13 Tech Products That Stood Out in 2013. What marks a successful product? The same indicator of a successful Facebook post, tweet or status update: something you want to share with others.
At least that’s our view. We don’t put our seal of approval, Mashable Choice, on a product unless we would recommend it to friends, family or colleagues. It might solve a problem, help you work faster and smarter, or sport a mind-bogglingly cool design.
Over the past year, we’ve reviewed more than 100 products, from game consoles to smartwatches. More than a few have earned the Mashable Choice label, but some true standouts sit among the crowd — products that are not only “shareable,” but also excellent examples of the categories they represent.
1. BioShock Infinite
BioShock Infinite ($40) was the first product to earn the Mashable Choice label, and it’s easy to see why the very moment you start playing the highly detailed sequel to 2007’s BioShock. Games reporter Chelsea Stark wrote that the game “takes players on a journey that enthralls in its narrative and environment.”
2. Kindle Fire HDX
Among the selection of great tablets to choose from this year — from Apple’s refreshed iPads to Google’s impressive Nexus 7 to Samsung’s iPad mini alternative. But a tablet’s greatest strength is media consumption, and nobody does that better (at an amazingly low price point) than Amazon. Mashable’s editor in chief Lance Ulanoff had high praise for the 7-inch Kindle Fire HDX’s price, performance and “expertly integrated ecosystem.” At $229, no other Android tablet comes close, as long as you don’t mind giving up Google Play.
3. Pebble Smartwatch
The Pebble ($150) broke ground in the smartwatch category with its impressive Kickstarter campaign, showing that high-tech watches weren’t just a tech geek’s fantasy. Even though many others have crowded the space since then, the Pebble remains the best example of the concept, sporting an e-paper screen that doesn’t drain the battery and several useful apps. Senior tech analyst Christina Warren wrote that the Pebble delivers on all of its Kickstarter promises and then some.
4. iPhone 5S
The iPhone 5S, which starts at $199 on most U.S. carriers, isn’t just the best iPhone ever made. It’s also one of the most advanced mobile devices you can buy, brandishing Apple’s clever TouchID fingerprint sensor and packing a 64-bit mobile chip — the only smartphone so far to do so. The iPhone 5S won Lance Ulanoff’s heart with its “formidable power and an unmatched mobile operating system,” and judging by sales, the hearts of Apple fans as well.
5. Leap Motion
Gesture control, or waving your hands in front of a screen, doesn’t work for everything. For example, some apps may never work well with such an interface, but for those that do, the experience is eye-opening. Such is the case with Leap Motion ($80). With the caveats that the controller is a 1.0 device with at-times buggy (but rapidly iterating) software, Tech Editor Pete Pachal wrote that Leap Motion had enough merit to keep users interested and wanting more.
6. Olympus OM-D EM-1
Hot cameras of the moment come and go, but mirrorless designs are here to stay. That was clear after reviewer Raymond Wong found the Olympus OM-D EM-1 ($1,400) to be “mirrorless perfection,” a relatively compact camera that satisfies serious photographers and enthusiastic amateurs alike. While HD video recording was “limited,” its super-fast autofocus and customizable buttons more than made up for any shortcomings.
7. 13-Inch MacBook Pro With Retina Display
Apple’s MacBooks often set new standards in laptop design, first with ultra-thin design, later with the introduction of ultra-high-res “retina” displays. But those leaps forward bring equally large price jumps. That’s why it was impressive that this year, Apple added mostly incremental improvements to its MacBook Pro laptops but with big price reductions. Pete Pachal wrote that choosing between the13-inch MacBook Pro With Retina Display (starts at $1,299) and the 13-inch MacBook Air was a “no-brainer,” and that the machine had “outstanding performance” despite a few out-of-the-box bugs.
8. Fitbit Force
A lot of smart devices are vying for spots on your wrist, but the Fitbit Force ($130) is one of the best we’ve seen. The fitness tracker sports an OLED display, letting it convey some basic information (like — how about that? — the time) without taxing the battery too much. Tech reporter Samantha Murphy called the Force “the total package,” with the tech to track your movements precisely and great social integration, as long as you don’t mind the slightly bulky design.
9. Bose QuietComfort 20i Noise-Cancelling Earphones
Bose has been a leader in noise-cancelling headphones for a long time, and it re-established that title with the QuietComfort 20i ($300), building the technology into a pair of comfortable, well-designed earbuds. While reviewer Matt Schneiderman would recommend them based on the “wonderful” noise cancellation alone, he also loved the “excellent new layer of convenience” that Aware mode brings, letting users use the earphones when hearing the outside world is crucial (think crosswalks).
10. Kwikset Kevo
If you’ve ever locked yourself out of your home, you’ll appreciate that the Kwikset Kevo ($219) unlocks your front door via cellphone. Powered by Bluetooth, the lock is touch-sensitive; as long as your phone is on you, just tap your finger on it to unlock. While reviewer Stewart Wolpin had some quibbles with the sensitivity of proximity, he saw the potential for the Kevo to “represent the vanguard of all whole new door lock paradigm.”
11. Parallels Access
Some apps are fun. Some apps are useful. Some apps are really well designed. Parallels Access($80 per machine) is all three, giving iPad owners a way to run Mac and PC apps, essentially turning the tablet into a window peering into the other machine, regardless of location. The practical uses of the concept are huge, but Parallels went the extra mile to ensure the app worked just how iPad users expected it to, with features such as native copy-and-pasting (with the magnifying glass). Pete Pachal wrote that Parallels Access is a “godsend for iPad power users.”
12. 2014 Mazda6
Cars today need to match our connected lifestyles, and the 2014 Mazda6 (starts at $20,990) does so impressively. With built-in Bluetooth connectivity for hands-free calling and a 5.8-inch touchscreen in the dashboard, the Mazda is loaded with “smart” tech. It extends outward as well, using sensors to aid your driving and prevent some accidents. Lance Ulanoff called the 2014 Mazda6 a “real 21st-century car.”
13. Galaxy S4
Samsung’s Galaxy S4 (starts at $200 on most carriers) was one of the most hotly anticipated gadgets of the year. It was also one of the most technically sophisticated, loaded with several new features: some useful, like the hovering-finger-detecting Air View, and others less so, like the sort-of-eye-tracking Smart Scroll. In any case, Christina Warren called the Galaxy S4 “the best Android phone on the market” when it was released in April, and it remains the standard-bearer, despite the emergence of other more advanced others.