Shopping for a smartphone, tablet, notebook or desktop is never easy with a confusing array of choices on the market. Take the guesswork out of the equation with our list of the best tech releases of 2014 that warrant attention this holiday shopping season.
Best desktop computer - Retina 5K iMac
Apple’s latest all-in-one desktop, the iMac, comes with a jaw dropping 27-inch 5K display.
At 5,120 x 2,880 pixels, the 5K Retina iMac is the world’s highest resolution display boasting a 14.7 million pixel count. For context, that’s seven times as many pixels as a HDTV and 67 percent more pixels than a cutting-edge 4K screen.
The insanely high resolution is a boon for content creators who can edit 4K video at full resolution with space left for timeline and asset windows or edit high res images pixel-for-pixel with space to spare for editing tools. Business professionals can do away with expensive multi-monitor setups while enjoying the same screen real estate as five 1080p monitors.
The 5K Retina iMac is also a great option as a home computer for the family with exceptional performance and a display that makes viewing content a treat for the eyes. The iMac comes with everything you need on the software front as well from a productivity suite (Pages, Numbers, Keynote) through to photo (iPhoto), video (iMove) and music (Garageband) editing in addition to an easy to use OS X desktop operating system that is free to upgrade every year.
As a computer, the iMac is an absolute powerhouse that can be kitted out with a 4.0GHz Intel Core i7 processor, 1TB of flash storage, 32GB of RAM, and beefy AMD R9 M295X discrete graphics.
Even the base model 5K Retina iMac chews through 4K video editing and you’d be hard pressed to fault the iMac’s performance when editing RAW image files in Photoshop either.
All this blazing fast performance and 5K display goodness is wrapped inside a sleek 5mm aluminium profile.
Other compelling features include the ability to make and receive calls and text messages from your iMac while your iPhone is in another room or buried in your bag and the ability to seamlessly move between your Mac and iDevices, ensuring an uninterrupted work flow while you’re away from your desk.
At a starting price of $3,000, the 5K Retina iMac offers excellent value for money when you consider that pro-grade 4K IPS panels like the Asus PQ321Q retail for well over $3,000 for the monitor alone.
Best ultraportable laptop - 13-inch Macbook Pro with Retina Display
This year’s refresh of the 13-inch Macbook Pro once again keeps it ahead of the Window ultraportable competition.
The Macbook Pro 13-inch offers the perfect balance between power and portability with a speedy Intel Core i5 Haswell processor (upgradeable to a Core i7), 8GB of RAM (upgradeable to 16GB) and 128GB of flash storage (upgradeable to 1TB) make up a package that easily outperforms other Windows Ultrabooks in its class.
The Macbook Pro is also miles ahead of the Windows competition when it comes to battery life with an incredible 12 hours off a single charge.
The 2,560 x 1,600 resolution display is still a standout as are the keyboard and glass trackpad which all work flawlessly. It’s all wrapped up in an extremely well built chassis that is both thin and light.
Apple’s Macbook Pro also offers the largest selection of ports in its class with 2x Thunderbolt 2.0 ports which can also be used as DisplayPorts for connecting to external monitors (or can be daisy chained through up to six devices per port), a full-size HDMI port, 2 x USB 3.0, headphone jack and an SDXC card reader.
On the software side you get Apple’s entire productivity suite, iWork, and creative suite in iMove and iPhoto, thrown in for free. Pages, Numbers and Keynote are capable alternatives to Microsoft’s Office suite and the files all sync seamlessly between your iPhone and iPad.
The ability to make and receive calls and send text messages from your Mac while your iPhone is in another room charging or in your pocket, is an extremely useful feature and speaks to Apple’s strongly interconnected ecosystem. The Mac can also automatically activate the personal hotspot on your iPhone whenever there’s no Wi-Fi and also deactivates once you finish browsing to preserve battery life.
When it comes to performance, battery life, build quality, portability and providing a seamless user experience, the 13-inch Macbook Pro with Retina display delivers in spades.
Best rugged notebook - Dell Latitude 14 Rugged Extreme
It’s heavy, bulky and doesn’t come cheap but the Latitude 14 Rugged Extreme notebook from Dell can take some serious punishment that makes it ideal for fieldworkers, military, police or fire service departments.
The tank like construction means that the notebook can be thrown around and dropped from a height without damage. All entry points are sealed by compression gaskets that protect the notebook from dust, sand, water and snow while the internal thermal system ensures that the machine stays cool during extreme temperatures.
It offers excellent performance with the latest fourth generation Intel Core processors, lightning fast SSD storage, bloat-free version of Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, up to 16GB of RAM, discrete graphics options, in addition to built-in 4G with GPS and a bevy of ports that include two ethernet ports. The battery and hard drive are also swappable, which means you could swap out your drive and pass the laptop on to a colleague to use with their own modular drive.
The display offers exceptional visibility outdoors while the impressive 10-hour battery life should keep you going all day.
Best tablet - iPad Air 2
The iPad Air 2 is an incremental upgrade to what was already the best tablet around.
At 6.1mm thin and weighing in at under 450grams, the iPad Air 2 is the most portable full-size tablet on the market.
Switching between apps is noticeably quicker thanks to spec bumps in the RAM (2GB) and processor (A8X 64-bit triple-core processor) departments. There’s also TouchID which provides a secure and quick means of unlocking your tablet and authenticating app purchases.
Then there’s the army of accessories and the 475,000 apps designed specifically for the iPad that simply cannot be beat.
Pair the iPad Air 2 with a keyboard cover accessory like the QODE Ultimate Pro from Belkin or any Bluetooth keyboard of your choice and you have every reason to leave your notebook at home.
Best large-screen smartphone or phablet - Samsung Galaxy Note 4
Samsung’s latest super-phone, the Galaxy Note 4, boasts cutting-edge specs, a stunning 5.7-inch Quad HD resolution (2,560 x 1,440 pixels) AMOLED display and an improved pen stylus experience.
While the Note 4’s class leading display is great for content consumption, it’s on the productivity front that Samsung’s latest phablet truly shines.
The new and improved S Pen offers the best digital writing experience around and makes everyday tasks like annotating and signing documents, jotting down meeting notes, mind mapping or drawing up projections for that quarterly meeting, an absolute breeze.
The S Pen functionality has been expanded further to work more like a mouse so you can quickly select several images or copy a block of text by simply clicking and dragging the S Pen across the screen.
The Note 4 also boasts easier to use multi-tasking features that take advantage of its large screen. A new Smart Select feature enables users to easily piece together content from different origins, and share it with ease. The Snap Note feature allows users to take a picture of their hand written notes on paper or whiteboard and convert it to a digital note while the voice recorder can record up to eight voices simultaneously and isolate specific voices during playback making it the ideal companion for large meetings.
A two day battery life, excellent camera and a fingerprint scanner round out a package that is sure to please any busy professional or road warrior.
Best Android smartphone - HTC One M8
Despite HTC’s financial woes, the company has managed to churn out the best Android smartphone of the year in the One M8. From the excellent user experience to the head turning design, this underdog of the smartphone world delivers on all fronts.
The HTC One M8’s seamless metal build combined with the subtle curved back and sides commands an impressive feel in the hand. From the striking gunmetal grey and brushed aluminium finish to the micro-drilled speaker grills that adorn the top and bottom of the display, nothing has been left to chance on the One M8.
In short - this is the most beautifully constructed smartphone to date that looks just as good as it feels.
The One M8 also sports the loudest and richest sounding pair of stereo speakers ever to grace a smartphone, making it ideal for speaker calls or viewing videos with a group of colleagues.
Performance is fast and fluid and the innovative Dot View case provides wrap-around protection that lets you take calls, schedule reminders, view email notifications and weather updates all while the case is still closed.
Don’t let the low megapixel count fool you either - the camera delivers in all the critical areas with excellent low light performance, a blisteringly fast auto-focus and nice extras like a dual-colour LED flash and a second hardware sensor which allows you to easily add professional looking background blur to shots.
What’s more, the HTC One M8 can currently be picked up for as low as $699 outright from select retailers, making it an absolute steal.
Best smartphone - iPhone 6
The iPhone 6 offers the perfect balance between performance, stunning design and impeccable build quality backed up by an app library that is second to none.
The 4.7-inch size screen means that the iPhone 6 is comfortable to use for almost any task while still small enough to use one-handed and fit in one’s pocket - traits that are fast becoming extinct in a market overrun with big-screen behemoths.
TouchID offers a secure but convenient means of unlocking your smartphone and authenticating App store purchases while Apple Pay looks set to deliver a wallet-less future.
iOS 8 introduced some killer features such as the ability to make and receive calls and text messages from your Mac and the ability to seamlessly jump between desktop and mobile device with ‘Handoff’ which enables you to start a document, email or browsing session on your iPhone and pick up precisely where you left off on your iPad or Mac.
All-in-all the iPhone 6 is a well rounded smartphone that is bound to suit most tastes.