iPhone 5 may well become the best-selling phone out of any released in 2012, but with iOS and Android coming so close in terms of capabilities and app support (for smartphones, at least) the edge has to go to the device with double on-board RAM and a better off-contract price tag.
The Samsung Galaxy S III deserves some honorable mention here, as well. It was the best-selling smartphone of Q3 2012, and is a feature-packed monster that is sure to maintain its significance well into 2013.
Best Laptop: Apple MacBook Pro 15″ with Retina
I have to give the title of the best laptop to the new flagship of Apple’s portable lineup. The 15″ MacBook Pro with Retina Display is a stunning representation of clever engineering coupled with an artist’s vision. There are plenty of excellent Windows-based PCs on the market which can boast better specs, but these plastic systems pale in comparison when the 15″ Retina display comes into the picture.
Early graphics stutter might cause pause to any early adopter, and the premium price could cause even the most liberal spender to consider other options. It all comes down to offering the most in terms of pixel density and portability. This lightweight and extremely pixel dense laptop is undoubtedly going to be the one PC OEMs will be fighting against in 2013.
Best Gaming System: Falcon Northwest Tiki
When the term “boutique computer” comes to mind, you might be thinking about overpriced mid-range systems that feature the best design with specs that would have been impressive a few years ago. This isn’t the case with Falcon Northwest and its new Tiki system. This 4-inch wide desktop sits on a natural granite stone base to keep it from being knocked over.
This slim design doesn’t come with any sacrifice in performance. An Intel 3rd Generation Core i7 processor is coupled with a series 600 NVIDIA GeForce graphics card to deliver class-leading performance in a small package. Each Tiki is configured to the user’s desired specs with up to 16 GB of RAM and three hard drives (2x solid-state and 1x hard disk drive).
It may not be the most budget-friendly gaming system on the market, but it certainly packs enough of a punch to keep the player happy for several years.
Best Standard Desktop: Apple iMac (2012)
It’s difficult not to be impressed with the design of the latest iMac. With an edge thickness of just 5mm, it’s hard to imagine it would have any actual performance to speak of. The iMac actually does deliver in this area, and with the Fusion Drive, a performance level similar to that of SSD can be achieved without sacrificing storage capacity.
The market appears to be shifting to all-in-ones. The Dell XPS One 27″ is another great candidate for the top spot in this category. One major advantage of the Dell system is an integrated touchscreen which promises to improve the overall Windows 8 experience.
For me, it’s hard to look mast the clever design of the new iMac.
Best DSLR: Canon 5D Mark III
The Canon 5D Mark II changed the way an industry thought about DSLR cameras. The 5D Mark III is a much-anticipated upgrade to a camera that introduced video to DSLR. Now, video is a feature most users expect to see in a camera. Commercials, television shows, and even some feature films have been shot on Canon EOS hardware, emphasizing the advantages of having a good sensor coupled with a series of excellent lenses. Traditional camcorders available at consumer prices leave you stuck with the lens that came with the camera. For a similar price to that of a decent consumer camcorder, you can enjoy a range of different shooting possibilities thanks to the advances made in the EOS line.
You might be wondering what makes the Canon 5D Mark III better than the more reasonably priced 5D Mark II. Quicker autofocus is key to recording solid video and taking better photographs. Manual focus is great when you have a controlled subject, but any sports photographer will tell you that quick autofocus and improved burst shooting is vital to capturing the perfect shot.
41 cross-type focus points, 61 individual focus points, integrated HDR, much higher ISO capability, and a 6 FPS burst rate makes the Canon 5D Mark III my top pick of 2012.
Arguably, the DSLR world is beginning to see stronger competition from mirrorless cameras, though it’s hard to argue with the sheer performance increase offered by a full-frame DSLR.
Best Portable Media Player: Apple iPod touch (2012)
Portable media players are an excellent choice for students and folks that just don’t want to invest in a smartphone. There is very little you can’t do with an iPod touch that you could do with a smartphone.
The new iPod touch delivers a lot of what people loved about the iPhone 4S to the media player market. An excellent processor, camera, and plenty of available apps makes it a touch option to beat.
There is an Android alternative. The Samsung Galaxy Player is an excellent alternative for Android fans.
Best E-Reader: Amazon Kindle Paperwhite
I can’t consciously call the Kindle Fire HD or Nook Tablet an e-reader. These devices have become so much more than simple readers. When it comes to just reading books, it’s very hard to overlook the current e-ink options available to the consumer.
Both Amazon and Barnes and Noble have plenty of options available, but I can’t help but to give my pick to the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite. It glows in the dark, lasts a month (even with the light on) and connects you directly to the greater Amazon Kindle library of books.
These are my picks for the best gadgets of 2012. What are yours?