The end of the year is rapidly approaching and it's a good time to look back at the many tech purchases that have kept my wallet empty in 2012. I bought so many gadgets and accessories that I'm sure I'll forget some of them. I will definitely mention the major purchases and share how they fared for me in 2012.
For the first time in as long as I can remember I did not buy a new phone this year. I attribute that to two things: my iPhone 4S is still holding up just fine and my stable of tablets stepped in to handle many of the tasks previously done on the phone.
I still go online with my iPhone occasionally but find myself picking up a small tablet to do that more often. My smartphone usage has dropped so much I haven't been tempted even a little bit by the new Android phones that appeared this year nor by the iPhone 5.
As anyone who follows my column regularly can attest, I have a big weakness for tablets. That's where the lion's share of my tech purchase dollars went this year.
Early in 2012 I picked up an iPad 3, the one with the Retina Display. It replaced my iPad 2 and was used quite a bit. It handled all my needs as a tablet and was also a good work machine when paired with a keyboard case.
The iPad 3 was pretty much sidelined when the Nexus 7 was released. I snapped up one of the first ones due to my preference for the 7-inch form factor. I came to appreciate the smaller size for tablets with my purchase of the original Samsung Galaxy Tab two years ago.
The Nexus 7 is a solid tablet due to the Jelly Bean version of Android which makes it the smoothest performer of any Android tablet I have tried. The cheap price easily makes the Nexus 7 the tablet delivering the best value in 2012.
My love for small tablets pushed me to buy an iPad mini when it was released. It's not that it's better than the Nexus 7, it's just different. I am very ingrained in the Apple ecosystem given my iPad and iPhone usage, so the iPad mini was the better fit for me personally.
I still use the Nexus 7, although not very much since getting the iPad mini. Strangely enough the little iPad has totally replaced the iPad 3 which I am giving to a family member since I'm no longer using it. The iPad mini is the most used gadget I own, even without the Retina Display. I can honestly state that I do not miss the Retina Display when using the iPad mini.
I ended up replacing the Touch Cover I originally purchased with Microsoft's Type Cover and that made a big difference in usability for me. Using the Surface with the Type Cover is very much like using a real laptop which is much better than the less than satisfying experience with the Touch Cover.
I am still trying to get the Surface to fit into my daily work routine and admit it's a struggle. The tablet is good and using it as a laptop is OK. The main problem I have is with the apps, or rather the lack of them for Windows 8/RT.
I am often asked which third party apps I use on the Surface RT are the ones I can't live without and frankly there aren't any yet. There are some apps that are OK but not any that rival those on other tablet platforms. There is not a single app that makes me feel the Surface RT is a good buy due to that app.
The Surface RT sits off to the side most of the time as a result. I pick it up as often as I can but most of the time I don't even think about it. That about sums it up.
I don't buy a lot of laptops. I've been using a 2008 model MacBook since getting it as a matter of fact.
I did buy a Samsung Series 5 550 Chromebook this year given the decent evolution of the Chrome OS. I spend most of my time working in the Chrome browser on any laptop I use so the Chromebook is a good fit.
Even though cheaper Chromebooks appeared after my purchase of the Series 5 550 ($449), I don't regret the cost difference. It has become my main work laptop. If I travel or carry a laptop for working remotely it is the Chromebook that I bring along.
The performance of the Chromebook has been fantastic, and the long battery life is perfect. When I use the Chromebook I don't ever miss a "real" laptop, and that says it all.
Most folks can't buy gadgets without buying accessories and I am no different. My favorite accessory to buy for tablets is the keyboard/case, as I tend to use tablets for writing projects. I am a writer by trade and find lightweight tablets with a proper keyboard to be a good way to ply my trade.
I bought several keyboard/cases for the iPad 3 including the ZAGGfolio. This case is light enough to add little heft to the bag and the keyboard is outstanding. I could open the ZAGGfolio case and get right to work no matter where I happened to be at the time.
The Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for the iPad 3 was another I purchased and liked it as much as the ZAGGfolio. It's as thin and light as can be and a great keyboard for the iPad. It doesn't cover the back of the iPad if that's important to you.
Another ZAGG product I bought was the ZAGGkeys Flex keyboard with stand. This keyboard is highly portable but as good as the keyboard on most laptops for serious writing. What makes this keyboard special is the separate stand that can fit any tablet, big or small.
The Flex can be used with either iPads or Android tablets so it also works with the Nexus 7. It has a toggle switch to switch special tablet control keys between iPad and Android.
The folks at ZAGG have gotten a lot of my money this year as I also bought a ZAGG Mini 9 keyboard/case for the iPad mini. It combines a nice keyboard with a protective case for the iPad mini that turns it into a powerful work system.
I didn't think I would use the Mini 9 that much but have been proven wrong. I find I take the iPad mini in this case quite frequently and use the duo as a writing machine a lot. It takes so little space in the gear bag that it's easy to just throw it in and go.
Speaking of bags I bought the Indy Bag from SFbags.com and it's the bag I use every day. It's small and has a thin profile yet it can carry anything from the Chromebook (barely) to the big iPad. If I carry the Chromebook I toss the iPad mini in the outside zippered pocket as I use it as a mobile hotspot when Wi-Fi is not available. I get more compliments on this bag than any item in my mobile kit.
Not quite mobile tech
While I'm a mobile tech guy and everything on my purchase list so far as been in that category one of the coolest things I picked up in 2012 is hardly mobile.
I moved to a loft apartment this summer and the room acoustics for my TV are not very good. The room is big with cement ceiling and a 30 foot wall of windows. I quickly determined I needed an audio system for my TV to handle the awful acoustics.
My research ended with my spending far more than intended when I bought the Bose CineMate 1 SR. It's a system consisting of a soundbar and a wireless subwoofer. What sets the 1 SR apart from similar systems is the digital magic integrated in the system.
Upon unboxing the system the Bose analyzed the audio in five seating locations in the room and then digitally optimized the audio playback. It adjusted the audio quality and the surround sound to best fit the large room.
The resultant sound qualify is fantastic. Watching live sports is almost unreal as the crowd noise blends perfectly with the announcers game calls. Movie soundtracks are outstanding, not quite theater quality but better than I've heard from a home system. I am extremely pleased with the Bose CineMate 1 SR system.
How they fare
I'm sure I have forgotten some stuff that I bought during 2012 but these are the main additions to my kit. I get asked constantly what's my favorite or how I like one gadget or another so I decided to pick the winners in a few arbitrary categories.
Most used: I haven't owned it very long but I can easily pick the iPad mini as my most used device. I spend hours each day with it in hand either online or reading Kindle books.
Best value: The Nexus 7 is the gadget that delivers the most bang for the buck. It has powerful hardware coupled with Android Jelly Bean and it's not only the best Android tablet I've used but the best value. It impresses everyone who tries it and when they find out it's only $199 they agree it's a great value.
Most interesting/ greatest potential: The Surface RT may not be the most useful gadget I purchased in 2012 but it is certainly the most interesting. Microsoft has hit a home run with the design and the hardware. It is innovative to have Windows, even Windows RT, running on a good tablet. It has great potential going forward if better apps get released and Microsoft improves Windows 8.
Shortest shelf life: This dubious title gets handed out to the iPad 3 that I only used for a few months. It is a great tablet but the appearance of the iPad mini coupled with the introduction of the better iPad 4 made the iPad 3 lose its luster for me. It isn't any less capable than when I bought it but I prefer using the smaller iPad mini. I am giving it to a family member for Christmas.
If I was stranded on a deserted island what one gadget would I take: I get asked this question (or similar) more frequently than you might think and it's a tough one to answer. After careful consideration I must declare it a tie.
My first choice would be the Chromebook given its qualities. It falls a little short since it is Wi-Fi-only so if the island had high-speed Internet access that never failed and a Wi-Fi router the Chromebook is what I would bring.
The second choice, and not by a wide margin, would be the iPad Mini. If I could bring it with the Mini 9 keyboard/case it would be the first choice to bring since it has 3G/4G, making the Wi-Fi less of a requirement.
Ideally I would bring both the Chromebook and the iPad mini since I can use the latter as a mobile hotspot to get the Chromebook online. Thus, it's a tie.