Top 5 Gadgets of 2009


The annual International Consumer Electronics show lets electronics giants show off their newest and fanciest gadgets.
The annual International Consumer Electronics show lets electronics giants show off their newest and fanciest gadgets.
David McNew/Getty Images News

Gadgets come and go, but every year a few electronic goodies make headlines and put a permanent stamp on our collective consciousness. Recently, many of those products have been handheld digital devices designed to conquer a wide array of problems that crop up in our daily lives.

Once again, some of the most innovative and powerful devices are small, portable computers, which often fall into the smartphone category. They let us stay in touch with friends and co-workers in an amazing number of ways, help us perform work on the subway or find the nearest coffee shop, all with just a few commands. You can choose from thousands of applications that help you customize your smartphone, in essence creating your own portable digital toolbox for any number of uses.

However, there's more to life than staying connected. The year 2009 showed us a lot of other innovations, including cheap, effective ways to track your physical activity and better ways to cool down after a run, too.

Keep reading to see five gadgets, listed in no particular order, that have the power to change your lifestyle and push product development into exciting new areas in 2010.

5
Kindle 2
The Kindle 2 has updated firmware that extends its battery life by 85 percent.
The Kindle 2 has updated firmware that extends its battery life by 85 percent.
Image courtesy of Amazon.com

Sometimes an interesting product captures a lot of attention in spite of its glaring flaws. And sometimes, an updated version of that same gadget does a much better job of fulfilling the original product's promise. And so it is with the Kindle 2, a fine-tuned edition of Amazon's much-touted portable electronic reader.

The first Kindle had a four-level grayscale display and 256MB of internal memory. It also had an SD flash card slot to let you expand memory capacity [source: Popular Mechanics]. What you won't see in the original Kindle's specs: complaints about its awkward, too-sensitive buttons and weird visual aesthetics.

The Kindle 2, however, has an elegant design that would make Steve Jobs proud. Better yet, its overall physical layout is more usable, with buttons that don't react to every soft, accidental tap. The specs are better, with a clearer, 16-shade grayscale display, 20 percent faster refresh rate, and 2GB of internal memory [sources: Popular Mechanics]. The downside? No flash card slot. However, the Kindle 2 does work on a regular 3G cell phone network, meaning you will have an almost constant connection to download new titles.

The Kindle 2 isn't a must-have gadget for everyone, and avid readers who love gadgets are still its biggest fans. But the Kindle is a nifty idea that's quickly improving, and its falling prices could lure new users en masse.

4
iPhone 3GS
The iPhone 3GS looks identical to the iPhone 3G, but the 3GS features much faster performance.
The iPhone 3GS looks identical to the iPhone 3G, but the 3GS features much faster performance.
Courtesy of Apple

The iPhone 3GS is a significantly upgraded version of Apple's iPhone 3G. The "S" in the new version stands for speed, and it's the single biggest improvement in this iPhone. Although Apple doesn't officially list 3GS specs, the unit does feature a 600MHz processor and 256MB of RAM, which is double the memory of the first iPhone [source: Shimpi]. That hardware is enough to significantly boost overall performance.

The 3GS boots in about half the time of the 3G. It also launches applications and programs of every kind faster than its predecessor. Data transfer is fast, too, with up to 7 Mbps downloads possible [source: German].

The camera is now 3 megapixels and offers controls for selective focus and white balance. It's also the first iPhone with video recording, and it includes easy-to-use video editing software that lets you tweak your clips on the fly. In addition, this iPhone finally offers voice control (omitted from earlier versions) and multimedia messaging.

Apple tweaked so many of the 3GS's features that we can't list them all here. But if you want the benefits of the 3GS, you'll have to ante up an extra $100 over the cost of the 3G. Although that's a considerable price jump, the giant leap in performance and features is worth the extra dough.

3
Dyson Air Multiplier
It may look strange, but the introduction of the Dyson Air Multiplier means house fans will never be the same.
It may look strange, but the introduction of the Dyson Air Multiplier means house fans will never be the same.
Courtesy of Dyson

Although the awesome power of handheld gadgets makes them irresistible, this great new product isn't even remotely sized to fit your palm. It's the Dyson Air Multiplier, one of the funkiest window fans ever to hit planet Earth.

House fans have remained unchanged for what seems like forever. They all use the same chopping blades to move air around a room. It's effective, but the air is turbulent and uneven.

Dyson's Air Multiplier doesn't have any visible blades. It appears to be simply a circle on a short base. The base draws in air, forcing it upwards into the circle (called a loop amplifier) and then pushes that air out through openings in the loop. As air exits the loop, it pulls along air surrounding the sides of the loop, thus the multiplying effect. Dyson's engineers got the idea for their Air Multiplier from research that resulted in Dyson's hand-dryer technology. They realized that they could use similar technology to create fan-worthy air flow.

Because the Air Multiplier doesn't have exposed blades, there's no ugly safety grill, either. As a result, you won't have to stare at huge dust bunnies that accumulate on the blades of a traditional fan. The grill-less design also freed product designers to create a more graceful look, and the Star Trek-worthy aesthetics of the Air Multiplier is undoubtedly one of its most potent selling points. Dyson is surely hoping looks count for something -- the Air Multiplier starts at $300.

2
Fitbit
The Fitbit comes with a dock that allows you to interface the device with your computer.
The Fitbit comes with a dock that allows you to interface the device with your computer.
Courtesy of Fitbit

It's one thing to present fascinating new technologies to the gadget-happy masses. It's another thing when you refine existing technologies to help people improve their lives in new ways. The Fitbit merges existing products into a new suite of tools that may help you get into better physical shape.

The central product driving the Fitbit is a small accelerometer (similar to the one in Nintendo's Wii controllers) that clips onto your clothing. As you move throughout the day, Fitbit tracks how much physical activity you performed. During the day, you can access your personal Fitbit Web page and enter the types and quantities of food you eat. And at bedtime, you slip the device into a wristband to track the quality of your sleep.

Every time you pass the wireless base station, your Fitbit transmits data to your account on Fitbit.com. There, you can see how many calories you've burned, the number of steps you've taken, calorie intake and sleep quality. Because the Fitbit works best for walking motion and isn't waterproof, you can't use it for activities such as bicycling or swimming; however, you can enter these activities manually in your online profile.

Ultimately, Fitbit is a painless way to see how your physical activity, diet, and resting habits affect your overall quality of life. Unlike similar devices, it costs only $99, and there's no recurring fee to use the Web site.

If you can fit it into your routine, Fitbit will take the guesswork out of tracking your exercise and eating behaviors. With numbers and goal-setting metrics at your fingertips, you'll have access to a tool that encourages consistently better lifestyle choices.

1
Motorola Droid
Motorola's Droid might not destroy the iPhone, but it will encourage Apple to push its iPhone's capabilities forward at a breakneck pace.
Motorola's Droid might not destroy the iPhone, but it will encourage Apple to push its iPhone's capabilities forward at a breakneck pace.
George Frey/Getty Images

It started with a massive and mysterious advertising campaign that was clearly targeted at Apple's iPhone. When the secretive marketing dust settled, Verizon unveiled the Motorola Droid, a challenger to iPhone's recent dominance in the smartphone market.

Droid features Google's Android operating system and is the first phone to come with Google Maps Navigation preinstalled. It has WiFi networking capabilities, a 3.7-inch (9.4-centimeter) touchscreen, sliding QWERTY keyboard and a 5-megapixel camera that's designed to take crisp pictures in dim light [source: Topolsky].

Droid comes with an Arm Cortex A8 CPU, which is the same processor in the iPhone 3GS. That CPU, paired with 256MB of RAM, is one reason Droid runs applications faster than most comparable smartphones. The extra horsepower also means Droid captures 720 x 480 video clips with ease, and unlike iPhone, it can run multiple applications at the same time [source: Topolsky].

But does powerful hardware and a selection of unique applications mean Droid will hack out a place in iPhone's market share? That remains to be seen, but one verdict is in for sure -- competing products are finally catching up to the iPhone in terms of usability and features. That's a big deal, especially for all of you who really adore gadgets but can't afford all of the high-priced fun.

This year's technological triumphs mean you'll have plenty to look forward to in 2010. For more on gadgets and other related topics, take a look at the links on the next page.

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More Great Links

Sources

  • Amazon.com. "Amazon Extends Battery Life of Newest Kindle by 85 Percent and Adds Native PDF Reader."http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=176060&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=1358968&highlight=
  • Beschizza, Rob. "Dyson's Air Multiplier Looks Great, Feels Good, Hurts Wallet." BoingBoing.net. Oct. 19, 2009.http://www.boingboing.net/2009/10/19/dysons-air-multiplie.html
  • Biggs, John. "Kindle 2 Goes To $259, International GSM Version Coming October 19." Crunchgear.com. Oct. 7, 2009.http://www.crunchgear.com/2009/10/07/kindle-2-goes-to-259-international-gsm-version-coming-october-19/
  • Fitbit. "About the Fitbit."http://www.fitbit.com/product
  • German, Kent. "Apple iPhone 3GS - 32GB - Black [AT&T]." CNET.com. June 17, 2009.http://reviews.cnet.com/smartphones/apple-iphone-3gs-32gb/4505-6452_7-33674173.html
  • Gruman, Galen. "Deathmatch: Motorola Droid Versus iPhone." Computerworld. Nov. 12, 2009.http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9140718/Deathmatch_Motorola_Droid_versus_iPhone
  • ifixit.com. "iPhone 3GS Teardown."http://www.ifixit.com/Teardown/iPhone-3GS/817/1
  • Lowensohn, Josh. "My Week With The Fitbit Wireless Pedometer." CNET.com. Oct. 1, 2009.http://news.cnet.com/8301-27076_3-10365465-248.html
  • Popular Mechanics. "Old Kindle vs. New Kindle 2: Side-by-Side Comparison." Popular Mechanics. Feb. 9, 2009. (Dec. 9, 2009) http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/upgrade/4303102.html
  • Shimpi, Anand Lal. "The iPhone 3GS Hardware Exposed & Analyzed." AnandTech.com. June 10, 2009.http://www.anandtech.com/gadgets/showdoc.aspx?i=3579
  • Sorrel, Charlie. "T-Mobile Accidentally Posts Secret iPhone 3GS Specs." Wired.com. June 10, 2009.http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2009/06/t-mobile-accidentally-posts-secret-iphone-3g-s-specs/
  • Topolsky, Joshua. "Motorola Droid Review." Engadget.com. Oct. 30, 2009.http://www.engadget.com/2009/10/30/motorola-droid-review/
  • Wilson, Mark. "Dyson Air Multiplier Review: Making a $300 Fan Takes Cojones." Gizmodo.com. Oct. 12, 2009.http://gizmodo.com/5379890/dyson-air-multiplier-review-making-a-300-fan-takes-cojones