But it was also a time for gadgets. As we wait for 2013 to come to a close and hope for brighter things for the year to come, here’s a look at the gadgets we loved, the ones we hated, and the ones that we found aesthetically offensive.
The Fitbit Force
Fitness trackers are many and varied, but Fitbit consistently delivers top-notch hardware. The Fitbit Force is the latest. It takes the successful formula of the wrist-borne Fitbit Flex and adds a basic screen so you can get information right from your wrist, instead of having to open an app on your phone every time you want to check your progress (in more detail than via a few lighted dots).
Many tried to make a smartwatch people wanted to wear and use this year, and many failed. Pebble succeeded. Success for a smartwatch still doesn’t look like massive millions of units sold, but it looks better than when the Pebble team tried this a few years ago with the inPulse smartwatch for BlackBerry. “The what?” you say. Exactly.
iPad mini with Retina Display
The iPad mini with Retina display takes the winning form factor of the original iPad mini and slaps a super high-res screen in there. It’s essentially a no-compromise machine, in that it’s cheaper than the iPad Air, and has the same processor, computing power and battery life. Plus if you have big pockets, it’s pocketable.
Kids need coding skills if they want to survive in our dystopian future. The ability to hack a circuit board could be the difference between eternal servitude and mastery over a private robot army by 2050 and we all know it. This educational tool is the perfect, cheap apocalypse survival kit. It’s technically from last year, but we contend it had more impact this year when production really spooled up.
Amazon knows when it’s got a good thing going. Last year’s Kindle Paperwhite was a good thing, and this year’s update keeps all the good and adds some better stuff. Like faster page refresh, greater text/page contrast and more even lighting.
Samsung Galaxy Gear
Pebble made a good smartwatch, and Samsung made a dumb one. They made weird ads to try to promote their dumb smartwatch, too, which helped nothing and creeped out the entire world. Plus it only works with a small pool of Galaxy devices, and it has terrible battery life and looks awful. Go home Samsung, you’re drunk.
“Android-based game console” is a phrase we wrote so many times this year. So. Many. Times. And it turns out, they mostly blow. Atop the pile of those that miss is the Gamestick, a crowdfunded disaster that no one loves.
The Ouya is like the Gamestick, in that it was a disappointing “Android-based game console,” but to its credit, it isn’t the Gamestick. It’s still not great by any stretch of the imagination, but huge hype didn’t help, and it has decent niche appeal for anyone who really likes emulation and would rather have something permanent instead of plugging their phone into their TV repeatedly.
Speaking of startup gadgets that really blew it in 2013, the Leap Motion Controller doesn’t live up to its massive hype at all. Sure, if you’re a billionaire inventor like Tony Stark or Elon Musk it’s great for designing space ships or giant death airships, but for regular people, trying to, say, browse the web, you’re going to try this once, hate it and stick it in a drawer.
CTA Digital iPotty
Kids need to learn to use the toilet, and they should learn early that they also need to use iPads while they’re doing their business. So why not combine potty training and tablet use into a single device? The answer is that you shouldn’t do this because God will never forgive you if you do.
Maybe face-based computing is going to work eventually, but as-is, Google Glass looks like garbage. It makes your face look bad. Don’t try denying it. Google has released plenty of images of models wearing it and none of them look any good, so you with your normal-person face will look plain ol’ stupid.
The LG G2 is a great phone, as it is essentially a slightly improved version of the excellent Nexus 5, albeit with some LG bloatware crud. But LG went out of its mind and put the wake/sleep and volume rocker button on the back, just to infuriate me to the point where I would like to do murder. You couldn’t choose a less ergonomic place to put that button, LG. Not if you ran a thousand focus groups to figure out more inconvenient positioning.
I ain’t mad at you for dropping one of the ‘D’s Nintendo – you never needed three to begin with. And this device is actually pretty great, and I’d buy this instead of a 3DS if I didn’t already have one. Still, it’s not good-looking. It is, in fact, ugly. Good looks cost money, though, so uglification for a budget device may be strategy, not a stupid mistake.