Switched On: The 2012 Switchies, Part 1

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

DNP Switched On The 2012 Switchies, Part 1

It's that special time of year between the holiday sales and the pre-CES hype that presents an opportunity to consider some of the most innovative devices of the year. Switched On is proud to present the Saluting Wares Improving Technology's Contribution to Humanity awards, also known as The Switchies. This year marks the seventh annual Switchies, which are decided based on a rigorous examination of the opinion of me, and do not reflect the opinion of Engadget or its editors. For that latter honor, nominees will need to win an Engadget Award.

This week's Switched On will cover many of the major award categories while next week's will cover some of the more obscure ones. Let's roll out the red carpet then.

The "Convertible Bonds" Award for Best New Computing Form Factor goes to the ASUS Vivo Tab. ASUS returns to win the convertible award after having nabbed it for last year's Android-based Transformer Prime. This year's Windows RT-based release shares many commonalities with last year's winner, including very long battery life. In fact, Windows 8 and Windows RT drove other interesting form factors for the PC. Honorable mentions go to the Lenovo Yoga 11, with its 360-degree hinge, and Microsoft's Surface with Windows RT along with its "click in" keyboard covers.

The "Call Me Definitely" Award for Best New Smartphone goes to the HTC Droid DNA, HTC's second Android comeback device after the introduction of the One X flagship. This Verizon-exclusive device packs a 5-inch display with the highest pixel density on any smartphone, Beats audio, HTC's advanced imaging and video capture options, wireless charging and a thin, striking design. The Droid DNA just eked out the win over honorable mention winners: the Galaxy Note II and Nokia's Lumia 920.

The "Your Pad Or Mine?" Award for Best New Tablet goes to the Google Nexus 7. While many of its apps may lack the polish of Apple's response, the iPad mini, the Nexus 7 brought the selection of Google Play to a tablet that started at less than $200, giving Amazon some competition in the app-rich small tablet market. Honorable mention goes to the Kindle Fire HD 8.9-inch with LTE for its innovative introductory wireless plan and the fourth-generation iPad for continuing the momentum of Apple's leading tablet line.

The "Noteworthy Note" Award for Best New Ultraportable PC goes to the Samsung Chromebook. At $249, the thin and light 11.6-inch Chromebook embodies what the netbook should have been. The operating system still has a ways to go in terms of unifying its offline features, but the move to ARM processors has done much to bolster the browser-focused operating system.

The "Dream Screen" award for Best New TV goes to LG's 84LM9600 4K television. LG picked up a Switchie last year for its introduction of passive 3D glasses. This year, the company was early to market with the new breed of 4K televisions. The prices are high and the amount of available content is low, but 4K -- which is sure to be a key trend at CES -- is looking like a safer landing ground after frustrating flirtations with OLED.

The "Lens With Benefits" Award for Best New Imaging Product goes to the Sony RX100. Using a 1-inch sensor similar to that in Nikon's 1 series interchangeable lens camera paired with a bright f/1.8 lens, the RX100 raised the bar for image quality in a pocket camera. In doing so, it edged out Sony's own RX1 full-frame compact, which receives an honorable mention in the category, as does the Samsung Galaxy Camera for joining a powerful Android smartphone with a superzoom point-and-shoot.

Ross Rubin is principal analyst at Reticle Research, a research and advisory firm focusing on consumer technology adoption. He shares commentary at Techspressive and on Twitter at @rossrubin.