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HolidayBuyer's Guide

Windows 8 Release Preview puts gadgets in the backseat

This week, software that's not even real yet dominated our reviews. CNET Reviews Editor in Chief Lindsey Turrentine tells you why, and which gear took a backseat to the operating system preview.

Nothing is as fascinating as the thing you can't have yet. Between Windows 8 Release Preview and a deafening cavalcade of iPhone 5 rumors, the current gadget crop didn't stand a chance this week.

This week's roundup of top-rated gear includes everything we've awarded three-and-a-half stars or above in our rating scale, and you can browse all of them in our slideshow. But first, read through our unrated Windows 8 Release Preview, written by Seth Rosenblatt. Seth has spent a lot of time with the new Windows preview, and he's played with the two-screen, app-centric experience Microsoft is so bullish on. His verdict so far: It could be great, but the operating system still needs plenty of work over the summer.

The BMW that makes me wish I wanted a BMW

The BMW X5Drive35i is here now, though, and the luxury SUV earned four stars and Wayne Cunningham's grudging respect. Despite some decidedly low-efficiency mileage, this car, as Wayne puts it, "keeps a connectedness to the road that many cars have lost" and sports at engine that's a "high-tech masterpiece with 3 liters of displacement from six inline cylinders." Plus, the iDrive system makes gadget integration easy. I'm not personally a BMW-lover, but this SUV makes me wish I were.

Yes, a four-star iPhone case

Why spend precious time reviewing an iPhone case? Because we can, but also because this case is made from a mysterious-sounding non-Newtonian fluid called D30. Imagine that stuff they teach your kids to make in science camp (some call it Oobleck) fit into the gooey center of an impact-resistant phone case. Then look at this photo:

Impact Band D30 material
D30 is the gooey and rigid substance embedded in the Impact Band case. Kent German/CBS Interactive

Now you understand our fascination with the Tech21 Impact Band for iPhone 4/4S. Turns out, this case isn't just a gimmick. Though the rubbery outside makes it hard to push buttons, Kent German slipped on the case and dropped his phone on a carpet, a sidewalk, and a hardwood floor. Verdict: No cracks, no damage -- except maybe to Kent's blood pressure. Sadly, we haven't found one of these for Android phones yet.

Lenovo ThinkPad X230 Sarah Tew/CBS Interactive

We also spent some time this week with the latest crop of laptops with Intel's Ivy Bridge processors, including the Lenovo ThinkPad X230. Here's the thing about this laptop: It's really pretty good. But with a bulky design, it struggles to compete with a laptop peer group that's moving in toward total ultrabook domination.

Notably missing from our top-reviewed products this week is the new, semi-experimental Chromebox, a $330 Chrome OS-based Samsung computer with the latest build of Google's Web-focused OS. The idea of a computer that's inexpensive and lightweight fascinates me, since I spend almost all my time online and much of it using Google services, so I wanted us to love the Chromebox. But the little machine didn't quite make the cut, no thanks to some hardware compatibility issues.