My 7 favorite gadgets of 2011

In the last year I’ve had more gadgets cross my desk and fly through my door than any other year. I reviewed quite a bunch on DVICE and Ubergizmo, but what are the gadgets that I really use and can’t live without this year? This is a list of my seven favorite (not best, but my favorite) gadgets of 2011.

Let’s just cut to the chase. I encourage you to tell me what your¬†favorite gadgets are in the comments below.

Mophie Juice Pack Plus: Don’t tell my girlfriend this (although she probably already knows), but I love my iPhone 4 to death. It’s my swiss-army knife. But the iPhone doesn’t last as long as I am out. Sometimes I’m out for over 10 hours. For those times (or for those crazy parties until 5AM), the Mophie Juice Pack Plus has always saved my butt. I keep it charged up at all times and bring it when I know my iPhone is going to need it. It’s a little overpriced at $99 for the Plus or $79 for a Juice Pack Air, but I’ve yet to see a more elegant battery case/pack for the iPhone 4/4S. It might look bulky at first, but it actually slips into the skinny jeans pocket quite well. Bonus: it doubles as a heavy-duty iPhone case.

Xbox 360 / PlayStation 3: 2011 was a big year for gaming. The world got two new handhelds – 3DS and PS Vita (Asia), the Wii U was announced and the PS3 and Xbox 360 went neck and neck. The Wii still leads with 93.4 million units sold worldwide, the Xbox 360 second at 62.6 million and the PS3 picking up the rear with 59.1 million according to VGChartz. The Xbox 360 and PS3 arguably were my most played consoles and had the most anticipated games – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3, Skyrim, and Forza – to name a few. Not only games, but new features too. The 360 got a brand new dashboard that works great with Kinect voice commands, doubles as a cable box (if you have FiOS Internet and FiOS TV) and the PS3 is still an awesome Blu-ray player – if not the best. The Wii got very little love this year, but that’s okay, these bulky black boxes are finally growing into their own shoes, showing their age, but still extremely capable. I’m not ready to ditch this generation’s consoles. Not yet. I’m actually glad that new consoles from Sony and Microsoft are a few years off. I was kind of late to the new console game.

BlackBerry PlayBook: Say whatever you want about the PlayBook, but I love it. I don’t give a damn if it has a puny selection of apps and doesn’t have a native email or calendar client (Gmail and Google Calendar work fine in the browser), when it comes to using it for browsing the Web, watching videos (without needing to convert them), recording 1080p HD video (see my sample video from a Train performance here) – it works and it works without being a looming target on the subway or bus. The battery lasts all day (10 hours or so) and I just adore the touch-sensitive bezels. Forget home buttons, touch bezels are the future. I received mine courtesy of RIM, but at $200 nowadays, these are hot cakes and pack way more bang for buck than a crappy Kindle Fire for the same price.

Olympus E-P3: I couldn’t decide which camera I liked more this year. The contenders were Olympus’ E-P3 and E-PM1, Nikon’s V1 and J1, Fujifilm’s X100 and X10, or Sony’s NEX-5N and NEX-7 . In the end, Olympus’ E-P3 won out based on a combination of price and function. Ideally, I’d pick out a Sony NEX-7, but realistically it’s $1,400 (with 18-55mm lens) or $1,200 (body-only). The Nikon V1 and J1 autofocus much faster than the E-P3, but their sensors are just high-end point and shoot ones and they’re heavy as a tank. I didn’t get any chance to play with the Fujifilm X100 or X10, but from what I’ve read and heard, it can’t hold a candle to the E-P3.

With the E-P3, I can get 1080p HD video (with autofocus) with the press of one button, beautiful 12-megapixel stills, a pop-up flash (thank god, the E-P1 was terrible without it), a crazy fast 35-points of AF, a fairly responsive touchscreen, a gorgeous retro-tastic body and even an interchangeable grip. At $900, the E-P3 is priced reasonably. The only thing that stinks is it doesn’t have a built-in electronic viewfinder, but that’s ok, because the massive 3-inch OLED display is tops.

iPhone 4/4S: No other smartphone comes close to matching the versatility of the iPhone 4/4S. We didn’t get an iPhone 5 this year with an overhauled design, but the iPhone 4S has an upgraded 8-megapixel camera that also shoots 1080p HD video, a faster dual-core A5 processor and it’s now available on three major carriers: AT&T, Verizon and Sprint (sorry T-Mobile). I’ve seen what Siri can do and I’m not convinced it’s a unit seller (yet), but when it leaves “beta” and starts getting even more functionality, it’s going to be a game-changer, especially if that Siri-powered iTV is real.

I get that Android and Windows Phone 7 smartphones have larger screens (I’m totally in love with those 720p resolution phones like the HTC Rezound, LG Nitro and Galaxy Nexus), but for a person with small hands, the iPhone 4/4S still does the job fine. 3G is still slow as hell in New York City, but then again, 4G is a battery hog, and I value battery life – a lot.

In terms of variety of apps, ease of use and speed, the iPhone just works. It’s my best companion and I don’t know how I would live without it.

MacBook Air: The 2011 MacBook Air is hands-down THE BEST mobile computer ever created to date. No other computer can top its svelte design and speed. I always hear that the MacBook Air is a lightweight and that it can’t be your main computer. That might have been the case in 2008, when the Air’s battery couldn’t last more than two hours, but since the newest ones with Core i5/i7 processors, the Air can pack a punch. My girlfriend runs Final Cut Pro 7 (not Final Cut Pro X) on hers (Core i5 model) and it runs like a champ.

My 1.8GHz Core i7 Air with 4GB RAM, and 256GB SSD runs buttery smooth with tons of processes happening (and I’m a power user). At only 2.9 pounds, I’m so glad I don’t need to lug around my old heavy brick of a MacBook (white polycarb from 2007). Sure, it doesn’t have dedicated graphics (Intel HD 3000 sucks for gaming), but it gets the job done for all my 1080p HD video watching, iMovie crunching, batch-photo editing. Best of all, the 2011 model has the back-lit keyboard that the 2010 mysteriously didn’t have. Add to all of that a crisp 1440×900 display and the Air is a no brainer. I liked OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard a lot more and OS X 10.7 Lion broke a lot of stuff for me, but I’ve also got Windows 7 64-bit running on bootcamp for backup, so I’m packin’ heat like a real pro.

Hell, if I had the extra cash, I’d even pick up an 11.6-inch Air just for when I’m not traveling to a tech conference and just heading out into the field for a few hours.

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