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Beautiful Tech: the Top 10 Gadgets of 2012

The technology we create is an expression of our humanity.  Every year, a collection of new gadgets and technologies are revealed which capture our creativity and inspire attraction from our culture of technophiles.  2012 was no different, as many new gadgets broke barriers in design, in technical capacity and even human health.  There’s no iPhone 5 or 3D TV on this list, only the gadgets and technologies that were truly different from the rest in 2012.  These 10 gadgets represent the most progressive technologies in 2012, the true milestones of the year in technology.

BioLite CampStove and USB Charger

Our favorite gadget of the year wasn’t the iPhone 5, it wasn’t a shiny new tablet or anything similar, it was a new take on a technology that is thousands of years old.  The BioLite CampStove and USB Charger may be a cool camping accessory in the developed world, but it is a genuine life saver in the third world.  This rocket-style cooking stove uses a smart thermal system to create efficient heat with low emissions from accessible fuel like sticks and twigs.  The importance here is that over half of the world cooks over an open flame in poorly ventilated kitchens, leading to over 2,000,000 deaths per year from smoke-related illness.  The BioLite CampStove allows for clean, safe cooking under a variety of conditions.

There’s more.  That USB charger is essential in the developing world.  By 2016, there will be over 1 billion mobile phones in Africa alone, a number greater than the accessible, reliable power sources for such devices.  This little gadget is an excellent answer, as it provides heat-sourced USB charging and clean cooking, two ways to help transform the lives of the working poor in developing countries around the world.  What’s more, buying a BioLite CampStove of your own ($129) helps the company manufacture and deliver its HomeStove technology to those in need around the world.  It’s a win-win, and our clear favorite technology of 2012.

BioLite CampStove Gallery

Nikon D600 DSLR: Full Frame for the Masses

This was a very exciting year for full frame photography.  If the “full frame” term is confusing to you, we’ll elucidate– camera manufacturers produce cheap digital cameras by producing small light sensors packed with megapixels.  These small sensors only see a small portion of your lens, so the photos you take are automatically “cropped” by as much as 33%.  A “full frame” sensor is a larger unit that covers the full width of your lens in some of the highest resolutions.  This year, there was a flurry of new full frame cameras– the Canon 5D Mark III, EOS 6D and 1DX, and the Nikon D4, D800 and the D600 featured here.  Before the D600 was revealed, a full frame camera was never available for under $3,000.  The Nikon D600 brought the price down to $2,000 flat.

Not only is the Nikon D600 ground-breaking for its price offering, it’s technically as good or better than the Nikon D800 and Canon EOS 6D in many cases.  Its low-light sensitivity, auto-focus system, image resolution and overall quality are at least in line with these competitors, and in some cases better for different kinds of photography.  If you’re looking for a pro-level camera for stills and video for under $3,000– there is no better choice than this on the current market.

Nikon D600 Gallery

Nintendo Wii U Console

Nintendo had the only bit of news on the console market in 2012 with the Nintendo Wii U console.  This system presents the visual quality of an Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3, while emphasizing its focus on new interface technologies.  It’s refreshing for console gaming, as the aforementioned PS3 and Xbox 360 are now six years old.  The Wii brand may have a stigma of being gimmicky and underwhelming in the title department, but it still dominates the good old-fashioned fun factor.  Gaming can be a great release even for the creative type, and this console is made for creative hands.  It earns our endorsement.

Form 1 3D Printer

The arrival of 3D printing technology has quietly risen like a gas leak, and the Form 1 3D Printer may be the spark that causes the explosion.  FormLabs launched the Form 1 3D printer on Kickstarter earlier this year, asking for $100,000 to fund its manufacture.  It grew like wildfire, receiving $3,000,000 in funding before its time was up.  That makes it the most over-funded project ever on Kickstarter and the reasons are obvious.  The promising technology of 3D printing allows users at home to craft objects that are designed in software.  You can render a 3D object and then send the file to the Form 1 3D, and it will build a model of that file out of plastic in a matter of minutes.  3D Printing may be the new creative frontier for the next generation, and this may be the “Apple IIe” type of device that we all look back on in the decades that follow.

Form 1 3D Printer | Gallery

Nokia Lumia 920 – Windows 8 Smart Phone

Sure, there was a new iPhone in 2012 and plenty of new Android devices, but the biggest story from these platforms were the legal troubles between them.  More than a billion dollars and a few apologies were exchanged between these companies, but their new mobile offerings were a bit bland by contrast.  Meanwhile, Nokia rolled out the Nokia Lumia 920, an exciting little device that sports a fresh OS, namely Windows Phone 8, and a host of hardware features that match or best its iPhone/Android equivalents.  It features an 8.7MP digital camera, a 4.5-inch display, a dual-core snapdragon processor and 32GB of built-in storage.

That big, sharp display provides a resolution as crisp as Apple’s retina display, the camera is designed to excel in low-light scenarios and the new Windows OS boasts some impressive app options.  Specifically, the CityLens app allows users to view a live map with a city background that is powered by the phone’s camera, and moving the phone shifts the objects in its background as if it were a “lens” to the city behind it.  It’s a new way for users to interact with businesses, ratings and check-ins with a visual display.  That’s pretty cool in our eyes, a lot cooler than the legal bickering that pervaded the rest of the mobile market this year…

Nokia Lumia 920 | Gallery

Google Nexus 10 Tablet

The big news on the tablet market this year was the entry of the great sleeping giant, Google Inc, who revealed the Google Nexus 10 Tablet in 2012.  The Nexus 10 was the immediate market leader in terms of feature offering this year, including a 2560 x 1600 pixel display– a resolution even higher than Apple’s latest iPad offering.  While the google tablet may match most of the other features of the 2012 tablets, this Nexus 10 has another leg up– it doesn’t use proprietary hardware connections.  It features a standard micro USB and an HDMI connection, both of which open a new world of creative applications that devices like the iPad can’t match.  Want an instant, wired connection to your DSLR?  You got it.  Want to play movies on your home theater system directly from your tablet?  You can.  This connectivity is a serious improvement for the tablet market, something we wish Apple would have done with their iPad long ago.

Google Nexus 10 | Gallery

Diesel Vektr Headphones

Headphones are about more than just sonic performance, as the visual factor is important for a body-worn device.  In 2012, the best looking pair of headphones we saw were the Diesel Vektr Headphones, a bold and geometric set of cans with a crystalline shape.  These headphones signal a continuation of the recent trend of faceted design, where flat planes and hard edges come together for a futuristic look.  As for the sound quality, you can’t go wrong here– a set of twin titanium-laced drivers deliver a clear sonic performance of the full audible spectrum.  Crisp highs, deep lows, all from a comfortable and stylish set of premium headphones.

Diesel Vektr Headphones Gallery

Balance Computer Music Interface

This little black box packs a big punch for the computer musician, and its design was an award winner in 2012.  Balance is a computer music interface that converts acoustic sounds into digital files for use in the Propellerheads Reason software music system.  Musicians can connect a microphone, guitar or other instrument directly to the Balance interface and record in real time with a track in Reason.  Audio interfacing is a common technology, but rarely does it look this sexy.  The Balance interface won the iF Design Gold Award for hardware design in 2012, making it arguably the most beautiful computer peripheral of the year.

Balance Computer Music Interface Gallery

Google Project Glass

Google’s Project Glass was revealed in 2012 as a new visual way of interfacing with the digital world.  Project Glass provides a “head’s up display” for a wearer to view location-based data (maps, restaurant reviews, visual searches) and social information (messaging, video calls, status updates) while navigating throughout their day.  This gadget is still just a prototype, but Google continues to move forward with the technology.  In a few years, this type of tech could change the way we interface with our digital world, and the way our digital world interfaces with us…

Google Project Glass Gallery

Teenage Engineering OP 1 Synthesizer

Musicians have long been pioneers in interface design, and the Teenage Engineering OP 1 Synthesizer is another hot example in 2012.  This two-octave keyboard synthesizer is as fashionable as it is musical, a sexy little sidearm for the electronic musician.  It features a set of keys, knobs and button controls with an LCD display that allows its player to create analog-style waveforms on the fly.  Playback is available from the on-board speaker or via output connections for a speaker system or even that Balance music interface above.  Even non-musicians lust after this thing, showing just how important a good, attractive industrial design philosophy can be.

Teenage Engineering OP 1 Synthesizer Gallery

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Thanks for reading, fellow tech lover.  Is there a gadget released this year that you think we should have included?  Feel free to share it in the comments below or on facebook or twitter.  Don’t miss our coverage from recent years, showcasing the best gadget designs without the fluff: