Top tech 'toys' of 2012

by Listener Archive / 20 December, 2012
Our columnist picks this year’s best gadgets in four key categories.
Samsung Galaxy S3
Samsung Galaxy S3

Thinner, faster, smarter – if 2012 wasn’t a revolutionary year for computing, it certainly served up a range of devices that make your computing interaction that much more satisfying.

A stylish workhorse
It’s been a shocking year for HP, but the 14-inch HP Envy Spectre shows that the Silicon Valley giant still has what it takes to deliver a great computer. Innovative use of toughened Gorilla Glass means the Spectre boasts a smooth, scratch-resistance cover that feels and looks great. It has a fast solid-state drive and an Intel Core i7 processor, and HP has made much of its Beats Audio tie-up to make the Spectre ideal for streaming songs from Spotify and iTunes. Despite all that, it falls into the lightweight ultrabook category, which makes it highly portable.
Price: from $2899
Honourable mention: 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro.

All-in on the desktop
Amid the hype surrounding the launch of the iPad Mini, Apple’s pint-sized new tablet, the wafer-thin body of the iMac – just 5mm thick at its edges – was lost in the noise. It is a beautiful-looking machine – and powerful. The new iMac has an Intel Core i7 processor and comes with 8GB of memory. Early adopters of the 21.5-inch iMac have discovered it is nigh-on impossible to expand the memory, which is disappointing, but this fits Apple’s grand plan of selling you a new device every few years. The svelte design, which thins out towards the edges, comes with a sacrifice – there’s no CD/DVD drive. But Apple has included plenty of additional connection ports to compensate. A noticeable improvement is the dynamism of the screen, the result of a new design that moves the display panel closer to the glass covering it.
Price: from $1999 (27-inch version available late December).
Honourable mention: HP TouchSmart 520.

In a different galaxy
Smartphones are catching on fast, which means a bigger phone in the pocket. Whereas previous iPhones had a 3.5-inch screen, Apple upped the iPhone 5 screen to four inches. Samsung has gone even further, building a 4.8-inch retina-display into the Galaxy S3, its flagship smartphone. At first sight, it is ridiculously large, but it weighs just 133g and offers an unbeatable experience for surfing the web and watching videos, so you soon grow to appreciate the extra screen real estate. In terms of functionality, the S3 is ahead of the iPhone 5, and well-served by the Android operating system, which lets you dip into a wide range of apps. It sports an impressive eight-megapixel camera and some smart photo-snapping software. More S3s than iPhone 5s have sold this year and for good reason. This is the best phone the Android gang has produced so far.
Price: from $849 (mobile only).
Honourable mention: Apple iPhone5.

Ipad still unbeatable
As with the iPhone 5, Apple made just incremental changes when it released the third-generation iPad at the start of the year – slimming it down slightly and adding a retina display – and then again with the much faster fourth-generation iPad released last month. This is the ultimate tablet, despite the gains Samsung and other tablet-makers have made and the arrival of a slew of Windows 8-based devices. What makes it so good? The simplicity of the design, which forces you to make some sacrifices but means it is a real pleasure to use.

The iOS software is intuitive, and Apple’s iCloud service lets you back up everything automatically. If you lose the iPad, all your apps and data can be recovered and you can even track the iPad’s location. Apple’s App Store is still the biggest in the game, and with the addition of a lightweight keyboard, you’ll find yourself taking it with you instead of a laptop and appreciating the lighter load. The one downside is that the iPad doesn’t come with Microsoft Office – you’ll have to fiddle about with Apple’s less than equal substitutes, which will frustrate business users. The iPad Mini is a nice device, but the full-size tablet is the only option for me.
Price: from $729.
Honourable mention: Samsung Galaxy Note 10-inch.
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