Electronics Gift Guide
A consumer spending slump dealt a blow to electronics makers in 2009. With industry sales expected to tumble 8% to $164.9 billion this year, Pioneer dropped out of the plasma HD television market and mobile Internet device innovator OQO shut its doors. Even the supposedly recession-proof video-game industry suffered steep sales declines.
But the year in tech wasn’t all bad. Online retailer Amazon (AMZN) kicked off a frenzy of competition with its wireless Kindle e-Book readers. A certain operating system named Droid emerged to give Apple a run for its money in the smartphone market. And eco-friendly products, from big-screen televisions to music systems, became commonplace.
Read on for the best products for 2009, as selected by BusinessWeek’s technology writers and editors, as well as five highly anticipated products that failed to meet expectations.
Best Gadgets of 2009
1. Kindle 2 International Edition
When it was released last year, Amazon’s Kindle quickly outshone the previously released Sony e-book reader, thanks to the inclusion of free, high-speed wireless access that lets users download books on the go. The retailer’s superb follow-up this year offered a much-improved design and wireless connectivity that lets users download books outside the U.S. for a fee. But Amazon (AMZN) will have to keep innovating to stay ahead in a market that’s quickly getting crowded with devices from rivals, including Barnes & Noble (BKS).
2. Windows 7
$49.99 (Windows 7 Home Premium)
Windows 7 fixes many of the problems that plagued Vista, the preceding version of Windows. Available on most new PCs, Win 7 boots faster than Vista and performs snappily, with more intuitive features than ever before.
3. Samsung 8500 Series LED Television
Never content to be a follower, Samsung rocked competitors with a new line of superthin high-definition televisions that use energy-sipping light-emitting diodes as their primary light source instead of traditional cold cathode fluorescent lamps. The top-of-the-line 8500 Series measures just 1.6-inches thick and processes pictures at a faster rate than older sets to reduce motion blur and create video-like images. The LED sets also include Internet connections that let users download content off the Web. Rivals Vizio, LG, and Sony are hot on Samsung’s heels with their own LED-based sets and are throwing in software that the high-end Samsung set lacks, such as those that connects to Yahoo! (YHOO) tools or allows Netflix (NFLX) streaming movie access.
4. IdeaPad S12 Netbook
Many electronics users have had a love-hate relationship with netbooks since their introduction. With their cramped keyboards, low-power processors, and small 7-in. screens, they’re highly portable but not good for much more than surfing the Web. Lenovo addresses these shortcomings with the IdeaPad S12. It has a 12.1-in. screen sporting a high-definition 1280-by-800 resolution display. The IdeaPad is one of the first netbooks to sport Nvidia’s (NVDA) high-end Ion graphics chip to support HD streaming video without the stuttering playback that’s plagued other netbooks. Excellent stereo speakers, a relatively speedy Intel (INTC) Atom processor, and a six-hour battery make the S12 a shoo-in for our favorite netbook of the year.
5. Dual-View TL220 Digital Camera
Some products make so much sense they leave you wondering why nobody thought of them before. Samsung’s Dual-View TL220 digital camera fits that description. Say you want to snap a picture of yourself and the family but don’t have the time to set up a tripod or will to bother a passerby. Simply tap the front of the 12.2-megapixel TL220 to engage a 1.5-inch view screen that lets you frame yourself in the picture quickly and easily. There’s even a child mode that displays built-in animations to keep the kid occupied while you line up a shot. With a wide-angle lens and the ability to shoot short HD movies, the Samsung Dual-View sets a new standard for point-and-shoot cameras.
Worst Gadgets of 2009
1. Aspire EasyStore H340 NAS Server
We loved the idea: a low-priced machine that lets you store up to 500,000 digital photos, 300,000 MP3 files, and 4,285 hours of movies, and then send and share the information with devices in the home and on the road. The Aspire is slick, has a powerful Intel Atom processor, and is relatively easy to set up and install. The desktop software is the deal breaker; it includes McAfee (MFE) antivirus software that can’t be removed and at times significantly slows your PC’s operations. Also, if you lose the installation disc, there’s no way to download it from Acer’s Web site.
2. Windows Mobile 6.5 Operating System
Free (with purchase of Windows Mobile smartphones)
Microsoft has been working hard to put its Windows Mobile operating system on par with Android, Palm’s webOS, and the software running Apple’s iPhone. But Windows Mobile 6.5 doesn’t quite get there. Sure, it’s zippy and more stable than previous generations, but the touchscreen interface needs work, and the overall experience seems Stone Age compared to its rivals.
3. Twitter Peek
$200 (with wireless lifetime service)
With Twitter available on so many smartphones, you’d better make a dedicated mobile Twitter device good. This isn’t. Its shortcomings are legion. It doesn’t display full 140-character messages on the home screen, and there’s no way to include multiple Twitter accounts or even get Tweets from one account if you power the device off and turn it back on.
We liked the idea of a digital camera that can instantly print out images on the run. But overall, the camera was too heavy to carry around for extended periods of time, its tiny prints yielded washed-out or uneven colors, and the tradeoff between novelty and value was too high at a time when a point-and-shoot digital camera at twice the resolution can be had for $40 to $70 less.
5. AT&T 3G Network
We hate to kick them when so many others have come before us. But spotty 3G coverage and overloaded networks have hobbled Apple’s iPhone and App Store in some big cities and kept us from adding the iPhone 3GS to the list of this year’s best gadgets. A delay in offering multimedia text messaging (while still charging for it) also merits a bucket of coal.