Best Tech site 2011

In many areas, 2011 has been something of a transitional year for tech. There weren't too many mind-blowing new innovations - it was more a case of improving on previous products.

In the case of TVs, for instance, most models were essentially polished versions of the previous year's version whereas last year the industry leapt forward with 3D, IPTV and performance-enhancing technologies. This year, the standout area was phones with heaps of great new models appearing constantly.

Nonetheless, there were some other standout products and here's what impressed ABC Tech and Games the most this year. They are in no particular order but the overall winner is at the bottom.

Philips Airfryer ($280ish)

Just... look at it.

Sonos Play:3 ($420ish), ZonePlayer S5 ($600ish) and Songl music service ($13 per month).

Sonos has been the definitive multi-room entertainment system for years. Initially the system revolved around wireless amps which let you play music in different rooms from your computer. But the amps were expensive and you needed expensive speakers to make the most of them them. The initial designs came in so over-specified that the wireless signal rivalled that of high-quality professional speaker wire - only without having to embed it into your wall or leave it behind when you moved house.

Now, however, the S5 and Play:3 all-in-one speakers mean that you have amps and speakers in one product. And they're very high quality. You can even link two up as left and right-channels in the same room. You can have one track playing in one room and another somewhere else or you can link a whole house to play everything at exactly the same time. You can control everything using excellent smartphone and iPad apps.

Sonos also worked with Sony to develop Anubis.fm (now renamed Songl) which is an online music subscription service. For .99 per month you get to pick just about any song you can think of and it plays. Could this be the future of music?

It's all so easy to use and facile to set up. With the launch of the Play:3 and S5 the Sonos system is now affordable by mere mortals. Fantastic!

Nikon 1 V1 (0ish)

Another launch that had journos rolling their eyes. Revolutionary? Really? Day zero for digital cameras? Righto. While the marketing hyperbole was still a bit extreme, and Nikon had always struggled to make a great compact digital camera, it didn't take long for the hybrid (compact-cum-SLR) V1 to impress us. The screen at the back is impressively bright and very responsive. The speed of the new sensor is astounding. While every other manufacturer struggled to produce an amazing new product (in many cases they did all that last year), Nikon produced one of the most innovative, top-performing cameras of the year in a market that is starting to look saturated. There are still many worthwhile alternatives in this area - especially from Panasonic - but they first came out some time ago. So, almost by default, the V1 makes the list.

And the winner is...

iPad 2 (from 0ish)

I really really didn't want to give this product of the year. I can hear the audience's groans from where I sit - some of them come from me - but after looking at every possible reason why the winner shouldn't be the iPad 2, I can't find a compelling reason to give it to anything else. While it wasn't a huge update over the previous model, the iPad 2 cemented the importance of tablet computing in the world and showed that this form factor and size can be an ideal platform for leisure and some business uses. Other tablet manufacturers are trying desperately to catch up but after literally years of waiting, I still haven't seen a compelling reason to buy a rival product.

More so than any other platform, tablets are all about the apps and the iPad's apps are phenomenal in terms of quality and choice. Interactive children's books like The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (which appeared this year) are staggeringly impressive. Innovative games like the recent AppMates Cars 2 game will help create new types of hybrid augmented-reality entertainment, The Guardian's Eyewitness global photo-journalism app is still a must have, the new Facebook app and Hootsuite app are the best ways to interact with social media anywhere while Flipboard is the best possible way to read it. Apps like The Elements got my son interested in the Periodic Table (FFS!) High-quality casual games are everywhere. Apps like AudioNote (time-stamped note taker coupled to audio recording) are now essential to me for press launches and meetings and the plethora of high-quality microphones enhance it. Garage band is just plain awesome.

The last thing I needed was another lump of tech to carry around with me but with my Android Phone, Windows Laptop and iPad 2 I've now got every base covered. At under $500 it's a bargain. It's not just taken a chunk out of the netbook market it's near destroyed it and taken a chunk out of the laptop market too. It's sold 30 million units already and that figure is going up making every major content producer in the world want to support it.

Even frickin' animals like it - there are apps for my cats for pity's sake and interweb-dwellers are currently LoL-ing at lizards and amphibians squashing virtual ants with it. [update: apparently the pet bearded dragon is using an HTC tablet. My apologies. But that's still not a killer reason for choosing an Android tablet, In my book.]

Best of all, it means that there is no reason to put the iPhone 4S on this list because it does practically everything that does but better (the beta version of Siri just isn't enough, sorry).

Perhaps next year it will have some real competition. There's no killer feature for buying an Android tablet yet and it's not like I didn't look. Amazon's forthcoming Kindle Fire could change things. Personally, I think future Windows 8 tablets will be a compelling alternative, but time will tell.

best tech of 2011

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