The Best Products of 2012
1. Windows 8 Professional (operating system)
With its biggest OS rollout since Windows 95, Microsoft seeks to embrace all things computing with a one-size-fits-all operating system. Love or hate the new Start screen and app storefront, look beyond those polarizing elements, and you’ll find substantial performance improvements, numerous updates to critical features, and a largely successful effort to retain compatibility with desktop applications while also fulfilling the needs of mobile apps. Windows 8 has already spawned new designs and all sorts of hardware experiments. This bold step forward won’t appeal to old-schoolers, but its sleek, modern look just might win over a new generation of users that Microsoft must attract to remain relevant.
2. Apple iPad, 3rd Generation (tablet)
We’ve listed the third-gen iPad here because it had the biggest impact on the tablet market—it was the first to feature Apple’s high-resolution Retina display. But if you want to buy a full-size iPad now, get the fourth-gen model: It has a faster processor, better Wi-Fi capabilities, and improved LTE circuitry.
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3. Maingear Alpha (all-in-one PC)
The Alpha might be a butt-ugly beast, but its massive chassis accommodates a GeForce GTX 680 video card, a Core i7-3770K CPU, and up to 32GB of memory. You can play today’s triple-A game titles, and upgrade every major component to play tomorrow’s attractions, too. Simply put, the Alpha offers unprecedented performance and upgrade flexibility for an all-in-one PC.
4. Vizio CT14-A2 (laptop)
Vizio’s rookie laptop effort has a sleek, minimalist design, with big keys that deliver great tactile feedback, and a fabulous 14-inch, 1600-by-900-pixel LCD in a package that weighs just 3.4 pounds. If you’re looking for a capable Ultrabook, you can’t go wrong with this little gem.
5. Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (e-reader)
The Paperwhite’s best feature is the integrated light that brightly and evenly illuminates the page, even in daylight. But Amazon has made other improvements to its e-reader: The E Ink display boasts higher resolution, the fonts are better, and the underlying software has been significantly overhauled.
6. Samsung Galaxy S III (Android smartphone)
You don’t get to be the best-selling Android phone by being average, and the Galaxy S III definitely has what it takes to move ahead of the Android pack. With a speedy processor, an eye-catching display, and loads of attractive features, it’s our favorite smartphone of 2012.
Intel brings its 22nm fabrication process to the mass market. Though these CPUs sip power, they pack a big performance punch. Desktop systems idling at under 70 watts and laptops delivering 8-hour battery life are practically commonplace now. Ivy Bridge sets a new standard for performance per watt.
When it comes to big-screen HDTVs, plasma technology still delivers the best price/performance ratio. Panasonic has practically defined the state of the art in plasma, and the VT50 series is the company’s best, delivering top-notch image quality, THX certification, comprehensive calibration controls, and a bevy of online services.
9. Asus RT-AC66U (router)
Ready to make the leap to the fledgling 802.11ac standard? Asus has the fastest router with the most features, including a cloud-storage service that allows you to sync files on any device, and provides remote access to any PC on your network.
10. Lenovo IdeaPad Y580 (laptop)
This laptop does it all, without breaking your budget or your back. Packing a quad-core processor, a Geforce GTX 660M GPU, and a 15.6-inch, 1080p LCD into a 6.2-pound chassis, this well-balanced system can handle digital media editing—and PC gaming, too.
11. Microsoft Surface RT (tablet)
As Maxwell Smart might have said, the Surface RT misses our top-10 by that much. That’s no surprise, considering that this is Microsoft’s rookie effort at building a retail computer; it’s number 11 because the Surface has successfully redefined what a tablet can be.
12. Audioengine 5+ (speaker system)
The original 5 system was one of the best near-field, powered studio monitors we’d ever heard. The new 5+ is every bit as splendid, thanks to the dual 50-watt Class AB monolithic amplifiers driving the 5-inch Kevlar woofers and 0.79-inch silk-dome tweeters. Absolutely superb.
13. Amazon Kindle Fire HD (tablet)
Amazon vastly improved its tablet user experience, rendering this 16GB model even more suitable for consuming content from Amazon’s vast digital storefront. More important, the company is selling the Kindle Fire HD at an incredibly low price for a tablet with an expensive optically bonded display.
14. Google Nexus 7 (Android tablet)
We saw plenty of cheap Android tablets in 2012, but not one that was a worthy contender for this list. Then along came Google’s Nexus 7, which brought top-flight performance, features, and great design to an inexpensive tablet—along with a lovely, optically bonded display, too.
15. Falcon Northwest Tiki (mini-gaming PC)
It’s small, quiet and extremely fast—especially with games. This is no budget box; rather, it’s a polished, purpose-built tiny gaming system. The heavily overclocked Ivy Bridge processor, a fast SSD and a GeForce GTX 680 videocard combine to make this the fastest system of its size.
16. Adobe Creative Suite 6 (artistic software)
This suite is full of technological triumphs, from its support for GPU acceleration in Photoshop CS6 and Premiere Pro CS6, to Dreamweaver CS6’s ability to output smartphone apps for almost any mobile operating system by transferring their production to the cloud.
17. Sony Tap 20 (tablet/laptop hybrid)
A luggable all-in-one with a 20-inch, 10-point multitouch display that runs on either AC or battery power, this could be the perfect family PC. Or is it a humongous family tablet? Either way, it shows that Windows 8 is inspiring PC manufacturers to innovate.
18. Raspberry Pi (basic Linux PC)
Conceived as a tool that would encourage students to learn how to program long before they entered college, the low, low price tag on this Linux-powered computer also makes it the perfect platform for hobbyists interested in building experimental projects. Raspberry Pi is like a digital blank slate.
19. Dell UltraSharp U2713HM (display)
This big little monitor delivers the same number of pixels as a 30-inch model in a more affordable 27-inch package. An LED-backlit IPS panel boasting accurate color, excellent uniformity, and wide viewing angles, it’s an excellent choice for both PC and Mac users, even without a Thunderbolt connector.
20. Jawbone Big Jambox (speaker)
Your mobile device might be the center of your entertainment universe, but we’ve yet to see a phone or tablet equipped with phenomenal speakers. The Big Jambox pairs wirelessly with Bluetooth-enabled iOS and Android devices, pumps out impressive bass, and has the battery life to withstand long jam sessions.
21. Olympus OM-D E-M5 (digital camera)
Most mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras are designed as “step-up” cameras for the point-and-shoot crowd, but the Olympus OM-D E-M5 has the mettle to compete with full-fledged Digital SLRs. We appreciate its fast focusing speed, terrific image quality, and appealingly retro aesthetic.
22. Apple iPhone 5 (smartphone)
It’s the best iPhone yet, improving on its predecessors with features such as LTE connectivity, an improved camera, and a larger screen. It might not have the best map program, as you may have heard, but we have no doubt that the iPhone 5 is still one of the best smartphones of 2012.
23. Stardock Start8 (Windows 8 add-on)
Many early Windows 8 adopters complain about the lack of a Start Menu. Stardock, known for desktop customization software Fences and ObjectDock, responded with Start8, an inexpensive utility that adds a StartMenu to the new OS and allows you to disable the new hot corners to make your transition less jarring.
24. Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display (laptop)
Apple’s flagship laptop delivers stunning performance and effortless portability. This was not only the fastest overall Mac we’ve ever tested, but its spectacular IPS screen with 2880 by 1800 pixel resolution reveals so much detail that even desktop icons become something to marvel over.