In the year 2013 we've seen some real stand-out stars in several sectors, including mobile, automotive, desktop computing, and gaming. This was certainly a year of hero devices, with manufacturers often bringing just one or two devices to headline their entire 12-month market presence. There were also several new totally unexpected releases initiated through the year, with entirely new device categories being created in the process.
Apple’s classic handset continues to be refined in the iPhone 5s with new camera technology, a multi-functional fingerprint sensor, and a whole new vision for the company’s unique mobile operating system iOS. This device line shows its relative timelessness by continuing to be one of the best selling smartphones around the world, even as the competition radically reinvents their looks and functionality.
While LG did bring the super-odd LG G2 with back-facing volume and power keys along with the curved version of the handset in the LG G Flex, this company’s star for the year has to be the LG Nexus 5. As the best smartphone for it’s off-contract price above $200, the Nexus 5 brings the highest-powered Qualcomm processor on the market, the Snapdragon 800, to pair with a 5-inch 1080p display and a friendly rubbery back and build.
If there was one thing Motorola was good at this year, it was the element of surprise. With the Moto X, this newly-dubbed Google Company brought a custom-order smartphone with a set of abilities matched with a processor build unique the manufacturer. The Moto X was also released in a relatively wide manner, coming to each of the four major wireless carriers as well as Republic Wireless and U.S. Cellular for what was easily the most prolific smartphone ever released by Motorola in the USA. This handset also received an update to Android 4.4 KitKat before most of Google’s Nexus devices.
Samsung continued to refine its best-selling smartphone lineup with the Samsung Galaxy S 4, a device that took last year’s move to a "Nature UI" on both the outside and the inside - certainly a move that was not foreseen by the public. But it worked! Samsung continues to sell more smartphones than any other Android-based smartphone manufacturer, with both the Samsung Galaxy S 4 and the Galaxy Note 3 at the helm. The Galaxy Note 3 also continues to lead the larger smartphone segment with Samsung’s own S Pen technology and the rest of the company’s unique connectivity innovations.
The HTC One was one of the first hero smartphones to be released by a major manufacturer in 2013 but it remains in use by more than one SlashGear employee here at the end of the year. The proof is in the pudding - both the Samsung Galaxy S 4 and the HTC One were chosen by Google to be the first two Google Play Edition devices this year, and the HTC One is still running the sharpest display on the market with 1080p on a 4.7-inch display - that’s 468 pixels per inch, and it’s backed up by one of the finest cameras on a smartphone and two forward facing (that’s important) speakers branded BoomSound for a good reason.
Sony brought a break-out hit this year as well in the Sony Xperia Z, a device so odd we were compelled to review it twice. Waterproof, working with Sony’s finest smartphone-based camera yet, and rolling with a fine looking glass front and back, this machine could only be replaced with the slightly more powerful Xperia Z1 later in the year.
Sub-$200 phones of the year
The most popular Windows Phone 8 device of the year is not the most powerful - nor is it the one with the biggest and best camera. In fact it’s not especially remarkable in any way save one: it’s really rather inexpensive. For the price, the Nokia Lumia 520 is the best Windows Phone device on the market - and it’s being upgraded as we speak with the Nokia Lumia 525, and here in the USA you’ll find the equally excellent - and inexpensive Nokia Lumia 521 with T-Mobile - one of the biggest sellers in smartphones for the carrier.
Motorola’s other big surprise for the year was the release of the global release ultra-inexpensive Moto G. This device took the basics from the Moto X and cut out all the non-essentials, coming with - believe it or not - a sharper display in the process. Motorola released this device around the world within a month of its reveal and upgraded it to Android 4.4 KitKat before most major smartphone release including the HTC One, LG G2, Sony Xperia Z, and Samsung Galaxy S 4.
SlashGear dubbed the iPad mini with Retina display "the holy grail of tablets" this year, so it should come as no surprise that it’s our favorite. With the same thin and sleek aluminum chassis as the original iPad mini, this machine brings a much sharper display and a perfect delivery vehicle for the newest generation of iOS.
The iPad Air, too, took the iPad line to a new place entirely. While this machine become significantly thinner than its predecessor, the iPad Air also worked with a brand new processor and extra-long battery life, making it one of the finest tablets ever to have been released.
Google’s finest effort this year comes in the 2013 edition of the Nexus 7, working with one of the sharpest displays on a tablet today and Google’s most pure version of Android. This machine is also delivered with Google’s surprisingly inexpensive price points at $229 and $269 depending on what size storage you want inside.
We’ve got to give props to the most uniquely delivered tablet released this year in the NVIDIA Tegra Note 7. The version of this machine build we had a look at was the EVGA, USA-based release, with different manufacturers bringing ever-so-slightly different versions to different areas of the world. Like NVIDIA’s graphics processor development and release with a variety of creators, the Tegra Note opens a new door for the gaming community as well - we’ll be hearing a lot more about this single tool in a greater gaming environment sooner than later, more than likely.
A relatively new category of device and certainly the first year in which there was suitable competition in the field, the "smartwatch" is now a very real thing. We've found Pebble to be the stand-out hit of the year while units like the Sony SmartWatch 2 created both a machine and an ecosystem that's relatively reliable, but with a touchscreen at the helm instead. For how we're using the smartwatch here near the end of 2013, our money's on Pebble.
Meanwhile some other first releases in the smartwatch universe were the Samsung Galaxy Gear - the first smartwatch in this modern scene with a full-powered camera - and the Qualcomm Toq. The Toq stands out as unique with its light-up display and made-by-Qualcomm distinction - the first such device made by the processor manufacturer. Watch this space with great expectations in 2014, it's going to be another year of massive expansion for the smartwatch.
Also bringing heat to the wearables space this year was the health tracker, or sports band. The device that we found to be most excellent all-around was the Jawbone UP24, working with fitness tracking and another technology that took hold this year: Bluetooth LE. Using Bluetooth 4.0, this machine connects to your smartphone with "Low Energy" mode so that it requires as little power as possible. Because this device is well refined over its previous generation and offers a rather qualitative analysis as well as habit-changing challenges as you move through your fitness experience, the Jawbone UP24 is a clear winner.
One single machine stood out in the desktop space this year like no other - the Mac Pro 2013. This unit was delivered with a build unlike we’d ever seen in a desktop, and it came with a surprising set of top-tier abilities to boot.
Both the MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air have been favorites of the tech reporting industry for several years - head to an event like CES or MWC and you'll see the vast majority of the press population working with one or the other. Here in 2013, Apple presented a new generation of both machines, bringing both device lines up to full power, bringing Intel's 4th generation Core technology (Haswell) in to a couple of our picks for the year: the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display and the 13-inch MacBook Air. This generation brought on a massive amount of battery life alongside an ever-so-slightly modified industrial design - sleeker than before with the same full-metal jacket.
The year 2013 was also a massive growing year for the likes of Google's Chrome OS, bringing devices like the Acer Chromebook C720 to the scene. This machine ends up being a perfect mid-point between power and price at just $249 USD. With plenty of energy to get through a normal day, this machine ended up being ideal for the average internet-bound user.
For those that wanted to get the highest-end experience in the Chrome OS, there was the Chromebook Pixel - it certainly wasn't the most budget-friendly option, but a rather high-definition display and touchscreen abilities made it one of the finest notebooks of the year, not just one of the finest Chromebooks.
Apple turned the tables on the industry this year by taking their desktop operating system OS X and making it free. Released entirely for free, Apple's OS X Mavericks also further tied the desktop and mobile ecosystems together, added multiple display support, and was released alongside a new set of apps like iPhoto, iMovie, GarageBand, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote for free with the purchase of any new Mac hardware.
For the mobile side of Apple's software ecosystem, the same set of apps (iPhoto, iMovie, GarageBand, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote) were released for free as well. These apps connect with their desktop iterations and work with full functionality no matter what Apple device users are rolling with.
While the Falcon Northwest Tiki wasn’t technically unveiled in 2013, we found it to be one of the most compelling gaming-aimed PCs on the market this year. Working with a super-sleek heavy metal chassis on a real granite base, we can think of no better place to hold our newest-in-new top-end gaming processing architecture.
Easily one of the strangest and most unforeseen devices of the year was the NVIDIA SHIELD handheld gaming device. Like the Tegra Note, SHIELD is now part of an ever-expanding NVIDIA-based gaming experience that’s entirely unique to the brand.
Both the Xbox One from Microsoft and Sony’s PlayStation 4 came out like a bolt of lightening on a sunny day this year, summoning somewhat of a rebirth in excitement in the console gaming universe well before they were released to the public - and these machines were only just released.
Both the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 will be playing big parts in SlashGear's gaming environment - rapidly expanding as it is - through 2014 and beyond. Their central roles in the gaming environments for Sony and Microsoft in the wild will continue through the next several years at least.
Delivered in the OM-D EM-1 is the newest Olympus flagship, and with it comes the highest-end performance we've come to expect from the company. With a new 16-megapixel sensor, weather sealing, built-in 5-axis stabilization, and built-in wi-fi connectivity, this camera is key to our immediate future in not only hobby applications, but for photographing the other devices we're about to see in 2014.
NOTE: We'll be bringing you a full review of the OM-D EM-1 soon. Until then, you'll be seeing this machine in action - whether you know it or not - in product reviews and at major tech events for the next several months at least!
Also worth mentioning is the extreme power instilled in the "Camera Phone" device that's quickly becoming a category of its own. With the ability to take humongous photos with fine quality came the Nokia Lumia 1020 - with a 41-megapixel sensor and Windows Phone 8 to back it up with Nokia's unique camera app software, this device stood alone. Not necessarily as the best smartphone on the market, but in its ability to work as a high-end pocketable camera for sure.
In the 2014 Corvette Stingray Convertible is the reinvention of an icon. This vehicle takes the all-American icon and refines it in all aspects: from design to performance, chassis to brakes. The 2014 Corvette Stingray Convertible also rolls with a new 8-inch driver information display with a variety of modes, connecting with MyLink, backup camera, and OnStar support.
Google took an OK idea in the Nexus Q and re-delivered in a really, really good idea in a miniature package: Chromecast. With a price set at $35 a shot, this HDMI-dongle is almost worth grabbing just to experiment with - and it works with essentially every Android and iOS device right out of the box, too.
Looking forward to 2014
In less than a week after this article is released, SlashGear will be headed to CES 2014, and not long after that we'll be seeing more tech action at MWC 2014. At these international technology conventions we'll see a massive amount of gadgetry that'll almost certainly out-do a lot of the machines shown above. But we'll just have to wait and see - stay tuned!