100 Best Products of 2012

The 100 Best Products of 2012

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Burning up your smartphone’s battery shooting impromptu videos? Maybe it’s time to move up to a dedicated device. The Bloggie Live is the most versatile pocket camcorder around, delivering wireless streaming, peer-to-peer sharing, and image resolution on a par with today’s top phone cameras.

37. Nvidia GeForce GTX 680 (GPU)

If you find the size and power consumption of AMD’s Radeon HD 7970 objectionable, this Nvidia GPU blends the high performance of the company’s Kepler architecture with the terrific efficiency of its earlier Fermi design to deliver a well-balanced powerhouse that’s suited to both gaming and GPU-compute applications.

38. Angry Birds Space (video game)

Quick review for the 0.00002 percent of the population that hasn’t played Rovio's Angry Birds: You shoot birds at pigs. In-game physics are one of the game’s best attributes, so it was a brilliant idea to move the game’s environment into space and add gravity puzzles.

39. Instagram (digital photo app)

Love it or loathe it, Instagram has driven plenty of interest in phone photography. This free app for iOS and Android devices makes it incredibly easy to apply creative filters and borders to your photos and then share them with friends and family via social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

40. Arcam rPAC (DAC and headphone amp)

This device connects to your computer via USB, sounds spectacular (for its price), is built like a tank, supports high-resolution files, and incorporates a high-quality headphone amplifier to make even power-hungry headphones sing.

41. AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition (GPU)

AMD made a few tweaks to the reference design it originally released in December 2011. This single-GPU card now overpowers Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 680 in most of our benchmarks. It’s still too big and consumes too much juice, but we’ll accept the trade-off.

42. Adobe Lightroom 4.2 (photo-editing software)

Few developers add new features to a top-shelf product and then slice the product’s price tag in half, but that’s what Adobe did with Lightroom. Notable new tools include photo categorization by geolocation, the ability to output photos using self-publishing books, and easier-to-use filters. Lightroom 4.2 is no small upgrade.

43. Asus RT-N66U (wireless router)

Hey, we get it. Not everyone is ready to embrace a draft networking standard. If you need a new router, but want to stick with the tried-and-true 802.11n, there’s no better model than the dual-band Asus RT-N66U. When it comes to performance and features, nothing else comes close.

44. Velodyne vPulse (earbuds)

Loudspeaker aficionados will be familiar with Velodyne’s high-end subwoofers—speakers designed solely to reproduce very low frequencies. So it should come as no surprise that the vPulse delivers plenty of low-end oomph. But these buds are more than bass monsters—they deliver a detailed midrange performance and crisp highs, too.

45. Vizio CA27-A1 (all-in-one PC)

Vizio entered the desktop PC market with this stylish all-in-one that delivered a Worldbench 7 score of 122 (that is, 22 percent faster than our baseline system), thanks to a Core i5 CPU, a discrete Nvidia GPU, and a 32GB SSD cache. Extras include a multitouchpad instead of a mouse.

46. Apple iPod touch—5th generation (digital media player)

No other digital media player has managed to knock the iPod off its perch. Now, it's more than a media player: It’s also a very good digital camera, camcorder, handheld gaming device, and, when connected to a Wi-Fi network, a personal digital assistant (Siri).

47. Astro A50 Wireless Headset (gaming headset)

This is the best wireless gaming headset we’ve heard this year, thanks to impeccable design and Astro’s decision to use KleerNet wireless technology. The A50 works with both PCs and gaming consoles, it sounds great, and it’s comfortable enough to wear during marathon entertainment sessions.

48. Apple iPad Mini (tablet)

While it lacks a Retina display, Apple's smallish tablet is a joy to use, delivering a higher resolution than the first two generations of iPads. It would rank much higher on our list if its price were closer to that of the Nexus 7.

49. Google Hangouts (video-chat service)

Yes, this free video-chat service debuted in late last year, but it really took off in 2012. It supports up to 10 callers equipped with browsers, webcams, and Google+ accounts. It’s a fun way to connect with friends, and it’s a fabulous workplace collaboration tool. Participants can share a screen and view joint presentations.

50. Alienware M17x-R4 (gaming laptop)

This luggable laptop is just the ticket for LAN parties and dorm rooms. It’s no Ultrabook, tipping the scales at 11-plus pounds, but it packs the fastest mobile GPU available; a gorgeous 17-inch, 1080p display; and a great keyboard. It runs current-generation PC games with nary a hiccup.

51. Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover (iPad keyboard)

If you have an iPad, you need a cover. And if you intend to do serious work on that iPad, you need a real keyboard. Logitech fills both needs with one slick device that adds just 12 ounces to the weight of a bare iPad.

52. The Walking Dead (video game)

This adventure game—set in a zombie apocalypse where players must make difficult choices—is easily one of the best games of 2012. Based on Robert Kirkman’s graphic novels, the first season of this game consists of five downloadable episodes that can be completed in 2 to 3 hours each.

53. Vivint Home Automation (home control/security system)

The era of the smart home is dawning, and Vivint is one reason why: Sign a $69-per-month contract and you get a sophisticated home security and automation system (alarm, electronic door lock, door/window sensors, lighting controls, an IP camera, and a programmable thermostat) installed for just $199.

54. Sensible Vision Fast Access (facial-recognition software)

Stop memorizing passwords. Show your mug to your smartphone, tablet, or PC, instead. This facial-recognition software will then require you to identify a secret symbol to gain access to secure apps and websites. That two-factor authentication will foil efforts to fool the software with a photograph or video.

55. Libratone Zipp (wireless speaker)

Boasting an attractive industrial design, a simple setup process, and clever AirPlay and PlayDirect implementations (it can create its own Wi-Fi network), the battery-powered Libratone Zipp is easy to recommend as a multiroom speaker system. If you want a portable AirPlay speaker, this is an excellent choice.

56. Vizio M3D470KD (HDTV)

You'll be hard-pressed to find a better HDTV of this size for less than $1000. This 47-inch, LED edge-lit, passive 3D model offers very good image quality, a built-in Wi-Fi network adapter, a keyboard-equipped remote, and a comprehensive collection of Internet apps and service. Plus, you get four pairs of 3D glasses included.

57. AT&T U-verse (broadband Internet service)

Major infrastructure improvements typically occur in the denser populations of cities. So we’re tipping our hat to AT&T for deploying fiber-to-the-node in at least some rural areas to deliver its U-verse broadband Internet service. It’s not as fast as cable, but it’s almost twice as fast as conventional DSL service.

58. Turntable.FM (online music service)

This online service graced our Top 100 last year. When we heard the company had a mobile app, we fell in love all over again. The social music service works perfectly on the go, and it's fun to DJ while riding the bus. Play on, party people!

59. Netgear NeoTV Max (media streamer)

The year 2012 wasn’t a big one for new media streamers, but the NeoTV Max is a honey. It can stream nearly anything over your network (with the exception of DVD and Blu-ray ISO images); plus, you can send audio and video to your TV from any laptop outfitted with Intel’s WiDi technology.

60. Scrivener for Windows (word processor/project organizer)

Few writers can brain-dump an entire novel or research proposal straight into a word processor. Scrivener for Windows, a PC version of the popular Mac program, helps you organize your ideas and notes. You can switch between corkboard, outline, and continuous-flow "scrivening" views to see how your opus is shaping up.

61. ADT Pulse Premier (home control/security system)

ADT’s home security and automation system is almost as good as Vivint’s; plus, ADT will install in-wall lighting controls if you prefer. The company added electronic door locks, a new touch-screen control panel, and more advanced cameras, too. ADT’s up-front costs are higher, but its contracts are shorter.

62. Intuit QuickBooks Pro (accounting software)

Woe to the small-business owner who doesn’t balance the ledger. QuickBooks isn’t the most powerful software for the task, but it’s very easy for novices to set up and use. If it doesn’t handle a function you need, a third-party add-on probably does.

63. Epson WorkForce WP-4540 (multifunction printer)

This fast, capable, business-minded inkjet multifunction is a leader among the new generation of no-regrets inkjets for the office. The best-balanced among many strong contenders, it brings swift performance, spiffy output quality, and a whopping 580 sheets of standard input. Ink is cheap, too. Low-end color lasers should be worried.

64. Lytro Light-Field Camera (digital camera)

Despite a few usability hiccups in its first-generation camera, Lytro's core technology is truly groundbreaking. This tube-like camera lets you shoot photos quickly and decide where to focus (and refocus) later. Lytro’s manual shutter control, added via a free firmware update, delivers even more fun tricks.

65. Microsoft Type Cover (tablet keyboard)

If you decide to take the plunge into Microsoft’s Surface (pun intended), spend the extra ten bucks to buy the Type Cover. It’s a tad thicker than the less-expensive Touch Cover, but this keyboard has authentic keys that deliver genuine tactile feedback. Your fingertips will thank you.

66. Western Digital My Passport 2TB (portable hard drive)

Cloud storage is great—until you can’t access the cloud. When you need to take a lot of data on the go, Western Digital’s biggest My Passport drive packs two terabytes into a 2.5-inch chassis, and it draws all its power over a USB connection.

67. Pinterest (online social sharing service)

"Pinning" entered the lexicon in 2012 as Pinterest users built online pinboards to collect, organize, and share everything interesting they found on the Web. The versatility of this service—you can also use it for event planning and building shopping lists—rendered Pinterest the fastest-growing website to date.

68. Maingear Shift Super Stock (desktop PC)

Maingear pulled out all the stops to build this super-powered PC, which tore through our benchmarks to generate a Worldbench 7 score of 205—105 percent faster than our baseline. The top-shelf components in this rig should keep any gamer satisfied for a least a couple of years.

69. Panasonic HC-V700M (camcorder)

Here’s an easy-to-use compact camcorder that shoots great video. The built-in video light and flash work exceptionally well, capturing clean, crisp video and still shots from as far as 10 feet. Colors appear realistic with little or no oversaturation, and with hardly any blurring during fast pans.

70. Sony XQD S Series (memory card)

Speed is key for some photographers, and the Sony XQD S Series delivers that in spades, with read and write transfer speeds of up to 168 MBps. That’s faster than any high-end CompactFlash card. Nikon is an early adopter, supporting XQD in its Nikon D4.

71. XCOM: Enemy Unknown (video game)

If you think turn-based strategy is too old-school, you’re missing a nail-biter of a gaming experience. Firaxis makes the classic genre feel brand new: The game rewards patience and strategic thinking while you build up your forces to repel an alien invasion.

72. V-Moda VAMP (DAC and headphone amp)

Don’t buy the iPhone 5! This audiophile DAC, headphone amp, supplemental battery, and case is compatible only with the iPhone 4/4S. It connects to the iPhone’s docking port, taps its digital audio output, and upsamples that signal before converting it to analog and amplifying it. Expensive? Oh yeah. Worth it? Hell yeah!

73. Synology DiskStation 712+ (network-attached storage)

This NAS box lets you start small and scale up. It has only two drive bays, but you can add two or five more by connecting it to Synology’s DX213 or DX513, respectively. A great NAS for both home and business.

74. Microsoft Sculpt Touch Mouse (computer mouse)

Windows 8’s emphasis on touch controls will change how you use your computer. If you’re not ready to invest in a touchscreen display, Microsoft’s Sculpt Mouse has a touch-sensitive strip in its middle mouse button that can move the cursor up and down and left to right.

75. Lowes Iris (home control/security system)

If you’re interested in home security automation without paying for central-office monitoring, take a look at Lowes’ Iris system. This DIY package is reasonably priced, exceptionally well thought out, and very easy to install. The best kit comes with a local alarm; door, window, and motion sensors; a thermostat; and basic lighting controls.

76. Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920 (webcam)

Webcams that deliver video at 1080p resolution are a dime a dozen. What separates Logitech’s C920 from the crowd is its ability to support Skype HD video calls at 1080p, too. This well-designed, well-engineered webcam also has a versatile mounting clip that keeps it securely fastened to your display.

77. Asus Xonar Essence One (DAC and headphone amp)

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