Welcome to our tech-buying cheat sheet.
There are no specs and no benchmarks, no rigorous stress-tests or complex comparisons. Just straightforward recommendations, aimed at easing the agony of choice for those who suffer from it. If making a decision only awakens an evil inner imp, who conjures ideal devices comprising the best features of everything you don’t choose, this is for you.
The “cheap” item indicates quality on a budget. The “best” item represents not extravagance, but excellence that’s worth paying for. In the third column lies wonder, weirdness or simply an alternative that deserves mention.
Asus’ 900HA is small, cheap and surprisingly capable. (Just don’t get the 900A, the stinker at Best Buy and Target) HP’s Mini 1000, when upgraded with HSDPA and the 10.2″ infinity display, is something that will have to be clawed from your cold, dead hands. But if you care about battery life, it’s no match for Samsung’s NC10, which gets nearly 7 hours on a charge. People wanting to install OSX should get the MSI Wind.
Basic laptops are nearly interchangeable, but Dell’s low-end Inspirons are a safe bet. For people wanting power and serious quality, Apple’s MacBook Pro is a nearly perfect marriage of beautiful design and high performance. But if you just want something that looks stunning, Voodoo’s Envy 133 is the real object of beauty. Just don’t expect it to play all the latest games!
A $30, 9mm-thick handset with a cool e-ink display, Moto’s unlocked F3 is ready to take into any cellphone shop for contract-free action. Apple’s iPhone 3G is, thanks to its AppStore and fantastic combo of software and hardware, an unstoppable force at $200. LG’s Lotus, on Sprint, is about as strange and sexy as you can go without losing a real qwerty keyboard.
Creative’s Zen Pebble is a cute little thing, as cheap as a decent family meal. Apple’s iPod Touch is practically a handheld computer–movies, music and games galore. Sony’s Rolly is a thing of wonder: if you throw yours away, you’ll one day curse yourself for it.
Need a basic model? Grab whichever clicker Canon or Sony is currently selling for just under $200, and you’ll be happy. After Nikon dropped the ball with the so-so P6000, Canon’s G10 is the king of point-and-shoots in the $500 ballpark. Casio’s EX-F1 is an insane contraption that shoots video at hundreds of frames per second.
Beginners and bargain hunters will love their Rebel XSis and Nikon D40s for years. Upgrade to the Canon Eos 5D MkII if you want to take the plunge and have giant sacks of cash; the $1,500 Nikon D300 is a mid-range alternative you could start a career with.
Flip’s MinoHD marries the original’s idiot-proof simplicity with surprisingly good video. Canon’s Vixia range offers the best quality you’ll get under a grand. Sanyo’s Xacti HD1010 is outright phenomenal for something so tiny.
Hate phones but like email? Get a Peek. Want something smaller than a netbook but more powerful? Raon’s Everun Note is a $700 7-inch pocket PC that whips them all. When you’ve realized that buying cheap, nasty GPS boxes is a bad idea, Garmin’s Nuvi 880‘s excellent speech recognition is the antidote. Eye-Fi is an SD card that uploads your photos over WiFi. Smart shoppers only buy TVs they’ve seen in person, but for bleeding-edge cool, Sony’s OLED XEL-1 is the king–all 11 inches of it. Still buying desktop PCs? Sony’s JS series all-in-one has blu and solid performance, outclassing Apple’s aging current-gen iMac and HP’s puny Touchsmart.
This cheat sheet will be maintained and updated, so tell us your suggestions in the comments for better choices or new categories. Remember, the idea is to make decisions easier. Not items that evince raw superiority, but equipment you’d be happy with for years: stuff where the fidelity trend goes up, even if it doesn’t start so high.