It's safe to say I've tested over 400 gadgets (I’m not kidding) in my role as contributing editor for Inc. magazine, judging from the number of boxes I receive and send back each month. In every case, I evaluated the products in the context of running a small business. Of course, not every gadget makes it into the magazine, but here are six favorites from the past year (in order) that stood out above the rest. — John Brandon
I’m still missing the Sony VAIO L-Series all-in-one computer I tested for a few weeks, which costs $1,230 and uses an Intel Core i5 processor. The screen is super-bright and clear, saving on eye strain during the day, and the touchscreen is highly responsive to swipes and gestures.
Any gadget that can withstand this much abuse is worth its weight in gold. I rolled over this handheld GPS phone with my ATV, banged it against the side of a metal chair, and threw a bunch of gravel at the screen. The device barely blinked. For anyone who works in construction or the great outdoors, the Sonim XP3300 Force can withstand the elements—or even a drop onto a tile floor at Starbucks.
I posted a question on Twitter and Facebook not too long ago, asking which device in your office you’d replace. Quite a few people said they wanted a new laptop. This 3.3-pound, super-thin notebook, which has a 12.5-inch screen, scored the best in my litany of tests, which included applying Photoshop filters and copying files. The Intel Core i7 processor was lightning fast, and I loved typing on the keyboard.
Released in late March, the Apple iPad 2 was a worthy follow-up to the original iPad. The sequel has a faster processor, a front and back camera, and a crisp screen that’s viewable from a side angle. I still remember standing in line to buy the iPad 2—since Apple is a little weird about sending new gadgets to journalists. When I arrived at Walmart, there was a teenager sitting in a chair. He was surrounded by about 15 puzzled adults and one empty chair. I quickly sat down. Turns out, this Walmart only had two models in stock, but they didn’t explain that only the people sitting in the chairs could buy one. Score!
Okay, I don’t normally get too excited about printers. But I still remember testing out this model and being wonderfully surprised to see sheets spilling out so quickly—54 prints in a minute. In an office setting, that fast print time means generating a business plan, pumping out a spreadsheet, or printing a new brochure faster—and maybe even making it to your shareholder meeting on time.
Siri voice recognition on the iPhone 4S is a “service” and not an app, which means it’s always accessible by long-pressing on the Home button. Yet, the iPhone 4S does more than just remind you about meetings. It is a powerful phone with a faster processor (the same one as the iPad 2) and better camera (8 megapixels). The iTunes ecosystem is vastly superior to every other media portal. And, I like how the iPhone connects to my car, snaps into a dock at the office, and offers amazing business apps like LiquidSpace.
The top Android model, the Samsung Galaxy SII, also piqued my interest. The screen is noticeably brighter and clearer than the iPhone 4S, and the processor is decidedly faster. Plus, there are some really good free apps.