As we prepare to wave goodbye to 2014, we give kudos to the year’s greatest gadgets and dazzling devices, from smartphones and tablets to home entertainment and wearable tech.
For this year’s round-up, we have added no less than four new categories to give recognition to a wider swathe of computing and mobile device categories, acknowledge the growing range of devices building up the internet of things, and to applaud the year’s best application of technology as our Innovation of the Year.
Smartphone of the Year: Apple iPhone 6
There’s no question that Apple has consistently made top-selling and critically acclaimed smartphones, but there have always been downfalls too important to the user experience to afford the iPhone our top spot, such as battery power and poor camera quality.
However, in its latest iteration, Apple has finally filled these gaps in its beautifully designed, high-spec package, and the iPhone 6 is a smartphone worthy of the status the Apple branding automatically lends it.
Phablet of the Year: Samsung Galaxy Note 4
The first of our new categories, the phablet segment – populated by oversized smartphones – is one that has endured despite a fair amount of cynicism and criticism, and there’s no better proof of its permanence on the market than this year’s inclusion of an Apple product in the line-up.
But Apple’s rookie attempt at the phablet category just couldn’t compete with a fourth-generation device from a seasoned Samsung. This 5.7-inch beast of a device packs plenty of power and substantial battery life, which is just what the power users these devices are made for need.
Tablet of the Year: Apple iPad Air 2
While slinking behind in the phablet game, Apple is still tops for tablets and this year’s iPad Air 2, while largely just an iterative improvement on the original iPad Air, the product has at this point been refined to near-perfection.
Computer of the Year: Toshiba Chromebook 2
With mobile computing advancing at an accelerated pace, desktop and laptop computers are fighting to stay relevant. Value is now key for the general consumer, who likely conducts the majority of their computing online and within a browser window, all of which has made the Chromebook a key player in the shifting PC market. The Toshiba Chromebook 2 is the best of this category, surprising critics with the performance proffered by a low-cost computer.
Hybrid Computer of the Year: Microsoft Surface Pro 3
Another new Gadgets of the Year category – as well as a contributor the the PC’s decline – hybrid computers try to bring users the best of both worlds: mobile productivity with all the power of a full-fledged laptop.
In terms of sheer computing power, design and functionality, Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 is firing on all cylinders. Whether it beats lightweight laptops to the standard of the MacBook Air on looks is really a matter of taste but in terms of raw computing power, ease of use and versatility, Microsoft holds a trump card.
Home Entertainment Device of the Year: Samsung UE55HU7500 4K TV
It’s hard not to give this recognition over to last year’s winner, Google’s Chromecast, once again, but kudos must also be paid to Samsung for helping to edge 4K television closer to the mainstream with a stunning sub-€2,500 55-inch ultra-high-definition television set.
Of course, 4K content is still lacking, so the UE55HU7500 also allows for detailed, sharp viewing in HD and standard definition. We also like the set’s slim and elegant design with a near-bezel-free display and a smart, user-friendly interface.
Games Console of the Year: Sony PlayStation TV
This is another category in which we risked repetition, owing largely to the lack of new products introduced to the games console market in 2014. So it seemed like the only sensible option was to bestow this honour on the device that extends the power of the PlayStation 4, our games console of choice in 2013.
The €100 PlayStation TV can be used to remotely play PS4 games you own over a home Wi-Fi network, as well as selected PlayStation Vita and classic PlayStation titles available through the PlayStation Store.
Camera or Camcorder of the Year: Sony Cyber-shot RX100 III
As smartphones become our default point-and-shoot cameras, the only stand-alone digital cameras worth investing in need to offer a hell of a lot more. In this case, Sony’s Cyber-shot RX100 III ticks a lot of boxes. It’s pocket-friendly yet packs in a 1-inch sensor, 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 equivalent lens, tilt-able LCD screen and retractable electronic viewfinder. What’s more, the small package this all comes in is remarkably clean and classic-looking.
Wearable Tech of the Year: HP MB Chronowing
The problem with wearable technology to date is two-fold: functionality has done little to break from the realm of either fitness tech or smartphone accessory; and form has been less than inspiring. Industrial designers are not fashion designers, after all. But the beautiful Michael Bastian-designed HP Chronowing smartwatch has weighted itself in favour of designer looks over superfluous technology – that is, the ‘wearable’ side of wearable tech – and it works.
Best Smart Home Device: Nest Learning Thermostat
The Nest Learning Thermostat was first released in 2011, but the programmable, self-learning Wi-Fi-enabled thermostat was only introduced in Europe this year, bringing one of the most celebrated devices from the internet of things to Irish homes. The state-of-the-art circular device communicates with boilers in homes, giving users constant control over heating and cooling while also learning from their behaviour in order to pre-empt their needs and, ultimately, reduce the cost of energy bills.
Innovation of the year: Lift Labs Liftware
Our final new category for our 2014 Gadgets of the Year selects one gadget that has put technology to its best use and the honour, undoubtedly, has to go to Lift Labs’ Liftware. This range of high-tech cutlery puts stabilising technology in the hands of those who suffer from hand tremors, giving them the ability to do something many of us take for granted.
According to Lift Labs, Liftware can cancel out as much as 70pc of the tremors seen when a person suffering conditions such as Parkinson’s attempts to eat. And we’re not the only ones to recognise the considerable contribution Liftware can make, as the company was acquired by Google for an undisclosed amount in September.
Gadgets illustration by Ozerina Anna via Shutterstock