As I look back at the more than 100 tech products we reviewed in 2013, a handful of gadgets and services deserve a second look. It's become clear that one brand rarely stands out any more in whatever product category you look at. Competition is more intense than ever, which means consumers have more choices than ever. That's why coming up with a "best of" list for 2013 proved difficult.
So instead of a comprehensive list, I'm highlighting five big trends. These are also areas where further innovations are likely in 2014, so stay tuned.
Better Camera Phones
This was the first year I didn't mind leaving my point-and-shoot and full-bodied, SLR cameras at home. Camera phones have gotten good enough to stand in for those stand-alone cameras in many situations.
Of the ones I tried, Apple's iPhone 5S proved to be the best as an all-around camera. It's good at getting the auto-focus right, even for moving objects. A larger sensor and an improved flash compared with previous models mean better shots in low light.
An honorable mention goes to Nokia's Lumia 1020. It's consistently good at night and indoor shots. It combines the small amount of light from multiple pixels into one, resulting in better lighting. It also has manual controls typically absent from camera phones.
Given how frequently people use their phones to take photos, expect even more improvements in the coming year.
Personalized Technical Support
It used to be when you couldn't figure out how a product worked, you called your tech-savvy children. With Mayday on Amazon's new Kindle Fire HDX tablets, you no longer need to do that. Instead, just tap the Mayday button, and you'll be connected to a live customer service representative within seconds, even at 4 a.m. on a weekend.
Amazon's representatives can help you install apps, connect to Facebook or tackle anything else confounding you. You see them on the screen, but they can only hear you. They have a virtual orange marker to point you to buttons and menus on the screen. They also can take over your machine remotely and do it for you.
As gadgets do more, they also get more complicated to use. As someone who's constantly asked by friends and family for tech assistance, the Mayday feature is something I would welcome in other products.
Shackle-Free Phone Plans
The traditional way of buying phones: Pay $100 or $200 for a phone, and stay locked to your wireless carrier for two more years. (continued...)
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