On November 1st, 2011, the best Android phone you could buy was the Samsung Nexus S. The iPad's screen was a scant 1024 x 768, laptops were still mostly fat and ugly, and there's a pretty good chance your phone didn't have LTE. The iPhone certainly didn't.
But a lot's changed in the last twelve months. For starters, we've seen huge revisions of nearly every operating system on the planet, from Windows 8 and OS X Mountain Lion to Jelly Bean and BlackBerry 10. Well, not really BlackBerry 10 yet. Our phones have bigger, better screens, faster processors and blistering data speeds — oh, and they last longer too. The iPad finally got some real competition, from a couple of unexpected competitors — including Microsoft and Google themselves, who have turned from software makers to full-fledged electronics manufacturers. Laptops are thinner, lighter, and more attractive than ever. And that's ignoring the new classes of device, from the fitness band to the light field camera, that have come into their own in the last year.
Through the whole year, we've been putting the best (and worst) gadgets through their paces, trying to figure out which ones are most worth your money, and which ones might just change how we live our lives. Here are the biggest, best, and most important reviews from the first year of life here at The Verge.
Intel's "Ultrabook" designation was meant to make laptops more portable. Lenovo's IdeaPad U300S made it more portable, and more beautiful besides — it was our runaway favorite of the first round of ultrabooks.
Amazon entered the tablet fray in a big way with the Kindle Fire. The Fire was designed for watching movies, playing games, and buying everything on the planet from Amazon — and at only $199, it was basically an impulse purchase.
The Galaxy Nexus was, in some sense, the Android phone we'd been waiting for. It came with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, a big high-resolution display, and performance unlike anything we'd seen from Android. Verge staffers bought them in droves.
Everything about the Galaxy Note is surprising. Its giant, 5.3-inch screen dwarfed even its largest smartphone competitors, and it looks ridiculous held up to your head — but it sold like crazy, and turned out to be a pretty great phone. Just don't hold it up to your head.
The Lytro might just be the future of photography. It's a "light field camera," meaning rather than capturing two-dimensional light patterns in a sensor it's actually capturing depth as well. That opens up all kinds of new ways to look at and interact with a camera — but unfortunately it didn't make the first-gen Lytro's pictures look great.
The FuelBand's premise is addictingly simple: do better. You get points for being active, and you get badges and rewards for getting points. It's a fun concept, and an awesome way to make yourself get off the couch.
A tablet is all about its display, and the Retina display on the new iPad absolutely lapped the competition. Apple's new tablet came with a faster processor and LTE connectivity, too, but it's really all about that screen.
The One X was a breath of fresh air, a beautiful white slab in a sea of ugly black plastic phones. The One X is held back by the overbearing Sense skin, but it's proof that cellphones don't have to look the same, and they don't have to be ugly.
The Lumia 900 was the first flagship device Windows Phone ever had, and remains one of the most beautiful handsets to ever cross our desks. It has many flaws, most due to Windows Phone 7, but it's a scene-stealer.
Chrome OS was always a confusing pet project for Google; the browser-based OS wasn't quite like Android, and it was meant to run on computer hardware, but it had little in the way of features. With the "Aura" update, and the Chromebook and Chromebox, Google's vision suddenly became clear.
Why should tablets get all the good screens? The MacBook Pro with Retina display offered desktop-level power, an unparalleled display, and a surprisingly slim frame, which combine to create the laptop we've been saving for ever since it was announced.
Samsung did what we once thought was impossible: it got the same phone, with the same name and the same specs, onto every carrier in the US. That, plus the fact that the Galaxy S III is a fast phone with great software and a terrific display, made this the first Android phone that's easy to recommend to everyone.
Google and Asus got together to figure out what a Google tablet should look like, and came up with the Nexus 7. The 7-inch tablet shipped with brand-new Android software, including the eerily powerful Google Now, and offered great build quality and specs for a stellar $199 price. It's still hard to beat.
Big sensors mean great pictures. But big sensors also mean big cameras, or at least they did until Sony found a way to bend the laws of physics with the RX100. A fast lens, big sensor, and tiny body make this the best pocket-sized camera we've ever used, and it's really not close.
You can make the case for your iPad as your only computer, but to do that you'll need a good keyboard. We looked high and low, and found that with the right tools you really can almost throw away your laptop.
In some sense, the iPhone 5 brought Apple's smartphones back up to par: fast LTE speeds, a larger screen, and longer battery life. But it also showed how good Apple is at designing products, and reminded us how good the iOS ecosystem is.
After months of build-up, Microsoft released what it clearly believes is the future of the desktop operating system. It's intimately connected with the internet, touch-friendly, and colorful — it's also a huge departure from the Windows so many people are familiar with. It's still too early to tell, but we like where Microsoft is heading.
The Surface launch was Microsoft placing its stake in the ground as a hardware manufacturer. It's the flagship Windows 8 product, and it could be the leader in a new world of PC form factors. Microsoft is reimagining itself and its products, and the PC industry is having to follow suit.
The iPod came first, but the iPod nano really cemented Apple's dominance in the market. So the company tried again, releasing a smaller, cheaper, lighter, thinner iPad that offers all the same features in a more affordable package. It could be huge.
On the anniversary of The Verge's birth, we looked at Nokia's latest attempt at revival with the Lumia 920. It takes the design ethos of the gorgeous 900, and adds on the specs and power that the last-generation handset was missing — and got some new Windows Phone 8 to boot. For better or for worse, the future of Windows Phone looks a lot like the Lumia 920.
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