100 Best Products of 2011
The year's standout hardware, software, and services, as selected by PCWorld's experts.
Verizon's LTE service smoked the competition in our carrier-versus-carrier 4G wireless speed tests, offering download times that were nearly three times as fast as most competitors'. Verizon also has a big head start in 4G LTE wireless services, with coverage in more than 140 U.S. cities.
Intel's second-generation Core i3, i5, and i7 CPUs use an entirely different architecture than the first-generation CPUs did, and the new chips bring us dramatically improved graphics performance, stellar power numbers, and improved energy efficiency.
Rated: Sep 13, 2011 4:50 PM
The Galaxy S II series of Android phones is expertly built for mobile media, thanks to a stunning AMOLED display, 4G speeds, and excellent camera. The phone is available on several carriers under different names: Sprint's Epic Touch 4G, AT&T's Galaxy S II, and T-Mobile's Galaxy S II.
Rated: Mar 9, 2011 6:07 PM
Apple's second-generation iPad is undoubtedly the gold standard for tablets. So why's it ranked this low? Complacency. The iPad 2 offers snappier performance, cameras, and a lighter body, but Apple could have done much more to cement its market-defining status. As the year winds down, the iPad 2's hardware seems to lag behind the competition's, instead of sprinting ahead.
It's hard to consider Microsoft an underdog, but that's exactly what it is in the mobile OS arena. Mango represents a huge step forward in the company's efforts to change that situation, as it retains the most likable aspects of Windows Phone 7 OS and adds new features and refinements--without being an iOS or Android copycat.
The innovative A77 is a prime contender for camera of the year. Sony's flagship translucent-mirror camera offers shooting speeds and video options that we've never seen before: a blazing 12 frames per second at the unit's full 24.3-megapixel resolution, 1080p video at 60 fps, and an arsenal of creative, fun-to-use shooting modes.
Rated: Apr 7, 2011 5:00 PM
The extremely slim, solidly built Samsung Series 9 is our pick for an outstanding Windows-based ultraportable PC. At $1600 for its base configuration, the Series 9 has the slick looks and impressive performance to compete with the MacBook Air--if you can afford it.
Rated: Apr 29, 2011 8:50 AM
The novice-friendly Rebel T3i is a top-notch DSLR for many reasons: It turned in one of the best scores we've ever seen in PCWorld Labs' image tests, it shoots great video, and it's a phenomenal value for less than $1000 as a kit.
Rated: Mar 8, 2011 3:00 PM
If you need sheer, no-holds-barred graphical power for your gaming rig, look no further than the dual-GPU AMD Radeon HD 6990. It's one of the fastest graphics cards to have churned through PCWorld Labs' speed tests--and it had better be, given its daunting $700 price tag.
Rated: Sep 23, 2011 3:30 PM
With a street price as low as $1400, this 47-inch, LED-backlit television from LG provides a ton of bang for the buck: passive-glasses 3D, excellent picture quality, integrated streaming video, and a picture-calibration wizard.
Rated: Sep 12, 2011 10:38 AM
Spotify's music-streaming service is our favorite in a crowded field of that includes Pandora and Turntable.fm, though we aren't wild about its Facebook login requirements. It one-ups competitors by letting you stream the song you want when you want, and its music database is up-to-date and robust.
This 3D printer is an intimidating device for casual users, due to its price, assembly, and design requirements. However, it's the only product on our 100 Best Products list that could let you print out the other 99, and it's destined for the top 5 once its ease-of-use improves.
Rated: Sep 7, 2011 1:00 PM
Meet the anti-tablet. Priced just short of $2500, this Origin Genesis desktop PC turned in one of the highest Worldbench scores we've ever seen for a mainstream desktop, thanks to a Core i5 CPU overclocked to 5.2GHz, 16GB of RAM, two Nvidia GeForce GTX 560Ti video cards, and more than a terabyte of storage.
Rated: Sep 15, 2010 8:19 AM
Though IE's reputation is shaky, the latest version is slick and speedy, has better security against malware, is HTML5-friendly, and offers GPU-enhanced graphics performance. The resulting browser competes well against "sexier" options such as Chrome and Opera.
Rated: Jul 15, 2011 7:00 PM
According to our test results, this keyboard-equipped model is the best camera-phone in the business. In addition to offering excellent image quality, the phone has a low-light-optimized sensor, a motion-controlled panorama mode, and features that rival the ones on some stand-alone cameras.
Rated: Nov 16, 2010 7:18 AM
This color touchscreen e-reader combines sharp text and gorgeous images, but like the Kinect, its extra appeal lies in its hackability. DIY projects abound, including the ability to install Android and use it as a tablet, make it a dual-boot e-reader, or improve its battery life.
Rated: Sep 23, 2011 3:30 PM
With excellent picture quality, an ultraslim bezel, active-shutter 3D playback, and the ability to stream Hulu Plus, Netflix, and other content via its Smart TV Hub, this 46-inch LED-backlit HDTV does a lot--and looks good while doing it.
Rated: Jan 20, 2011 4:15 PM
Its combination of manual controls, excellent still-image and video quality, an adjustable LCD screen, and a solidly built body make the PowerShot G12 the best all-around fixed-lens camera we've tested this year.
Rated: Aug 29, 2011 6:00 PM
With the best font and formatting options of any online office suite, great file compatibility with desktop-installed versions of Office, and online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook, this is today's top cloud-based productivity suite.
Rated: Jul 1, 2011 6:00 PM
No doubt about it: The slick, sturdy Dell XPS 15z borrows its aesthetics from Apple's Macbook Pro. But at $1000 for its base configuration, it offers terrific performance and hardware for a more-affordable price.
Rated: Dec 2, 2011 6:00 PM
Any scanner can handle a piece of paper; but what about a cupcake, or a toy robot? Enter TopShot, a camera on an adjustable arm that takes multiple, birds'-eye-view photos of 3D objects, combining them into a single image with shadows and contours. This color laser MFP is the first product to possess that artsy feature.
Rated: Jun 21, 2011 4:31 PM
This Android phone for Sprint bills its 3D display as its marquee feature, which is sort of a shame. Its 4G data speeds, gorgeous design, and snappy dual-core processor make it the best Sprint phone of 2011, and you can turn the 3D effects off if you don't want them.
Rated: Sep 20, 2010 12:55 PM
Our pick for the most indispensable mobile app is Google Maps: free turn-by-turn directions, integrated reviews of businesses, and the most up-to-date maps when you need them.
Rated: Nov 21, 2011 4:22 PM
If you're having trouble deciding between a laptop and a tablet, the Asus Eee Pad Slider may be for you. This thicker-than-most slate has a slide-out QWERTY keyboard an a built-in USB 2.0 port that makes it a seriously productivity-minded tablet.
Rated: Mar 3, 2011 12:00 AM
The GH2 is a touchscreen camera done right. It has amazing video capabilities for a still camera, thanks to touch-to-focus controls and a manual video mode, making it the best interchangeable-lens camera for video we reviewed in 2011.
Rated: Nov 21, 2011 7:12 AM
Let's face it: You must be onto something if Apple tries to block sales of your tablet. The Samsung Galaxy 10.1 was the first Android tablet to show the mobile OS's potential on the bigger screen.
For about $250, you can get a hard drive that should keep you packing in the bits and bytes for a very long time. This USB 3.0 drive is the first to offer an insane 4TB of storage.
Rated: Sep 22, 2011 5:30 PM
The hardest part of watching great-looking 2D and 3D footage on this 46-inch Sony LED set is keeping your eyes on the screen. Besides offering awesome picture quality, it's one of the most stunningly designed sets we've ever seen.
Rated: Sep 7, 2011 5:30 AM
The Droid Bionic supplanted the Motorola Atrix on our list for a number of reasons: 4G speeds, a dual-core processor, and custom accessories such as an Atrix-like laptop dock, an HDMI-powered "HD Station," and an in-car GPS mount.
Rated: May 20, 2011 3:58 PM
The 500GB wireless Seagate GoFlex Satellite could be your tablet's best friend, as it lets you dump all of your beefy music and video files onto it and access them without cables. We love the idea, but the mobile app required to access files from your device needs a ton of work.
Rated: May 26, 2011 12:00 PM
The ThinkPad X1 is an ultraportable, but it's not as lean as such rival laptops as the Macbook Air and the Samsung Series 9. Still, it's our pick of the year for business-minded travelers, thanks to its combination of durability and performance.
Rated: Aug 12, 2011 3:00 PM
If you're willing to pay a bundle for the best-performing thin-and-light laptop we've tested this year, opt for the $2500 configuration of the Sony VAIO SB. This 2.7GHz dual-core Core i7 laptop smoked competitors of similar size in our WorldBench 6 tests. It comes with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive, and somehow it still manages to deliver great battery life.
Every security company offers some sort of cloud security program, but Webroot SecureAnywhere has a different take on the idea. It doesn't rely on signature updates, and it features a Web portal that lets you manage security on all of your systems. The "Complete" package also includes Webroot's security app for iOS and Android.
The Intel 510 SSD series tied for top performance honors among solid-state drives in our tests. With a capacity of 250GB and a price of $580, it lets you add top-flight SSD performance without breaking the bank. Previously, 250GB or so of SSD storage would have cost about $200 more.
Rated: Sep 19, 2011 9:01 PM
It's hard to believe that the full-featured Premiere Elements 10 costs just $100, as it offers color-correction, keyframing capabilities, and 64-bit-system compatibility. This package is the current king of consumer video-editing suites.
Rated: Mar 21, 2011 5:47 PM
The ThunderBolt was the first phone to use Verizon's top-rated LTE network. As such, it introduced 4G to the masses. Its other specs weren't too shabby, either: an attractive 4.3-inch display, an 8-megapixel camera on the back, and a very solid build.
Rated: Sep 20, 2011 6:00 PM
If you're willing to pay top dollar for speed--say, 83 mbps while writing data and 65 mbps while reading data over a gigabit network--there's no better option than this two-bay NAS enclosure. Included in the $600 price is the excellent Qnap OS for your data-management needs.
Rated: Mar 25, 2011 3:00 PM
The no-nonsense X220 delivers exactly what ThinkPad users have come to love--a top-notch keyboard and touchpad, a durable-but-light body, sterling performance, and battery life expandable to 23 hours--all wrapped up in an ultraportable package: .
Rated: May 26, 2011 12:30 PM
It may not be as famous as its rivals, but mSpot provides one of the best audio-streaming services for Android and iOS devices. Even in areas plagued by low reception, music playback is practically flawless; and mSpot's personalized radio features make this app a winner.
Rated: Apr 27, 2011 5:05 PM
With configurations starting at $1600, this 23-inch touchscreen PC isn't the cheapest system on the block, but you get a ton for your money. The unit we tested packed a quad-core Intel Core i7 CPU, 1TB of storage, and 8GB of RAM. But here's the kicker: The entire frame slides down, giving you an unprecedented access to the touch experience.
Rated: Apr 12, 2011 3:00 PM
The lightweight U31Jg offers a fantastic blend of affordability, battery life, and business performance, with an $800 price tag for its 2.53GHz Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 500GB drive. It's not the best fit for multimedia hounds, but it s a top-notch business ultraportable.
Rated: Jun 3, 2011 6:10 PM
It was a banner year for pocket megazoom cameras, and the 16X-zoom Cyber-shot HX9V is the most feature-loaded of the lot: in-camera GPS, great low-light performance, superb video quality, and even 3D still-image capture.
Rated: May 13, 2011 2:15 PM
Another fine pocket megazoom, this one offering best-in-class photos, the 18X-zoom Coolpix S9100 turned in the best image quality we saw in 2011 from a fixed-lens camera. It's fully automated, too.
Rated: May 2, 2011 5:00 PM
And here's our pocket-megazoom pick for anyone who desires manual controls. The 14X-optical-zoom SX230 HS sweetens the deal with great image quality, high-speed modes, and in-camera GPS.
At $99 (that's for the ad-supported "Special Offers" version of the Kindle Touch), Amazon's first multitouch-enabled, keyboardless e-reader is bound to be popular this holiday shopping season. Two months of battery life per charge doesn't hurt, either.
Rated: Jan 25, 2012 11:35 AM
The Wi-Fi-enabled Pixma MG8220 lets you send print jobs wirelessly from an Android or iPhone app. It also offers CD/DVD printing, adds creative filters to photo prints, and has a nifty 3.5-inch touchscreen LCD. Basically, this is about as cool as a $300 inkjet multifunction printer gets.
Rated: Oct 10, 2011 1:15 PM
The year's other cool $300 MFP is this one. You get CD/DVD printing and cloud printing; and while its own touch control panel isn't quite as flashy as the Canon Pixma MG8220's, the Artisan 837 makes up for that by coming through with better photo quality, cheaper inks, and an automatic document feeder.
The Zite app for iOS is part magazine-style content aggregator and part mind reader. It scans your social networking feeds and serves up stories about some of your favorite topics, in a clean, easy-to-read print-like layout.
Rated: Nov 1, 2011 9:02 PM
As mobile devices become a more-integral part of everyday computing, the more you need to protect them. This security app for Android devices scans apps for malware, protects against phishing attacks, and offers robust text- and call-blocking features.
Rated: Sep 19, 2011 2:00 PM
At 9 pounds and $5700, Dell's Precision M6600 laptop is hefty in both weight and price. The trade-off is a quad-core Core i7 system with plenty of power for hard-core graphics and engineering pros, as well as a best-in-class touchscreen display.
Rated: Nov 21, 2011 10:30 AM
Lenovo's work-minded ThinkPad Tablet offers a good-looking display, pen input, and preloaded productivity apps geared toward business users. It's a bit thicker and heavier than most tablets, but the bulk means more room for port options.
Dolphin is a stellar replacement for the stock browser on both iOS and Android. It features tabbed browsing and support for gestures, and overall it provides a pleasant mobile browsing experience.
The M-Audio BX5 D2 speakers are the cream of the crop in among low-priced self-powered units, delivering about as much bass as you can get in a speaker set that doesn't dominate your limited desk space.
This elegant hybrid product is one of the first to combine Wi-Fi and PowerLine networks in a single box. It cuts a few corners, but it scores as a clever way to deliver wireless service to portable devices, and wired networking for streaming media to consumer electronics.
Rated: Sep 29, 2011 2:01 PM
Finally, Gmail users can get in on the same good stuff that Xobni for Outlook has been bringing to the table. Smartr Inbox for Gmail by Xobni adds detailed info about your e-mail contacts, and it turns your inbox into a central communications hub, including social networking via Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
Rated: Feb 17, 2011 5:35 PM
The 10X-optical-zoom EXH20G snaps good-looking pics and has outstanding battery life, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. It also has the best in-camera GPS features we've ever seen, thanks to its mapping feature, points-of-interest database, and an autonomic positioning system for indoor use.
There's no Instagram for Android, but Lightbox Photos goes a long way toward making that deficiency a moot point. This free photo-archiving, -editing, and -syncing app lets you instantly upload your pics to Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and Tumblr.
Rated: Jul 25, 2011 4:00 PM
The slim, 1-inch-thick Revo RL100 is a home-theater PC built for your living room. Beyond its Blu-ray drive and 750GB of onboard storage, it has a slide-out, light-up keyboard and wireless trackpad.
Rated: Sep 20, 2011 6:00 PM
"Small and speedy" aptly describes this $320 two-bay NAS enclosure. In our tests it averaged data speeds of 45 mbps writing and 58 mbps reading over a gigabit network. Synology's browser-based DiskManager Station 3.1 operating system is an excellent management tool, as well.
Wacom has gained quite a following among graphics professionals thanks to its pen-and-pad-like input tablets, but most of them are too expensive for casual users to consider buying. The $80 Bamboo Connect, however, is priced to move, and its USB connector lets you plug in and create digital hand drawings on your laptop or desktop.
Rated: Jul 20, 2011 6:00 PM
The Casio Tryx's biggest wow factor trait is its unique, twistable design, which lets you prop the camera up or hold it as you would a traditional camcorder. It also performs impressively, capturing low-light images well, offering a 240-fps high-speed mode, and supporting some very creative photo effects.
Rated: Jun 27, 2011 3:45 PM
We've never seen a faster video-editing program than Premiere Pro CS5.5, thanks to GPU-accelerated features that tap into Nvidia graphics cards. In our tests, the hardware acceleration reduced rendering time by about 70 percent.
This $5 music-making app for Apple's iPad is stunning, allowing you to play virtual instruments, record and mix multitrack songs, or even plug in your guitar with an adapter and record actual instrumentation.
Rated: Aug 29, 2011 6:00 PM
For just $50 per user per year, this is the most cost-effective cloud suite out there. The only installed software you need is a browser in order to edit, share, and collaborate on documents in real-time using Google Apps.
Rated: Jun 10, 2011 12:30 PM
For a little more money than your average tablet costs, you can get this $600, 3.3GHz Sandy Bridge desktop loaded with 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive, a Blu-ray disc drive, two USB 3.0 ports, and an AMD Radeon HD 6670 graphics card. That's an unbelievable deal.
Linux has a reputation for being an operating system built primarily for hard-core geeks and tinkerers, but the slick, multitouch-enabled Ubuntu 11.04--code-named 'Natty Narwhal'--is a surprisingly newbie-friendly distribution.
Android Honeycomb has its share of kinks, but this tablet-only OS takes full advantage of larger screens. The "holographic" desktop is customizable with resizable widgets, and apps truly shine as a result of deep integration with the rest of the Honeycomb OS.
Finally, you can enjoy some tangible rewards for working out all the time, other than those rock-hard abs. This service tracks your running activity via Nike+ or Fitbit, shows your stats on a leaderboard with other users, awards virtual trophies, and lets you trade in earned points for gifts.
Though sold separately, these two items are no ordinary input devices. The keyboard shifts position across regular intervals, with the keys adjusting slightly to help you vary your positions. The mouse is situated on a pivot, which makes it incredibly comfortable to use.
Rated: Nov 8, 2010 10:20 AM
How can big sound come out of a speaker so small? The Jambox churns out audio with remarkable depth for the gadget's size, and it can do so sans wires: The speaker pairs with phones, PCs, and other devices via Bluetooth or a line-in port.
Rated: May 12, 2011 4:03 PM
If you're looking for a quick-and-easy way around Windows 7's taskbar limitations for pinning documents and apps, look no further than Bins. This free app lets you create folderlike bins on your taskbar, keeping more of your favorite stuff immediately at hand.
Rated: Jul 1, 2011 4:58 PM
If you want to keep your locally stored Word docs and your cloud-stored Google docs synced up without much hassle, we recommend that you try this free app. It works in the background, scanning selected documents for ongoing changes and uploading up-to-date copies to your online storage account.
Rated: Mar 22, 2011 3:29 PM
We love Box.net's free-and-easy app for sharing documents--and entire folder--with contacts on LinkedIn and with Facebook friends. The free service gives you 5GB of space to work with just for signing up.
Rated: Oct 13, 2010 8:00 AM
In a perfect world, this would be the default camera app for Android phones. The free version of Camera360 improves overall image quality, speeds up shooting, and offers an extensive array of creative image filters.
Rated: Jul 6, 2011 2:47 PM
We forgive you if you're not all that excited about making full backups of your data, but it's still a critical safeguard. This unintrusive download backs up your files to the cloud (paid version only), to a friend's computer, or to a combination of the two.
Gogo's in-flight Wi-Fi service has been around for a few years now, but it keeps getting better and expanding to more airlines. Nine air carriers and 1166 individual planes offer the service, which is a godsend during coast-to-coast flights.
Eye-Fi’s Mobile X2 storage card forms a P2P connection between a camera and a phone or tablet, letting you offload pics to mobile devices instantly.
Rated: Jul 6, 2012 1:38 PM
If you're never heard of the Maxthon browser, that's a shame. It offers the ability to switch between Webkit and Trident rendering engines, meaning that virtually no website is incompatible with it.
This is unquestionably the most compelling set of binoculars we've seen this year. Built for bird-watchers and for sports fans in the nosebleed seats, these binoculars record 1080p video in both 2D and 3D, snap 7-megapixel images, and offer geotagging via built-in GPS.
Rated: Jun 9, 2011 6:00 PM
Samsung's first-generation Chrome OS laptop didn't live up to our performance expectations for the $430-and-up price, but we like where this "cloud-based laptop" idea is headed. Here's hoping that the next-generation Chromebook is more affordable and much more usable.