Tablet sales have taken off, and now Microsoft (MSFT) is making a huge tablet push with Windows 8 and Windows RT. Most of today’s tablets boast high-resolution sharp displays for playing games, watching high-def movies and TV shows, taking pictures, surfing the web and chatting over video. Yet tablets aren’t evolving quite as quickly as smartphones, and the tablet market as a whole won’t be radically changing, says Tim Stevens, executive editor of Engadget.com. Expect faster and longer battery life and better resolution from future tablets.
You can get amazing, high-res LED-backlit LCD displays for very little money these days, and their dimensions and resolutions will continue to grow as their prices continue to fall over the next few years, says Stevens of Engadget. OLED panels, super-expensive, super-thin monitors that offer brighter pictures and greater contrast, are expected to shake up the market. But buying an inexpensive computer monitor now is a smart move since most use LED technology, and even the least expensive monitors offer really good displays. Prices have really dropped: Today you can get a 27-inch monitor for about $222; two years ago, that price hovered around $400. “They’re a lot less expensive and they’ll last forever,” says Marco Hanna, executive editor of GadgetExperts.net.
Dedicated GPS Navigation systems are a really great value for anyone who doesn’t have and doesn’t want a smartphone, says Stevens of Engadget. Prices have plummeted over the past few years, thanks to pressure from free navigation apps like Google Maps on the Android platform. Hanna suggests a systems with free WiFi map upgrades. The Magellan RoadMate costs $229 but includes lifetime upgrades so you have the latest maps available and the most up-to-date traffic information.
Few people think of thermostats when they think innovation, but this sleek plug-in thermostat is pretty snazzy. Because most people leave the house at one temperature and forget to change it, Nest will learn your schedule, program itself, and can be controlled from your phone. So if you need the house to be a certain temperature by 6 a.m. when you wake up, Nest will figure out the best time to get the heating or cooling to kick in. The Palo Alto, Calif.,-based Nest promises the $250 device can lower your heating and cooling bills by up to 20%. “It’s expensive,” says Stevens of Engadget. “But for those who care a lot about aesthetics and who don’t want to deal with a traditional programmable thermostat, it can be a good investment.”
iPhone or ... Windows Phone
If you’re an iPhone lover and your contract is due, then an upgrade to the iPhone 5 is a good investment. You’ll be at the forefront of cell phone technology if you upgrade to the iPhone 5 because the technology shouldn’t change dramatically for at least a year. “You’re safe for a year or two, so you won’t feel outdated,” says Hanna of GadgetExperts.com. With a faster processor and a slightly bigger screen, the phone is great for people who love to watch a lot of movies. And if you use your phone as your primary camera, the iPhone 5 lets you take rapid-fire shots with a finger tap on the shutter button and lets you take pictures while shooting video.
A Windows Phone is an incredibly promising smartphone platform, especially if you’re new to smartphones and you’re using Windows at home, says Stevens. “The user interface is beautiful and intuitive,” he says.
TV streaming boxes
Skip the $1,000 46-inch “smart TV” and instead plunk down $100 for Apple TV, Roku, or Google TV — boxes that let you stream TV shows off Hulu, movies off Netflix (NFLX), YouTube videos and stream your music and pictures from the cloud. Remember that television sets depreciate almost immediately, and if you’ve got an LED or LCD TV your TV quality is mostly the same, says Hanna.
If you’re an avid reader who doesn’t want the hassle of carrying around a heavier tablet, an investment in a digital book reader like a Kindle or a Nook is a safe bet. Even if newer digital readers arrive on the market, your original should last a long time with excellent displays and long-lasting batteries. “A lot of people are still walking around with first generation Kindles,” says Hana. If you’re buying new, the Kindle Paperwhiite is a fantastic reader with a glowing screen that lets you throw away your book light. The battery will last for months on a charge.
The iPhone’s camera is doing away with point-and-shoot cameras. But if you want a good digital DSLR camera but don’t want the bulk, then consider an ILC, or an interchangeable lens camera. A favorite is Sony NEX, which has a small interchangeable lens and a camera body that is about half the size and weight of a standard DSLR camera. It takes images as good as a beginner DSLR and is far more comfortable to use, says Stevens.
New wireless speakers priced between $100 and $300 let you play music from your iPad, computer, iPod, or phone wirelessly. The sound quality is not quite as good as wired systems, but some people may not be able to tell the difference. Prices have been fairly stable for these systems, so if you see a set you like at the right price, buy it, says Stevens. The Sonos Jukebox wireless speakers let you stream your music for $299 per room, while the Monster Wireless speaker costs $80 to $100 or the Bose SoundLink for $300. “I don’t think the wireless speakers can get much better technology,” says Hana.