Engadget Buyer's Guide

We've done the dirty work, testing and scrutinizing the best smartphones, tablets, laptops, smartwatches and fitness trackers to take the guesswork out of your next gadget purchase. But our work is never done. Every month, we'll update the Engadget Buyer's Guide with the latest and greatest gadgets for every budget and lifestyle.

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Photographer: Will Lipman
Editor: Dana Wollman
Writers: Sean Buckley, Jon Fingas, Ben Gilbert, Tim Seppala, Billy Steele, James Trew, Chris Velazco and Dana Wollman

Engadget Buyer's Guide

We've done the dirty work, testing and scrutinizing the best smartphones, tablets, laptops, smartwatches and fitness trackers to take the guesswork out of your next gadget purchase. But our work is never done. Every month, we'll update the Engadget Buyer's Guide with the latest and greatest gadgets for every budget and lifestyle.

MacBook Air

Apple

MacBook Air

$899+

If you’re going to buy a MacBook Air, now would be the time: Our favorite ultraportable recently got a spec refresh, along with a $100 price drop. Now starting at $899, the Air comes with Intel’s latest Haswell processors, promising a slight performance kick and longer battery life. All told, Apple says the 11- and 13-inch models can squeeze out nine to 12 hours of runtime, respectively, though in our tests we got nearly 13 hours -- and that was with older processors, too. Aside from the long battery life, we recommend the Air for its sleek design, comfortable keyboard, reliable trackpad and fast PCIe solid-state drives. The only thing you might lament is the relatively low screen resolution, which tops out at just 1,440 x 900 on the bigger model. If rumors are to be believed, Apple might soon release a Retina display version, but don’t hold your breath if you need a laptop now.

Key specs: 11-inch: Up to a 1.7GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 CPU, 4GB to 8GB of RAM, up to 512GB of internal storage, Intel HD Graphics 5000, 11.6-inch (1,366 x 768) display; 13-inch: Up to a 1.7GHz dual-core Core i7 CPU, 4GB to 8GB of RAM, up to 512GB of internal storage, Intel HD Graphics 5000, 13.3-inch (1,440 x 900) display

MacBook Pro with Retina display (13-inch)

Apple

MacBook Pro with Retina display (13-inch)

$1,299+

You sure you want a MacBook Air? Like, really sure? Once reserved for creative pros, the Retina display MacBook Pro is fast becoming a viable option for just about everybody. At 3.46 pounds, the 13-inch version is half a pound heavier than the 13-inch Air, and its battery life is nearly as long, reaching 11-plus hours. Naturally, the graphics are more powerful too, though you unfortunately can’t configure the 13-inch model with a discrete GPU; for that, you’ll need to step up to the 15-inch version, which starts at a pricey $1,999. That compromise aside, you’ll be faced with a tough dilemma: Buy the slightly cheaper, slightly lighter Air, or settle for a few extra ounces and a little less battery life in exchange for better performance? We’ll leave that to you and your wallet.

Key specs: Up to a 2.8GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 CPU, 4GB to 16GB of RAM, up to 1TB of internal storage, Intel Iris Graphics, 13.3-inch (2,560 x 1,600) display

Yoga 2 Pro

Lenovo

Yoga 2 Pro

$1,099+

Lenovo’s “Yoga” design is so cool that nearly every other PC maker has since copied it. With a screen that folds into three positions (not counting regular laptop mode), the Yoga remains the most versatile Ultrabook we’ve seen. Even as a regular notebook, the Yoga 2 shines thanks to its comfortable keyboard, slimmed-down design, durable build quality and gorgeous 3,200 x 1,800 display. Be warned, though: The battery life is short compared to competing devices. But who knows? The next time you’re lying in bed, watching Netflix in Tent Mode, you might not even care.

Key specs: Up to a 1.8GHz dual-core Intel Core i7-4500U CPU, 8GB of RAM, up to 512GB of internal storage, Intel HD Graphics 4400, 13.3-inch (3,200 x 1,800) display

ATIV Book 9 Plus

Samsung

ATIV Book 9 Plus

$1,400+

The Samsung Series 9, once our favorite Ultrabook, got a big makeover last year. And guess what? It’s still one of the best. As ever, the Book 9 is razor-thin, this time coming in at 0.54 inch thick. With this generation, though, Samsung took a big step up in display quality, upgrading from a 1,600 x 900 screen to a 3,200 x 1,800 panel. The audio quality is surprisingly robust too, and even in a field of long-lasting Ultrabooks, the Book 9 Plus still manages to deliver exceptional battery life (almost nine hours, in our tests). When we first reviewed this, the machine was only available in one configuration, but Samsung has since corrected that, adding a few more spec options. Even so, the $1,400 starting price still feels steep.

Key specs: Up to a 1.8GHz dual-core Intel Core i7-4500U CPU, 4GB to 8GB of RAM, up to 256GB of internal storage, Intel HD Graphics 4400, 13.3-inch (3,200 x 1,800) display

Aspire S7-392

Acer

Aspire S7-392

$1,350+

It took Acer four tries, but the company has finally crafted the perfect Ultrabook. Almost, anyway. Like its predecessor, the S7 is impossibly lightweight, weighing just 2.87 pounds (mind you, that’s with a touchscreen). Despite being so thin and light, though, it still delivers decent battery life. Not best in class, but still a good showing considering there isn’t room inside for a big cell. Other delights include a striking Gorilla Glass lid and a vibrant display, now available in either 1080p or 2,560 x 1,440 resolution. Oh, and if you read our review of the previous-gen S7, you’ll be happy to know this one runs much more quietly. All told, we’re pretty much in love, save for an enormous power brick and oddly placed power button. Other than that, it’s well worth the high price tag.

Key specs: Up to a 1.8GHz dual-core Intel Core i7-4500U CPU, 8GB of RAM, up to 256GB of internal storage, Intel HD Graphics 4400, 13.3-inch (1,920 x 1,080 or 2,560 x 1,440) display

XPS 12

Dell

XPS 12

$1,200+

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Dell’s XPS 12 has been around since 2012, and it remains one of our go-to Ultrabooks. With a screen that flips around inside its hinge, the XPS 12 is almost as versatile as the Lenovo Yoga and, thanks to some spec refreshes, it’s kept up in terms of performance, too. Nowadays, the XPS 12 packs a 55Wh battery (up from 47Wh in the original), allowing it to achieve nearly nine hours of runtime. The machine also rocks an NFC sensor -- something you won’t find in the first-gen model, or most other Ultrabooks, for that matter. Throw in a cushy keyboard and solid build quality, and this is still one of the best ultraportables you can buy.

Key specs: Up to a 1.7GHZ dual-core Intel Core i7-4650U CPU, 4GB to 8GB of RAM, up to 256GB of internal storage, Intel HD 4400 or 5000 Graphics, 12.5-inch (1,920 x 1,080) display

XPS 15

Dell

XPS 15

$1,550+

The MacBook Pro has met its match. If you always wanted something as thin and powerful as the MBP, but would prefer something with Windows, the XPS 15 is your best bet. At 4.44 pounds, it’s actually slightly lighter than the 15-inch MacBook Pro, and at 0.7 inch thick, it’s about as thin, to boot. And don’t worry, it can stand up to the Retina display, too: Though it starts with a 1,920 x 1,080 resolution, it can be configured with a sharper 3,200 x 1,800 screen. On the outside, it has the same aluminum and carbon fiber design that we loved on Dell’s other laptops, like the XPS 12 and 13. What’s great, too, is that even with the heaviest-duty specs -- a quad-core Core i7 processor and a 2GB GPU -- the machine still promises a long 11 hours of battery life. Not too shabby.

Key specs: Up to a 2.3GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-4712HQ CPU, 8GB to 16GB of RAM, up to 1TB of internal storage with a 32GB SSD or a 512GB SSD, Intel HD Graphics 4600 or a 2GB NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M GPU, 15.6-inch (1,920 x 1,080 or 3,200 x 1,800) display

Blade (2014)

Razer

Blade (2014)

$2,200+

It’s not cheap, but if you have deep pockets, the new Razer Blade is the closest thing you’ll find to a no-compromise gaming laptop. At 4.47 pounds and 0.7 inch thick, it’s just about as compact as the 15-inch MacBook Pro, except inside it makes room for a quad-core Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 870M GPU with 3GB of dedicated video memory. Aside from the price ($2,200 and up), the one thing we don’t like about the new Blade is that it trades stellar battery life for a sharper 3,200 x 1,800 display. Not that we’re complaining about an improved screen, of course; it’s just a shame it comes at the expense of unplugged gameplay.

Key specs: 2.2GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-4702HQ CPU, 8GB of RAM, up to 512GB of internal storage, 3GB NVIDIA GeForce GTX 870M GPU, 14-inch (3,200 x 1,800) display

Alienware 17

Dell

Alienware 17

$1,499+

Long before it was swallowed up by Dell, Alienware was one of, if not the, biggest names in PC gaming. That means if you’re shopping for a new gaming laptop, you’d be smart to check out the Alienware 17 (there are 14- and 18-inch models as well). As the medium-sized option in the company’s lineup, it offers all the screaming performance you’d expect from a 17-inch gaming rig, not to mention durable build quality, an attractive design and a best-in-class keyboard. If anything, we were a little disappointed by the relatively short battery life. Then again, this is a gaming laptop we’re talking about -- you weren’t really expecting epic runtime, were you?

Key specs: Up to a 3.1GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-4940MX CPU, 8GB to 32GB of RAM, up to 2TB of internal storage with an 80GB SSD, up to an 8GB NVIDIA GeForce GTX 880M GPU, 17.3-inch (1,600 x 900 or 1,920 x 1,080) display

GT70 Dominator

MSI

GT70 Dominator

$1,500+

MSI’s 17-inch GT70 laptop was so good the first time around, the company barely made any changes to the 2014 model, dubbed the “Dominator.” As ever, it offers powerful gaming performance, along with a comfortable keyboard and trackpad, and robust audio quality. The only things that have changed are the internals -- we can’t have you chugging along on last year’s GPU, now can we? Though we ultimately recommend this, we’d still caution you about the short battery life and bulky, cumbersome design; while you can take this to your next LAN party, it’s best suited as a desktop replacement.

Key specs: Up to a 3.0GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-4930MX CPU, 8GB to 32GB of RAM, up to 1TB of internal storage plus three 128GB SSDs, up to an 8GB NVIDIA GeForce GTX 880M GPU, 17.3-inch (1,920 x 1,080) display

Chromebook 2

Samsung

Chromebook 2

$400+

Let’s face it, Chromebooks aren’t for everyone: Some people will always want desktop apps, with no restrictions on what they can do offline. If you have simple needs, though, and don’t want to spend much on your next laptop, the 13-inch Samsung Chromebook 2 is the Chromebook we recommend. For $400, it brings a full HD screen -- something you won’t find on most other budget laptops, or even most mid-range models, for that matter. It also offers long battery life, a spacious keyboard, comfortable trackpad and a surprisingly premium design, complete with a faux-leather lid. In a field of Chromebooks that look like regurgitated netbooks, Samsung’s new addition actually feels like a proper laptop. For an even lower price, it’s available in an 11-inch edition too, but you’ll be giving up that crisp full 1080p screen.

Key specs: Samsung Exynos 5 Octa 5800 (2.0GHz quad-core A15/1.3GHz quad-core A7), 4GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, “integrated” graphics, 13.3-inch (1,920 x 1,080) display.

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Steel

Pebble

Steel

$199

The Pebble Steel brings all the same features as the popular original, but with a sleek, new metal design. Pebble's active developer community means the watch has apps to control everything from your GoPro to your lightbulbs and your calendar. Plus, the energy-efficient e-paper display means you won't feel tethered to a power outlet. If the $249 price seems a little steep, the original plastic Pebble is still a good buy, at $150.

Key specs: 80Mhz ARM Cortex-M3, Pebble OS (Android and iOS compatible), Bluetooth 4.0, waterproof to 5 ATM/50 meters (with metal band), 1.26-inch (168 x 144) e-paper display

Vivofit

Garmin

Vivofit

$130+

Garmin's Vivofit is a fitness tracker for those with specific goals. Why? Because the always-on display tells you your daily movement to the exact step. As a bonus, the battery lasts for around a year, and the Vivofit is waterproof to boot. And, like other fitness trackers, it monitors your sleep patterns, and also tallies your calorie burn. The result? A rugged fitness companion that you rarely need to charge or take off. What's more, it'll even pair with a heart rate monitor for logging runs.

Key specs: Bluetooth 4.0, ANT+, water resistant to 5 ATM/50 meters, 1.08-inch LCD display

Flex

Fitbit

Flex

$100

If you want a more affordable fitness tracker that's a little more discreet, the Fitbit Flex is a solid choice. Unfortunately, you’ll see less at-a-glance information than on other devices (just a progress bar toward the day's goal), but a companion app for iOS and Android means you can still get an extensive breakdown of your progress toward your fitness goals. If you decide to take things a step further, Fitbit’s Aria WiFi scale uploads directly to your account.

Key specs: Bluetooth 4.0, water resistant to 1 ATM/10 meters, five LED indicator lights

SmartBand

Sony

SmartBand

$100

Sony's Core may look like just another fitness tracker, but the tech giant has actually created something unique: a wristband with a twist. Yes, it will track your sleep and physical activity like the rest, but the companion Lifelog app also creates a virtual diary of everything you do with your phone. That means you can see how long, when and where you were shredding zombies in a game, or out taking selfies with friends. The result is a timeline of your life you can play back, rewind and, ultimately, decide to improve upon.

Key specs: Supports Android 4.4 and above, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, IP58 dustproof/water resistant (one-plus meters), 3 LED indicators

miCoach Smart Run

Adidas

miCoach Smart Run

$400

Many dedicated training watches might offer complex statistical analysis of your run, or measure your VO2 max, but the Smart Run from Adidas keeps it (relatively) simple. As you’d expect, it tracks your run, giving you all the metrics you need (pace, distance, splits, etc.) with a heart rate monitor built in, too. What sets the Smart Run apart is its assortment of media features. There's a music player on board, and Bluetooth means you can listen without cables. Adidas has also confirmed that offline Spotify functionality will come later this year. What’s more, the Smart Run is Android-based, so don't be surprised if more apps get ported over in the future.

Key specs: 1.2GHz dual-core Texas Instruments OMAP4430 (ARM Cortex-A9), 3GB storage, Bluetooth 4.0, splash/sweatproof, 1.45-inch (184 x 184) transflective color display

Glass

Google

Glass

$1,500

For some, Google's Glass is genre-defining. It's a small computer, complete with display, that you wear on your face. The stuff of the future? Truer than you might think, given that it's only now becoming available en masse after a long, semi-exclusive beta period. Google's smart specs let you instantly translate text you look at, find local attractions with your voice and even serve up the latest sport results in the blink of an eye. Just expect to blink at the price a few times, too -- for now.

Key specs: 12GB storage, 5-megapixel photos, 720p video, iOS and Android compatible, Bluetooth, WiFi, bone-conduction audio, color display (equivalent to viewing 25-inch HD screen from eight feet)

One (M8)

HTC

One (M8)

$649+ (unlocked)

The original HTC One was a mainstay in our buyer's guide. So is it a surprise, then, that its sequel has earned a similar spot? It's not a game changer in the way its predecessor was, but the One M8 still blends top-tier specs with stunning looks. It's pretty; it's powerful; and the software has been enhanced in thoughtful ways -- even if features like BlinkFeed and the Zoe camera will eventually be usable on other devices. Just be warned: That bigger display and the BoomSound speakers bounding it make the M8 much more of a handful than its predecessor. Those of you with petite hands should definitely take this thing for a test-drive first. Alas, too, the camera may leave you wanting since there's no resolution bump over the first One, and HTC has done away with optical image stabilization.

Key specs: 5-inch (1,920 x 1,080) IPS LCD display, 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801, 4MP rear/5MP front cameras, 16GB/32GB expandable storage, Android 4.4

Galaxy S5

Samsung

Galaxy S5

$597+ (unlocked)

Like HTC, Samsung could be accused of rehashing an old formula, but still, you can't say the new Galaxy S5 isn't an improvement over its predecessor. That said, it's far from the most stylish smartphone you'll ever see, what with its unassuming face and Band-Aid-inspired back. Still, there's enough power under the hood to keep even the most persnickety mobile nerds happy. And then there's the software. As usual, Samsung has included its TouchWiz Android skin, as well as kitted the device out with features like the Flipboard-esque My Magazine, Air View, Smart Stay and Smart Scroll. All told, this is the best TouchWiz has ever looked, but we still wish Samsung had approached the S5 with a lighter touch. The end result is a phone that's absolutely worth paying attention to, even if it's not as thrilling as we hoped it would be.

Key specs: 5.1-inch (1,920 x 1,080) Super AMOLED display, 2.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801, 16MP rear/2MP front cameras, 16GB/32GB expandable storage, Android 4.4.2

G3

LG

G3

$599+ (contract-free)

LG is finally hitting its smartphone stride. Sure, it took some leaps forward with the well-received G2 and the slightly silly G Flex. But the G3? It's easily the finest phone LG has ever made. Part of that is thanks to its top-shelf internals, but it's the savvy blend of thoughtful industrial design and a great Quad HD display that really makes the G3 shine. That's not to say it's devoid of shortcomings -- LG arguably went nuts with all the extra software features, and that delightfully metallic body is actually just plastic. That 5.5-inch screen might also make the G3 unwieldy for some. Nonetheless, we still found it to be one of the most comfortable phones in that screen-size range.

Key specs: 5.5-inch (2,560 x 1,440) IPS LCD display, 2.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801, 13MP rear/2.1MP front cameras, 16GB/32GB expandable storage, Android 4.4

Nexus 5

Google

Nexus 5

$349+ (unlocked)

Google has said the Nexus hardware line will live on, so don't buy one of these because you think it'll make a great collector's piece. No, buy it for the promise of unadulterated (and frequently updated) Android, along with a spec sheet that still manages to hang with a new crop of competitors. Your friends won't ooh and ahh at this thing like they would've last year, but who cares? You'll still have a device running Android L before anybody else. The kicker: It's a little pricier, a little slower and packs a lousier camera than the OnePlus One. Then again, you'll have a much easier time laying claim to one from the Google Play Store. Decisions, decisions.

Key specs: 4.95-inch (1,920 x 1,080) IPS LCD display, 2.26GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800, 8MP rear/1.3MP front cameras, 16GB/32GB non-expandable storage, Android 4.4

Lumia 1520

Nokia

Lumia 1520

$488+ (unlocked)

Everyone likes phablets, right? That's the sort of rhetorical question nearly every phone maker has asked within the past two years, and Nokia is no exception. Enter the Lumia 1520, the company's biggest (and, some could argue, best) Windows Phone to date. Your eyes don't deceive you: The 1520 is indeed pocket-strainingly large thanks to its 6-inch screen. On the plus side, that means plenty of space for all of those blinking, winking Live Tiles, to say nothing of the 20-megapixel PureView camera fitted around back. It's a surprisingly sturdy smartphone to boot, even if that glossy plastic finish does make it something of a fingerprint magnet. If you're digging what Microsoft has to offer with Windows Phone, the Lumia 1520 is an impeccable choice... unless you just can't physically manage it.

Key specs: 6-inch (1,920 x 1,080) IPS LCD display, 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800, 20MP rear/1.2MP front cameras, 16GB/32GB expandable storage, Windows Phone 8

Lumia Icon

Nokia

Lumia Icon

$550+ (contract-free)

What's that, you say? You'd like a top-tier Windows Phone that doesn't make you second-guess your daily pants choices? That'll be the Lumia Icon (or the Lumia 930 if you live outside the US). You're essentially looking at a device that squeezes nearly everything we like about the gargantuan 1520 into a smaller, denser, slightly less attractive package. A 1080p screen? Check. A 20-megapixel camera? Check. Strong specs and a battery to match? You see where we're going with this. Really, the only caveat is a little carrier-exclusivity issue: The Icon is a solid buy, but you'll have to pledge allegiance to Verizon if you want to get your hands on one here in the States.

Key specs: 5-inch (1,920 x 1,080) ClearBlack OLED display, 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800, 20MP rear/1.2MP front cameras, 32GB non-expandable storage, Windows Phone 8

Lumia 1020

Nokia

Lumia 1020

$429+ (unlocked)

You've got to give it to Nokia: It's been a long time since it's been on top of the mobile heap and it's not afraid to take a risk on a wild-eyed concept. Case in point: The Lumia 1020 further refined a concept that began with the 808 PureView way back when, and it's since become famous for blurring the lines between smartphones and full-blown cameras. All that photographic prowess comes at a price, though: The phone has a sizable little hump on its rear end where that 41-megapixel sensor lives. It occasionally makes holding the thing a little awkward, but that's a small price to pay for the kind of image quality this phone affords.

Key specs: 4.5-inch WXGA (1,280 x 768) PureMotion HD+ AMOLED display, 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 Plus, 41MP rear/1.2MP front cameras, 32GB non-expandable storage, Windows Phone 8

Lumia 520

Nokia

Lumia 520

$59 (contract-free)

Nokia can peg much of its success over the past decade to churning out super cheap, functional phones for the rest of the world. The Lumia 520 is what happened when Nokia took that tried-and-true formula and applied it to a Windows Phone. A Windows Phone! For about $60! There's almost no reason not to pick one up, so long as you know what you're getting. In this case, that means a mediocre display and some disappointing battery life. That may not sound like the most compelling argument, but c'mon -- this thing definitely has its uses. Dying for a smartphone on an extreme budget? Need a spare smartphone that isn't heinous? The Lumia 520 is definitely one to keep an eye on.

Key specs: 4-inch (800 x 480) IPS LCD, 1GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 Plus, 5MP rear camera, 8GB expandable storage, Windows Phone 8

Transformer Book T100

ASUS

Transformer Book T100

$350+

The Transformer Book T100 remains a value champ among larger Windows tablets, even several months into its shelf life. As of this writing, around $350 will get you a quad-core slate that runs desktop Windows apps, lasts for up to 11 hours on a charge, carries 64GB of storage and comes with its own keyboard dock. The T100 doesn't have the performance needed for more demanding apps, but it could still be ideal for anyone who wants a tablet that can double as a basic laptop.

Key specs: 1.33GHz quad-core Atom processor, 2GB of RAM, 32GB or 64GB of storage, 1.2-megapixel front camera, 10.1-inch (1,366 x 768) display

Surface Pro 3

Microsoft

Surface Pro 3

$799+

Microsoft claims that the Surface Pro 3 is good enough to replace both your laptop and your tablet. And you know what? In many cases, it's right. We're not the biggest fans of the keyboard (a pricey $130 option), but there's no denying the flexibility here -- the Pro 3 is the only tablet in our guide that's powerful enough to create professional-grade media, not just consume it. It's certainly our pick for a pen-toting tablet, since you can begin scribbling notes simply by clicking a button on the stylus. The Pro 3 also directly addresses some of the ergonomic gripes we had with its ancestor; it's thinner and lighter despite having a larger display. It's still more expensive than mobile OS tablets, but you'll likely get what you pay for.

Key specs: Core i3, i5 or i7 processor, 4GB or 8GB of RAM, 64GB to 512GB of storage, 5-megapixel front and rear cameras, 12-inch (2,160 x 1,440) display

Xperia Z2 Tablet

Sony

Xperia Z2 Tablet

$500+

Sony's original Xperia Tablet Z was a mainstay in our buyer's guide for good reason: It had one of the sleekest designs of any tablet on the market, and its performance held up well over time. The Xperia Z2 Tablet maintains that good reputation, and then some. It's even thinner and lighter than its ancestor without sacrificing its waterproof shell, and its performance has taken a big leap forward through an upgrade to a Snapdragon 801 processor. It also runs Android 4.4 KitKat with a light, unobtrusive interface. The battery life and cameras won't impress, but the Z2 is still a solid choice.

Key specs: 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor, 3GB of RAM, 16GB or 32GB of storage, 2.2-megapixel front and 8.1-megapixel rear cameras, 10.1-inch (1,920 x 1,200) display

iPad mini 2

Apple

iPad mini 2

$299+

You might be wondering why we’re featuring the iPad mini 2, last year’s model, instead of the new iPad mini 3. As it turns out, though, newer doesn’t necessarily equal better. The new mini has the same display, design and specs as last year’s iPad mini with Retina display; really, the only difference is that the new edition has a Touch ID fingerprint sensor. That’s a nice trick, but given the $100 price difference, we still think you’re better off getting the last-gen model.

Key specs: Dual-core A7 processor, 1GB of RAM, 16GB to 128GB of storage, 1.2-megapixel front and 5-megapixel rear cameras, 7.9-inch (2,048 x 1,536) display

Iconia W4

Acer

Iconia W4

$250+

Hold on, you may say -- what happened to Dell's Venue 8 Pro? We still think that's a good device, but Acer's Iconia W4 is now our 8-inch Windows tablet of choice. It lasts much longer on a charge than its Dell counterpart, offers a smarter control layout and supports HDMI video out that the Venue lacks. You won't even pay much more to get these features, since it's easy to find Acer's tablet selling for a modest $250. While you won't get the Venue's pen support or the Lenovo ThinkPad 8's high-res screen, the Iconia is well-rounded compared to its peers.

Key specs: 1.33GHz quad-core Atom processor, 2GB of RAM, 32GB to 64GB of storage, 2-megapixel front and 5-megapixel rear cameras, 8-inch (1,280 x 800) display

Galaxy Tab S

Samsung

Galaxy Tab S

$400+

Samsung only just released its well-received Galaxy Tab Pro series at the start of 2014, so it was surprising to see the company ship another high-end tablet line, the Galaxy Tab S, just a few months later. However, a quick hands-on with the newer models will tell you why. Whether you're getting an 8.4-inch or 10.5-inch edition, the Tab S has one of the best-looking screens you'll see on any tablet -- it's extremely bright and vivid (even when outdoors), yet produces deep blacks that you'll notice in dimmer lighting. It also has some of the best battery life we've seen from any slate, and the thinner, lighter body is that much easier to hold when reading that long book. You will take a bit of a performance hit versus the Tab Pros, but this should definitely be on your short list if you're a frequent movie watcher. Our pick is the 8.4-inch model, since it offers all the Tab S features in a smaller, cheaper package; if you do a lot of multitasking or just want a big display, however, the 10.5-inch variant is also a fine choice.

Key specs: 1.9GHz Exynos 5 Octa processor, 3GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, 2.1-megapixel front and 8-megapixel rear cameras, 8.4-inch (2,560 x 1,600) display

MeMO Pad 7

ASUS

MeMO Pad 7

$149+

ASUS had a sleeper hit last year with the MeMO Pad HD 7. It wasn't the most powerful tablet by any means, but it delivered better performance and software than devices costing twice as much. For that reason, we're recommending the new MeMO Pad 7 -- it builds on that successful formula with a more powerful Atom processor, refined software and a better front camera. There's no big revolution here, but it's a reliable choice among sub-$200 slates.

Key specs: Quad-core 1.33GHz Atom processor, 1GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, 2-megapixel front and 5-megapixel rear cameras, 7-inch (1,280 x 800) display

Nook HD

Barnes & Noble

Nook HD

$129+

You might wonder why Barnes & Noble's Nook HD has returned to our list after a long hiatus. Simply put, it's a good value these days. It's affordable and boasts a sharper display than most devices in its class. And unlike the Kindle Fire HD, you're not locked into the manufacturer's ecosystem -- you can download any app you like from Google Play. The base 8GB Nook HD doesn't afford much space for offline media, but you can spring for the 16GB model (or a Nook HD+) if you need more.

Key specs: 1.3GHz dual-core OMAP 4470 processor, 1GB of RAM, 8GB or 16GB of storage, 7-inch (1,440 x 900) display

Shield Tablet

NVIDIA

Shield Tablet

$299+

If you’re a gamer in the market for a tablet, there’s only one logical choice. No, not the Razer Edge; we’re talking about the latest NVIDIA Shield. The company took everything that was great about its awkward Android handheld and flattened it out into an 8-inch playmate designed specifically for PC gamers. Not only is it a solid tablet in its own right, but also NVIDIA’s Tegra K1 processor makes it the most powerful Android gaming device available today. Not into mobile games? That’s fine too: NVIDIA’s GameStream technology will pipe in high-performance PC games from any GTX-equipped computer, even over LTE. That said, it’s not perfect: The full gaming experience can’t be had without NVIDIA’s $60 controller, and the base model’s 16GB of storage doesn’t go far.

Key specs: Quad-core NVIDIA Tegra K1 processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB/32GB of storage, 5-megapixel front and rear cameras, 8-inch (1,920 x 1,200) display

Moto 360

Motorola

Moto 360

$250+

The Moto 360 is our favorite Android Wear device, and has so far held that title even as new models have come out. That’s because the price is relatively fair compared to competing devices, and a recent software update left it with much better battery life than when it first came out. In the end, the 360 also wins on account of its striking design, marked by a circular display and a soft leather band, all of which add up to one memorable device. To the extent that a smartwatch has to look like an actual watch, the 360 remains one of the best available, especially in the Android family.

Key specs: TI OMAP 3 processor, Android Wear, Bluetooth 4.0, 1.56-inch (320 x 290) display

One M8 for Windows

HTC

One M8 for Windows

$649 (unlocked)

The One M8 for Windows’ name really says it all — instead of crafting an entirely new chassis for a top-tier Windows Phone, HTC decided to just stick with what worked. In this case, we’re talking about the sleek, smooth, curvaceous frame of the original HTC One M8 paired with Windows Phone 8.1. It’s by far one of the handsomest Windows portables out there, but be warned: You’re either going to love or hate that Duo Camera around back.

Key specs: 5-inch (1,920 x 1,080) IPS LCD display, 2.3GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801, 4MP rear/5MP front cameras, 16GB/32GB expandable storage, Windows Phone 8.1

C720 Chromebook

Acer

C720 Chromebook

$199+

The Acer C720 isn’t perfect, but at $199, it remains the best-value Chromebook, even in an increasingly crowded field of competitors. With a lower price than rival machines, it offers basically the same specs (an Intel Celeron processor, 2GB of RAM and a 1,366 x 768 display), along with a decent keyboard and seven or so hours of battery life. For an extra $100, you can get it with a touchscreen, though Chrome OS wasn’t exactly designed to be used with the fingers. Additionally, there’s a $350 model with a Core i3 processor. It’s the most powerful Chromebook we’ve seen yet, and it’s definitely cheaper than any Windows notebook with that caliber CPU. But considering the difference in performance is fairly modest, you might just be better off with the $199 Celeron-based version.

Key specs: Up to a 1.4GHz dual-core Intel Celeron 2955U, 2GB to 4GB of RAM, 16GB/32GB of internal storage, 11.6-inch (1,366 x 768) display

Moto X (2014)

Motorola

Moto X (2014)

$500+ (unlocked)

Though it had a thoughtful design, the original Moto X never really caught on, thanks to some slower specs. That’s why when it came time to craft a sequel, the onetime Google subsidiary tricked the thing out with the same intelligent features (always-on voice commands, a screen that responds to your gestures) and some top-shelf components. The end result? A comfortable, customizable flagship device that runs a nearly clean version of Android. There are, as always, some caveats: Despite a bigger, better sensor, the X’s camera is still average at best, and we can’t help but wish the battery life was longer. Even so, the Moto X has earned its spot as our new favorite Android phone.

Key specs: 5.2-inch (1,920 x 1,080) AMOLED display, 2.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801, 13MP rear/2MP front cameras, 16GB/32GB non-expandable storage, Android 4.4

iPhone 6

Apple

iPhone 6

$649+ (unlocked)

Months of leaks meant we knew what the iPhone 6 would look like way in advance, and now it’s finally here. Your eyes will be instantly drawn to its slimmer, rounder physique, not to mention that 4.7-inch Retina HD display sitting front and center, but its internals are no slouch either. There’s that new 64-bit A8 processor running the show and an improved 8-megapixel camera, along with a new 128GB model if you feel the need to store every movie you’ve ever seen. In addition to all that, Apple’s really hoping you fall in love with its new mobile payments service (made possible by a built-in NFC chip) so that it can continue its plans to take over the world one pocket at a time.

Key specs: 4.7-inch (1,334 x 750) Retina HD display, A8 chip with M8 motion coprocessor, 8MP rear/1.2MP front cameras, 16GB/64GB/128GB non-expandable storage, iOS 8

iPhone 6 Plus

Apple

iPhone 6 Plus

$749+

Oh, what’s that? The bog-standard iPhone 6 doesn’t have enough pizzazz for you? In that case, you should consider the iPhone 6 Plus -- it features a bigger 5.5-inch, 1080p screen to push the thing well into phablet territory, along with optical image stabilization for the 8-megapixel camera around the back. Other than that, we’re looking at the spitting image of the iPhone 6; just make sure you’ve got enough room in your pockets (and on your credit card) for it. If you’re having a hard time imagining what this might feel like in your hands, just stack two checkbooks on top of each other -- that should give you an idea.

Key specs: 5.5-inch (1,920 x 1,080) Retina HD display, A8 chip with M8 motion coprocessor, 8MP rear/1.2MP front cameras, 16GB/64GB/128GB non-expandable storage, iOS 8

Galaxy Note 4

Samsung

Galaxy Note 4

$800+

Samsung’s been working on pocket-busting phones for what seems like ages now, and it’s really started to hit its stride lately. Case in point? Look no further than the Galaxy Note 4, which ably combines a 5.7-inch Super AMOLED screen with a beefy Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 chipset for an abundance of horsepower. We also loved its 16-megapixel camera too, but for us, it’s still all about that battery -- even with its higher-resolution (Quad HD) screen, the Note 4 managed to hang in there with juice to spare for over a full working day. Just remember that its speakers still leave quite a bit to be desired, and you may need to invest in some roomier pants to ensure a comfy fit.

Key specs: 5.7-inch (2,560 x 1,440) Super AMOLED display, quad-core Snapdragon 805/Exynos 5433, 16MP rear/3.7MP front cameras, 32GB expandable storage, Android 4.4.4

Moto G (2014)

Motorola

Moto G (2014)

$180

Last year’s Moto G nearly threw us for a loop -- we didn’t expect to get a phone so good for so little. The new 2014 model isn’t quite the game changer its older brother is, but it still packs enough horsepower (and niceties) to make it the best budget smartphone you can buy. You’ll be zipping through a nearly stock build of Android 4.4.4 on the G’s 5-inch, 720p screen, and mobile photographers will be glad to know Motorola made some serious steps forward in the imaging department. Just don’t expect to cruise the web at high speed all the time -- there isn’t an LTE version of the 2014 G yet, so you’ll have to ferret out an older variant to get the full use out of your data plan.

Key specs: 5-inch (1,280 x 720) IPS LCD display, 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400, 8MP rear/2MP front cameras, 8GB expandable storage, Android 4.4.4

Xperia Z3

Sony

Xperia Z3

$630

Sony’s Xperia Z3 might not be the flashiest-looking handset you’ll ever see, and the Japanese company’s approach to software can be a little tiresome. So why is it on our list? Well, it runs awfully smoothly, packs one of the best cameras we’ve ever seen squeezed into a smartphone and it has the sort of battery life that’ll make you wake up a day later and scratch your head. No, seriously: In our day-to-day testing, we managed to squeeze out just about two full days’ worth of work from a single charge. Stylish it ain’t, but the Xperia Z3 is an all-around great performer that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Key specs: 5.2-inch (1,920 x 1,080) IPS LCD display, 2.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801, 20.7MP rear/2.2MP front cameras, 16GB expandable storage, Android 4.4.4

iPad Air 2

Apple

iPad Air 2

$499+

It may sound a bit clichéd, but Apple’s new iPad Air 2 really is the best tablet the company’s ever made. The design language the folks in Cupertino have applied has barely changed since last year, but no matter — this year’s Air is both noticeably thinner (18 percent) and notably faster (thanks to that A8X chip) than the version that came before it. That’s not to say Apple completely knocked it out of the park, though. Those performance gains and a slightly smaller battery mean your Air 2 probably won’t stay juiced up for quite as long as your old Air did, but hey -- it's one of the best all-around tablets money can buy.

Key specs: Triple-core A8X processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB to 128GB of non-expandable storage, 8MP/1.2MP rear and front cameras, 9.7-inch (2,048 x 1,536) display

Solo2

Beats

Solo2

$200

While Beats garnered a lot of criticism for bass-heavy listening with its first few products, the pair of on-ear cans it unveiled a few months back aimed to improve that reputation. The Solo2 headphones do indeed pack a more well-rounded tuning that still thumps along with hip-hop tracks. However, the set offers clear representation of details like hi-hats and intricate guitar riffs for other genres. And, as always, this Beats option comes in a range of colors for matching game-day attire and more.

Key specs: On-ear design, RemoteTalk in-line controls, foldable.

Mo-Fi

Blue Microphones

Mo-Fi

$350

If you’re looking for something more akin to high fidelity when it comes to mobile or desktop listening, Mo-Fi may just be it. The over-ear headphones sport a race car-inspired design to enhance comfort, and the audio innards are tuned by a trusted pro audio outfit. There’s a built-in amp with three modes that allows you to select the option that suits a playlist perfectly. And when the rechargeable battery runs out, they’re still a solid option even in passive mode.

Key specs: 50mm driver, over-ear design, built-in headphone amplifier, auto power off, 12-hour battery life, 15Hz-20kHz frequency response.

UE Boom

Logitech

UE Boom

$200

Sound quality varies widely when it comes to the plethora of Bluetooth speaker options, but UE’s Boom is one of the best. The unit sits on its side, allowing tunes to blast out all around it so everyone can hear just fine. Despite its big sound, the Boom remains quite compact for nestling in a cup holder or clipping on for the journey. As with most audio accessories these days, it also comes in a smattering of hues to cater to your aesthetic preferences. And like Beats’ Pill XL, you can connect two of the speakers together for stereo listening.

Key specs: Two 1.5-inch drivers, two 2-inch passive radiators, 360-degree sound, 15-hour battery life, speakerphone, NFC, water-resistant, 90Hz-20kHz frequency response.

A2+ Powered Desktop Speakers

Audioengine

A2+ Powered Desktop Speakers

$249

Spend a ton of time at your desk? Enjoy the freedom of blasting your guilty pleasures without having to wear headphones? Allow us to offer a desktop option. The Audioengine A2+ powered speakers handle the audio from a USB jack, serving up high-quality tunes for that workspace. Wood cabinets house analog amplifiers and input options for connecting tech other than a laptop or desktop machine. When not in use, the A2+ has an idle mode that cuts down on the power consumption, too.

Key specs: 2.75-inch woofers, 0.75-inch tweeters, three input options (USB, 3.5mm and RCA), built-in analog amplifiers, idle mode, 60W peak power output, 65Hz-22kHz frequency response.

Nessie

Blue Microphones

Nessie

$100

As we’ve mentioned elsewhere, Blue Microphones has built quite the reputation for audio wares, and the Nessie USB mic is another stellar option in its desktop line. The adaptive unit automatically tweaks recordings to avoid the usual issues with real-time adjustments to EQ, levels and more. Muting and headphone volume can both be wrangled right on the accessory, which packs a cardioid condenser, pop filter and internal shock mount to improve the recording process and hopefully cut down on the post-production edits.

Key specs: 14mm cardioid condenser capsule, adaptive processing, onboard controls, built-in pop filter, zero-latency headphone jack, 20Hz-20kHz frequency response.

AIRA TR-8

Roland

AIRA TR-8

$499

Roland’s TR-808 drum machine has been one of the most iconic pieces of audio equipment since its release in the ‘80s. This year, the company trotted out the AIRA TR-8 to pay homage to that machine, and tossed in some of the TR-909’s chops, too. Using Analog Circuit Behavior (ACB) tech, the machine features a recreation of the original circuitry, with a 16-step sequencer for sorting beats. Of course, it offers MIDI capabilities and plays nice with the rest of the AIRA line -- if you’re looking for a more elaborate setup.

Key specs: TR-808/TR-909 sounds, 16-step sequencer, multiple onboard controls, scatter function, MIDI via USB.

UE 900S

Logitech

UE 900S

$400

Wait, $400 for a pair of in-ear headphones? Trust us, we’re more than aware of the steep price tag, but Ultimate Ears has earned quite the reputation for stellar in-ear audio. The company makes the wearable monitors that have been employed nightly by touring acts for years, and the UE 900s were created in the same vein. Each earbud houses four speakers to properly sort the range of tones that your go-to playlist serves up. It also boasts swappable cords and loops that can mold to your ears for optimal comfort.

Key specs: In-ear design, four speakers per ear (quad-armature design), dual-bore audio paths, two cord options, bendable ear loops, 20Hz-20kHz frequency response.

X5 High Resolution Music Player

Fiio

X5 High Resolution Music Player

$349

To sort the six popular lossless audio formats, Fiio’s X5 player features a dual-core 600MHz CPU and wields two microSD slots for carrying up to 256GB of high-resolution tunes. There’s a 10-band graphic EQ for finer adjustments and the unit can serve as a USB DAC (digital-to-analog converter) when connected to your computer. And, as you might expect, the X5 has the proper outputs for using it alongside headphone amps and other audiophile tech.

Key specs: High-resolution audio support, dual microSD slots, 10-band graphic EQ, 3,700mAh battery, 2.4-inch IPS display.

GS1000e Headphones

Grado

GS1000e Headphones

$995

Once you get past a certain price point, there's a name you'll hear on audiophile forums more and more. That name is Grado. At nearly a thousand bucks a pair, you won't find these casually slung around teenage shoulders riding the bus. But, if you want serious audio, quality build, a fine finish and can stomach the price tag, inside the GS1000e is where you want to be parking your ears. What does a nearly four-figure sticker price get you? Excellent audio dynamics, smooth high ends and authentic bass. Heck, with these, you can probably just about make out the sound of wind brushing against the guitarist's stubble. Sound fidelity might be the main draw here, but they're not a bad-looking set of cans either -- they'll go with turtlenecks or hoodies in equal measure. One warning though: Once you get into this level of headphones, you are contractually obligated to use terms like “sound stage” and “burn in” in every discussion about them.

Key specs: 50mm dynamic transducers, over-ear design, 32 ohms impedance, mahogany earcups, 8Hz-35kHz frequency response.

OP-1

Teenage Engineering

OP-1

$849

There's a reason Teenage Engineering's 2011 (sorta) pocketable synthesizer is appearing in a 2014 buyer's guide: It's so much fun. And not just of the frivolous variety; the OP-1 is a serious bit of kit. It has eight internal synth engines for creating a wide variety of sounds, a sampler and a built-in sequencer so you can make entire songs right on the device. The onboard speaker and headphone jack let you listen on the go, or you can connect it to your PC and home system and include it in your fixed setup. If this all sounds like a straight-laced musician's tool, know that it also has a wild side. An accelerometer lets you control effects and settings by physically moving the device, and there's an FM radio too -- because why not? If that's not enough to convince you, how about some slick Scandinavian design? Good, because it has that in spades.

Key specs: Eight synth engines, 24-voice sampler, built-in four-track recorder, 1,800mAh battery, accelerometer.

Sound Blaster E1

Creative

Sound Blaster E1

$50

If you find the sound on your laptop/tablet/phone to be a little lacking, even through headphones, then you might already have started considering a dedicated headphone amplifier. On the other hand, if you didn't know such things existed, then your day/media just got a whole lot better. Creative's Sound Blaster E1 is a great entry into the world of headphone amplifiers because it's wonderfully portable, inexpensive and, frankly, just rather good. Plug your phone or media player into one end and your headphones into the other, and listen as your audio gets an instant upgrade. Other nice features include the ability to plug in a second set of cans without degrading signal, and a built-in microphone so you can still speak to your phone. Best of all, at $50, it won't degrade your bank balance, either.

Key specs: Dual headphone jacks, internal mic, 3.5mm mic input, 600-ohm max headphone output.

iAudio E3 16GB MP3 Player

Cowon

iAudio E3 16GB MP3 Player

$100

Let's face it: For many people, the need for a dedicated MP3 player will have evaporated the minute they got a smartphone. But, not all of us have made that leap, and even then, there are situations when a chunky ol' phone just won't cut it. Take exercise, for example. You could be that guy/gal with the phone strapped to your arm, but no one really wants that. And getting a full day out of your phone's battery is hard enough already. Cowon has been in the media player game for years, and has used its know-how to create a product for exactly this market. The iAudio E3 is incredibly light and well-built. And 16GB of storage should be ample to see you through an ultramarathon (as will the battery). If you needed more convincing that this has the athlete in mind, know that there's even an onboard pedometer to help you log your activity.

Key specs: 16GB storage, MP3/WMA/OGG/FLAC/WAV support, touch-sensitive controls, 0.95-inch (96 x 64) OLED display, pedometer, 20Hz-20kHz frequency response.

CX 3.00 headphones

Sennheiser

CX 3.00 headphones

$55

Sometimes you just want to keep it simple. Sennheiser's CX 3.00 in-ear headphones are about as simple as it gets. If you just want a decent set of plugs for your phone or laptop, these are seriously no-nonsense. The wired buds don't have a mic, or media controls. They do have one great feature, though, and that's the fit. Buds can be tricky when it comes to sitting in your ears, on account of 'em all being different. Sennheiser's angled tips seem to almost suck themselves into your ears. The result is a comfortable fit that blocks a good amount of external noise. The sound from the CX 3.00 is equally fuss-free, with no heavy boosting of the top and low frequencies as can often be the case at this price point. While Sennheiser has kept things simple, they're still not bad to look at. You can choose from red, white or black, and small silver flourishes on the backs of the buds give them a little bling. Throw a set in your bag and never be without a decent workhorse.

Key specs: In-ear design, tangle-free (1.2m) cord, included carrying case, 17Hz-21kHz frequency response.

Sync by 50 On-Ear Wireless Sport headphones

SMS Audio

Sync by 50 On-Ear Wireless Sport headphones

$230

Headphones for athletes usually involve hooks or wings. These can be good, but SMS Audio (50 Cent's answer to Beats) provides another solution -- wireless on-ear Sync. Being cable-free has obvious advantages, but what about the on-ear form? It won't be for everyone, but there's a dedicated slice of active people who love the isolation and comfort (no wiggling these back in place) on-ears can deliver. 50 Cent's contribution adds water-resistant materials on the ear pads and a striking design that goes with modern sportswear. Bluetooth connectivity lets you train with your smartwatch or phone, but you can connect with a regular cable too, for added versatility. No surprises that the sound is a little bass-heavy, but that just helps push you through the pain barrier (and drown out your frantic panting). Thanks to a built-in mic, these double as a hands-free option for your cell. But perhaps the best part of that is being able to stay busy, rather than take a call on the run.

Key specs: 40mm drivers, on-ear design, Bluetooth, 3.5mm wired option, IPX4 water resistant, rubberized coating, built-in mic.

Pump HD Sportsbuds

BlueAnt

Pump HD Sportsbuds

$130

If you prefer to keep your headphones locked in with hooks, or just want to get active without a bulky set of on-ears, BlueAnt's Pump HD makes a good case for your attention. More than just sweatproof, the Pump HDs are IP67 waterproof-rated (making them good for up to 30 minutes under a meter of water). BlueAnt cuts the cable with Bluetooth, and throws in support for aptX, which allows for higher-quality sound. Perhaps one of the best features isn't something you'll see on a spec sheet: the fit. Other hook-based in-ears might not slip off, but the buds can still work their way out of your ears. The Pump HDs lock to your ears like limpets. Add in the section that hangs behind your lug holes, and a strap that can be tightened behind your head, and the Pump HDs suddenly become the new gold standard for in-ear stability.

Key specs: 12.5mm drivers, in-ear design, Bluetooth with aptX support, IP67 waterproof rating.

Play:1

Sonos

Play:1

$199

So you've heard all about these music-streaming speakers and decided you want in -- but where to start? An excellent place would be the Sonos Play:1. It's the smallest member of the Sonos family, but it still packs a punch. It's loud enough to fill a bedroom or modest lounge, yet small enough not to dominate your décor. As for the streaming part? Sonos is a bit of a leader in this space, and that means you get possibly the best choice of compatible services. Whether you're into Spotify, Google Play Music, Deezer, Rdio... you get the picture; you can stream them directly with the Play:1. Even alternative services like Hype Machine and SoundCloud are on board (plus you can play your local music files too, of course). With a clean and simple app for iOS and Android, you can have that weekend playlist ready to go before you're even through the front door. The downside is once you've tried the Play:1, it won't be long before you're pricing up Sonos' bigger speakers for the rest of your pad.

Key specs: 3.5-inch mid-woofer, tweeter, two class-D amps, support for stereo pairs/5.1-channel system, 802.11b/g and Ethernet connectivity.

PlayStation 4

Sony

PlayStation 4

$399

There are so many similarities between the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One that it’s incredibly hard to recommend one over the other. Both use Blu-ray for optical media and 500GB hard drives for storage, and both offer streaming via Twitch, along with a solid online infrastructure for multiplayer gaming. Perhaps most importantly, they now both cost $399 (with the Xbox One currently discounted to $349). If you go for the PS4, you’re getting access to a huge selection of (mostly great) indie titles in addition to third-party games that look a little better on Sony’s console. There’s also the PlayStation Plus service that includes online multiplayer support and two free games per month in exchange for a nominal fee. In addition, recent improvements to the PS4’s firmware have made navigating the system even more user-friendly and intuitive than before. What it’s lacking, at least for now, is a killer lineup of games that you can’t play anywhere else. And while the DualShock 4 controller is among the most comfortable we’ve used, it still has abysmally short battery life.

Key specs: Octa-core CPU, 8GB RAM, 500GB hard drive, Blu-ray, 802.11n, Gigabit Ethernet.

Xbox One

Microsoft

Xbox One

$349

The Xbox One had a very rough start thanks to some PR gaffes on Microsoft’s part, but Redmond has been diligently addressing them since last year’s launch. Whether it’s with monthly firmware updates or a $349 holiday bundle that includes a Kinect-less console and a game, we have no reservations recommending it. Perhaps most importantly, the Xbox One currently has the best selection of games that you can’t play anywhere else. The likes of Forza Horizon 2 and Sunset Overdrive are hard to ignore, and with Halo 5: Guardians on the horizon, we imagine at least a few PS4 owners will cross over and buy a One as well. The console has a few surprising advantages over its most immediate competition, too, and those have to do with media use. It’s the only current console that can act as a DLNA server (allowing for media streamed from your household network), play audio CDs and use apps like Fox Now. It’s a total package that just keeps getting better.

Key specs: Octa-core CPU, 8GB RAM, 500GB hard drive, Blu-ray, 802.11n, Gigabit Ethernet.

Bias Lighting

Antec

Bias Lighting

$25

Late-night gaming sessions can wreak havoc on your eyes if you aren’t careful, and that’s where Antec’s Bias Lighting comes in. This self-adhering LED strip sticks to the back of your display, is powered by your screen’s USB port and one kit is big enough to accommodate up to a 65-inch screen. Unlike other options, it turns on and off when your TV does -- automatically. The setup serves a few purposes, but most importantly, it ensures that your display isn’t the only source of light in a dark room. Thus, your eyes don’t have to work as hard to compensate when a flashbang or bolt of lightning streaks across your TV, and you can watch movies or play longer without discomfort. All this is to say that for around $25, it makes the thought of all-night Destiny strikes much more attractive.

Key specs: 55.1-inch LED strip, USB-powered, recommended for up to 60-inch HDTV

Game Capture HD60

Elgato

Game Capture HD60

$180

Sure, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One feature built-in options for livestreaming and editing video of your gaming exploits, but they’re pretty limited compared to what the Elgato Game Capture HD60 offers. It’s damn-near foolproof to set up (just plug it in and install the software) and it offers more options for game broadcasting and recording than you’ll likely ever need. We’re talking multiple bitrates at many different resolutions, a ton of sound adjustments and direct uploads to the likes of YouTube, too. Naturally, you’re cutting together clips with a mouse and keyboard -- not a game controller -- so that makes the process much simpler. If you’re taking streaming seriously, the Elgato Game Capture HD60 is the only way to go.

Key specs: Up to 1080p/60 video capture, supports PlayStation 4/Xbox One/Xbox 360, USB 2.0.

A50 Wireless Headset

Astro Gaming

A50 Wireless Headset

$300

There are a plethora of cheaper gaming headsets out there, but we can say without a doubt that the Astro A50 wireless headset is the best you can buy. Admittedly, they don’t come cheap — for $100 more, you can buy a PlayStation 4 or an Xbox One. But think about it this way: They’re an investment. The $300 A50s debuted for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in 2012 and have since gotten software updates to make them fully usable with the PS4 and Xbox One. They also sound incredible, convincingly reproducing a 7.1-channel surround mix and, just as importantly, are extremely easy to set up and operate. The built-in boom mic for chat smartly mutes when lifted out of the way, and sound-adjustment controls are deliberately spaced, taking little time to find without removing the headset itself. Not that you’d want to anyway: We experienced little to no discomfort after wearing these for six hours of use. Yes, the A50s are expensive, but they’re worth every penny.

Key specs: Over-ear design, 5.8GHz KleerNet wireless connectivity, Dolby Digital 7.1, 20Hz-20kHz frequency response.

PS4 Controller Charger

Energizer

PS4 Controller Charger

$30

How do you solve the inherent problem of the DualShock 4’s terrible battery life without resorting to clunky onboard battery packs? With an Energizer charging stand. Setup is simple and the unit looks a lot cooler sitting on an end table than a tangle of micro-USB cables does.

Key specs: LED charge indicator, supports two DualShock controllers simultaneously.

Xbox One Controller Charger

Energizer

Xbox One Controller Charger

$30

The Xbox One controller seemingly lasts forever on a pair of fresh AA batteries, but even those are bound to wear out. The Microsoft-flavored Energizer charging stand is pretty similar to the PS4 model, but includes two 1,200mAh rechargeable battery packs to keep the action going.

Key specs: LED charge indicator, supports two Xbox One controllers simultaneously, two 1,200mAh battery packs included.

PlayStation Vita

Sony

PlayStation Vita

$200

If you can only buy one portable game console this year, buy a 3DS XL -- but if you can grab two? Give the PlayStation Vita some serious consideration. It's less portable, true, but it has a gorgeous 5-inch screen, two actual thumbsticks and a library filled with sleeper hits like Spelunky and Hotline Miami. Playing games from the original PlayStation fares extremely well here too. It’s also a killer companion device to the PlayStation 4 given its cross-save system that allows game progress made on the home console to carry over to titles on the handheld -- perfect for continuing an MLB: The Show career while you’re traveling. Let’s not forget the Vita’s coolest trick, Remote Play, which lets you stream games from your PS4 to the Vita, enabling play over WiFi when you aren’t in front of your TV. Compared to Nintendo’s handheld, it’s lacking in native games, but don’t hold that against it with all that the system’s capable of doing.

Key specs: Quad-core Cortex-A9 CPU, 802.11b/g/n, 3G, rear touchpad, 5-inch (960 x 544) front touchscreen.

3DS XL

Nintendo

3DS XL

$200

Nintendo’s 3DS XL is far and away the best handheld console on the market, and potentially the best value for any game console currently available. The 3DS XL isn’t as new or as fast as your smartphone, but it’s got a voluminous library of excellent games that aren’t constrained to touch controls. Better yet, it’s significantly more affordable than the mobile alternatives. Nintendo doesn’t appear to be dropping support anytime soon, with a “new” 3DS (and 3DS XL) already available in Japan that’s likely headed westward in 2015. But do you need to wait? We’d say no, you don’t, and we’d add that the currently available 3DS XL is the best handheld console for your money right now.

Key specs: 1GB internal storage (expandable w/ SD card), 802.11b/g, 4.88-inch (800 x 240) 3D screen, 4.18-inch (320 x 240) touchscreen.

Retron 5 Gaming Console

Hyperkin

Retron 5 Gaming Console

$160

Your collection of classic consoles may look great lined up in your entertainment center, but those suckers take up a lot of room. They also look pretty terrible on modern HDTVs. Hyperkin’s Retron 5 solves both of those problems: Not only does the Android-powered console support cartridges from several classic systems (including NES, SNES, Famicom, Sega Genesis, Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance), but it also outputs them all through HDMI -- giving you a crystal-clear picture on modern TVs. Want more? The Retron 5’s OS can import and export save data from cartridges, enable cheat codes, store instant save states and even take screenshots. The console’s only drawback: Its included wireless gamepad is complete garbage. Use one of your old console’s original controllers (it supports SNES, NES and Sega Genesis gamepads) and you’ll be fine.

Key specs: Supports several classic gaming systems, HDMI output, NTSC/PAL compatibility, accepts NES/SNES/Genesis controllers.

ROG G751

ASUS

ROG G751

$1,499+

Power, portability and long battery life: Take the latter two and throw them out, and you’ve got yourself a gaming laptop. While we’ve come to expect compromise when it comes to the world’s most powerful laptops, that doesn’t mean these thick, heavy and short-lived machines can’t also be exceptionally well-made -- and if you’re going for an oversized gaming laptop, the ASUS ROG G751 is one of the best. This machine features a distinctive offset screen hinge with brushed-metal accents, an excellent keyboard and all the power you could ask for: an Intel Core i7 CPU and NVIDIA’s new GTX 980M graphics processor with 4GB of video RAM. It’s still as big and heavy as laptops come, but ASUS’ superb build quality and attention to detail make up for the category’s usual trade-offs.

Key specs: Up to a 2.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-4860HQ CPU, up to 32GB of RAM, up to 1TB HDD and 512GB SSD, up to 4GB NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M GPU, 17.3-inch (1,920 x 1,080) display

HD Pro Webcam C920

Logitech

HD Pro Webcam C920

$100

The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 may have live game-streaming capabilities built in, but PC gamers have to assemble their own setups. If you want your Twitch viewers to be able to see your live reactions, you’re going to want a good webcam. For gamers on a budget, Logitech’s C920 is a strong choice. The C920 looks unassuming, but it has a lot going for it, including 1080p recording, the ability to take 15-megapixel stills, a dual-mic setup for stereo audio recordings and Carl Zeiss optics with a 20-step autofocus. It’s not too expensive either: This little webcam can be had for less than $100, and is often on sale for much less.

Key specs: 1080p video recording, dual mics, 15-megapixel still images.

Yeti

Blue Microphones

Yeti

$149

Almost any decent gaming headset will do for in-game voice chat, but if you’re starting to get serious about recording game commentary or livestreaming your gameplay on Twitch, you’re going to want something better. Ask around, and you’ll find Blue Microphone’s Yeti is highly recommended among podcasters and streamers, and for good reason: The Yeti is an excellent recording tool. It features an onboard mute button; a pattern-selection dial for stereo, omnidirectional, bidirectional and cardioid recording; and a handy plug-and-play USB interface.

Key specs: Multiple pattern support, onboard controls, USB interface, 20Hz-20kHz frequency response.

Nexus 6

Google

Nexus 6

$649 (off-contract)

It’s hard to believe, but until now, Google had never tried its hand at a phablet. As they say, though, there’s a first for everything. The Nexus 6 is the company’s first stab at a big-screen phone, and while not perfect, it’s still a solid choice. The Motorola-made device is the most premium Nexus phone yet, with a metal frame, sturdy polycarbonate back and a gorgeous Quad HD (2,560 x 1,440) display. It’s also reasonably priced for what it is -- most big-screen phones, like the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, cost even more if you buy ‘em unlocked. All things considered, then, it’s a good deal, but there are a couple things you should be aware of: Android 5.0 doesn’t have any special one-handed mode for larger phones like this. Also, the battery life is mediocre at best. Nonetheless, it’s one of our top picks, especially for folks who want a big-screen phone and also prefer the stock Android experience.

Key specs: 5.96-inch (2,560 x 1,440) AMOLED display, 2.7GHz quad-core Snapdragon 805, 13MP rear/2MP front cameras, 32GB/64GB non-expandable storage, Android 5.0.

Peak

Basis

Peak

$200

If you haven’t heard of Basis, it’s about time you got up to speed. The startup quietly put out one of the best fitness trackers, only to get bought by Intel a year later. What’s always set the company’s fitness bands apart is that they can automatically tell when you’re asleep or beginning a workout. That means you never have to stop to put the band into a specific usage. In addition, the water-resistant watch also has an OLED screen, which you can use to not just view your stats, but also smartphone notifications (coming soon). Not only is it one of the smartest fitness trackers, then, but it’s also one of the few that does double-duty as a smartwatch. Unlike a proper smartwatch, though, the battery life is actually decent: up to four days on a charge, according to the company.

Key specs: Android and iOS compatible, Bluetooth 4.0, waterproof to 5 ATM/50 meters, 1.25-inch (168 x 144) OLED display.

G Watch R

LG

G Watch R

$299

If we’re honest, we haven’t yet found an Android Wear smartwatch that we truly love: They all seem to suffer short battery life and clunky design. The LG G Watch R isn’t an exception, exactly, but it’s a clear step in the right direction. As the first smartwatch with a truly circular display, it looks more like a traditional timepiece than your typical Android Wear device, though its large screen means it won’t be of much use to people with dainty wrists. Also, while it still needs to be charged every other day, the battery life is at least longer than on competing models. We would caution, however, that at $299, it’s a bit pricey compared to other Android Wear offerings. Plus, at the rate new smartwatches are coming out, there’s a good chance it’ll soon be eclipsed by something better. That said, if you want a smartwatch now, this is one of the better ones you can buy.

Key specs: 1.2GHz Snapdragon 400 processor, Android Wear, Bluetooth 4.0, 1.3-inch (320 x 320) display.

Hero4 Silver

GoPro

Hero4 Silver

$400

GoPro has long been the go-to name in action cameras, and so it should come as no surprise that its new Hero4 camera has taken the place of the last-gen Hero3 in our buyer’s guide. Curiously, though, we’re not recommending the high-end “Black” edition this time, but rather, the mid-range “Silver” model. For us, it mostly comes down to the display: The Silver edition has a touchscreen, whereas, for some reason, the Black version doesn’t. That’s a big deal, considering GoPro’s in-camera menu system was never easy to use, so we’ll take the touchscreen over a non-touch one any day. Also, the addition of a touchscreen doesn’t seem to have a negative effect on battery life, so you needn’t worry about getting fewer shots in. If anything, you might still choose the higher-end Black edition because it can shoot 4K video at 30 frames per second, up from 15fps in the Silver model. Generally speaking, though, you’d be smarter to just get the Silver and save yourself $100.

Key specs: 4K/15, 2K/30, 1080p/60 recording options; 12-megapixel photos; microSD; WiFi; Android and iOS compatible (Windows Phone support coming soon).

Yoga 3 Pro

Lenovo

Yoga 3 Pro

$1,300+

Lenovo’s convertible Yoga laptop has long been one of our favorite Ultrabooks, so is it any surprise that the company’s latest iteration has made our shortlist? Like its predecessor, the Yoga 3 Pro has a gorgeous 3,200 x 1,800 screen, except this time, it’s 17 percent thinner and 15 percent lighter. All told, it weighs just 2.6 pounds -- unheard of for a 13-inch laptop, especially one with a complicated, 360-degree hinge. For those reasons, it earns its place in our laptop buyer’s guide, but keep in mind that it does come with a few trade-offs -- most of them related to that thin shape. Because the machine is as compact as it is, it couldn’t accommodate a bigger battery, which means the runtime here is a bit short compared to competing models. Also, the keyboard is flatter and shallower than on previous Yoga machines -- again, because there simply wasn’t room for cushier buttons.

Key specs: 1.1GHz dual-core Intel Core M-5Y70 CPU, up to 8GB of RAM, up to 512GB of internal storage, Intel HD Graphics 5300, 13.3-inch (3,200 x 1,800) display.

Lumia 930

Nokia

Lumia 930

$800

What's that, you say? You'd like a top-tier Windows Phone that doesn't make you second-guess your daily pants choices? That'll be the Lumia 930 (or the Lumia Icon if you live in the US). You're essentially looking at a device that squeezes nearly everything we like about the gargantuan 1520 into a smaller, denser, slightly less attractive package. A 1080p screen? Check. A 20-megapixel camera? Check. Strong specs and a battery to match? You see where we're going with this. Really, the only caveat is a little carrier-exclusivity issue: The Icon is a solid buy, but you'll have to pledge allegiance to Verizon if you want to get your hands on one here in the States.

Key specs: 5-inch (1,920 x 1,080) ClearBlack OLED display, 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800, 20MP rear/1.2MP front cameras, 32GB non-expandable storage, Windows Phone 8.1.

Xperia Z3 Compact

Sony

Xperia Z3 Compact

$530

It’s increasingly rare to find a small phone that’s easy to hold in one hand, but still performs like a big-screen flagship. Fortunately, we at least have the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact, which has all the horsepower of the 5.2-inch Xperia Z3, just crammed into a more compact 4.6-inch device. Like its big brother, it features a well-built, waterproof shell, long battery life and a quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor that delivers speedy performance. That said, it’s not perfect: Sony’s Android skin feels dated, and the 20.7-megapixel camera suffers in low light. Those flaws aside, though, this is still the best small Android phone you can buy right now.

Key specs: 4.6-inch (1,280 x 720) IPS LCD display, 2.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801, 20.7MP rear/2.2MP front cameras, 16GB expandable storage, Android 4.4.4.

Xbox 360 Wireless Gamepad and Receiver for Windows

Microsoft

Xbox 360 Wireless Gamepad and Receiver for Windows

$59.95

Sure, you could use a current-generation Xbox One or PlayStation 4 gamepad for PC gaming, but who wants to deal with wires or Bluetooth dropping? The Xbox 360 Wireless Gaming Receiver simplifies all that with an easy solution for using Xbox 360 gamepads wirelessly: Plug it into USB, hit the pairing button on the dongle and then your gamepad and voila. Incredibly easy and incredibly convenient, the Xbox 360 Wireless Gaming Receiver turns your living room PC into a living room gaming PC in one fell swoop. Now if only Valve would make Steam’s Big Picture Mode as reliable as this dongle...

Key specs: USB 2.0, 2.4GHz radio, 30-foot range