PC World looked at many outstanding hardware, software, sites, and services this year, evaluating each one on its design, functionality, performance, and impact. Here is the cream of the crop, the 100 best of 2009. (Note that we chose not to rate products specifically on their price or value, focusing instead on their overall quality.)
Please let us know if you agree or disagree with our choices or have an unmentioned favorite by commenting at the bottom of this story or on the PC World Facebook Fans page (we'd love to have you join us there).
1. The App Store (iPhone apps, prices vary) What can you say about a store--any store--that moves 2 billion products in just 16 months? We stand in awe of Apple's trailblazing App Store, which this year put the word app on the map, as customers flocked to download iPhone applications by the shopping basketful.
The iPhone is far from the first smartphone that could run third-party software. But one reason for the success of iPhone apps is that there's a store for them. By creating one easy-to-use marketplace for 85,000 free or (in most cases) inexpensive programs, Apple sparked unprecedented interest in phone software from both iPhone owners and developers.
It may seem as though an inordinately large proportion of the items available for downloading are dedeicated to creating fart noises, but if you cut through the cheesy games and novelties, you'll find thousands of innovative, thoughtfully designed apps that can make your iPhone do things no smartphone has done before.
2. Google Voice (telephony service, free) Google Voice gives you a single number for all of your phones to use, e-mails you transcripts of your voicemail messages, and sports a host of sophisticated calling features. Set up conference calls for free, record calls, even switch phones in the middle of a call. And it's all free. Ma Bell, eat your heart out.
3. Intel X25-M Solid State Drive 160GB (internal storage device, $500) A new manufacturing process and a significantly lower price combine with great performance in this top-notch SSD. This model's speedy test results put it at the top of our chart; its price and performance make it a compelling flash upgrade for notebook or desktop users.
4. Nikon D300s (digital camera; $1770, body only) The first enthusiast model to include high-definition video capture, this camera is a joy to handle. Changing focus points on the D300s is extremely easy--and the camera takes excellent photos, too. Video output contained impressively smooth images; and the built-in microphone picked up audio well in a crowded environment.
5. Twitter (social media service, free) We loved Twitter enough last year to include it on our Top 100 list, and it has only grown stronger since. Twitter's uncomplicated API has led to an explosion of cool client apps and media sites that continually expand what it can do, including robust photo and music sharing. It's not just for pithy sentences anymore.
6. Dell Latitude Z600 (laptop, base price $1999) This superslim 16-inch laptop unites fashion-forward design and high-tech extras--with no cords. A 14mm-thick metallic-yet-rubbery case, a touch-inductive panel alongside the screen that lets you summon on-screen shortcuts, and an inductive-charging base station highlight this status symbol for business travelers.
7. Microsoft Bing (search engine, free) What sets Bing apart most strikingly from Microsoft's old Live Search and from the Google and Yahoo alternatives is the way it parses and displays search results. Whereas Google emphasizes a stark, quick-loading design and a list of highly relevant search results, Bing organizes its search results into Search Categories--subdivisions such as Web, Maps, Images, and Health. In a particular search, Bing creates Search Categories dynamically in response to the user's query. Bing also packs some new smarts: it attempts to figure out the searcher's intent rather than relying heavily on matching keywords to Web documents.
8. Canon PowerShot SX200 IS (digital camera, $350) It's pocket-size only if you have really big pockets, but the 12X-optical-zoom SX200 IS justifies its size by delivering astonishing versatility. With full manual controls plus a Smart Auto mode, 720p HD video recording, very good image quality, and that powerful lens, the SX200 IS is a budding photographer's best friend.
9. The Beatles Rock Band by Harmonix (game, $140 with instruments) Well, it probably should be number nine, but this gaming experience isn't just a straight setlist, it's a musical history lesson. As a member of the Fab Four, you start at the Cavern Club, jam at Abbey Road, sing on rooftops and go on trippy video experiences to an Octopus's Garden, rocking out the entire time. Amazingly, I find myself battling my wife--and the in-laws--for control of the mic.
10. Samsung LN46B750U (HDTV, $1670) This 46-inch TV turned in the best performance we've seen yet in our tests for motion handling. Its 240Hz refresh rate certainly helped, and the LN46B750U offers solid Web service connectivity, too. Want a smaller TV? Samsung's 40-inch LN40B650 ($1190) delivered even better overall image quality, and its 120Hz refresh rate put it just behind its 46-inch cousin in performance on our motion tests.