The 100 best products of 2012

The top tech products of 2012, in categories ranging from PCs to productivity software.

Around this time each year, the editors at PCWorld and TechHive gather to recognize the best new tech productsthe hardware, software, gadgets, and devices that had the biggest impact on the world. The process starts out casually enough, because editors get to name their favorites from their respective beats, and everything is included in the first pass.

But passions rise when the time comes to winnow what inevitably becomes a very long list to just 100 new products. Theres a fervent back and forth as each editor makes the case as to why their product should remain on the listand someone elses should be whacked. Staff alliances form and dissolve as editors strategize how theyll win the day for their picks.

A list with 100 computers, smartphones, printers, cloud services, and other great products inexorably emerges over the course of a few weeks. But thats only half the battle, because the editors must now decide the order of importance that each product holds. That came together surprisingly quickly this yearat least for the top 10 products. As for the other 90; well, lets just say the list was settled only after great deliberation.

And here, without further ado, are our picks for the 100 best products of 2012:

1. Windows 8 Professional (operating system)

With its biggest OS rollout since Windows 95, Microsoft seeks to embrace all things computing with a one-size-fits-all operating system. Love or hate the new Start screen and app storefront, look beyond those polarizing elements, and youll find substantial performance improvements, numerous updates to critical features, and a largely successful effort to retain compatibility with desktop applications while also fulfilling the needs of mobile apps. Windows 8 has already spawned new designs and all sorts of hardware experiments. This bold step forward wont appeal to old-schoolers, but its sleek, modern look just might win over a new generation of users that Microsoft must attract to remain relevant.

2. Apple iPad, 3rd Generation (tablet)

We've listed the third-gen iPad here because it had the biggest impact on the tablet marketit was the first to feature Apple's high-resolution Retina display. But if you want to buy a full-size iPad now, get the fourth-gen model: It has a faster processor, better Wi-Fi capabilities, and improved LTE circuitry.

3. Maingear Alpha All-in-One (desktop)

The Alpha may be a butt-ugly beast, but its massive chassis accommodates a GeForce GTX 680 video card, a Core i7-3770K CPU, and up to 32GB of memory. You can play today's triple-A game titles, and upgrade every major component to play tomorrow's attractions, too.

4. Vizio CT14-A2 (laptop) 

Vizio's rookie laptop effort has a sleek, minimalist design, with big keys that deliver great tactile feedback, and a fabulous 14-inch, 1600-by-900-pixel LCD in a package that weighs just 3.4 pounds. If you're looking for a capable Ultrabook, you can't go wrong with this little gem.

5. Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (e-reader)

The Paperwhite's best feature is the integrated light that brightly and evenly illuminates the page, even in daylight. But Amazon has made other improvements to its e-reader: The E Ink display boasts higher resolution, the fonts are better, and the underlying software has been significantly overhauled.

6. Samsung Galaxy S III (Android smartphone) 

You don't get to be the best-selling Android phone by being average, and the Galaxy S III definitely has what it takes to move ahead of the Android pack. With a speedy processor, an eye-catching display, and loads of attractive features, it's our favorite smartphone of 2012.

7. Intel Ivy Bridge CPUs

Intel brings its 22nm fabrication process to the mass market. Though these CPUs sip power, they pack a big performance punch. Desktop systems idling at under 70 watts and laptops delivering 8-hour battery life are practically commonplace now. Ivy Bridge sets a new standard for performance per watt.

8. Panasonic Smart Viera VT50 HDTVs 

When it comes to big-screen HDTVs, plasma technology still delivers the best price/performance ratio. Panasonic has practically defined the state of the art in plasma, and the VT50 series is the companys best, delivering top-notch image quality, THX certification, comprehensive calibration controls, and a bevy of online services.

9. Asus RT-AC66U (router)

Ready to make the leap to the fledgling 802.11ac standard? Asus has the fastest router with the most features, including a cloud-storage service that allows you to sync files on any device, and provides remote access to any PC on your network.

10. Lenovo IdeaPad Y580 (laptop) 

This laptop does it all, without breaking your budget or your back. Packing a quad-core processor, a Geforce GTX 660M GPU, and a 15.6-inch, 1080p LCD into a 6.2-pound chassis, this well-balanced system can handle digital media editingand PC gaming, too.

11. Microsoft Surface RT (tablet)

As Maxwell Smart might have said, the Surface RT misses our top-10 by that much. Thats no surprise, considering that this is Microsofts rookie effort at building a retail computer; it's number 11 because the Surface has successfully redefined what a tablet can be.

12. Audioengine 5+ (speaker system)

The original 5 system was one of the best near-field, powered studio monitors wed ever heard. The new 5+ is every bit as splendid, thanks to the dual 50-watt Class AB monolithic amplifiers driving the 5-inch Kevlar woofers and 0.79-inch silk-dome tweeters. Absolutely superb.

13. Amazon Kindle Fire HD (tablet)

Amazon vastly improved its tablet user experience, rendering this 16GB model even more suitable for consuming content from Amazons vast digital storefront. More important, the company is selling the Kindle Fire HD at an incredibly low price for a tablet with an expensive optically bonded display.

14. Google Nexus 7 (Android tablet) 

We saw plenty of cheap Android tablets in 2012, but not one that was a worthy contender for this list. Then along came Googles Nexus 7, which brought top-flight performance, features, and great design to an inexpensive tabletalong with a lovely, optically bonded display, too.

15. Falcon Northwest Tiki (mini-gaming PC)

It's small, quiet and extremely fastespecially with games. This is no budget box; rather, its a polished, purpose-built tiny gaming system. The heavily overclocked Ivy Bridge processor, a fast SSD and a GeForce GTX 680 videocard combine to make this the fastest system of its size.

16. Adobe Creative Suite 6  (artistic software)

This suite is full of technological triumphs, from its support for GPU acceleration in Photoshop CS6 and Premiere Pro CS6, to Dreamweaver CS6s ability to output smartphone apps for almost any mobile operating system by transferring their production to the cloud.

17. Sony Tap 20 (tablet/laptop hybrid)

A luggable all-in-one with a 20-inch, 10-point multitouch display that runs on either AC or battery power, this could be the perfect family PC. Or is it a humongous family tablet? Either way, it shows that Windows 8 is inspiring PC manufacturers to innovate.

18. Raspberry Pi (basic Linux PC)

Conceived as a tool that would encourage students to learn how to program long before they entered college, the low, low price tag on this Linux-powered computer also makes it the perfect platform for hobbyists interested in building experimental projects. Raspberry Pi is like a digital blank slate.

19. Dell UltraSharp U2713HM (display)

This big little monitor delivers the same number of pixels as a 30-inch model in a more affordable 27-inch package. An LED-backlit IPS panel boasting accurate color, excellent uniformity, and wide viewing angles, its an excellent choice for both PC and Mac users, even without a Thunderbolt connector.

20. Jawbone Big Jambox (speaker)

Your mobile device might be the center of your entertainment universe, but we've yet to see a phone or tablet equipped with phenomenal speakers. The Big Jambox pairs wirelessly with Bluetooth-enabled iOS and Android devices, pumps out impressive bass, and has the battery life to withstand long jam sessions.

21. Olympus OM-D E-M5 (camera)

Most mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras are designed as "step-up" cameras for the point-and-shoot crowd, but the Olympus OM-D E-M5 has the mettle to compete with full-fledged Digital SLRs. We appreciate its fast focusing speed, terrific image quality, and appealingly retro aesthetic.

22. Apple iPhone 5

Its the best iPhone yet, improving on its predecessors with features such as LTE connectivity, an improved camera, and a larger screen. It might not have the best map program, as you may have heard, but we have no doubt that the iPhone 5 is still one of the best smartphones of 2012.

23. Stardock Start8 (Windows 8 add-on)

Many early Windows 8 adopters complain about the lack of a Start Menu. Stardock, known for desktop customization software Fences and ObjectDock, responded with Start8, an inexpensive utility that adds a StartMenu to the new OS and allows you to disable the new hot corners to make your transition less jarring.

24. Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display (laptop)

Apples flagship laptop delivers stunning performance and effortless portability. This was not only the fastest overall Mac we've ever tested, but its spectacular IPS screen with 2880 by 1800 pixel resolution reveals so much detail that even desktop icons become something to marvel over.

25. Kickstarter (website)

Were recognizing this three-year-old crowd-funding site because it opened the crowd-funding floodgates in 2012. Marquee products such as the Pebble E-Paper Watch and the Ouya game console raised millions, demonstrating that Kickstarter isn't just for amateurs and side projects; its changing the way new products get funded.

26. B&N Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight (e-reader)

Thoughtful design and an ethereal yet effective built-in reading light make this e-reader one of the best you can buy. Its also the most flexible, with a MicroSD card slot on board. And unlike Amazon, B&N doesnt charge extra for an AC adapter.

27. Razer BlackWidow Ultimate Gaming Keyboard

This is easily the best mechanical gaming keyboard weve tested this year. Its durable, useful, and just plain satisfying to use, whether youre playing games or powering through email. If you havent upgraded to a fully mechanical keyboard yet, this is the one to buy.

28. Western Digital MyBook Thunderbolt Duo (storage device)

If you need a lot of storage right at your desktop, and your computer is equipped with a Thunderbolt port, take a long look at WDs Thunderbolt MyBook Duo. This dual-drive device is available in 4-, 6-, and 8TB configurations with a blistering-fast Thunderbolt interface.

29. Linksys WUMC710 Media Connector (wireless bridge)

Most 802.11ac router manufacturers expect consumers to buy two of their routers and configure one as a bridge. Thats an expensive and unnecessarily complicated solution. Linksys was a little late to the 802.11ac party, but it arrived with the absolute best product for the client side.

30. Lenevo IdeaCentre A720 (all-in-one PC)

Squeezing the A720s guts into a base the size of a small pizza box allowed Lenovo to flatten the 27-inch, 10-point multitouch display to less than one-inch thick. Whats more, you can lay the articulated display completely flat and use the computer like a giant stationary tablet.

31. Sonos Sub (wireless subwoofer)

Craving a milkshake? Eat some ice cream, drink some milk, play your favorite funk on a Sonos multi-room audio system, and stand next to the Sub. The dual Class D amps and two force-canceling speakers in this 36-pound networked subwoofer will do the rest. Yeah, we dig it.

32. MicroExpress MicroFlex 37B (desktop PC)

  Its not pretty, but this model's utilitarian looks disguise a balanced, high-performance PC thats both a speedy general-purpose system and a decent gaming rig. Credit the fast Ivy Bridge CPU, Radeon HD 7850 GPU, SSD, Blu-ray drive, and 16GB of RAM, all in a package that costs less than $1300.

33. Mass Effect 3 (game)

This conclusion to one of the most ambitious gaming trilogies ever created isnt perfect. Indeed, the abbreviated, nonsensical ending ignited a firestorm of criticism from series fans. Nevertheless, the strong voice acting and action sequences propel the game forward at a satisfyingly breakneck pace.

34. D-Link DCS-5222L (IP security camera) 

IP cameras are great for monitoring your home, but configuring one for remote access is a pain in the neck. D-Links Cloud Camera line makes it easy. The DCS-5222L is a pan/tilt model with LED lighting for night viewing, a MicroSD card slot, and two-way audio.

35. HP ZR2440w (display) 

This 24-inch desktop monitor has it all: A 1920-by-1200-pixel IPS panel that produces brilliant images with wide viewing angles, an easy-to-adjust stand that can pivot to portrait mode, a four-port USB hub, and an energy-saving LED backlight. It can connect to your computer via DVI, DisplayPort, DVI, or HDMI.

36. Sony Bloggie Live MHS-TS55 (camcorder) 

Burning up your smartphones battery shooting impromptu videos? Maybe its time to move up to a dedicated device. The Bloggie Live is the most versatile pocket camcorder around, delivering wireless streaming, peer-to-peer sharing, and image resolution on a par with todays top phone cameras.

37. Nvidia GeForce GTX 680 (GPU)

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