I’m not gonna lie: Being a tech reviewer comes with perks. No, you don’t get free gadgets — I’m required to send everything back after I review it.
I do, however, enjoy the world’s most liberal “try before you buy” program. And almost everything I buy, electronics-wise, is something I fell in love with while reviewing it.
If it’s of any assistance in your holiday shopping, here’s The List: what Pogue actually bought with his actual own money in the actual year 2013.
More and more people are strapping on wristbands that track activity, sleep and other aspects of your earthly existence. The Up, the Fitbit and the Nike bands are the most successful so far.
These things really do make you healthier, in my experience. The graphs they send to your phone make visible the invisible. They put numbers to your sedentary lifestyle, and before you know it, you’re motivated to do better. You park farther away, you take the stairs, you get off the subway one stop sooner.
And the sleep monitoring is a revelation. The Up and Fitbit bands reveal how well you slept, how many times you woke and so on.
This year, Jawbone's Up band finally got with the Bluetooth program: it now sends data to your phone wirelessly. (You used to have to take it off, unplug a cap, stick it into your phone’s headphone jack and wait.) That new band is called UP24, steeply priced at $150.
Its rival, the Fitbit Force band, also has Bluetooth — and a screen ($130). It can show the time, your step tally, staircases climbed, calories burned and miles walked. Right on your wrist, in bright, white, clear lettering.
The Force’s clasp is a headache; the two prongs are tricky to wedge into matching slots on the band’s other end. But at least it won’t catch on your sweater or gouge your loved ones’ flesh, as the metal tips of the Up band do.
Overall, given how much it will get you moving: The Fitbit Force is worth the weight.
Verizon Range Extender
I despise Verizon’s policies, practices and prices. Unfortunately, I love its service, especially in the Northeast where I live. Verizon just has much better cellular coverage than the other guys.
But even Verizon’s signal doesn’t reach into my house, and I’m not alone.
So I bought a range extender. It connects to your home network and lets you use your cellphone indoors. Whenever I try to use my cellphone, I hear a little two-tone chirp in the earpiece that says, in effect, “Your call is being handled by the range extender. Your call won’t drop.”
I bought the one offered by Verizon, which set me back $250. It works perfectly, and I was able to save money by canceling my home phone service.
I have a vague feeling I overpaid, though. On Amazon, similar gadgets are available for much less — $135, for example.
Maybe I’ll test a couple of those in the new year. Meanwhile, the point is that cellular range extenders exist, they work, and they may save you the cost of a home phone line.
Sony RX100 II
It’s a pocket camera — the best one ever made. I know I said that about its predecessor, the RX100 — but this one’s even better.
You could argue that the most important feature of a camera is great pictures. And to get those, you need two key ingredients: a great lens and a big sensor.
Well, this camera has a legendary Zeiss lens, with an astonishing f/1.8 maximum aperture (it lets in a lot of light). And it has the biggest sensor ever stuffed into a little camera.
That’s why it’s nosebleed expensive: $750.
My rationalization goes like this: You wouldn’t flinch at spending that on a big camera this good — so why not simply be pleased that you can fit this one into a jeans pocket?
What’s new in the II? A tilting screen, so you can shoot over your head or down low. They’ve added WiFi for sending pictures to your phone. This camera gains 40 percent better sensitivity in low light (if you speak Geek, it’s because this camera has what Sony calls the world’s first back-illuminated CMOS sensor in this size).
All I know is that this camera never lets me down. The photos are simply spectacular, as you can see by these samples on my Flickr page.
Bose Quietcomfort 20 Noise-Canceling Earbuds
Bose dominates the over-ear noise-canceling headphone racket, with good reason: Its noise-canceling technology is still strikingly superior to its rivals.
I know this for fact; I tested 16 pairs of headphones on a transcontinental flight. (The hard part wasn’t carrying them all; it was people staring at me like I needed medication.)
But headphones are bulky, sometimes troublesome for glasses wearers, and not great for hairdos. They make it impossible to sleep on a plane with your cheek against the pillow.
Now Bose has introduced in-ear version of the same thing. It has many rivals, but once again, the noise cancellation offered by Bose’s entry is way out in front. (It had better be: The price is $300.)
In-ear phones can be uncomfortable after awhile. But these silicone inserts don’t wedge into your ear canal, like some; they just rest there, which is far more pleasant. The battery’s inside a little on-the-cord remote, and goes for 16 hours on a charge. Even better, you can still listen to music after the battery’s dead — you lose only the noise cancellation — which is an improvement over Bose’s big headphones.
A second box on the cord includes a microphone, so you can make phone calls. Be sure to order the 20i model if you plan to use them with an iPhone or iPad.
Who’d have thought that a $20 accessory could double your love for your laptop?
But this infinitesimal metal rectangle, half an inch long, slips into the magnetic power-cord jack on a MacBook—and stops the cord from falling out all the time. (You can read more about it here.) Best $20 I ever spent.
Samsung 7100 LCD TV
Watching the “Harry Potter” movies with my 9-year-old son, I finally realized it was time to replace my equally old TV. The picture was so dim, Harry seemed to be wearing his invisibility cloak for the whole movie.
After much research, I bought Samsung’s 7100 LCD TV. (It was $300 off during the Black Friday sale.) It’s available in all kinds of sizes — 46, 55, 60, 65 or 75 inches.
I’ve never understood the big deal about how thin a TV is — who looks at it from the side? But a thin bezel — the border around the screen — is fantastic. It means you get more picture into a smaller space. And the 7100’s bezel is practically nonexistent. It’s a glorious picture, floating in space.
Most of the major Internet services are built right in: Netflix, Amazon, YouTube and so on.
The remote accepts spoken commands, but that feature doesn’t work well, and you’ll never use it. This is also a 3-D TV, which you’ll also never use. The remote has a laptop-style trackpad for navigating on-screen options, which does work well.
Above all, what this TV has is a glorious, brilliant, razor-sharp picture. If your current TV is at least about six years old, the improvement will blow your eyebrows off.
Bargain hunters and future-proofers should note that there’s a whole family of Samsung TVs: The 6300, the 6400, my 7100, the 7500 and the 8000. For example, the 6400 costs $400 less than the 7100. It comes with two 3-D glasses instead of four (who cares?), it refreshes its screen half as fast during fast action and its bezel isn’t quite as thin. Here’s a comparison chart (reading glasses not included).
Those are the big hits taken by the Pogue credit card this year. The common theme? 2013 wasn’t a year of new-product breakthroughs. Instead, it was a year of quiet improvements in existing technologies — that made all the difference.