2013 impressive gadgets, a personal view

Software got cloudier in 2013. Smartphones got bigger, pixels on just about everything got smaller. New Zealand’s mobile data networks got faster and service providers began selling fibre broadband services.

While you couldn’t call 2013 a vintage year, technology lurched forward.

Admittedly, I didn’t see everything that appeared in 2013. Some encounters were fleeting. There were devices I only saw at press functions in fancy hotels. I briefly saw a few gadgets in the hour or so warm up before recording the New Zealand Tech Podcast.

Here are the products that impressed me:

Laptops

Computer sales plunged as people turned to smartphones, tablets and devices straddling all the gaps between the three. Mid-year I raced out to buy Apple’s 2013 13 inch MacBook Air within days of reading its specification.

Why? I was in the market for a new, lightweight laptop.

Although the 2013 MacBook Air is slower than the earlier version, its performance is more than ample for any task I want to throw at it. What captured my heart and my wallet was the 12 hour battery. I’ve noticed I no longer get that much from my Air even though it’s only five months old – I still regularly get 10 hours between charges. That’s still impressive. Nothing else comes close.

Acer’s C720 Chromebook caught my eye. The idea behind the Chromebook is solid enough, I would have loved to see what HP did with the format, but those models never made it to New Zealand. And the Google ChromeBook pixel also seems worth investigating.

Between laptops and tablets

Microsoft’s Surface 2 is exactly what you’d expect to find if you ask a PC company to build a tablet. It’s closer to a touch screen laptop than to Apple’s iPad.

Stick a Type Cover 2 on this baby and its a great value vessel for running Office apps while on the move. If I didn’t buy the Air, this would have been on my shopping list. I suspect it would struggle handling web design on the Surface 2, but it’s brilliant for day-to-day writing. Any moment now someone will quibble that the Surface 2 is a tablet, well it is, but…

A far better tablet

The iPad Air is by far the best tablet I’ve ever seen. Presumably the best tablet ever made. It’s lighter than earlier iPads and more comfortable to hold than any rival. The retina display is beautiful and all the necessary power to drive the thing is there. The lower weight and ten hours battery life make even more portable than earlier iPads.

Many people are excited about the iPad Mini with Retina. It’s basically the same as the Air with a smaller screen, making it lighter and more portable again. I prefer the larger size, both are impressive.

Best pricey phones

For me two phones stood out in 2013. Nokia’s Lumia 1020 packs a ridiculously high resolution camera – with 41 megapixels. You can take incredibly detailed images and crop them to taste. For a journalist it’s a great tool.

Despite some critics saying we’ve now gone past “peak Apple” the company managed to deliver three great products in 2013. The third was the iPhone 5S which adds a spruced-up camera with two flashes to take better photos and the neat Touch-ID sensor which quickly unlocks the phone.

Other smartphones

I  regret not spending more time with the HTC One – I only held it for a few minutes. It has a beautiful design and 4.7 inch screen. The camera has fewer megapixels than other smartphones, but this is countered by clever oversampling technology to capture good pictures in poor light.

The other Android phone I’d like to have seen more of was the Google Nexus 5. I’ve not  had a great Android experience in the past, but the Nexus 5 promises a purer Android experience than elsewhere – that’s something that might overcome the annoyances.

Although I spent time with the Samsung S4, I found the phone didn’t live to expectations. It’s a nice enough phone – an advanced Android that comes packed with a bewildering array of software and features. On the other hand, there are few stand-outs in the 4S deal. It certainly has nothing like the Lumia 1020′s camera or the iPhone 5S Touch ID.

Cheaper phones

PR and marketing people often whinge if journalists use honest words like ‘cheap’ to describe phones that cost less money. Still one really nice less expensive phone that crossed my desk in 2013 was the Nokia Lumia 625Is a study, nicely specced 4G phone for less than $500. I recommend it if you don’t want to spend lots on a mobile device.