Have the bad gift givers in your life have bestowed upon you gift cards, cash, or poorly chosen presents that are dying to be returned? If so, what should you get yourself with your newfound purchasing power? Well, if you’re in the mood for a bit more plastic, glass, and silicon to ring in the new year, here’s a list of the best gadgets in a few categories.
Best Luxury Notebook: Apple MacBook Pro with Retina 15” (starting at $2,199)
Best Full-Size tablet: Apple iPad 4 (starting at $499)
Best Compact Tablet: Google Nexus 7 (starting at $199)
Best E-Ink Reader: Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (starting at $119)
Best Flagship Smartphone: Google Nexus 4 (starting at $199 w/ two-year contract)
Best Budget Smartphone: HTC Windows Phone 8X (starting at $99 w/ two-year contract)
Best Connected TV: This category isn’t ready for prime time. Hold off for now.
Best Personal Media Player: Apple iPod touch 5 (starting at $299)
Best Gaming Console: Nintendo Wii U (starting at $299)
Mobile OS? Check.
Bringing joy to those who love stability, security, performance, and proper site rendering, Google Chrome has finally overthrown Microsoft Internet Explorer in global usage as determined by overall page views. However, it’s worth noting that the tables may turn back in Microsoft’s favor when Windows 8 is released later this year, along with its much-improved version of IE.
Now, for the rest of Google’s marketshare leadership report card:
Photo sharing? Not quite.
Digital music? Nah.
Social networking? Ha!
Desktop OS? What.
My beloved Galaxy Nexus is off at Samsung’s Texas repair depot because I may or may not have gotten drunk and thrown it seven feet onto a tiled floor. It took only about 48 hours for me to freak out and get a temp phone and contract (see you in 14 days, Best Buy), and I ended up choosing the much-talked-about Nokia Lumia 900.
At first look, the Lumia resembles a much larger, less square version of my sixth gen iPod nano. It feels heavy, yet sturdy in my hand, though I suspect it would take less to crack its 4.3” ClearBlack AMOLED display than it would to crack my Nexus’ larger screen. The boring legal text is hidden at the bottom of the phone, and with the exception of the micro SIM tray, the enclosure is seamless. The micro USB port is on the top edge of the phone, which is a delight for use in bed while it’s charging but awkward in almost any other charging situation.
The ClearBlack display has the vibrant colors and inky blacks you would expect from an AMOLED display, but Windows Phone’s requisite 800x480 resolution isn’t as crisp as other high end phones such as the iPhone 4S and the Galaxy Nexus. Additionally, the display has a coating that makes it more viewable in direct sunlight, but that also seems to attract more fingerprints than other finishes.
Windows Phone 7’s UI is the future. It is revolutionary, beautiful, and consistent, and makes every other major platform look like a fugly Blackberry OS knockoff. Choose a color theme, and that color will accent the Start screen, menus, app list, and even in-app interfaces. Everything scrolls and flows smoothly, notifications are clearly visible, Live Tiles on the Start screen unobtrusively reveal their contents, and the OS gently nudges you in the right direction through smart design. The Me tile is a great way to check in, update statuses, and keep track of notifications across several social networks, while the People tile shows you your contacts’ statuses, photos, and other info gathered from Gmail, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, Live, and other services.
Windows Phone is designed to maximize performance with the prescribed single-core processor and 512 MB of RAM, and the Lumia is definitely among the most powerful Windows Phones on the market. That said, there’s a bit of lag entering a few apps, and scrolling in Internet Explorer, albeit deliciously smooth, is not as fast as the inertial scrolling you’d experience while furiously swiping your finger up on an iPhone or high-end Android device.
The Lumia’s battery life is incredible. I disconnected the phone from its charger at 8:30 this morning, and after almost ten hours of incessant use with full brightness, WiFi, and LTE, the battery is still more than half full. That’s the best battery life I’ve gotten out of anything capable of flinging Angry Birds.
Here’s where the Lumia stops shining. Microsoft’s Windows Phone Marketplace is kind of a barren wasteland. …at least when compared to Google Play and iOS’s App Store. In addition to the shortage of apps (no Instagram, no official Tumblr, no decent Google Reader/RSS apps, few banking apps), major developers such as Facebook and Twitter have made their apps —in keeping with the aesthetic of the OS— prettier and easier to use than their iPhone and Android counterparts, but also less functional. Internet Explorer is a simple, well-designed, and responsive mobile browser, but is severely lacking in features found on Android’s stock browser. That said, the bundled apps, as well as the Marketplace’s most popular apps, are solid, and less likely to freeze up or crash than on other platforms.
The Nokia Lumia 900 is, by far, the best phone you can get for less than $100. The hardware and software are both gorgeous, the reception and battery life live up to the Nokia brand, and Windows Phone is a promising vision of the future in a market dominated by two less progressive OSes. However, the absence of apps and features may keep users from being able to accomplish what they could with other smartphones. Let’s hope that this handset’s appeal breathes new life, and attracts more developer support, to the platform.