The year in reviews: 2013's best and worst gadgets scored and scrutinized

Fun fact: Engadget reviewed 176 products in 2013, and that's not even counting the umpteen times we got hands-on with stuff at tradeshows and press events.

In general, we try to review just the top-tier gadgets, but even then, some of it ends up being forgettable. (Can you name-check everything we tested from memory? We can't.) So, as the year draws to a close, we're taking a look back at the last 12 months of reviews, and this time, we're including only the products you'd have no trouble remembering. Across every category, we've noted the flagships everyone coveted -- along with the duds that could've been so much better. Oh, and you might notice that we included some numbered scores throughout. That's right; Engadget is bringing back numerical ratings, and they'll follow the same format as the critic score gdgt has already been using for years. Which is to say, each rating takes into account various criteria for a given product category -- things like battery life and portability. Wanna see how your favorite gadgets did? Meet us after the break for a walk down memory lane.


Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2013)

Engadget Score: 93

The "all-new" Paperwhite doesn't really offer anything all that different from last year's edition, but an improved frontlight and some software tweaks have made an already great reading experience even better. Unless Goodreads is a must-have app for you, it's a tempting, but largely unnecessary upgrade if you already own last year's version.

Kobo Aura HD

Engadget Score: 83

The Aura HD is packed with features specifically aimed at the power reader, including best-in-class specs like a 6.8-inch display with blisteringly sharp text and a robust 4GB of internal storage space. Unfortunately, its niche status is further cemented by a high price and a hard-to-hold form factor that escapes easily from those with sweaty hands.

Barnes & Noble Nook GlowLight

Engadget Score: 73

Barnes & Noble giveth and taketh away with the Nook GlowLight. Sure, it's the best Nook so far, with a better display, improved frontlight and a lighter form factor. But, all those improvements come at the cost of features like the microSD slot, physical page turn buttons and the contoured back, which all served to distinguish the line from its competition.


Sony PlayStation 4

Engadget Score: 83

It doesn't look like a PC, but underneath the PlayStation 4's sleek black exterior is a powerhouse that rivals gaming PCs, with a user-friendly interface, a great controller and the ability to share your gameplay at the touch of a button. The next generation of consoles might just be getting started, but it's one hell of a start with the PS4 at the head of the pack.

Microsoft Xbox One

Engadget Score: 81

The Xbox One may not be the prettiest belle at the next-generation ball, but with the wonders of Kinect voice control, robust media features and the ease of switching between games and apps at the drop of a hat, it certainly is vying to be the center of attention. It just needs a few more exclusives to get consumers to look past that $500 price tag.

OUYA console

Engadget Score: 66

The initial backer editions of the OUYA shipped with a flawed controller and access to a limited games selection. But even after the retail release, the OUYA's still a system best left to hackers and developers, as it's likely to leave most gamers disappointed by its average smartphone-level internals and rehashed games library.


Engadget Score: 83

The NVIDIA Shield wants to be the Swiss Army knife of hand-held game consoles, and it largely succeeds as a product -- but not as a handheld. Its size and weight mean you won't be carrying it around much, but the larger screen, great battery life and the ability to stream PC games to the Shield mean you'll still get a lot of use out of it.

Home Entertainment

Google Chromecast

Engadget Score: 84

The Chromecast might not be as fully featured as competitors like Roku or Apple TV, but you know what? It doesn't matter. This palm-sized dongle is easy to set up and turns any modern set into a smart TV, all for the low, low price of $35. Its app selection is still experiencing some growing pains, but even now, you're still getting more than your money's worth.

Roku 3

Engadget Score: 89

The newest Roku doesn't have analog AV support like its predecessors, but it does offer incredible ease of use and a wide selection of channels, all for a nice price of $99. Even users of older Roku boxes should look into the Roku 3, whose upgraded CPU and improved UI help future-proof against new, more demanding apps.

Laptops and Hybrids

Microsoft Surface Pro 2

Engadget Score: 77

The Surface Pro 2 retains its predecessor's durable body, but it's equipped with a Haswell processor, boasts faster performance and has longer battery life. Microsoft has yet to find the perfect balance for a hybrid device, though -- its weight and thickness make it a better notebook than a tablet, so you may want to look elsewhere for an everyday slate.

Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display

Engadget Score: 90

With a starting price that's $400 less than the 2012 model, the new MacBook Pro with Retina display is a much better deal. In addition to its speedier SSD and better graphics, its epic battery life and thinner, lighter body might make you reconsider if you've been in the market for the slightly wispier MacBook Air.

Google Chromebook Pixel

Engadget Score: 79

Google infused the Chromebook Pixel with sophisticated looks and high-end specs, including a 2,560 x 1,700 touchscreen display and LTE connectivity. Even so, its $1,299 price tag might not be worth it unless you're always connected to the web -- hard to do with its poor battery life -- and plan on storing huge files in the cloud.



Engadget Score: 88

The Moto X doesn't have the specs to compete with heavyweights like the Galaxy S 4 and the HTC One, especially at the same price. But, with user-friendly enhancements to the UI and the magic of customization with Moto Maker -- now available for all major carriers -- this truly is a phone for the people.

Apple iPhone 5s

Engadget Score: 92

Apple continues to improve on the iPhone line with the 5s, and while the phone maintains the same body as its predecessor, it packs in enough upgrades to appeal to hardcore and casual users of iOS alike. However, even with future-proofing measures like 64-bit support and the M7 coprocessor on board, only the most forward-looking Android power users will find incentive to switch.


Engadget Score: 92

The HTC One is a top-shelf smartphone, boasting a unibody aluminum shell, a gorgeous display and a fast Snapdragon 600 processor that runs buttery smooth. The Sense 5 UI didn't thrill us, but a solid battery and excellent call quality, among other things, made this one of the best phones to buy this year.

Samsung Galaxy S 4

Engadget Score: 88

With a familiar chassis and some impractical features, Samsung's newest flagship isn't exactly turning heads. Market-topping specs and minimal learning curve make this worth considering if you're due for an upgrade from an older Samsung device, but anyone looking for something fresh would be better served by the more polished HTC One.


Engadget Score: 87

With its bright 5.2-inch screen and phenomenal battery life, the G2 is a great phone for taking photos, watching videos or just general everyday, all-day usage. That is, if you can get used to its other standout feature -- all three of its buttons are on the back, better to make room for the gorgeous screen, but not so friendly to those who like to hold their handset in a death grip.

LG Nexus 5

Engadget Score: 86

Not only is the Nexus 5 gifted with a great 1080p display and a fast quad-core processor, but it also heralds the release of a leaner and meaner iteration of Android, 4.4 KitKat. Take all that and offer it to consumers at an outstanding off-contract price of $349, and the Nexus 5 not only succeeds, but also puts rival handsets on notice to deliver more bang for your buck.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Engadget Score: 87

Those with small hands still need not apply, but for the third iteration of the Galaxy Note, Samsung has packed in a robust processor, a solid battery and even more useful S Pen features. The display has also gotten bigger and better, though those who want to watch videos on this thing shouldn't depend on the built-in speakers.

BlackBerry Z30

Engadget Score: 62

The Z30 was supposed to be the phone that would make BlackBerry relevant again. And while the comfortable hold and large screen will more than please the BlackBerry faithful, an average battery, poor call quality and crash-prone software mean few, if any, will be making the switch from Android or iOS anytime soon.

LG G Flex

Engadget Score: 83

The G Flex's top-to-bottom curve means it's very comfortable next to your head, but not so much in your pocket. That curve comes with a chassis designed to be pretty durable, with a flexible body and screen, and a self-healing back that resists scratches. Does it work? Somewhat. Is it worth the $900 price tag? Not really.


Google Nexus 7

Engadget Score: 90

The price may be (slightly) higher on our returning favorite tablet, but the Nexus 7 is still an obscene value. That this year's model got a noticeable boost everywhere it counts and sells for significantly less than a comparable iPad mini is nothing short of impressive -- even though Apple's tablets still have more apps designed for bigger screens.

Amazon Kindle Fire HDX

Engadget Score: 85

The Kindle Fire HDX may be the most compelling case yet for Amazon's tablet ecosystem. Advanced users might scoff at the device's somewhat limited capabilities, but the display's gorgeous color accuracy could make Bezos' Prime directive an easy sell for just about everyone else.

Apple iPad mini

Engadget Score: 92

The iPad mini is an inexpensive way to join Apple's tablet family, but it remains more costly than its similarly sized competition. Besides the striking Retina display, what makes the minuscule iPad so attractive this year is it's essentially a shrunken-down version of its powerful bigger sibling. Very few sacrifices were made to accommodate the smaller stature -- something the competition can't quite claim.

Apple iPad Air

Engadget Score: 92

Tablets went mainstream thanks to the original iPad, but thanks to economies of scale and Moore's Law, the competition's become rather fierce -- maybe unexpectedly, from Cupertino itself. The iPad Air is the best Apple tablet we've reviewed, but it could be hard to justify when the iPad mini now offers nearly the same experience -- Retina display, similar styling, A7 64-bit processor -- for less.

Microsoft Surface 2

Engadget Score: 78

If the Surface 2 existed in a world where only hardware mattered, its brawny battery and rock-solid construction might put it at the head of the tablet pack. In reality, though, Microsoft's slate is hamstrung by the shortcomings of its OS, Windows RT, and its inability to run traditional desktop apps.

Galaxy Tab 3 10.1

Engadget Score: 65

We're not entirely sure what Samsung's game is with the Galaxy Tab 3 10.1. It hasn't changed much in terms of specs from the GTab 2, packs a subpar display and severely lacks in features and power compared to the company's line of Galaxy smartphones. Most damning? The $300 asking price.


Samsung Galaxy Gear

Engadget Score: 65

It's hard to justify paying $300 for the Galaxy Gear when it feels like an incomplete product and is only compatible with a handful of Samsung devices. Still, it stands out as one of the most feature-rich smartwatches we've tried, and as the company issues software patches and the app catalog grows, it could become better in time.

Google Glass

Engadget Score: Not Yet Scored

We've yet to see a consumer-facing Google Glass, but suffice to say the current version's more of a research project -- definitely not worth its $1,500 price tag for most folks. Mountain View still has to polish its features, address privacy concerns and entice developers before it hits the market. Until then, current Explorers will just have to deal with lots of confused stares when they wear it outside.

Sony SmartWatch 2

Engadget Score: 71

Unlike the Galaxy Gear, you can tell time on Sony's SmartWatch 2 without having to interact with the screen, and it even costs $100 less. Unfortunately, few will be able to stand its buggy software and limited app selection. But, hey, at least it's compatible with most handsets running Android 4.0 or higher.


Engadget Score: 80

Pebble doesn't have as many features as other smartwatches: It can only read texts, skip music tracks and tell time. Unlike its competitors, though, it costs a more reasonable $150 and offers both great battery life and an e-ink display that's easy to read in daylight. As an added bonus, it also works with both Android and iOS devices.

Mariella Moon, Timothy J. Seppala, Kris Naudus and Dana Wollman contributed to this feature.