Today's Best Hardware
When we asked our staff experts about the best products in the areas they cover right now, they responded with some very well-informed opinions. Here are their choices, in 18 categories: cameras (at $200, $400, and $800), laptops (Ultrabook and gaming laptop), smartphones (Android, Windows, and camera phone), printers (home inkjet MFP and business color laser), desktop PCs (all-in-one and gaming PC), HDTVs (plasma and LCD), tablet, monitor, e-reader, and graphics board. Illustration by Andy Potts
Best $400 Camera: Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 combines a fast F2.0 lens with lightning-quick focusing, and it tops the manual exposure controls that most advanced point-and-shoot cameras offer by adding shutter and aperture controls in video mode. Because the LX5 has been around for a while, you can snap it up for less than $400, a great price for one of the best manual-oriented compact cameras on the market.
Best Plasma HDTV: Panasonic VT Series
No TV maker takes plasma sets as seriously as Panasonic does. If you like the deep blacks and smooth motion that plasma TVs can provide, you will love the Panasonic VT series (65-inch model, $3700; 55-inch model, $2500), which also features multitasking apps and a smaller energy footprint.
Best Android Phone: Samsung Galaxy S III
Talking into your phone is so last century. These days, we spend most of our time looking at them--and the huge, 4.8-inch screen on the Samsung Galaxy S III gives you a lot to look at. Despite its big display, the S III manages to be relatively light, with a cool, textured feel. And the phone's advanced processor makes Android and your apps very responsive.
Best Ultrabook: Dell XPS 13
Dell's first Ultrabook is sleek, lightweight, and nicely rigid. In our tests, the Dell XPS 13 was fast even with a Core i5 CPU and integrated graphics (that version costs $1000; a few hundred dollars more gets you a Core i7 processor and a larger solid-state drive). And the XPS 13's keyboard won't hold speedy typists back. Our main gripe: The screen could be better.
Best E-Reader: Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch With GlowLight
It's amazing that e-reader makers took so long to realize that people like to read in bed, but at last they seem to have figured it out. Barnes & Noble's GlowLight feature is elegantly simple: The adjustable LED light illuminates the reading area, yet it won't keep your partner awake. And the Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch With GlowLight ($140) is light and easy to hold for hours.
Best Graphics Board: Nvidia GeForce GTX 680
The first graphics board that incorporates Nvidia's Kepler architecture, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 680 ($500) delivered fantastic performance in our tests while drawing less power and making less noise than comparable cards.
Best 24-Inch Monitor: HP ZR2440w
The HP ZR2440w ($425) provides a full complement of ergonomic adjustments and an assortment of input options, including DVI, HDMI, and DisplayPort. But the proof is in the display--and the ZR2440w doesn't disappoint there either. Our jury of testers rated this monitor at the top of its category on virtually every test we performed.
Best $200 Camera: Canon PowerShot SX230 HS
The Canon PowerShot SX230 HS combines great image quality, versatility, and extra features at a phenomenal price. This 14X-optical-zoom (28mm to 392mm) pocket camera offers top-notch photo quality, plus manual shutter and aperture controls. It captures stills at 8 shots per second in burst mode and video at 24 frames per second, with in-camera geotagging.
Best Home Printer: HP Photosmart 5520 e-All-in-One Printer
Printers are utilitarian, but that doesn't mean they can't be sophisticated and stylish. You control the HP Photosmart 5520 e-All-in-One Printer ($129) by way of a nifty touchpad, and it has an attractive low-slung, black-slab look. Other benefits of this multifunction unit: It can print on both sides of a page, and its ink prices won't drive you crazy.
Best Windows Phone: Nokia Lumia 900
Few people use Windows Phone 7, but that's not because it's a bad OS. Its colorful Metro interface makes getting around your phone simple and fun. And the Nokia Lumia 900 ($100 with a two-year AT&T contract) brings a beautiful display, an accomplished camera, and LTE data speeds to the table.
Best Gaming Desktop PC: Maingear Shift Super Stock
For gamers, it doesn't get any better than the Maingear Shift Super Stock. (Of course, it doesn't get much pricier, either: The machine we reviewed cost nearly $8000.) The Shift Super Stock is blazing-fast, naturally, offering blistering frame rates even on demanding games played at their highest quality settings. The PC also sports a large, gorgeous case that permits efficient cooling and affords easy access for tinkering.
Best Camera Phone: T-Mobile MyTouch 4G Slide
With zero shutter lag, a backside illuminated sensor, and useful specialized modes (panorama, macro, and burst), the camera on the T-Mobile MyTouch 4G Slide is as advanced as many point-and-shoots. Can a phone really produce great-looking images? The MyTouch 4G Slide can. (The phone costs $200 with a two-year contract.)
Best All-in-One PC: HP Z1
Most all-in-one PCs are about convenience, not performance. The HP Z1 is an exception. This pricey workstation (the version we reviewed sells for $5673) includes an Intel Xeon processor, 16GB of RAM, and an Nvidia Quadro 4000M graphics board. With a WorldBench 7 score of 159, the Z1 finished far ahead of any other all-in-one we've tested. And you can open up the Z1 and swap out components--try that with any other all-in-one on the market.
Best Tablet: Apple iPad
Surprised at this choice? Of course not. Apple's tablets have been well ahead of the competition ever since there's been any competition. The latest Apple iPad (which starts at $499) isn't a revolutionary advance; but its crisp, high-resolution display and option for a 4G connection help it put yet more daylight between itself and every other tablet.
Best $800 Camera: Sony Alpha SLT-A57
The 16-megapixel APS-C-sensor-equipped Sony Alpha SLT-A57 isn't a true digital SLR (it has a fixed translucent mirror and lacks an optical viewfinder). But its features beat those of many midrange DSLRs, starting with a continuous shooting speed of 12 frames per second at 8-megapixel resolution, with the camera's phase-detection autofocus enabled. That's faster than any camera in its class (and many more-expensive models); factor in the A57's 1080p video recording at 60 fps, and you have the most feature-packed camera south of $1000.
Best Business Printer: Samsung CLP-775ND
If you work in a busy office, the last thing you want to do is wait for the printer to produce output. The Samsung CLP-775ND color laser printer ($750) prints both text and photos swiftly. With a 500-sheet main tray, it won't force you to intervene constantly to reload paper. And with relatively low per-page printing costs, this model won't waste your money either.
Best LCD HDTV: Samsung ES8000 Series
We haven't been able to test the latest lines of HDTVs yet, but Samsung's LCD TVs have consistently been top performers, and the Samsung ES8000 Series ($3000 to $4400) looks similarly strong. The TVs' remotes accept voice and gesture controls, and their superthin bezels make the screens almost edgeless.
Best Gaming Laptop: Origin EON17-S
There's nothing subtle about the Origin EON17-S: It has a large case, a strong fan, and a weight in excess of 11 pounds with its power brick. But that big package pays off with big power. The Core i7 CPU can run as high as 4.5GHz in Turbo Boost mode, and the $3442 laptop we reviewed turned in astonishing numbers on our benchmark tests.