The year 2012 may as well be dubbed the "Smart" year. Every new device we're seeing has promised to be more connected than ever - smart TVs, smart cameras, smart washers and dryers, and more. Each smart product encompasses new way of thinking about the appliances and products we use every day, and many of these developments really left us excited about what the coming year has to offer in tech. Here are some great features to look out for to make sure you get the most out of your next TV, camera, laptop, and more.
Polaroid SC1630 Smart Camera Powered by Android1. Smart Sharing for Cameras
Find that you frequently have dozens (if not hundreds) of family photos languishing on your digital camera? Sure, it's not hard to upload them, but the latest crop offer even easier solutions. Cameras saw recently at CES have integrated wireless capabilities, so you can transfer photos and video from your camera with the press of a button via your home network. Samsung has five devices in its arsenal now that offer smart sharing and Polaroid showcased a new Wi-Fi-enabled camera that will be powered by Android.
Bottom Line: Forget the wires. Pick up a new camera that offers wireless sharing.
Altec Lansing speakers2. Wireless Speakers for Whole Home Entertainment
With the iPod (or iPhone or iPad) enabling pretty much everyone to become a DJ, it only seems fitting that you should have the ability to play that music easily anywhere in your home. We're seeing speakers with Bluetooth, AirPlay, and other wireless technologies built in so you can easily connect to audio setups anywhere in your home. And - good news for those of you who already have pretty nice sound systems that don't have this functionality - there are plenty of products offer simple add-ons that let you easily give your speakers that extra wireless boost.
Bottom Line: iPod docks are so 2011. Pick up speakers (or speaker add-ons) that let you wirelessly stream your music anywhere in your home.
Toshiba 4K TV3. Ultra High-Resolution TVs
We spotted super-thin OLED TVs and plasma TVs at CES last week that would practically take up your whole wall. But, beyond form factor and size, many new TVs are touting higher and higher resolutions. We're seeing a lot of "4K" units and some that even claim to be "8K." What does this mean for your viewing experience? The resolution of the screen is 4 times that of the previous gold standard: 1080p HD. For most shoppers, though, it's a barely discernible upgrade, especially if you don't have a super large screen. And the other problem: Content likely hasn't caught up with the technology yet, meaning most of your can't-miss shows and your family's favorite games won't look much different than on a lower-resolution HDTV.
Bottom Line: Wait a while until the prices come down and more content is available. If you have a sports nut in your family, then it might be a worthwhile investment down the line.
Nikon N14. Better Lenses on Smaller Cameras
Up until now, bulky SLRs were a must if you wanted really professional-quality photos. Now, cameras aren't only getting smarter, they're getting more compact too. We've been toting around a compact advanced camera from Nikon, the Nikon N1, and we've been getting tons of compliments on its sleek look and - dare I say - sexy white design. But the best part? The body is slim enough to fit into your purse, but you pick up a range of detachable lenses to make sure you always get the perfect shot, whether its capturing the action at your kids soccer game or getting a gorgeous close-up of the flowers in your garden.
Bottom Line: You no longer have to sacrifice image quality to get a smaller camera.
Ultrabooks5. Lighter Laptops
It's all about no compromise with latest laptops. If you frequently tote your system to work, you know you don't want to weigh yourself down, but sacrificing processing power certainly isn't the answer. Good thing Intel's new chips offer all the capabilities you need - and they're being implanted in laptops that are slimmer and lighter than ever before. Last year was the year of the tablet - but 2012 will the year of the ultrabook. These lightweight devices are being offered by all the major players - Acer, Samsung, HP, Lenovo, Asus, and so on - so there is no shortage of attractive options. While they were launched last year in 11-inch and 13-inch screen sizes, this year we are seeing larger models are being showcased (up to multimedia-friendly 15-inch models). They're plenty power-efficient too, so you can be sure of plenty of battery life and many models will set you back less than $1,000.
Bottom Line: Ultrabooks are a win-win. You don't have to choose between a lightweight system and one that can meet all of your computing needs.
Nokia Lumia6. Bigger and Better Phones
If you find that your phone is quickly becoming your do-it-all device - camera, calendar, e-mail hub, and more - you'll be happy to hear about the models we're seeing now. We're spotting better cameras, faster processors, and larger screens. Sure, in the past, a slim device might have been key, but if you find that your glued to your phone more and more you'll appreciate the wider screen for watching clips, scanning the Web, editing documents and more. Some models we've seen: The recently announced HTC Titan II which features a 4.7-inch screen (in comparison, the iPhone's is only 3.5 inches) and the Nokia Lumia which offers an 8-megapixel camera and shoots HD video.
Bottom Line: If you use your phone for more than just making calls, consider one of the newest devices to get even more from your handset.
Sharp Connected TV7. Internet-Connected TVs
Is your family a big fan of Netflix streaming? Or perhaps you catch up on shows you've missed on Hulu. Now it will be simple to get that same content on your big screen. Every manufacturer this year is touting its "smart" television line - from Sharp's Smart Central devices to Samsung's Smart Interaction units. Each one has its own unique set of features, but they all allow for easy integration of your TV and web services. For instance, some allow you to search across all platforms - so if you want to watch a specific movie you can easily find out whether it is on cable, available for free on the web (say on Hulu), or ready for rent/purchase (via services like Netflix). We are also seeing the ability to pair your TV with your mobile devices - like your smartphones and tablets. In some cases this means sending content from your tablet to the big screen, while others let you use your smartphone to control the TV like a remote.
Bottom Line: Connected TVs really expand the capabilities of your home entertainment center. Do a little research first to decide which features are most important to you; there will likely be a TV out there to fit your family's needs.
Samsung Connected Washer8. Smarter Kitchen and Home Appliances
If the rest of your home is getting smarter with wireless speakers and connected TVs, your appliances should really be pulling their own weight too. The latest refrigerators offer advanced capabilities like using the inventory of what's inside to give you recipe ideas, streaming music while your cook, or building in LCD panels on the door to give you access to your favorite apps. Washers and dryers are getting smarter too - some are connected with your TV so you'll get a pop-up notice when the laundry is done. Others will send messages to your phone to let you know information about energy and time management. And more Roomba-esque robots are coming out to take care of the cleaning for you.
Bottom Line: Consider a connected appliance if you are looking to cut your energy usage or just want to take advantage of the cool features. Smartphone and tablet users will get added perks from many manufacturers (like special custom apps).
- by Rachel Rothman
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