Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about consumer technology.

As we move into 2010, Switched On is proud to present the Saluting Wares Improving Technology's Contribution to Humanity awards, also known as The Switchies, where innovative devices are sorted into categories and presented trophies by their secretly seething jealous contemporaries. This year marks the fourth annual Switchies, which are decided based on a rigorous examination of the opinion of me, and does not reflect the opinion of Engadget or its editors. For that honor, nominees will need to win an Engadget Award. Let's roll out the red carpet then.

The "Sharing is Caring" and the Product of the Year Award
goes to the Seagate DockStar, which uses PogoPlug technology from Cold engines. Like the original and recently upgraded PogoPlug device, the DockStar attacks what has been the thorny NAS market with an inexpensive device that allows easy sharing of photos and other files, eliminating tedious uploading. Honorable Mention goes to the Axentra HipServ-powered Netgear Stora, which offers many of the features of Windows Home Server at a fraction of the price of many products using that operating system.

The "Phone So Good It's Smart" Award for Best New Smartphone goes to the Palm Pre, which debuted the well-conceived and elegant webOS. The hardware still needs to match the software with larger screens and a faster processor, but in many ways webOS feels like what the iPhone OS wants to be when it grows up. Honorable Mention goes to the Motorola Droid, which saw a revamped Android paired with a disappointing keyboard, but showed that Motorola is climbing back into the game.
The "World Is Your Receiver" Award for Best New Internet Radio goes to the Acoustic Research Infinite Radio. Integrating Slacker, this trapezoidal device brought decent audio quality and took advantage of Slacker's features, but setup could be simpler.

The "Room with a View" Award for Best New Surveillance System goes to the Avaak Vue, which brings affordable telepresence via a mesh network that consumes so little power that its cameras don't need to be plugged in for months at a time. However, it can't be used seriously for security applications.

The "Systems Are Go" Award for Best New PC Operating System goes to Windows 7, which brought speed improvements while adding features such as Snap, Peek and a revamped taskbar to finally deliver on the seamless experience Microsoft promised with Windows Vista.

The "Glances Are" Award for Best New Information Appliance goes to the HP Dreamscreen, which integrated Web services such as Facebook and Pandora into a digital picture frame, but which cries out for a touchscreen and battery operation. Honorable Mention goes to the Chumby One, which brought the geek toy with its hundreds of Flash channels into a more mainstream price point.

The "Step Forward" Award for Best New Fitness Device get goes to the largely missing-in-action Fitbit, which appears to have the best combination of features, style and value among the Web-wed accelerometers.

The "Fabulous Four-Thirds" Award for Best New Digital Camera goes to the Panasonic GF1 for creating a compact micro-four-thirds camera that can rival the picture quality of bulkier DSLRs. Honorable Mention goes to Sony's HX1, which introduced the impressive "sweep panorama" mode in a superzoom digital camera.

The "Poetry in Motion" Award for the Best New Compact Camcorder
is a tie between the Flip minoHD, which brought a larger screen and longer recording time to the tiny 720p camcorder, and the the Kodak Zi8, which added electronic image stabilization and external microphone support as high-end companion features to its 1080p video capture.

The "Wi-Fi Wherever" Award for Best New Alternative Wireless Product goes to Novatel's MiFi. The long-awaited "puck" enabling Wi-Fi devices to connect to 3G and undoubtedly soon 4G networks, it is creating a new model for portable resource sharing being used by products such as Tivit. More possibilities await as Novatel develops MiFi as a platform.

The "Not a Netbook" Award for Best New Alternative Computing Device goes to the Always Innovating Touch Book, which combined hackable internals, a detachable screen, long battery life and a magnetic mount with the ability to run Hulu. Honorable Mention goes to litl, with its easel design, that can also run Hulu and connect to an HDTV via HDMI (even though it's a "litl" big and pricey). Like the Fitbit, the Touch Book had its share of delays in 2009, joining other products such as the Barnes & Noble Nook and Joojoo (nee CrunchPad). The latter will contend with perhaps another tablet for the 2010 Switchies.


Ross Rubin is executive director of industry analysis for consumer technology at market research and analysis firm The NPD Group. Views expressed in Switched On are his own.

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Switched On: The 2009 Switchies