Selecting the very best mobile tech of the year isn't an easy task — not when you've reviewed more than 425 products in a wide range of categories. In 2013, we evaluated a plethora of excellent laptops, smartphones and tablets from multiple brands in all different sizes, not to mention dozens of accessories. Then, there are new categories like smartwatches, in which there are already several promising contenders. After weighing the pros and cons of all of the top mobile gear, we picked these 12 products that truly outshine all of their competitors, offering a superior combination of design, features, performance and value.
In 2013, Apple gave the MacBook Pro a serious power boost by adding an Intel 4th-generation processor, Iris Graphics and faster flash memory. And yet this 3.5-pound powerhouse lasted 9.5 hours on our battery test, giving you plenty of endurance for that cross-country flight. The gorgeous 2560 x 1600-pixel Retina display on the MacBook Pro remains best in class, as do the comfortable keyboard and smooth and accurate touchpad. Throw in Apple's free iWork and iLife suites — not to mention the handy new features in OS X Mavericks — and the $1,299 MacBook Pro stands above all.
The Dell XPS 12turned our heads in 2012, thanks to its elegant flip-screen design, which makes it a cinch to switch between laptop and tablet mode. This year, the $1,199 XPS 12 got even better by cramming a higher-capacity 50Whr battery and faster 1.6-GHz Intel Core i5 Haswell chip inside a svelte carbon-fiber body. The improved specs helped this system deliver 9.5 hours of juice as well as blazing-fast performance. The responsive 1080p touch screen solidifies this Dell as the best Windows 8 hybrid on the market.
Pick up an iPad Air, and you might be shocked that you're holding a 9.7-inch tablet. The latest version of Apple's flagship tablet weighs a mere pound and is compact enough to hold in one hand. The $499 device packs Apple's powerful new A7 processor and a stunning 2048 x 1536-pixel Retina display, making it just as good for playing demanding games like "Infinity Blade III" as it is for working on presentations. Did we mention the Air lasted nearly 12 hours on a charge? With an unprecedented level of portability and access to more than 475,000 apps, the iPad Air is the best tablet. Period.
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The previous-generation iPad mini was already one of our favorite small tablets. But now that Apple has upgraded the display to a sharp 2048 x 1538-pixel resolution, this $399 slate dominates the competition. The new mini is also just as powerful as the Air, thanks to its A7 processor, and it lasts a whopping 11 hours on a charge. With a high-res screen, premium aluminum design and 64-bit CPU that's capable of heavy multitasking, the iPad mini is undoubtedly the best small tablet on the market.
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With the Galaxy Note 3, Samsung has once again proven why it is the king of big-screen smartphones. This 5.7-inch phablet sports a gorgeous 1920 x 1080-pixel LCD display, vastly improved pen functionality and enhanced multitasking capabilities. Available on each of the big four U.S. carriers, the Note 3 blows away the competition across a host of performance benchmarks, thanks to its impressive Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor and 3GB of RAM. A massive 3,200 mAh battery powers this beautiful behemoth, providing more than 10 hours of endurance. Add in the handset's myriad features, including an IR blaster for controlling your TV, and it's no small wonder the Note 3 is the best big smartphone of 2013.
Apple's iPhone has been the standard bearer for smartphones since it first debuted in 2007, and the iPhone 5s is no different. For this generation, the handset gets a new high-powered 64-bit A7 processor, as well as a M7 co-processor that measures accelerometer, gyroscope and compass data for use with fitness apps. A Touch ID fingerprint reader, positioned on top of the home button, lets users quickly unlock their device and make purchases. And don't forget about the camera: The 8-megapixel shooter inside the iPhone 5s bested even the 41-MP Nokia Lumia 1020 in our shoot-out.
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The Pebble is the first smartwatch we'd actually wear every day. This $149 device features an e-paper display that makes it easy to glance at incoming messages, emails, phone calls and other notifications from your Android or iPhone. You can also remotely control your music. But what truly makes the Pebble the best choice is its exhaustive selection of watch faces and apps, including RunKeeper for fitness and PebbleCam for controlling your camera. It's even waterproof.
The $199 Bose SoundLink Mini packs huge sound in a compact design. The 1.5-pound, 7-inch speaker syncs instantly with any Bluetooth-enabled phone or tablet, allowing you to elevate your favorite songs, movies and games within seconds. With dual passive radiators and large internal magnets, the Soundlink Mini delivers enough thick bass and crisp treble to deliver best-in-class audio. Expect 7 hours of listening bliss on a charge.
It's pretty rare that any product we review gets higher than 4 stars, but the 4.5-star Bowers & Wilkins P7 impressed the heck out of our ears and eyes. Between the comfortable, soft, black-leather padding; stainless-steel hinges; and brushed black-aluminum back plates, these headphones definitely look like they're worth $399. But it's the audio quality the P7s provide that truly set these headphones apart. We enjoyed superb midrange detail, as well as excellent bass response. You will hear things in your music that you've never noticed before.
Cord cutters rejoiced at the introduction of Google's Chromecast, a 2-inch-long dongle that attaches to your TV via HDMI. For just $35, you can stream and control video from your phone, tablet or laptop. You can also cast Web pages via the Chrome browser, and control playback from your Android or iOS device. Videos keep playing even if you open a different app or if your tablet goes to sleep. With apps such as Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus and HBO Go on board — and more to come — this is an affordable accessory that can't be ignored.
PowerA's Moga Pro controller quietly changed the face of Android gaming this year. This $49.99 accesory delivers a precise gaming experience using a pair of analog sticks, a d-pad and a four-face button setup that gamers have come to know and love. But it's the expandable polycarbonate arm that makes the Moga Pro stand out from other gaming peripherals. The device can accommodate just about any Android phone, including phablets like the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. Moga has an ever-growing catalog of optimized games, such as "Dead Trigger," but the Bluetooth-enabled device works with most titles in the Google Play store. -Sherri Smith
With the dual monitors at your desk, you can get a lot more work done — do research in the browser on the right screen while you finish writing a report in Word on the left. However, when you hit the road, you're stuck with just a single laptop screen. Enter the ASUS MB168B+. This 1.6-pound (2.6 pounds with case) portable monitor easily fits in your bag and gets both its power and data from a USB connection. Better still, the 15.6-inch MB168B+ is the first portable monitor to offer a 1920 x 1080-pixel screen, which provides plenty of real estate for editing documents, viewing Web pages or watching full-HD movies.
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