For the sixth straight year, the editors at Popular Mechanics have selected winners for their annual Breakthrough Awards. The magazine today identified 10 products that made the cut, and later this week will honor its annual leadership award winner and several "innovators."
According to the Popular Mechanics editors, "With the Volt, Chevrolet has tackled an electric-vehicle early adopter's worst nightmare--running out of juice when miles from the nearest charging station--by creating a plug-in series hybrid that automatically switches to a gas engine once the car's 16-kilowatt-hour battery pack becomes depleted."
The Volt runs $41,000, but after a federal subsidy, it comes out to $33,500.
With the $33,720 Leaf ($26,220 after the subsidy), Nissan "hits the mainstream like none of its [100 percent electric vehicle] predecessors," the magazine's editors said. "Powered by a 24-kilowatt-hour battery pack, the Leaf provides a 100-mile range, enough for most commuters, for the price of an average vehicle--and with much lower operating costs than gasoline-powered vehicles."
The magazine's editors were taken with the $100 GoPoint Technology GL1 because, "By using an iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch as a window into a car's computer, [the] GL1 offers the kind of diagnostic info that usually requires a trip to the mechanic to retrieve. After plugging the scan tool into a car's OBD II port, a DIYer can use the GL1's corresponding app to view trouble codes, turn off the 'check engine' light and monitor every electrical signal that goes through the computer in real time."
Sprint is gradually rolling out its 4G network, allowing owners of the HTC-built EVO 4G smartphone who live in areas serviced by the new technology to surf the Internet at much higher speeds than today's 3G standard. The smart phone can also serve as a mobile hot spot for up to eight users.
The editors honored Qualcomm's Snapdragon because "While today's app-hungry superphones require almost as much speed as a desktop, the chips that power PCs consume enough energy to drain a phone battery in minutes. Enter the Qualcomm Snapdragon, a processor that offers phones (such as the Sprint EVO) more than 1GHz of speed, as well as almost all-day battery life."
To the Popular Mechanics editors, DeLorme's Earthmate PN-60w, which features a Spot satellite communicator, "can be a valuable tool on any trip that extends well outside of cell phone range. It not only provides detailed topographical maps and GPS guidance in the backcountry, it also lets explorers send SOS messages with embedded coordinates via satellite if they're in trouble--or Facebook updates if they're not."
Popular Mechanics' editors chose Bosch's new miter saw because it upended the traditional approach to this age-old tool. "Typical compound-miter saws are stuck on rails. For the ($700) Bosch Glide Miter Saw, the company's engineers looked at the tool's limited range of motion and envisioned the saw as it should have been designed, replacing the rails with a series of hinges so that a pair of triple-jointed limbs on the 12-inch, dual-bevel saw articulate like scissor jacks, gracefully and intuitively snapping into position to chop at an odd compound angle."
The $500 Stihl HSA 65 36-volt lithium-ion hedge trimmer won a spot on the Breakthrough Awards list because, the editors said, it "is poised to convert those homeowners demanding a pro-level cut from electric models. A single charge provided more than enough power to completely trim and shape a good-size yard during our tests, while emitting far less pollution than its two-stroke, gas-powered predecessors."
It's hard to imagine a thermostat making a list of the year's most innovative products, but the magazine's editors felt that Trane's $300 ComfortLink II deserved a spot because "the 7-inch touch-screen interface of Trane ComfortLink II eclipses the competition in ease of use and clarity of information--which is key, because the device has so much data to give. It gathers online forecasts and fires up heating and cooling equipment as the weather changes. It also remembers a house's HVAC history, allowing users to compare costs from year to year, and will eventually sync with the local utility to project costs over time."
The editors chose Sony's $700, 14.2-megapixel Alpha NEX-5 because it "is the smallest interchangeable-lens camera yet. The NEX-5 even trumps an expensive SLR in one key respect: it is so adept at low-light shooting that Sony's engineers decided to design the camera without a built-in flash."