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Consumer Reports reveals eight big tech trends and gotta-have gadgets for summer

Posted Friday, June 21, 2013

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Gear to Go section recommends more than 175 tablets, smart phones, cameras, and more

Yonkers, NY — The trend to mobile electronics hasn’t crested yet; America is on track in 2013 to acquire a new gadget for roughly every man, woman, and child over the age of 12. A special “Gear to Go” section in the August issue of Consumer Reports outlines some key trends that cut across multiple categories of mobile devices, covers what each means for shoppers and users, and offers Ratings of over 175 CR Recommended models.

“Taking your tech life with you wherever you go is no longer just for geeks,” says Paul Reynolds, Electronics Editor, Consumer Reports. “But even shoppers who already own multiple mobile devices might need help making the right choice in a market where models have proliferated and capabilities overlap between devices.”

One trend: Even as other mobile platforms come on strong, Apple continues to hold the edge in apps. According to a recent survey of 8,119 Consumer Reports online subscribers, 71 percent of iPhone users and two-thirds of iPad owners rated the selection of apps for their devices as excellent. That compares with four in ten Android phone or tablet users, and fewer than one in ten BlackBerry or Windows phone users.

However, Apple no longer clearly holds an edge in innovation, at least when it comes to hardware. Though iPhones and iPads remain high performers and are by far the most-owned brands of mobile devices among Consumer Reports readers, more phones and tablets than ever are matching or beating Apple’s models in CR’s Ratings.

“The Android platform currently offers the greatest diversity of hardware, including phones with bigger displays than Apple’s and tablets that have more ways to get content on and off the device,” Reynolds added. “Even CR Recommended phones that use the new Windows Mobile and revamped BlackBerry platforms are adding the kind of innovations that were once Apple’s hallmark.”

The full Gear to Go report is available in the August 2013 issue of Consumer Reports, which goes on sale Thursday, June 27, and online today at Following are six of the eight tech trends that can be found in the report:

Phones, meet cameras. Cameras, meet phones. Consumer Reports has found that the best smart phone cameras take better images than their predecessors, fine for casual use such as posting to Facebook. But a dedicated camera is still a must for top quality photos and maximum flexibility—and a few are even adding Wi-Fi so they can better compete with phones for sharing images. The CR Gear to Go report features over 80 recommended basic and advanced digital cameras, and highlights the smart phones that have the best cameras.

Displays get sharp and wide. CR notes that manufacturers are packing more pixels into each square inch of phone and tablet displays – most of which now have wider (16:9) screens that better suit video viewing, e-mail, and many apps. The result is sharper type and better-looking images. Also, about a dozen phone models in CR’s Ratings have displays 4.5 inches or larger, compared with only 2 last year.

Don’t be afraid to mix or switch platforms. One in five of the tablet owners surveyed by CR said that they bought the model they have because it uses the same platform as mobile gear they own. But adding a new platform to the mix, or even switching entirely, isn’t as daunting as some might fear. Today’s platforms (or operating systems) are quite intuitive and easy to learn, and chances are users can easily transfer much of their content.

E-book readers are down – but not out. With e-book reading, like most other mobile activities, migrating to tablets and smart phones, many may no longer see the need for a dedicated e-book reader such as the CR-Recommended Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook. But CR feels that standalone e-book readers still merit consideration because the best are lighter and cheaper by half than even a small, light tablet. They’re also much better for reading in bright light, and they run for weeks – in some case months – on a single charge.

Battery life lengthens. For those who bought a tablet or phone two or more years ago, like the one-third or so of Consumer Reports readers, battery life alone could be reason to upgrade. The newest generation of devices generally runs much longer than their predecessors, promising to get through the work day, at least, without their battery indicators turning red.

Sound options multiply. More phones and tablets claim to have upgraded speakers and sound processing, but overall CR was underwhelmed by their sound. However, the magazine did identify some battery-operated speakers, both small and midsized, that make the sound from a phone or tablet bigger and better.

Consumer Reports is the world’s largest independent product-testing organization. Using its more than 50 labs, auto test center, and survey research center, the nonprofit rates thousands of products and services annually. Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has over 8 million subscribers to its magazine, website and other publications. Its advocacy division, Consumers Union, works for health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace.

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Consumer Reports reveals eight big tech trends and gotta-have gadgets for summer