Out of the thousands of new consumer electronics products that are introduced into the market each year, many are simply a drain on your wallet. However, there are ample amounts of gadgets that are very enjoyable, and can even make your life easier.
But how do you choose? You may feel overwhelmed, even intimidated, by the options available; conversely, you may be tempted to overspend on every enticing device that you come across. Regardless of where you stand, here are the best electronic products that you can buy this year.
You may have heard a lot about this one recently, especially with the release of the Kindle Fire in late 2011. And while the Amazon Kindle has dominated the e-reader space since it was first introduced in 2007, the 2011 version is one of the best e-readers currently on the market.
- Price. At just $79, the Amazon Kindle is an extremely affordable e-reader.
- Pearl e-Ink Technology. The Pearl e-ink technology makes reading your favorite books on this electronic device similar to the experience of reading on a printed page, both indoors and out.
- Portable. This device is perfect for taking on long road trips. Its compact size fits easily into your travel bag, and you can store hundreds of your favorite novels, magazines, and newspapers.
- Non-Glare Screen. The screen minimizes glare and therefore eye strain, making it the perfect travel companion.
- Wi-Fi Enabled. The Kindle is Wi-Fi equipped, so if you simply can’t find the reading material you want, you can download new titles from the Amazon Store on the go.
- Long Battery Life. The resilient battery will keep you reading for weeks at a time between charges.
- No Touch Screen. I really wish that this model included a touch screen. The navigation controls are somewhat intuitive to use, but are a little awkward – especially if you are constantly being jarred around in the car or on an airplane.
- No Audio Support. Curling up on the couch with a good book is great, but doing it with your favorite music playing in the background is euphoric.
- Extra Cost for Accessories. The price point for the Kindle is awesome, but you must pay for all accessories, including essentials such as a case and AC adapter. Such accessories can increase the price considerably.
The Amazon Kindle still reigns supreme in the world of e-readers. You won’t get any of the extras, such as Internet browsing, gaming, or other neat features on more sophisticated tablet computers, but make no mistake – though this e-reader is a one-trick pony, it performs its function flawlessly.
Best Smartphone for Media
Apple iPhone 4S
There is no way to create a must-have gadgets list without including the iPhone. The iPhone 4S is the latest and greatest version of one of the most beloved cell phones to hit the market since the Motorola Razr. I am a recent iPhone convert, upgrading to the 4S from Blackberry and HTC smartphones, and I have to say that in the few months since I’ve owned the 4S, it has been my favorite phone by far.
Price: $199 (with an upgrade on an existing plan, or a new contract)
- Multiple Functionality. Is there anything this phone can’t do? While it’s true that Blackberry and HTC phones have many of the same capabilities as the iPhone, none do it as well or as smoothly as the iPhone. The iPhone 4S also doubles as an MP3 player and portable video device, which can replace a standalone iPod Touch. You can also replace your standalone digital camera with your iPhone, as the picture quality is just as good (if not better). By having pictures on your phone, you can email or text them to anyone, or easily port them to your computer.
- High-Resolution Screen. The high-resolution screen is perfect for viewing both pictures and videos.
- Large App Selection. The app store has hundreds of thousands of apps, most for free or for $0.99. Games, financial tools, trip planners, newspapers, periodicals, and more are all at your fingertips.
- Wi-Fi Enabled. The iPhone comes equipped with Wi-Fi connectivity, as well as 3G access to your cellular provider’s network. So even though your iPhone 4S will be a bit of a data hog, by sticking to hot spots you won’t have to worry about going over your monthly data allotment.
- Voice Controlled Assistant. Siri is the newest addition to the iPhone 4S, alongside iOS5 and a faster processor. Siri is your new virtual assistant that takes hands-free cell phone usage to a whole new level. Want to know how cold it is outside without opening your door? Ask Siri. How about the distance to the nearest coffee shop? Ask Siri. Want to call Aunt Carol? Just ask Siri. She can do it all without your hands ever touching the screen.
- Easily Replaced. If you damage your phone, skip talking to your cellular service provider. Instead, take your phone to the Apple Store. In many cases, they will replace your first damaged phone for free. Subsequent losses may be replaceable, but you will probably have to pay – but not nearly as much as you would for a brand new phone, which can run you $500 or more depending on the model you choose.
- Small Screen. Hello, Apple? Can we get a bigger screen, please? I want to be able to enjoy everything your iPhone has to offer on a much larger scale. And it would be great if you could bring the price of your device down just a bit. That is all.
If media is your game, then the iPhone 4S is your device. There really isn’t much that this mini super-computer can’t do. You can store and play back music and videos, surf the Internet, utilize Wi-Fi, and access apps for just about everything. Plus, you get the very helpful, if not somewhat sarcastic, services of Siri.
Best Android-Based Tablet
Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime
There is fierce competition in the world of tablet computers. Of course, the iPad still reigns supreme, especially in light of the impending iPad 3 release, but for you Android lovers out there, the best tablet you can buy is the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime.
- Emulates iPod Design. The Asus Eee Transformer Prime looks a lot like the iPad 2. It seems that their designers were paying attention to the popularity of the product and decided it would be best to emulate the top dog. The Asus model is actually a little thinner and a few ounces lighter, so toting it around is pretty easy, making it a great addition to any carryall, backpack, or larger handbag.
- Expandable Memory. I am a huge fan of devices with expandable memory, as it is a lot easier to justify buying up a few microSD memory cards to create extra storage than forking out the upgrade fee to get a larger capacity device. You can expand the memory of your Transformer Prime by simply adding microSD cards to your collection and storing your media there instead of in the tablet’s internal memory banks.
- High-Definition Screen. This tablet is able to produce some great looking, true high-definition video on its bright and colorful screen.
- Integrated Camera. The device includes an internal eight-megapixel camera that will allow you to capture every detail of whatever you are photographing.
- Fast Processor. Asus added a quad-core CPU, or in layman’s terms, a really fast and responsive processor that allows you to play games, surf the Internet, and watch videos.
- Bulky Design in Dock. The only real drawback is that when you connect the dock keyboard to the device, it becomes somewhat top-heavy. Using this device with the dock keyboard may result in your tablet falling on the floor.
This is the tablet that dreams are made of. For those of you who have been patiently waiting for a true Android-based iPad alternative, this is it.
Motorola Droid Razr Maxx
Long gone are the days of purchasing a cell phone just to make calls. As a matter of fact, it seems as though voice calls have become more of a peripheral function. Though the iPhone 4S has taken the top slot for best media phone, the winner of the battery longevity race is the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx.
Price: $199 (with contract)
- Long Battery Life. The Motorola Droid Razr Maxx battery lasts for nearly 22 hours of actual talk time, making it perfect to take on long trips.
- Great Design. Despite having one of the best batteries in the industry, the Motorola Razr Maxx stays true to its moniker. It’s razor-thin, lightweight, and beautiful.
- Fast Processor. Thanks to Motorola’s exceptional design team, the internal processor can handle just about anything, including listening to music, watching movies, taking pictures, surfing the Internet, and more.
- Battery Not Removable. The battery, while being long-lasting, isn’t removable by the user. This means that when the battery finally does die, it will need to be replaced by Motorola, which is costly.
- Subpar Camera. The camera is less than impressive, especially when compared to other available smartphones.
This is a great cellular device for people on the go who don’t have regular access to a power source for constant recharges. No other cell phone even comes close to being able to provide the battery longevity that the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx does, thus earning it the top spot.
Best Budget Streaming Media Device
The Roku LT
If you’re looking for a way to cut the cord with your cable company or satellite company without missing any of your favorite shows, this device might be the perfect video device to add to your home theater. The Roku LT is a device designed to allow you to stream your favorite programs via subscription service without having to pay the high price of cable.
In addition to having access to all the shows that you love, you can watch them whenever you want and without the hassle of sitting through annoying commercials. The Roku LT gives you the ability to access any of the hottest streaming media platforms available right now: Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Video on Demand, HBOGo, and more using your existing Wi-Fi connection.
- Small Size. This device is incredibly non-obtrusive. The box is small and wireless (except for its power cable), so although it’s bright purple, you can easily tuck it into your entertainment cabinet without having to worry about cluttering up your existing décor.
- Included Cabling. The Roku LT comes with both an HDMI cable for high-definition connections on newer TVs, or a breakout cable to attach it to older, non-HD equipped units.
- Large Channel Selection. While you can choose to pay for programming on premium channels, you can expect to be thoroughly entertained by the selection of free channels included in the device.
- Ease of Use. Connecting the device to your existing Wi-Fi network and your TV is simple. Furthermore, the remote has very few buttons, so controlling the device after installation is easy. You get everything you need to get yourself up and running in the box.
- Initial Subscription Setup Is Complicated. Accessing your subscription streaming accounts is a little more complicated. You must create a Roku account in order to get started, and you have to provide payment information in case you decide to purchase premium channels. Next, you must start programming your subscription services into your Roku LT, one by one. These subscription streaming services are not free – you must pay a monthly service fee for each service you subscribe to. However, most of these services are relatively cheap, so subscribing to two or even three services will still be less expensive that what you pay to your local cable or satellite provider.
- Lack of USB Connection. I am disappointed that there is no USB connection port to view personal media on TV through the device.
- Wireless Connectivity Only. There is no Ethernet port, so you cannot hard wire the connection. If you don’t have a wireless router, you won’t be able to use the device until you get one.
The Roku LT is one of the best streaming video devices on the market today. It’s small in both size and price, and can be used by a wide variety of TV owners. If you are waiting for a really great excuse to cancel your cable TV service, here it is.
Wading through the thousands of consumer electronics that are introduced to the market can be exhausting, especially when many of the devices simply don’t deliver on what they promise. However, by selecting the best of the best, you can build a collection of home electronics and gadgets that will satisfy all your needs.
What other gadgets and devices do you recommend?