Gadgets of the year

23 Dec 2012

Our smartphone of the year, the Samsung Galaxy S III

As we prepare to wave goodbye to 2012, we give kudos to the game-changing gadgets and dazzling devices that made the headlines and single out our top picks of the year, from smartphones and tablets to home entertainment and wearable tech.

Smartphone of the Year

Samsung Galaxy S III

Obviously, this was a close call between Samsung’s flagship device and the iPhone 5, Time’s gadget of the year and a beautifully designed and fast-performing smartphone. But it was the failures of iOS 6 – specifically Apple Maps – that tipped the scales in Samsung’s favour.

And this was a year of incredibly tough competition from all sides. We had Sony unleashing a Bond Phone, HTC’s high-spec One X and the even better One X+, and the Nokia Lumia 920 – a Windows Phone 8 device featuring wireless charging capabilities. A truly innovative product from the Finnish manufacturer.

Samsung even had competition from itself in the form of the oversized Galaxy Note II. But it’s the Galaxy S III, the smartphone with a 4.8-inch Super AMOLED display, long-lasting battery, and host of clever functions to better serve the user that won out. Even by the time the iPhone 5 hit in September, the S III was four months old and still the superior device in my eyes.

Frankly, I’m inclined to agree with these guys.


Tablet of the Year

Google Nexus 7

Microsoft’s Surface has an all-new Windows interface and Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD has an attractive price tag – but neither of these devices are available here in Ireland. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10.1 has multi-tasking capabilities and Apple’s iPad Mini has, well, really good marketing. But Google’s Nexus 7 – the 7-inch tablet that came before the iPad Mini – packs a quad-core CPU, 12-core GPU and HD display into a super portable and affordable device, which makes it my choice for tablet of the year.

Google Nexus 7

A collaboration with Asus, Google’s first foray into manufacturing a range of tablets has since been refreshed, and with Google Play’s TV and music services spreading across Europe, we’re expecting bigger and better things from Google in the coming year – we just hope we’re included.

Computer of the Year

The new iMac

Computers were a varied bunch this year, from the bare bones of Raspberry Pi’s Model B to hybrid laptops-cum-tablets with the very latest Windows 8 software, such as the Sony Vaio Duo 11. But, though it seems Apple was trailing behind its competitors as far as smartphones and tablets were concerned, it certainly wasn’t lacking in the computer department.

In the summer we were introduced to a new family of MacBook Air laptops and an ultra-thin 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display, followed by a 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display in October.

Apple's new iMac

But it was its refreshed desktop computer that really caught our attention. The super-slim new iMac with its edge-to-edge display would take pride of place on any desktop, while the introduction of hybrid storage via a Fusion Drive was a clever move that could bring this kind of storage system to the mainstream.

Home Entertainment Device of the Year

The Saorview-approved set-top box

Sure, I could tell you that the third-generation Apple TV is the best content streaming device to come out of 2012, or that Jawbone’s Jambox is a winner both for audio and for simplicity. I could even go on about the Google’s attempt at disrupting home entertainment with the cloud-connected, Android-powered Nexus Q, but the real home entertainment hero of 2012 is without a doubt the Saorview-approved set-top box.

Saorview approved

With the digital switchover in October, having a Saorview-approved set-top box or TV was essential for viewers across Ireland to keep their TV signal. A campaign ran throughout the year encouraging people to switch to digital and if it wasn’t for these devices thousands would have been at a loss when we said goodbye to the analogue signal.

Games Console of the Year

PlayStation Vita

This year we saw Nintendo’s 3DS go XL while the PlayStation 3 slimmed down, and if Nintendo’s Wii U had arrived with enough time to really judge it, it may well have been the No 1 games console on this list. But really the honour has to go to the PlayStation Vita.

Sony PlayStation Vita

Released in February, the successor to the PSP is immensely versatile and powerful for something that fits in your hand. Providing console-like gameplay with modes of interaction that can vary greatly from game to game, the PS Vita keeps things interesting. It also comes with Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity, and apps like Facebook, Twitter and Skype – so yes, on top of everything else, it makes calls too. Awesome.

Camera or Camcorder of the Year


The digital camera market seemed to have reached its peak until Lytro started shipping its first cameras this year.


These incredible cameras produce images where the focus point can be adjusted after the image has been taken, because they capture an entire light field. In the screens pasted below, you see the same image but the focus is on the foreground, then the middleground, then the background. You can see for yourself and choose your own focus points for images in Lytro’s image gallery.

Berries by Ian Storrs (Lytro image)

Berries (by Ian Storrs)

Though the cameras are not yet available in Ireland, I can’t help but be blown away by what Ren Ng and his team have managed to achieve on a commercial scale. That in itself is worthy of a place on this list.

Wearable Tech of the Year

Project Glass

For me, 2012 will be the year wearable tech got real, and deserving of its own category. Though not a new concept, the idea of tech that you wear on your person hit the mainstream this year with practical, accessible devices like the Nike FuelBand, Pebble E-Paper watch (a Kickstarter project now in development) and Jawbone’s Up. Wearable tech even featured at New York Fashion Week, with Bloomingdale’s showcasing the Microsoft Research Printing Dress, and Google’s Project Glass taking to the runway at Diane von Furstenberg.

Throughout the year, we watched Project Glass grow from a futuristic concept born of Google’s X Labs to a reality – well, at least for Google CEO Larry Page, co-founder Sergey Brin and a team of skydivers who have had the opportunity to try them out.


Watch this space, because wearable computing could be the form factor that takes over in 2013. We just hope that, if it does become a trend, no one gets attacked for wearing it.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.