The big surprise of 2013 was that Apple didn’t wow us with any revolutionary hardware. Instead, the year was marked by valiant efforts from smaller companies like Pebble and Leap Motion, comebacks by old stalwarts like BlackBerry and Motorola, and capped by the launch of next-gen consoles. And perhaps most surprisingly, the best gadget of the year was the cheapest: Google’s incredible little Chromecast.
For a list of the best new hardware products of 2013, we tried as much as possible to focus on “new”. The gadgets had to do something others didn’t do, or offer it at a ridiculously low price. Here are the shiny hunks of metal that made us drool in the last year.
While rumours swirled about a smartwatch from Apple and another from Samsung, it was a little Kickstarter-funded project that started the craze. Pebble is an e-ink smartwatch that pairs with your Android or iOS smartphone to give you an additional interface without having to take your phone out of the pocket. It’s dustproof and waterproof, and is the kind of gimmick that lets you show off your geek cred to the world. Read our Pebble review for more details.
Google Glass ($1500)
The year gone by could very well be marked as the year that Google stepped up the game in hardware. And it all started with its most revolutionary product, Google Glass, made available to developers in February. It’s a pair of glasses that acts as a head-mounted display to show you maps, notifications from your phone, capture videos and much more. It has privacy issues, it has style issues — everything that shakes up a market.
BlackBerry Z10 ($276.50)
What was BlackBerry’s answer to the Android, iOS and Windows Phone assault? We finally got to see it with the BlackBerry Z10, a full-touch smartphone from a company that was most famous for its QWERTY keyboards. If you ignore the app market, the BB10 OS can go toe-to-toe with the other three. It has its quirks, but it has some great features too, especially gesture-based multitasking and a unified notifications hub. But the moment you include app availability, it pales in comparison. This just could have been BlackBerry’s last hurrah.
Oculus Rift ($300)
The Oculus Rift is a virtual reality headset, funded entirely through a Kickstarter campaign, that puts you in an immersive virtual world. Along with 3D visuals that adjust to your eyes, it features one standout technology: head tracking. The scene being broadcast is a full 360-degree world, so when you move your head to the right, the screen shows you what would be on your right. It’s pretty awesome, as James notes in his Oculus Rift review. Currently, you can play some hot games like Team Fortress 2 or enjoy roller-coaster rides in your living room. It’s only a developer’s unit right now and a commercial one for retail should be out soon.
Kobo Aura HD ($212)
The first real competitor to Amazon’s Kindle Paperwhite, the Kobo Aura HD got the specs game right. It’s is a large e-ink reader with a built-in light, and even better resolution and DPI than the Paperwhite for a sharper reading experience. Plus, apart from 4 gigabytes of internal memory, it gives you a microSD slot to expand the memory as much as you want. In her review, Yaara thinks it’s a solid e-reader alternative for those who don’t want Amazon’s ecosystem.
Fitbit Flex ($99.95)
Fitness and health are being “gamified” with smart devices that track your activity and egg you on to do better. The Fitbit Flex is a waterproof silicone rubber wristband, adjustable to any size. No physical buttons, you tap it to activate it and get notifications with the five LEDs on it. Pair it up with the Fitbit app on your iOS or Android and you’ll know your activity reports in real time. Fitness freaks will love this, and you can find out more in our Fitbit Flex review.
In a year that saw next-generation consoles, there was one other that stole the limelight for the first half. OUYA is another Kickstarter-backed project and the first Android-based gaming console to hit the market, for a low price of $100. The first-gen product, like many other first-gen products, shows potential but probably isn’t worth your money, given the bad controller and the low-quality games. But it’s a very capable console by itself, and you get a great media player. Plus, in a move away from traditional gaming, it lets users try any game before they buy it. As our review notes, OUYA lays the platform for a new generation of Android gaming that could change the video game market as we know it.
>Leap Motion ($95.99)
Goodbye point-and-click, hello gestures — or at least that’s the future that Leap Motion believes in. The first system to give any computer the ability to recognise gestures. It’s a tiny little device that costs just $80, and a lot of is it just gimmicky at the moment, but there is some fantastic functionality potential, as James discovered with the BetterTouchTool in his Leap Motion review. While the hardware is great, hopefully the software gets better with time to make the Leap Motion a killer device.
Google Chromecast ($35)
In my opinion, this is the ‘gadget of 2013’. The Google Chromecast has it all: a revolutionary idea, flawless execution, ease of use and a super low price point to make it accessible to anyone. It turns any TV into a smart TV for the low price of $30, hooking up with your smartphone to beam images off it. And Google is slowly expanding the apps supported on the device to make it even more useful. Check out our full Chromecast review for more deets.
NVIDIA Shield ($249.99)
NVIDIA, a company renowned for its graphics processors, stepped into the hardware game this year with the launch of NVIDIA Shield, an Android-based handheld gaming console that takes on the PSP and Nintendo DS families. It has a few problems, as Dave found in his review, but the combination of a good controller, that gorgeous HD screen and a wide variety of Android games makes this a fantastic device right now, and even better when you consider its potential as more developers jump on board.
Nokia Lumia 1020 ($640)
Last year, Nokia wowed everyone with the Symbian-based PureView 808 and its fantastic camera. This year, it upped the game with the first PureView Windows Phone. The Lumia 1020 has a 41-megapixel camera with a 1/1.5-inch sensor, Carl Zeiss optics, Xenon flash and optical image stabilization. And it’s no slouch in video recording either. This is, without a doubt, the best camera on a mobile phone anywhere at the moment.
Motorola Moto X ($425)
After being acquired by Google, the world was waiting to see what Motorola would come up with and it didn’t disappoint with the Moto X, its flagship handset. It may not have the best hardware you can think of, but the Moto X is a seamless blend of hardware and software, with smart technologies like Motorola Assist, which tracks your location or habits to trigger notifications and tasks, like detecting when you are driving and automatically reading out text messages.
Samsung Galaxy Gear ($299)
Along with the Galaxy Note 3, Samsung released its first smartwatch in September. The Galaxy Gear is meant as a companion gadget that currently works only with select Samsung smartphones but it’s almost a functional phone by itself. The Android-based smartwatch has a 1.6-inch AMOLED touchscreen, and is dustproof and waterproof. It even carries a camera on the wrist strap to let you snap photos and shoot videos efficiently. Super cool!
Sony a7 ($1520)
The Sony a7 and a7R are the world’s smallest full-frame mirrorless cameras with an interchangeable lens, packing a 24 megapixel and 36 megapixel EXMOR HD CMOS sensor respectively. The a7 even comes with an optical low-pass filter. The a7R, on the other hand, boasts a magnesium alloy body. Both cameras come with a wide range of lenses and are aimed at the professional photographer who wants better portability.
Sony DSC-QX100 ($470)
October belonged to Sony’s camera department. Apart from the a7 and a7R, the team released the new QX100 smartphone lens to go with the Xperia Z1, although it works with any Android smartphone. Latch it onto your smartphone and you get a fantastic lens to give you photos that your camera would never have gotten. And yes, it works even without a smartphone! Check out our full review for more on this must-have gadget.
Sony PlayStation 4 ($399)
No doubt about it, the month of November was all about the new video game consoles. Sony kicked things off with the PlayStation 4, its latest video game console, and it’s a gamer’s delight. The PlayStation Camera gets a little more focus and the new DualShock 4 controller has a touchpad, but really, the PS4 is all about playing your games the best possible way. It’s the most powerful gaming machine around and you won’t be disappointed. For more, read our PlayStation 4 review.
Microsoft XBox One ($499)
While Sony concentrated on the gamers, Microsoft concentrated on the living room with the launch of the XBox One. The Kinect 2 plays a huge part in this, as does the console’s ability to recognize voice commands. The end result is that this is a balance between a media player and a video game console, straddling the fence between the two and decluttering your entertainment unit to a single box. Yummy!
LG G Flex ($690)
December is always the quiet month for gadget launches, but LG managed to sneak one in before the holidays. The LG G Flex is the first curved smartphone out there, sporting a 6-inch P-OLED curved touchscreen. It’s also got an innovative “self-healing” back–scratches and nicks disappear over time with its technology. It seems more like a gimmick than anything else, but hey, you’re bound to turn heads when your phone isn’t a flat slab.
Which product did you love most in 2013?