The end of the year is a time for great contemplation. Did we say conTEMPlation? We meant "comPILation"! As another year comes to a close, everyone and their sister is busy throwing together "best of" lists. Over the next few days or so, you'll be seeing dozens, if not hundreds of "Best Movies of 2011," "Best Books of 2011," "Best Music of 2011," "Best Knitting Patterns of 2011," and "Best Cat Memes of 2011" lists.
So, when in Rome... here's our own "Best Tech of 2011 Awards" list, compiled from the year-end desks of the dealnews staff and editors.
Best Tablet: Apple iPad 2
This year's award goes to the company that created the tablet market in early 2010, with the first iPad. This year, Apple continued to dominate with the iPad 2. It's the tablet that everyone either wants to buy or wishes they could have made. And when asked why they would choose it over other tablets, our staff's answers were always a confused look, followed by a "Because it's an iPad!"
A close runner-up in this category was Amazon's Kindle Fire. It's not as big or as powerful, but the $199 price tag can't be ignored. As our Features Director put it, "it has allowed more people to experiment with the tablet this year, and still use something from a major brand." Apple may have created the category, but Amazon could bring it to the people!
Best Laptop: Apple MacBook Air
It was a unanimous decision. After all, never before has powerful computing been so portable — and so easy on the eyes. It's the lightweight laptop that's not lightweight in specs. And as Senior Feature Writer Louis Ramirez puts it, the MacBook Air sets a "new standard for what a laptop should look like." Other dealnews staffers pointed out how, once you use it, every other laptop feels back-breakingly heavy in comparison.
Best eBook reader (e-Ink variety): Amazon's Kindle
With a starting price of $79, it's hard to compete with this device, which just keeps getting better and better with each new — cheaper — release. What's more, Amazon's agressive eBook pricing and Special Offers programs sweeten the deal. According to Louis Ramirez, "Amazon continues to bury [B&N's NOOK] when it comes to pricing."
Best Smartphone: iPhone 4S
Our Senior Content Editor Alison Barretta lauds the iPhone 4S as the best "convergence device" on the market this year. With its impressive screen, battery life, and speed, we all agree. And even though she admits that, "the fun of talking to Siri wore off after a week," the feature can still be rather useful.
A runner-up to the iPhone 4S was suggested by CEO Dan de Grandpre: the iPhone 4 (without the S). Why? because you can often find refurbs on the 16GB model for AT&T for just $50. This price point puts the best phone on the market within reach of most wallets. As a deal-hunting site, we have to say that Dan makes a compelling argument.
Before you start thinking this is becoming a "Best Apple Products of 2011" list, let us just say this: As soon as any single other company starts innovating in so many electronics categories, we'll acknowledge their contributions, too! But also, see our choices below.
Best Media Streamer: Roku
Nope, not the Apple TV. So there! The Roku's plug-and-play setup, coupled with a range of price points that fit almost any budget, continues to prove itself as the premier set-top streaming device. With hundreds of channels available — and games, like Angry Birds — the Roku player continues to set the standard for what one should expect from such a device.
Best Use of the Cloud: Amazon
MP3s, eBooks, and videos can all be served up to you from Amazon's servers. Buy them once, and play them on any device with a browser or stand-alone app. Of course, Amazon's cloud is the backbone of their Kindle Fire — but the rest of us benefit from it, too. As previously mentioned, Kindle books are often discounted, and their MP3s even more so. With Amazon's music prices being what they are, it makes no sense to shop anywhere else for media. Price coupled with anywhere-access is a one-two punch that's hard to beat.
Again, not chosen: Apple's iCloud, which Louis Ramirez succinctly says, "is a mess."
Best Mobile Game: Words With Friends
You might rememeber this game coming out in June of 2010, but you'd only be half right ... and an iPhone user. The Android version was released in February of this year, bringing the cross-platform word battles to a new level. Sure, the game has sparked many-a disbelieving spluttering from our lips as we realized that our co-worker just played "xi" for 66 points, but you don't get that kind of passion from a bad game, do you? Anything that can make us so mad that we consider cheating and / or rage-quitting the game and our jobs is worth a nod as best game, in our opinion.
A runner-up mention has to go to Angry Birds Rio. This franchise proved itself to be not only a money-making machine, but endlessly entertaining. As Louis Ramirez (once again succinctly) says, "It's our generation's Pac-Man." If you own a smartphone, chances are very high you have this game installed. Ain't that the truth, and a very good reason to give it a polite tip of the hat.
Best Video Game: Portal 2
Despite — or maybe because of — it not being the normal frag-fest FPS that we love playing, Portal 2 earns our nomination for the best game of the year. At worst, you could call this game "more of the same" from the original Portal (you'd be wrong, but we'll humor you). But is that such a bad thing, anyway? Portal showed us that we could be engaged in a puzzling story game where narry a bullet was fired. Among the staff who voted for this game was Chuck Phillips who says, Portal 2 is "challenging, well-written, the voice acting is great.... Valve just kicks ass." It also doesn't hurt that you can team up with a friend for online co-op. Who doesn't like solving puzzles with a buddy? You get to pretend that you're the video game equivalent of Cagney and Lacey, BJ and the Bear, or Every Which Way and Loose.
So that's our list. Do you agree? Disagree? Sound off in the comments to let us know your picks! You may now resume reading other, less-good end-of-year lists.
Front page photo credit: J McCracken World