These are the hands-down most important tech products of the year in each major gadget category. They will change the industry and your life--if they haven't already.
The WinnersCNET 100: The winners We chose the most important tech products of the year in each major gadget category. These winners are the true game-changers of 2011.
The iPhone 4S is the ultimate comeback kid. Despite showing up four months later than expected and in the wake of endless iPhone 5 rumors, the iPhone 4S continues to outsell any other phone in the United States. We love this phone--especially its blazing A5 processor and point-and-shoot-killing camera--and the iPhone 4S' voice-activated digital assistant, Siri, is a breakout cultural phenomenon.
The WinnersRemember the original Motorola Razr? If you were born before the turn of the millennium, there's no way you could forget it. In a feat of marketing brilliance, Motorola revived the Razr this year in a completely new--but equally satisfying--design. The Motorola Droid Razr combines the winning Google Android operating system with a broad-screened, razor-thin (yes, we said it) design that has us over the moon. Plus, the back of the phone is make of Kevlar. Kevlar!
The Winners Until Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich arrived on the scene, Google's ubiquitous smartphone interface suffered from a fractured, scatterbrained implementation across many devices from many manufacturers. With ICS, Google wants to unify the smartphone and tablet form factors, so that Android looks like Android on any screen size. ICS has yet to appear on many devices, but when it does, we'll be thrilled. For now, know that ICS includes such novelties as the capability to unlock by looking at your face. (Get a full Ice Cream Sandwich walkthrough in this slideshow.)
The WinnersYou could argue that the iPad 2 is little more than an original iPad updated to fix glaring omissions. But no one can deny that this version--thinner, faster, and with two cameras--rules the tablet kingdom. With 80 percent market share at last count, the iPad 2 managed to ward off every major tablet competitor in 2011, and sets the gold standard for the entire tablet category. With rumors of an imminent iPad 3 and the Kindle Fire nipping at its heels, though, this tablet is likely enjoying the last months of its tenure on top.
The Winners"Underdog" doesn't typically describe Amazon products. But the well-reviewed Kindle Fire isn't a typical device. This Android-based tablet enters a market dominated by the iPad 2, but comes from behind with a not-so-secret weapon: an astoundingly low $199 price point. Possibly losing money on each tablet, Amazon is banking on its ecosystem of music and media to squeeze profits out of the lightweight tablet. We think the strategy just might work.
The WinnersWe debated whether to include yet another Kindle in this coveted list of winners. But here's the thing about the ad-supported $79 Kindle: black-and-white though this entry-level e-reader may be, the Kindle wins by dint of its rock-bottom price and the fact that its subtle ads--mostly in the form of Amazon deals--are so targeted they're actually useful in and of themselves. Yep. There, we said it: we actually like these ads.
The Winners The second generation of Apple's MacBook Air fixes many of our gripes about the ambitious original MacBook Air, adding more USB ports, an SD card slot, and a more powerful processor. Now, the Air stands to define an entire generation of so-called ultrabooks. These superthin laptops have no hard drive, start up instantly, and--short of a touch screen--do much of what a tablet can't thanks to their built-in keyboard. It turns out, the world still needs keyboards.
The WinnersUnless you live on Mars, you've seen ads for the little, purple Roku LT box this holiday season. From looking at the Roku, you'd never guess this tiny device--not much bigger than two iPhones stacked together--is one of CNET's very favorite things. It costs a mere $49 and will change the way you watch TV (unless you're one of the few who already own a streaming television). The Roku LT (and its more expensive brethren) streams Netflix, Hulu, and many other channels of Internet video through a blindingly simple interface.
The WinnersYep. That's right. It's a thermostat. But if there's ever going to be a thermostat for the ages, the Nest Learning Thermostat--just released this fall and already selling out--will be it. This connected hockey puck of a thermostat looks beautiful and lets you program by simply turning the body of the device, or by operating it from your smartphone. A motion sensor lets the thermostat "see" when people are usually in a room, and its artificial intelligence improves home efficiency automatically. Wow.
Siri delights many, frustrates some, and has had her share of public relations crises. Still, these popular voice-controlled interfaces put speech technology in the forefront and set the tone for years of voice innovation.