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Best of the Best in Tech This Year

CE products have come a long way in last 12 months.

July 1, 2012 By John R. Quain
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The best consumer electronics products don’t simply boast the finest features in a given category. They are also exemplars of a significant trend that represent a shifting landscape in the market. And what shifts there were last year.

While manufacturers continue to introduce great audio products—with Denon, Yamaha and others adding networking and wireless AirPlay support in moderately priced AV receivers, for example—the category didn’t have any standouts that matched the introduction of, say, an iPod. Consumers continued to go mobile, moving away from room-sized systems—even shunning PCs and laptops—to favor smartphones and tablets.

Consequently, in choosing this year’s best of the best, we evaluated the products’ impact on the industry and consumer demand. Here are the front-runners from the past year:
Best Breakthrough Product: Nest
Although networked home control products have been on the market for years, none has garnered much consumer interest thanks to awkward controls and arduous installations. The $249 Nest thermostat is the first to break that mold.

Created by Tony Fadell, the man behind the iPod, the digital rotary Nest is elegant and smart. Its brushed metal rim reflects the colors around it, and the device is cleverly designed to replace those old-fashioned, mercury-filled models we all grew up with. It can be installed in less than half an hour by anyone who can hang a picture, and it connects to a home network over Wi-Fi so that it can be controlled remotely, even over a smartphone. The Nest thermostat also addresses the second-home issue: how to properly control the temperature of a home when you’re not there.

The Nest takes a unique approach by learning when the temperature is adjusted. The system eventually understands preferred settings at particular times of the day. After a week or so, it starts to make those changes on its own. It even has a motion sensor so that if no one walks by it after a couple of hours, the device will switch into “away” mode and turn down the heat or AC according to presets.

Programmable thermostats usually require power (something the old ones don’t) and aren’t compatible with forthcoming smart meters from the power companies. Nest has a built-in rechargeable battery that receives a trickle charge from existing wires (no new wiring needed) and it has the de facto communications standard that power companies are using built in.
 

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