Gear of the year: TechRadar's top tech from 2013

31st Dec 2013 | 09:00

Gear of the year: TechRadar's top tech from 2013

All the hottest hits and techiest toys from the last 12 months

That's it, folks. It's all gone. The tech year of 2013 is over and we now look ahead to 2014.

It's been an astonishing year in the world of consumer tech.

Smartphones have moved forward another step as specs iterate and more importantly, build quality has become a headline factor. Our best in class phone - the HTC One - is the best example of this. It was the first Android handset to really match Apple on build quality and it still sits at the top of our best phone rankings.

Ultrabooks have gone touchscreen in the last 12 months, with some truly stunning products from the likes of Asus, Samsung and Lenovo. Cameras are getting smarter, sat navs are getting bigger and let's not forget we have two next gen consoles on our hands now as well.

Join us as we run down our list of all the best in class products from the last 12 months.

HTC One

HTC One

best in class

Best in class: Smartphone
Released: March 2013

Top of the list has to be the HTC One - the best phone of the year without a doubt. It's got the wow-factor that made us fall in love with the HTC Desire, and manages to bring Sense back to a level that shows off the best of Android, rather than obfuscating it. There are those who pine for stock Android Jelly Bean, but earlier Android updates aside, we happen to think that Sense is better.

The camera is a great addition for on the spot shooting - if you want to take the photos and blow them up somewhere, it's not the phone for you, but if you want to be able to snap your friends in pubs without it being a blurry, dark mess, the HTC One comes into its own.

The Galaxy S4 is sleeker, the iPhone 5 is, well, Apple-ier, and the Nexus 5 is cheaper. But for the overall package of smartphone design and functionality, the HTC One stands head and shoulders above the rest.
HTC One review

Moto G

Moto G

best in class

Best in class: Budget smartphone
Released: November 2013

Yes, it's a Motorola phone in our best in class list! The Motorola brand is back folks, it's official. It may not be the return we would have predicted - there's no flagship phone stuffed full of the latest tech - but arguably what the now Google-owned firm has done is even better.

The Moto G is a top notch, low cost smartphone and we wholeheartedly recommend this as the best budget mobile currently on the market.

We were genuinely impressed with the feature set on the Moto G, so if you're looking for a low cost phone you can stop searching - just go out and grab a Moto G right now. Moto G review

iPad Air

iPad Air

best in class

Best in class: Tablet
Released: November 2013

Our best tablet was a no-contest. It's the iPad Air. From the clever construction to the fast processor to the improved user interface, Apple has found an answer to every criticism we had of the device and then some.

The fact it's not even more expensive than its large-screen brethren is really impressive for an Apple product, and the suite of apps that are now free, coupled with the excellent App Store and premium build, make this a no brainer for anyone looking to enter the tablet market.

We'd advise that you get the largest capacity your budget can manage - although at the top end you're verging on Macbook territory, so make sure you're ready to use a tablet and think about getting an external keyboard to make full use of the extra apps you've now got.

You've seen the score, and for those keeping tabs you'll realise this is TechRadar's first five-star tablet. It's a device with almost no flaws - it's not just Apple's best tablet, it's the only tablet you should be considering this Christmas if you're keen on a larger screen. iPad Air review

nexus 7

Nexus 7 2013

best in class

Best in class: Budget tablet
Released: August 2013

If you're looking for a 7-inch tablet, we'll put it like this: there is no better alternative on the market, right now. The Nexus 7 is the best in its class.

And be aware of that qualification, because markets change very quickly. The Nexus 7 wipes the floor with the competition but Google could have worked at 100% rather than 97% to make the Nexus 7 the one to beat.

For original Nexus 7 owners, it may not be worth an upgrade, but for new tablet buyers, you can't knock that value for money, and this is going to be amassive seller in the run-up to the holiday season.

If you're an Android fan, snap one up right away. But if you're on the fence, we definitely recommend checking out the Retina iPad Mini or new Kindle Fire HD. Nexus 7 2013 review

sony 4k tv

Sony KD-65X9005A

best in class

Best in class: 4K TV
Released: March 2013

Our best TV of the year is the KD-65X9005A - much more than just another large screen. The poster boy for a new generation of broadcast technology, it delivers a picture experience quite unlike conventional Full HD screens.

Image quality with native 4K content is simply astonishing, both in terms of absolute fidelity and image depth. But perhaps the biggest surprise is just how beneficial its panel density is with Full HD too.

Upscaling is extremely effective, and with Blu-ray (particularly Mastered in 4K discs), it simply shines. There's been considerable debate as to whether the 4K at this screen size is an appreciable advantage in the average home. Well we can confirm it most definitely is. Debate closed.
Sony KD-65X9005A review

TomTom go 6000

TomTom Go 6000

best in class

Best in class: Sat nav
Released: August 2013

The TomTom Go 6000 is very impressive. The interface is intuitive, with TomTom's excellent routing benefiting from being able to draw on live traffic data to make for incredibly accurate journey times as well.

The experience you'll enjoy when using this compared to what you'll get from a smartphone or even an older sat nav is incredible. You won't be second guessing what's around the corner or waiting for the signal to catch up - and while that will cost you, it's money well spent.
TomTom Go 6000 review

AMD Radeon R9 290

AMD Radeon R9 290

best in class

Best in class: Graphics card
Released: December 2013

Our favourite graphics card has to be the 290. No sooner had we put the finishing touches to our R9 290X review when the red-tinged graphics gurus went and released this new card based on the exact same GPU. And it's a bit of a doozy. We would bet that anybody who dropped a lot of money on an R9 290X is probably cursing vociferously. At a far cheaper price point all you're really losing out on is the 'X' in the title – the actual gaming performance has barely suffered at all.

This card offers super value and it's the one to buy for PC gaming enthusiasts this year. AMD Radeon R9 290 review

BDT

Panasonic DMP-BDT230

best in class

Best in class: Blu-ray player
Released: February 2013

In the furore about whether streaming is taking over from optical discs, Panasonic's mid-range Blu-ray player makes a strong case for the survival of hard media. It's our favourite BD player of the year due to its balance of both performance and price.

Excellent digital media handling and a fairly wide suite of smart TV apps impress, but it's some excellent 2D, 3D and upscaled DVD images that make this Blu-ray player a standout option for even a high-end home cinema environment. Few decks can match it for pure image quality, and it's also one of the easiest 'smart' devices to use. It's also great to see Netflix here, complete with a dedicated button on the small, old-fashioned, but easy to understand remote control.

Rather like its plasma TVs – far and away the finest TVs currently being manufactured – Panasonic's DMP-BDT230 delivers on quality, no question, but what it's surrounded with in terms of user interface design and smart TV apps means that it may be passed over in favour of ultimately less capable decks. That would be a shame since the DMP-BDT230 is a remarkably capable Blu-ray player, and great value, too.
Panasonic DMP-BDT230 review

p7

B&W P7

best in class

Best in class: Headphones
Released: October 2013

The B&W P7 headphones aren't for everyone. Some might find them uncomfortable, some might find that the lack of audio isolation spoils things. But for sound quality alone, these headphones are superb and that's why they're in this list.

If we were to judge them on audio quality alone – sitting here, listening to the warm, layered, nuanced balm of Lambchop washing over us; pausing every now and then as a line, a chord, an arpeggio we've hitherto missed suddenly strikes us – then they'd undoubtedly score a perfect five stars.

Regardless, the ultimate test of any product is whether you'd be happy to receive it as a gift or whether it would sit unloved in a drawer or be surreptitiously returned to the shop, and if someone gave us a set of B&W P7s, we'd give them a big kiss. B&W P7 review

samsung ativ book 15

Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus

best in class

Best in class: Ultrabook
Released: September 2013

The best Ultrabook of the year is the Samsung Atic Book 9 Plus. It offers a great package for those looking for a laptop that can be both a workhorse and an exemplary home entertainment machine. It's powerful, the battery life is stunning - all-day capable, even - and it has an incredible screen.

The only fly-in-the-ointment here is whether you buy the cheaper Macbook Air, which is similarly specced, or the Sony Vaio Pro 13, which is almost identical on paper, but about £200 cheaper. You can even get the Core i7 version of the Sony for just £100 extra.

Neither of these options have the amazing detail of the Ativ's screen, but we're not convinced it's a necessity, especially at this screen size. And we're not sure a business user would mind either, unless they were looking to maximise their screen real estate. Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus review

hp touchsmart 15

HP Envy TouchSmart 15

best in class

Best in class: Mainstream laptop
Released: September 2013

Recently, the Envy line has been a bit hit and miss, but the Envy TouchSmart 15-j004ea is definitely a hit with us and it has become an office favourite at TechRadar Towers.

It packs strong performance and great features at a price that's pretty reasonable: a 1080p screen, decent graphics card and latest-gen quad-core CPU are a great combination for under a grand. There are some slightly better value machines for power (Lenovo's IdeaPad Z500 Touch, for example), but you won't find quite this balance of specs for any less.

It's not perfect, of course – anything that impresses on price is probably going to have a downside - but it's a great choice for those who want a Full HD screen and the power to back it up without breaking the bank.
HP Envy TouchSmart 15 review

macbook pro 15

MacBook Pro 15

best in class

Best in class: High-end laptop
Released: December 2013

No surprises as to which product gets our best high-end laptop award. The main improvement offered by the October refresh of the 15-inch MacBook Pro is the switch to Haswell processors, which boost battery life by using less energy than the last generation of Core-i chips. They have better graphics too, with an integrated Intel Iris Pro chipset in both models. The cheaper version reviewed here doesn't have a discrete GPU.

While a 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina screen is still a substantial investment, for professional users, graphic designers and video editors, it's an excellent solution for computing on the move. Battery life is even better than before, lasting an astonishingly long time on a single charge, and it's one of the most portable 15-inch notebooks around. We wish it were cheaper, but even at its current prices, you're certainly getting a lot of notebook for your money. Apple MacBook Pro 15 review


ricoh gr

Ricoh GR

best in class

Best in class: Compact camera
Released: June 2013

In the GR, Ricoh has created a superb pocketable alternative to a DSLR. It has all the control over exposure that you need and it is responsive, with fast write times.

It produces very high quality images, that are generally well exposed, have natural colours and a very impressive level of detail. Noise is well controlled - especially in raw files, which at high sensitivity settings have a fine texture with no banding or clumping.

Ricoh isn't a widely recognised camera brand in the way that Nikon, Canon, Pentax and Olympus are, but its compact cameras have found favour with enthusiasts and professionals in the past. The new Ricoh GR is an excellent addition to the Ricoh Pentax camera lineup, and given its considerably lower price than the Nikon Coolpix A and Fuji X100S, it's a definite hit.
Ricoh GR review

canon 70D

Canon EOS 70D

best in class

Best in class: DSLR
Released: November 2013

Canon has produced a very well rounded camera for enthusiast photographers. It has all the specifications that we expect, along with a few modern niceties in a body that feels well made and comfortable in the hand. It should be serious competition for the Nikon D7100.

The new Dual Pixel AF system for Live View and Movie mode is very impressive. In bright light it's fast and decisive, being quickest in still mode and smoothest in movie mode. In low light, however, there's often some of the backwards and forwards adjustment that is typical of contrast detection systems rather than phase detection.

All things considered, however, the Canon EOS 70D is a very desirable camera that is capable of producing superb results.
Canon EOS 70D review

omd

Olympus OM-D E-M1

best in class

Best in class: Compact System Camera
Released: November 2013

The E-M1 has a comprehensive feature set and its handling is well thought through. It also looks and feels like a 'proper camera'. It's weather-sealed so it can be used whatever the conditions, has plenty of direct controls with easy reach and has just about all the features an enthusiast photographer could want from a good walk-around camera. In fact it has such a wealth of features that some photographers are likely to be finding new modes and settings for some considerable time after purchase.

Happily the E-M1 isn't all style and no substance, either. It also delivers high quality, correctly exposed images with plenty of detail, good colour and well-controlled noise. The images look natural and sharp and although there is noise visible at relatively low sensitivity settings, it isn't intrusive and only visible if you look for it at 100% on-screen. Olympus OM-D E-M1 review


spotify

Spotify Premium

best in class

Best in class: Music streaming
Released: NA

Spotify was the first mainstream music streaming service and remains the best. Available on all kinds of devices, the high quality music library is as comprehensive as it gets and it's still getting better.

We'd like the web player to be improved, and the desktop client could do with a refresh. But these are moot criticisms because there is no the music service out there that can match Spotify for its ease of use and its incredible social features. Sharing and discovering music has never been easy and Spotify is the best of the best. Spotify review

netflix

Netflix

best in class

Best in class: Video streaming
Released: NA

Netflix is totally worth the money. If it had Breaking Bad and Johnny Bravo and nothing else, it'd still be worth the asking price, but when you consider the massive amount of TV series, the Disney films and the ability to watch programmes on pretty much any conceivable device, then six quid is an absolute steal.

It isn't perfect - if recent movies are your thing then your money might be better spent on LoveFilm or on pay-per-view rentals - but when it comes to streaming video Netflix remains the service to beat. Netflix review

What was your gear of the year?

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