Beautiful OnesThe beautiful ones
Here's to the beautiful gadgets. With their near-unattainable coolness, these are the ones that wouldn't let you sit at their lunch table in high school.
The S in iPhone 4S stands for speed. But it might as well stand for Siri. That's the computerized personal assistant that responds to voice prompts. But unlike any other widely used speech recognition technology, Siri understands natural language. A user can say, "How does my schedule look today," and Siri will display appointments. And she'll do it when you say, "Do I have any meetings?" or simply, "Calendar." And Apple has infused Siri with charm--just ask her what she's wearing--making it fun to talk to a computer.
Beautiful OnesOften, the greatest designs are reimaginings of objects we've long taken for granted. It's easy to overlook the orb on the wall that controls temperatures. But Tony Fadell, then chief of the iPod division, realized that thermostats, which haven't been reconsidered in decades, could benefit from a dose of creativity. The Nest Learning Thermostat is designed to be easier to use than current models because it adapts to how people use it. What's more, the elegant gadget could cut as much as 30 percent off home energy bills.
Beautiful OnesSometimes a great design can take a giant stride when a bit of technology is added to it. That's what British audio innovator Bowers & Wilkins did with its Zeppelin, an already terrific tabletop speaker for iPods that debuted in 2008. In 2011, the Zeppelin Air bowed, featuring Apple's AirPlay audio-streaming capabilities built in. With AirPlay, consumers don't need to dock their iPods, iPads, iPhones, or Macs to hear their music. It just streams directly from the devices. And the Zeppelin retains its bold love-it-or-leave-it style, making it a conversation piece as well as a staggeringly great speaker.
Beautiful OnesNike's innovative Nike+ technology gave runners an easy way to keep tabs on their miles logged, as well as connecting them to a like-minded community, when it debuted in 2006. But it wasn't easy to track routes. So Nike teamed with TomTom to add GPS to a watch called the Sportwatch. GPS provides accurate speed and distance information, in addition to the time, distance, pace, heart rate, and calories that the first version offered. And the style mavens at Nike have crafted the watch into a gorgeous device that's slim and displays large, bold numbers on its high-contrast LCD screen.
Beautiful OnesSometimes great design can be bold and in your face. But sometimes, the best designs almost disappear. Rather than announcing their presence, those devices just do their job and fade into the background. The Roku 2 XS is a sleek little hockey puck gizmo that streams media to HD and standard TVs. You almost don't know it's there. Roku started life as the Netflix Player, and it still does a nifty job streaming videos from that service. But even as the device has gone on a diet, it's added Amazon Video, Hulu Plus, Crackle, and Pandora. And it's added a Bluetooth motion remote to control the device and play Angry Birds.
Beautiful OnesAction camcorders have been around for a few years, and the market is led by Contour's rival, GoPro. But the ContourRoam HD Camcorder offers some clever design touches that make it a terrific entry-level video camera for action sports. First, it's waterproof, so you don't need a protective case when you hit the slopes or ride the waves. Second, its power switch is a beefy toggle on top of the barrel-like device, which is a real bonus when you've mounted the camera on a ski helmet. And the gadget includes the Contour Storyteller video-editing and organizing software, which makes it a snap to share footage on social networks.
Beautiful OnesIn recent years, TV design has hewed toward bigger and flatter. The Samsung UND8000 is plenty big at 55 inches diagonally. And it's flat enough with a 1.2-inch depth without a stand. But Samsung's most clever innovation is a design that minimizes the frame around the screen. It turns what could have been yet another 3D television into something altogether different. The bezel is so thin that the TV seems to almost disappear when programming is on, leaving the picture to take up the entire front of the set.
Beautiful OnesThere are few gadgets more beloved among the Technorati than the Sonos Wireless HiFi System. Even though a system could easily run north of $1,000, it made the whole-home audio system approachable. The Sonos Play:3 now offers it to the masses. The Play:3 can stream music from an iTunes library on a Mac or PC, as well as connect to raft of online services such as Pandora, Rhapsody, Sirius XM, Spotify, and many more. Because it does all of that wirelessly, the simple 5.7-pound connected speaker has only volume up, down, and mute buttons on top. And when you can scrape together a few more dollars, you can easily add a second Play:3 to your music system.
Beautiful OnesJawbone was the first company to figure out how to make ungainly Bluetooth headsets look less dorky. The company realized that plenty of consumers had no desire to put something unattractive on their faces. The company's latest headset, the Era, has an almost architectural look to it, with a metallic grid overlaying one of four muted colors. Created by design legend Yves Behar's Fuseproject, the Era includes an accelerometer that lets users double-tap the surface to answer, end, or switch calls, as well as shake the device to pick up a call when the Era isn't being worn. And users shake the device to pair it with their phones.
Beautiful OnesThere's always been something of a compromise with portable speakers--mobility usually relegates the sound quality to something less than great. That's even more true with Bluetooth devices, where subtle notes can get lost in the ether. But the Bose SoundLink Wireless Mobile speaker produces astonishingly rich sound that doesn't distort at high volumes. Bose does all of this in a compact, elegant device with an aluminum grill and polished chrome sides. And the company swipes a design cue from Apple's iPad 2 Smart Cover by including a magnetic protective cover that unfurls into a stand, and automatically turns the speaker off when it's folded over the device.