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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

[Special Feature]Two Tech Geeks Best of Tech 2012

With the year coming to a close, and the looming Mayan Apocalypse, the Two Tech Geeks thought it would be a good idea to take a look back and highlight some of our favorite things from that wacky, wonderful year that was.  Without further ado, we bring you our Best of Tech 2012:

Best Small Tablet (8" screen or smaller):
Sean: Asus Nexus 7
The Nexus 7 has it all; a quad-core Tegra 3 processor, a 1280 x 800 IPS LCD display, 1GB of RAM and 16GB or 32GB of internal memory.  Better yet, the 16GB version will only set you back $199.99 while the 32GB version goes for $249.99.  Sure the iPad mini may be thinner and constructed of nicer materials, but it has an inferior screen and the 16GB iPad Mini costs 65% more than a 16GB Nexus 7.  In the smaller tablet market, the Nexus 7 reigns supreme.

Shawn: Asus Nexus 7
You'll get no argument from me here.  I recently purchased a Nexus 7, and can't actually use it because the wife likes it so much.  Great materials, great screen, small enough to be portable, but big enough to be useful for things your phone is too small for.  In short - its perfect.

Best Large Tablet (8" screen or larger):

Sean: Apple iPad 4
The iPad 4 is the best large tablet on the market.  It has a beautiful 2048 x 1536 (264ppi) screen, a blisteringly fast A6X CPU and a quad-core PowerVR SGX544 GPU that can handle anything you can throw at it.  It also has access to the best tablet ecosystem in existence.  No other large tablet matches the total package that is the iPad 4.

Shawn: Apple iPad 3/4
The iPad is the king of the hill in terms of traditional (large) size tablets.  The recent refresh of the iPad line includes their new "Lightning" connector, which ends up having the effect of making the device even lighter and thinner than it was before.  With "Retina" quality displays, machined aluminum unibody construction, and exceptional battery life, if you're looking for something in the way of a larger tablet, there's the iPad...and then there's everything else.

Best Small Smart Phone (4.3" screen or smaller):

Sean: Apple iPhone 5
The iPhone 5 has it all.  It's powerful, well designed, has a beautiful screen, a great camera and is among the thinnest and lightest smart phones in existence.  The addition of a larger screen and LTE were much needed updates that addressed the shortcomings of the iPhone 4S.  The iPhone 5 is the best smart phone in the 4.3" or smaller category by a wide margin.

Shawn: Apple iPhone 5
While not groundbreaking in terms of innovation, the iPhone 5 is surely the best phone on the market in terms of what it offers for its size.  Loads of great features are packed into a form factor that is very similar to the iPhone 4S, but offers up 4 inches of "Retina" screen real estate.  The latest version of the iPhone now sports LTE, and Apple claims the battery last just as long as the non-LTE version.  While I've not had a chance to verify this personally, if true, it's something of a technological marvel.  Many folks I know that own iPhone 5s are very happy with their purchase.  Good enough for me.

Best Large Smart Phone(4.4" screen or larger):

Sean: Samsung Galaxy Note II
The Note II is my favorite smart phone of the year (mine arrives next week as a matter of fact).  It's what I expected the Galaxy S3 to be.  It has a quad-core Exynos 4412 CPU, an overclocked Mali-400 GPU, 2GB of RAM, a 5.5" RGB Super AMOLED screen, a giant removable battery, an SD card slot, S-Pen and a host of specific software features.  The Galaxy S3 announcement was disappointing because of the pentile matrix screen and the U.S. specific dual-core S4 processor.  It felt like we were getting a compromised version of what Samsung had intended.  The Note II on the other hand feels like the complete vision.

Shawn: Samsung Galaxy S3
The Galaxy S3 is without question the most popular smartphone Samsung has ever produced.  With a large bright display, thin and light form factor, excellent camera, and high end specs under the hood, the GS3 is a powerhouse that will probably only be dethroned by the newer version of itself that comes out next year.  You can also usually get this phone brand new for bargain basement prices - making the Galaxy S3 an exceptional value for the money.

Best Smart Phone Design:

Sean: HTC One-X
The One-X is the best designed smart phone of the year.  HTC is known for quality hardware but with the One-X they outdid themselves.  From the sleek one piece polycarbonate body to the beautiful inlaid 4.7" Super LCD-2 screen, it's really a piece of art.  The white version is particularly gorgeous.  From a design standpoint the iPhone 5 is a close second, but nothing beat the One-X this year.

Shawn: Apple iPhone 5
What's this?  Shawn recommends an Apple product twice (3 times if you include the iPad) in the same column?  Folks, I give credit where credit is due - and the iPhone (since the 4) has been well made with a focus on the design aesthetic.  I'm actually going to cheat a little here and say its not the iPhone 5 design and form I truly love, but more the new iPods which share a lot of the same features.  The machined aluminum body and chamfered edges really give the device a nice look and feel in the hand.  Its lightweight, almost unnaturally so, and presents a clean and polished look to the user.  Always minimalist in design, these industrial elements appeal to the lover of beautiful things in me.  Few, if any, do this better than Apple.

Best Custom ROM:

Sean: AOKP
Fast, stable, infinitely tweakable, and its mascot is an angry pink unicorn.  What more could you possibly want?

Shawn: Team BAMF Paradigm
Take it from someone who is a self confessed "crack-flasher" of custom ROMs - I've tried quite a few out on my Galaxy Nexus, including AOKP, FnV, Bugless Beast, and CM 10.  Paradigm gets my vote for the best of the lot.  The Jelly Bean version of Paradigm is smooth, stable, and chock full of useful tweaks but isn't weighed down by extra bloat or mods just for the sake of having mods.  It feels like a final finished product each and every time I flash an update.  The devs are helpful and their public forum is moderated well and is easy to get answers from.  Its the ROM I use as my daily driver...you should too.

Coolest New Software Feature/App:

Sean: Multi-Window from Samsung
Multi-Window is just so damn cool.  The first time I watched it on video, I was blown away.  Larger screens and more powerful processors have made true multi-tasking a reality.  This is a feature that Google should start incorporating into future versions of Android starting with Key Lime Pie.

Shawn: Photosphere in Android 4.2
While not generally available to all phones running Android just yet, Photosphere gets my vote as the absolute coolest new software feature.  The Android camera software was long in need of an upgrade, and boy is that what we got.  Using the same technology that Google employs in their "Street View" Maps app, users of Photosphere can take multiple photos of a scene and then stitch them together in something that can only be described as a 3D collage.  Its really, really neat, and will have a much bigger following I think as more users move to Android 4.2.

Best Hardware Innovation:

Image courtesy theverge.com
Sean: Droid DNA 1080p screen
The new 5" 1080p Super-LCD 3 screen in the Droid DNA is the future.  Next year a flood of 5" 1080p phones are going to hit the market including the LG Optimus G2 and the Samsung Galaxy S IV.  Whether a 1080p screen in such a small size is worth it versus a 720p screen is debatable, but what isn't debatable is that packing over 2 million pixels into such a small area is simply incredible.  

Shawn: Nexus 10 Exynos 5 CPU w/Mali T604 GPU
There are a few things in life we just take for granted; the sun will rise in the east, there's always drama on any show that has the words "Real Housewives" in it, and he who has the fastest processor usually wins.  With all the speculation around the Nexus 10, and the hype from the crazy 300 dpi display, don't overlook the monster that's driving the whole show - the Exynos 5 CPU.  A dual core 1.7GHz beast with A15 architecture will crush anything you throw at it, and then ask for more.  The Cortex A15 at a 32nm process makes it twice as fast as the previous generation A9 architecture, while being 30% more power efficient than the A9.  This is the same processor chosen by Google to power their new Chromebook laptop...and they put it in a 10 inch tablet.  Simply remarkable.

Most Pleasant Surprise:

Sean: Motorola Droid RAZR MAXX HD
I wrote not one, but two pieces expressing my disappointment with Motorola's new flagship offering.  As it turned out, I owed them an apology.  Sure the RAZR MAXX HD has a pentile matrix screen, yes it only has half as much RAM as the Samsung Galaxy S III, and Verizon absolutely charges too much for them.  But despite all that I find myself recommending the RAZR MAXX HD constantly.  It has fantastic build quality, the radios are second to none, and the battery life is INSANE.  Amazon wireless only charges $174.99 for a MAXX HD with an upgrade and at that price it's hard to go wrong.   

Shawn: Nexus 4 pricing
Google and LG have gone to a place with the release of the Nexus 4 that I don't think that anyone could have foreseen - they've released a device, unlocked from a carrier, at a competitive price point.  The device itself boasts some of the highest specs of any device on the market, and you can get it for at little as $299.  That's the same price that I paid for my Galaxy Nexus, and I had to sign a 2 year agreement with Verizon just to get it at that cost.  If they keep offering great phones at affordable prices, what Google is doing with their partner program is going to eventually revolutionize the mobile smartphone industry.

Biggest Disappointment:

Sean: HTC's continued struggles
HTC continued to have major problems in 2012.  When the One X was unveiled at the beginning of the year it looked like HTC was back on track.  The phone was gorgeous.  Unfortunately it ended up being an AT&T exclusive and was enveloped by the Samsung Galaxy S III launch across all major carriers a month later.  The One X ended up a sales disappointment.  The end of the year saw HTC release the One X+ again as an AT&T exclusive, and then the Droid DNA as a Verizon exclusive a few days later.  This strategy makes absolutely no sense.  HTC should have released the One X across all carriers in May ahead of the Galaxy S III with a major add blitz, and then done the same thing with the DNA this month.  HTC needs to ditch the carrier exclusives next year and get their great products out on all carriers, because otherwise they're doomed to continue losing market share to Samsung.

Shawn: The Apple vs. Samsung patent trial outcome
There's a multitude of things wrong with this whole situation - but in short, 1) patent trolling should never be rewarded or encouraged, and 2) clearly there is something wrong with the U.S. Patent system.  When someone can be awarded a patent for "a rectangular smartphone with rounded edges" then we need to rethink our position on what "innovation" really is.  Instead of fewer lawsuits because of cases like this, I think we're going to see more.

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