Kim MacKinnon commutes to work by GO train and subway to her job at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, where she teaches. She wanted a mobile device to read email, articles and ebooks and to browse the web while on the go.
In the end MacKinnon, a 37 year-old Mississauga resident, chose an iPad mini because the previous iPads were too big. “The mini is smaller, lighter and easier on my wrists to type with my thumbs while holding it,” she says.
While she researched small tablets from the Android camp, which includes such brands as Google, Samsung and HTC, MacKinnon says “no one can compete with Apple” when it comes to the quantity and quality of apps. “Especially with the work I do in education, the software available at the App Store is the best, and a lot of it is free or close to it.”
“Apple’s iPad Mini opens up a new market,” says Michelle Warren, president of MW Research & Consulting in Toronto. “People who love Apple products are now able to purchase the same quality and reliable iPad experience in a smaller design, without sacrificing battery life.”
iPad mini (from $ 329) is among this year’s top devices. While the product’s October debut was anticlimactic given the amount of pre-release hype, the tablet is more portable and affordable than its big brother. In fact, iPad mini is an example of one of the top tech trends among manufacturers today: Take the proven functionality of an existing device and make it lighter, thinner, faster and smaller.
Smartphones and televisions, on the flipside, are becoming larger. Still pocket-sized, smartphones over the years have morphed from a 2- to 3-inch voice-based communicator into a 4- to 5-inch touch-centric platform for messaging, multimedia, web browsing and app access — with 4G/LTE wireless speeds that rival if not exceed your home’s own broadband Internet connection. Televisions in 2012 have jumped to 70-, 80- and 90-inch sizes, with better lighting technology (utilizing LEDs) and “smart” functionality that includes Wi-Fi connectivity and access to app stores.
With this in mind, here are some of my top picks of the year (remember, as always, that prices may vary by retailer):
The iPad mini (from $ 329 for 16GB version) is nearly two inches smaller than its big brother, which makes this bite-sized tablet more portable. It slips into purses and jacket pockets and still makes it easy to read, browse the web, look at photos and movies, play games and listening to music. As MacKinnon touched upon, one of the most appealing features is support for all nearly 300,000 apps designed for the larger 9.7-inch iPad, not to mention smooth synchronization with iTunes, iCloud (online file storage and sharing) and AirPlay (to wirelessly play content on a big-screen TV via Apple TV). iPad mini isn’t cheap, but after playing around with it the darn thing is very difficult to put down.
Runner-up: Google Nexus 7 (from $ 209).
Samsung Galaxy S III phone
The word “smartphone” is thrown around liberally these days, but Samsung’s Galaxy S III ($ 99.95 on 3-year term) goes beyond the norm. I’m not referring to its big, bright and beautiful 4.8-inch high-definition display, lightning fast 4G/LTE wireless speeds or versatile Android 4.0, so-called Ice Cream Sandwich operating system. For example, users can touch their smartphone to a friend’s Galaxy S III to wirelessly exchange content. It knows when you’re looking away so it’ll dim the screen to preserve its battery; and it calls the person you’re messaging with if you hold the phone up to your ear. Unlike most other phones, you can also watch a video, picture-in-picture, while browsing the web or reading email.
Runner-up: iPhone 5 (from $ 179.95 on 3-year term).
Windows 8 Pro
It was time for Microsoft to take a more ambitious approach to its operating system. After all, Windows hasn’t really changed much in 17 years. So the Redmond, Washington software giant took a giant leap forward with Windows 8 ($ 39.99 for the upgrade until January 31). It sold 40 million licences in its first month and has received critical praise, suggesting they’ve already got a winner on their hands. Replacing the desktop’s small and static icons, Windows 8’s new Start screen offers large and colourful tiles (squares and rectangles) with information and images pushed to them. Therefore, at a glance, you can see things like how many emails are waiting for you, new photos just uploaded to Facebook, the weather outside, and so on — without even needing to click top open the app. Other features include support for touch-based tablets, laptops and desktops, integrated cloud services (SkyDrive) and beefed up security and privacy settings.
Runner-up: MacBook Pro with 13-inch Retina display (from $ 1,699).
Sony 84-inch 4K TV
Considering this is a “best of” round-up — without price as a consideration — it would be remiss not to include Sony’s 84-incher (model # XBR-84X900) as one of the year’s highlights. Problem is, this giant LED TV sells for $ 24,999. This is because it is the first “4K TV” on the market. That means it delivers four times the picture clarity of a regular HDTV, or in other words, more than 8 million pixels, or little dots, that make up the image so lifelike you’d think you can step through the screen. Naturally, you’ll need a 4K video player to see all that detail, but these televisions can also upgrade existing HD content, such as movies and TV shows, into near 4K quality. This smart TV supports hundreds of on-demand and online apps and services. Other features include 10 integrated speakers, passive 3D video playback and gaming enhancements for side-by-side players.
Runners-up: Samsung’s 75-inch entry (model # UN75ES9000; $ 9,999.99) and the plasma-based Panasonic Viera 65-inch TCP65VT50 ($ 3,999).
Marc Saltzman blogs at Moneyville.ca