Improvements, innovation mark 2013’s top tech gadgets



Wearable gadgets, curved smartphones and new game consoles defined technology in 2013. That’s why it’s no surprise they make up the bulk of our top devices of the year.

Some of these devices are essentially much better versions of earlier gadgets, while others are new innovations that are exploring possibilities we haven’t seen before.

• Samsung Galaxy Gear: Pebble, a small Kickstarter project that went viral in 2012, brought smartwatches to the attention of the tech world. But Samsung introduced the technology to the masses.

In October, the South Korean tech giant rolled out the Galaxy Gear, a watch with a small, square touchscreen capable of running apps, handling voice calls, sending text messages, taking pictures and shooting videos.

The Galaxy Gear seems like everything a spy could want, but it’s a first-generation device. That usually means there are flaws, and the Galaxy Gear was no exception. The device works only with select Samsung devices, it lacks any must-have apps, it’s very expensive at $299, and it’s kind of big for a watch.

Regardless of the drawbacks, Samsung said it had sold 800,000 units one month after the Galaxy Gear’s U.S. release.

• Leap Motion Controller: Leap Motion wowed the world in 2012 with YouTube videos showing an extremely accurate motion sensor device for consumer laptops, and in 2013 the San Francisco startup delivered on its promise by releasing the Leap Motion Controller.

The Leap Motion Controller is on this list more for its technical innovation than its practical use in the home and office. If Leap Motion can roll out more useful apps, the little device could be higher on this list in 2014.

• Nokia Lumia 1020: The Lumia 1020 is one of the most impressive gadgets we’ve seen this year, yet had one of the worst launches.

The Nokia smartphone has top-of-the-line specifications, including a 720p HD 4.5-inch screen and the highest-resolution smartphone camera, with a whopping 41 megapixels. Typical smartphones have 8 megapixel cameras.

But the Lumia 1020 runs on the Windows Phone operating system, and when it came out this summer, the platform was still missing many popular apps. At $299 with a two-year contract when it launched, it was also a bit pricey.

Since then, the Windows Phone system has been beefed up with more apps, and the price of the Lumia 1020 has been cut.

Now, at a competitive price, $199, and with more apps available to flex the device’s camera muscles, the Lumia 1020 is one of the best smartphones you can buy if photos are a priority.

• Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One: This year marked the first time Sony and Microsoft released new video game consoles in more than seven years. Sony came out with the PlayStation 4, and Microsoft launched the Xbox One.

The two systems are fairly similar, offering 500-gigabyte hard drives in similarly styled black shells. But the companies are taking different approaches in marketing their products.

Sony is going after hard-core gamers, offering them the ability to easily share video of themselves playing games over the Internet by tapping a “share” button on their game controllers.

Meanwhile, Microsoft wants the Xbox One to be the center of users’ home theaters. By saying “Xbox on” followed by a command, users can control their entertainment systems with their voices. The Xbox One can also load up specific users’ profiles and preferences by detecting them with the Kinect motion-sensor device.

For now, neither system has separated itself as the clear-cut top choice, and picking between them comes down to users’ personal preferences. The PS4 retails for $399.99, while the Xbox One goes for $499.99, but good luck finding either one. At many stores they’re back-ordered.

• Google Chromecast: Chromecast is a digital TV receiver that functions much like Roku and the Apple TV, but at a far lower price and in a much smaller package. The $35 Chromecast plugs into the TV’s HDMI outlet and streams content from users’ smartphones, tablets, laptops and computers with a Wi-Fi connection.

If you’re looking for a reliable, low-cost digital TV receiver, look no further than Chromecast.

• Apple iPad Air: Apple has been noticeably absent on this list until now, and that’s because it didn’t really innovate in 2013. Instead it focused on evolutionary improvements, most of which were marginal — but not when it came to the fifth-generation iPad.

The Cupertino, Calif., tech giant released the iPad Air — a thinner, lighter, sleeker version of its popular tablet — in November. The $499 iPad Air is 0.29-inch thick and weighs exactly a pound.

The iPad Air is an impressive redesign to an already innovative product.