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My five favorite gadgets of 2012

By Guest Blogger(view all posts by Rick.Broida)
at 11:12AM Thursday December 6, 2012
under Stuff We Like

One of the big perks of my job is getting to write about--and, very often, play with--the latest and greatest gadgets. So, as 2012 draws to a close (and Christmas and Chanukah draw near), I wanted to reflect on some of my favorite gear of the year.

I'll admit to having a hard time choosing these "winners," not because there was so much competition, but because I actually didn't care for a lot of the high-profile products that bowed this year: Apple's iPhone 5, Amazon's Kindle Fire HD, Microsoft's Surface tablet, Google's Chromebooks, and so on.

But have no fear: I still managed to wrangle up five drool-worthy gadgets. Check out my picks, then leave a comment telling me if you agree with them. If not, what were your favorite gadgets of 2012?

Though I realize this won't have the widespread appeal of, say, a tablet, the Ceton Echo is a dream come true for fans of Windows Media Center. About the size of a Roku box, the Echo is an extender for your PC, slinging live TV, DVR features, and your personal media libraries to any TV in your house.

It's a bit pricey at $179, and it requires an Ethernet connect, but it's also the only product of its kind. Plus, based on my recent tests, it works like a charm.

Most Bluetooth speakers look like bricks and lack the power to really fill a room with sound. That's why I'm totally enamored with Edifier's Prisma, which for about the price of a battery-powered Bluetooth brick brings you a complete 2.1-channel bookshelf speaker system--and a gorgeous-looking one at that.

The E3350BT is available in your choice of five glossy colors and has a list price of $129.99. 

The Android-powered SmartStick brings apps aplenty to your living room. Just plug it into one of your TV's HDMI ports to run apps like Facebook, Netflix, Pandora, and YouTube. Not bad for a gizmo that starts at $50 (for the 4GB version; the 8GB model sells for $80).

Though I haven't yet had the chance to try one out, the SmartStick appears to live up to its name. It could be the ideal gizmo for anyone looking to make their TV, well, smarter.

It's overpriced. Other tablets offer more features for less money. It lacks the beloved Retina display found in its bigger sibling.

You know what? Hang all that, because I still can't help but love the iPad Mini. It's a more comfortable size for reading (especially in bed), and it runs all the apps and plays all the media I already enjoy on my iPhone.

Make no mistake: other tablets do offer more bang for the buck, most notably the Google Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle Fire HD. But for anyone already locked into the Apple ecosystem, the Mini simply can't be beat.

When Apple's iPhone 5 finally bowed in September, it underwhelmed many a gadget fan--largely because Samsung's Galaxy S III had already been on the scene for several months, stealing mindshare with its mammoth screen and forward-thinking features. (Don't want to take a call? Flip the phone over to mute it. Need a screenshot? Swipe the side of your hand from right to left.)

I've been playing with a Verizon-powered Galaxy S III for the past few weeks, and it definitely lives up to the hype. If you're looking to buy a new phone this year or next, put this atop your short list.

Veteran technology writer Rick Broida is the author of numerous books, blogs, and features. He lends his money-saving expertise to CNET and, and also writes for PC World and Wired.