Top Tech Picks [2013]

Standing out in a crowded tech world is tough. Even tougher when it seems every corner of every market has a dozen or more options. So when we look back at 2013 it’s not about winners and losers, but rather what has kept people’s interest whether it be water cooler talk, innovation or downright buzz.

Our top tech picks for 2013 include several pieces of hardware, some apps and a few old favorites that continue to make waves.

Hardware 2013

Without a doubt it was a big hardware year. Tablets are saturating the market while tech enthusiasts and investors search for “the next” gadget to disrupt the market.

Google Glass

While Google Glass is little more than an interesting sideshow at the moment, its reality shows what future tech may hold. Envision if you will average glasses or sunglasses with Google Glass type function. Complete with internet browsing and presumably dictation through a microphone in the frames for text, email and the like.

Yes, Google Glass looks ridiculous and that’s okay because it’s simply the first in what’s sure to be a line of wearable tech moving forward.

Smartphones

Without a doubt the best smartphone of 2013 is the HTC One. It can be debated until smartphone owners are blue in the face, but we stand behind that statement. Samsung and Apple seem to always share the spotlight when it comes to popularity, but the market needs competition to further innovation. For all of HTC’s struggles as a company the last 12+ months, they deserve immense credit for delivering what is an absolutely brilliant piece of hardware in the One.

 

Gaming Consoles

We could debate Xbox One versus Playstation 4 all day long and one will always outshine the other depending on how they’re viewed. Fact is, this may be the last true gaming console generation. Xbox One is already much more than a gaming console and many would say a detriment to itself. Sony has integrated more online social aspects that are maturing now with Playstation 4. By the time gamers and console makers are ready for the next generation of consoles, it simply won’t be enough to be ‘just a gaming console’.

Should we feel sad that this may be the last true gaming console generation or perhaps nostalgic about past generations? Yes, though there’s no need to panic. Game makers are delivering games at an unreal pace to every tech device they can. Mobile gaming is exploding, PC games are resurgent and new manufacturers such as NVIDIA (Shield) are delivering dedicated gaming units.

It’s impressive to see what Microsoft and Sony have delivered and we commend them for delivering possibly the last true gaming consoles. There’s no doubt each are worthy of mention for top hardware in 2013.

 

2014 Watchlist

Keep an eye out for Steam Machines. Steam is moving forward, if not slowly, with their own gaming device. They’ve labeled it “a powerful new category of living-room hardware” which points to more than gaming, but that remains to be seen.

Tablets are shifting towards larger models. Don’t be surprised if 7” tablets begin to fade away as new larger models flood the market.

PCs aren’t dead despite news to the contrary. However, Google’s Chromebooks are now starting to realize their potential and others are noticing. With everything online and cloud based, the Chromebooks offer a distinct advantage for some. That number will grow as cloud adoption continues.

Another watch item from Google is the Chromecast. Sure it’s getting a ton of hype now, but let’s watch what happens when it starts to hit its stride or better yet spawn something more from the minds at Google. Either way, grab a Chromecast now for $35 and enjoy inexpensive cable-like viewing.

 

Apps 2013

Mobile apps are an absolutely immense category to narrow down and dissect. The fact is, the app market is saturated both in iOS and Android. To stand out and make an impression you’ve either got to have a monumentally grand idea or improve tenfold over similar apps. We picked a few of our favorites from 2013 and hope you get the same kind of warm fuzzy feeling from them.

Simplenote

Not new in the traditional sense, it was new to Android in 2013. Long an app on iOS, Simplenote is, as you’d expect, a note taking app. As many of you know, we’re huge fans of productivity type apps and Simplenote falls into that category. It comes from Automattic, Inc., the makers of WordPress mobile. There are several key reasons Simplenote makes our top apps for 2013 list.

  1. It’s super lightweight. Leave the fluff and extra junk at the door because Simplenote has none of it. At less than 600k, this app is like a feather compared to some.
  2. The interface is nearly prestine. It’s so clean you almost feel bad cluttering it with notes.
  3. If you’ve tried Evernote and didn’t care for it or even found it to be too much for your needs, then Simplenote is the option you’re after.

We won’t harp on it too much, but if you haven’t tried it yet, then start 2014 out with a new app.

Download for Android

Download for iOS

 

Cal

Cal comes from Any.do, the makers of ..well.. Any.do. If you’re not familiar, Any.do is a to-do, reminder, sort of productivity type app to keep you on target with tasks. Cal is basically a replacement for your other calendar apps. It’s still new so it lacks a few features that a true Google Calendar has. And while we aren’t huge fans of Any.do, Cal manages to improve on something every smartphone has – a calendar.

It’s attractive interface is super clean and sharp. It uses just enough graphic to spice things up and of course syncs nicely with Any.do to wrap your tasks into your calendar with ease. If you’re someone who likes to have their schedule at the ready and appreciates a very legible interface, then Cal should be on your list.

Download for Android

Download for iOS

 

Game Apps

We could literally go on forever with all the game apps. Needless to say, there were some standouts.

Real Racing 3

EA’s racing game has enjoyed plenty of ridicule for their freemium model and some of it deservingly so. However, their Real Racing 3 is visually fantastic and has sparked numerous copy cats in the mobile markets. With nearly 80 vehicles, RR3 has given gamers plenty of variety to play with. Fairly regular updates have provided new tracks and competitions and continued to keep the game interesting.

Real Racing 3 gets high marks for guiding the racing category of the market in the right direction (aside from the freemium in app costs that is).

Download for Android

Download for iOS

 

Injustice: Gods Among Us

Meant as a companion app to the console version. Injustice is quite fun on its own for those that don’t have time to spend in front of a console. Again, based on a freemium type model – Injustice provides achievement based reward with expensive upgrade options. The system is done well and not nearly as overwhelming as some other freemium games. The graphics are slick and for the most part gameplay is consistent.

Download for Android

Download for iOS

 

Old Favorites 2013

Evernote

We might be beating a dead horse with this one, but the fact is there is no better note-taking, productivity app than Evernote. It is an all encompassing tool that anyone can use. One of our readers spoke up about their experience and how they struggled to find a “practical use” for Evernote. Turns out it was easy once they stopped thinking so much about it. Now their Evernote account is used for storing warranties, manuals, recipes (in conjunction with Evernote Food) and a slew of other everyday things.

The real surprise from Evernote this year was their foray into physical goods. The Evernote gear is somewhat cheesy, but at the same time a testament to it’s popularity and following. Another physical good is their ScanSnap scanner. They partnered with Fujitsu to deliver a high quality device for taking all those loose piles of paper and sending them directly to Evernote notes. Although pricey it’s a real godsend to those looking to go completely paperless.

Download for Android

Download for iOS

 

Apps Everyone Should Be Using

Pocket

Save anything and everything for reviewing later. Don’t have time to read it now, but the headline looks interesting? Share it to Pocket and view it later. Need to follow a how-to found online, but need it later not now? Share it to Pocket and it’s there.

Download for Android

Download for iOS

 

TuneIn Radio Pro, Spotify & iHeart

TuneIn, Spotify and iHeart complement each other perfectly. iHeart has most radio stations and those it doesn’t are likely found on TuneIn. TuneIn is also great for radio broadcasts of sporting events, something any fan can appreciate. Spotify delivers everything those two don’t by way of user selected music. Spotify’s new free Playlists playback allows for greater control over selection of songs played. With their immense library of music, there’s very few songs missing.

Download iHeart for Android

Download iHeart for iOS

Download Spotify for Android

Download Spotify for iOS

Download TuneIn Radio Pro for Android

Download TuneIn Radio Pro for iOS

 

Any Cloud Storage App

If you aren’t using a cloud storage service, then what are you waiting for? There are literally a half-dozen excellent choices with more than a dozen other quality options. Every smartphone owner should be utilizing one to save those precious photos and other data accumulated on mobile devices.

For ease of use you can’t go wrong with Dropbox. Want something closer to your everyday routine? How about Google Drive (for Gmail users) or SkyDrive (for Outlook.com users). Our other favorite is Box although we’re disappointed they don’t give Linux users more love.

 

Security

Wondering where all the security apps and info are? We intentionally left that info out. Reason being that users need to dedicate more attention to security, not a passing thought in a “best of” list. With this year’s revelations and events, 2014 is going to be a pivotal year for users in securing their information. Look for an early year 2014 Security Checklist post with a bunch of suggestions for keeping you and your information out of other’s hands.

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