Every year we test thousands of electronics products. In this report, we're featuring 10 of the most exciting models we've seen this year—products that push technology or performance to new heights.
Any of these impressive models could make great gifts for the people on your holiday shopping list—or maybe for yourself!
Apple iPhone 5s (16GB), $100 to $200 (price and terms vary by carrier)
LG G2 (16GB), $0 to $200 (price and terms vary by carrier)
This phone has a stunning 5.2-inch display and a battery that doesn’t know when to quit. The power/volume button cluster is on the back, under the camera, a design LG considers more ergonomic and intuitive (you decide) than the usual top or side mount. You can count on smarter shortcuts for common tasks, such as auto answering when you hold the phone up to your ear. The ultrasmart camcorder can stay focused on your subjects in interesting new ways.
Amazon Kindle Fire HDX, $230 (7-inch, 16GB, Wi-Fi)
The latest Kindle has one of the highest-resolution 7-inch displays available, great for watching videos and reading books and magazines. New X-ray features let you dig deeper into the videos you watch and the books you read. For example, you can find all of the songs that play during a movie and jump to the spots in the flick to listen to them. Songs you buy from Amazon come with all of the lyrics. You also get live, 24/7 tech support onscreen free when you press the Mayday button. We haven't fully tested the Kindle Fire HDX yet, but prior versions were top-rated, and this one looks promising.
Samsung KN55S9C OLED TV, $9,000
This 55-inch model is one of the first to use OLED (Organic LED) technology, which combines the best attributes of plasma and LCD TVs but has none of their shortcomings. Incredibly deep blacks, superbright images, vibrant colors, and strong contrast make images jump off the screen. Throw in unlimited viewing angles, great energy efficiency, and an ultrathin design and you have the best TV we've ever seen. The KN55S9c, which has an eye-catching curved screen, also has the best 3D performance to date. Now if only they can work on that price.
Sony Bravia XBR-55X900A, $4,000
A new breed of HD TVs takes high definition to a whole new level. Also called 4K sets, Ultra HD TVs have four times as many pixels as 1080p screens, and the added detail makes 4K images look incredibly lifelike. UHD sets can enhance the quality of regular HD images as well. This 55-inch Sony LCD (which has LED backlighting) has excellent high-def picture quality, among the best we've seen. It also has very good sound, thanks to large speaker arrays flanking the screen, and it features Sony’s smart TV Internet platform. There’s not much Ultra HD content yet, but Sony offers a $700 media player that's loaded with Ultra HD movies, plus a download service that offers additional titles for rent or purchase.
TDK Life on Record, $150
Wireless speakers make it easy to share your music on the go but often sacrifice sound quality for portability. Not this TDK model, one of the best portable speakers we've tested. It sounded equally good whether it was connected to a music source using a wire or via Bluetooth. It’s very easy to use: Bluetooth pairing was simple, and controls were intuitive and well marked. This ruggedly handsome speaker is designed to resist the elements, so it can liven up a backyard bash. It's a compact 4 inches high by 9½ inches wide.
Canon EOS Rebel SL1, $750
This camera is almost as small and light as many mirrorless, SLR-like models but offers all of the benefits of a full-fledged SLR, including a through-the-lens viewfinder and a wide choice of compatible lenses. Plus this Rebel has very good image quality, is easy to use, and has a very good LCD. The price includes an 18- to 55-mm kit lens.
Sometimes you need more than a smart phone to take a great photo but don’t want to lug around a bulky camera. This Sony Cyber-shot superzoom may well be the answer. It packs a long, 30x optical zoom lens, with very-wide-angle capabilities, into a slim camera body that’s only an inch-and-a-half thick. It’s speedy, firing off 10-frame-per-second bursts at full resolution, and the quality of still photos and videos is very good. Built-in Wi-Fi lets you connect to hot spots or mobile devices to quickly share your photos.
Google Chromecast, $35
One of the smallest and lowest-priced devices for streaming online video to your TV, the Chromecast eliminates the need to deal with yet another black box. The thumb-drive-sized device plugs into an HDMI input on your TV and either a USB port or an AC outlet for power. The Chromecast currentlyl supports Hulu Plus, Netflix, YouTube, and Google Play; more services are promised. It also lets you send other Web content to your TV from a PC or Mac using the Chrome browser. There's no included remote; you use a smart phone, a tablet, or a laptop to control it.
Sonos Playbar, $700
Finally, there’s a sound bar that gives you great music playback as well as satisfying TV and movie sound. You can use it as a wireless speaker to stream audio from a home network or directly from Internet-based music services such as Pandora and Spotify. Combine it with a pair of Sonos Play speakers and a subwoofer to create a full, although pricey, 5.1-channel sound system. You can also use it in a multiroom Wi-Fi audio system. The Playbar has no remote of its own; you control it with a TV remote, or an Android or an iOS smart phone or tablet with a free Sonos app.
This article appeared in the December 2013 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.
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