It’s been a busy year for smart devices, with device makers, big and small, pushing the wares on the market. With a multitude of smartphones, tablets, phablets and Ultrabooks to choose from here’s our list of the five best that provide plenty of bang for buck.
The tablet market may be getting more competitive but Apple is still the king of the castle and the iPad Air is the best tablet on the market.
The excellent 2048x1536 resolution display and the outstanding performance afforded by the 64-bit A7 chip is a showstopper. But where the iPad Air really shines is portability, battery life and its library of over 475,000 dedicated iPad apps.
At only 469 grams, it's the lightest full-size tablet on the market and even thinner than the iPad mini with retina display.
You really don’t appreciate how light the thing is until you actually hold it in your hands. Finally here's a tablet that's comfortable to use for extended periods,
Battery life is another area where the iPad Air absolutely smokes the competition. We found Apple’s 10-hour rated battery life to be typically conservative as we were able to stream video over Wi-Fi with the screen set to a comfortable 50 per cent brightness for a little over 12 hours, making it the ideal long haul flight companion.
It’s also worth noting that we were able to use the iPad Air as a 4G hotspot for 24 hours straight, which makes it an excellent option for road warriors who need to supply data connectivity to their laptops and other devices.
Of course great hardware on its own is useless if you don’t have a strong selection of apps to run and this is where the iPad nails it.
While most Android tablet apps are just upscale versions of their smartphone counterparts with Facebook being the most famous examples, apps for the iPad have been properly optimised to take full advantage of the extra screen real estate.
The new iPad mini with retina display is a great alternative for those who prefer a smaller form factor but the roomier 9.7-inch display of the iPad Air is a better option for those who like to use their tablets for productivity as well as content consumption.
Macbook Air 13-inch
Apple’s also at the top of the table when it comes to Ultrabooks, with the 13-inch Macbook Air the undisputed king on battery life and offers the best balance between power and portability.
With the display set to 50 per cent brightness, we were able to comfortably achieve 14 hours of streaming video over Wi-Fi, browsing the web and editing documents before we finally needed to reach for the charger. This means that your iPad is more likely to run out of juice before the Macbook Air does.
It’s also incredibly thin, measuring in at 17mm when folded shut. If you simply need to have the best possible battery life and you’re happy to sacrifice the high resolution retina display to get there, then look no further than the 13-inch Macbook Air.
If you’re looking for a bit more power and a higher resolution display, the Macbook Pro is also a great choice and still offers an outstanding 12-hour battery life.
Playstation 4 or Xbox One
The console wars have certainly ticked up a notch before Christmas with Sony’s Playstation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One vying for supremacy.
The launch lineup is admittedly thin especially when compared to the vast library of games available on the older consoles but after you experience the visuals of next-gen, you won't want to go back.
The speed of the user interface on both machines is like night and day when compared with their predecessors and the ability to multitask between games and apps is finally a reality.
In a move that is likely to bother brick and mortar stores but please end users, all retail PS4 and Xbox One games can be purchased and downloaded via the Playstation store and Xbox Live marketplace respectively.
The new consoles also have the unique ability to play games even while they are still downloading. This might seem trivial but when you consider that PS4 and Xbox One games can be anywhere between 40GB to 50GB in size, it’s an appreciated convenience.
Much like the app store model on smartphones and tablets, developers can now self-publish games and apps to the new consoles. Microsoft has taken this a step further by effectively allowing retail units to act as development kits. This is a boon for indie developers who would otherwise need to shell out thousands of dollars for a dedicated debug unit.
The consoles also bring more to the table than just games. Both are striving to be the centrepiece of your living room entertainment with movies and music content and full-blown social media integration. Take a look at our Playstation 4 and Xbox One multimedia smackdown for a full rundown.
The ubiquitous nature of mobile devices has prompted both new consoles to offer the ability to use tablet or smartphone touchscreen displays as a second in-game screen while also acting as an alternative means of navigating the user interface.
Sony takes this a step further with the ability to stream full-blown PS4 games to the PS Vita handheld which works surprisingly well and is especially useful for those times when the main television is occupied.
While the Playstation 4 has the edge on raw performance, the Xbox One includes a much improved Kinect sensor for enhanced motion and voice controls that just might give Microsoft an edge later down the road, especially as developers come to grips with the new hardware.
Nokia Lumia 1020
It’s been a big year at Nokia, with the Finnish giant selling its mobile phones business to Microsoft for $US7.2 billion. Nokia’s Windows-based smartphones might have a struggle on its hand when it comes to beating Apple and Google, but it still makes great devices.
Case in point, the Lumia 1020, which throws down the gauntlet with its 41-megapixel camera and the device puts all those megapixels to work as well, thanks to a lossless zoom which can reach as far as 4x for 1080P video recording and 3x for stills.
A recent firmware update enables the ability to shoot in full RAW so now those 41MP shots can be shot with zero compression. You also get full manual control over ISO, exposure, shutter speed, white balance and focus, all of which are critical settings that help to produce the shot you're after.
Other impressive features include the ability to video record rich stereo sound while in extremely loud environments all without distortion.
Being a Windows Phone, you also get access to the full suite of Microsoft Office apps without a need for a subscription and Skype is integrated tightly with the OS.
In short, this is the best camera on a smartphone to date by some distance and it also happens to be the best Windows Phone handset currently available.
Google Nexus 5 (2013)
The Google Nexus 5 brings high end mobile specs for a bargain basement price. Powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 SoC (system on a chip) running at 2.2GHz, the device boasts 2GB of RAM, a bright 5-inch 1920x1080 resolution display and also offers integrated wireless charging.
On the software front, you get the very best of Android with version 4.4 (KitKat) on board and the guarantee of future OS updates as soon as they are released by Google.
While both the camera quality and battery life is far from the best in its class, the Google Nexus 5 offers hands down the best value for money.