The biggest tech breakthroughs of 2012
Despite the straitened times we find ourselves in, the technology industry has had one of its most extraordinary years ever. An avalanche of new and exciting kit and technological breakthroughs has made this the most eventful year that any of us at PC Pro can remember.
Here is our pick of the best computing breakthroughs of the past 12 months.
High density tablets
We’d begun to despair of ever seeing widespread adoption of high-density displays on affordable laptops and tablets, but finally this year it happened, and we have Apple to thank for kicking it all off.
Its iPad 3 featured a display with a resolution of 2,048 x 1,536, which on its own would have been astonishing enough. It triggered, however, an avalanche of copycat devices, desperate to cash-in on Apple’s brave move.
Thanks to Apple’s manufacturing muscle, we now have a whole new category of displays – no longer is it enough for tablet and laptop builders to plump for the tried and tested 1,366 x 768 and 1,280 x 800 screens. To be the best they’ve had to try harder – much harder.
The crowning glory this year came with the introduction of the Google Nexus 10, a 10in tablet with the same resolution as a 30in professional monitor, costing a mere £319. What a difference a year makes.
And that’s not even mentioning the MacBook Pros with Retina screens…
Read our full iPad 3 review
Read our full Nexus 10 review
Read our Retina displays feature
It might seem as if Ultrabooks have been around for ages, but they only came of age in 2012. The introduction of this new class of portable laptops was Intel’s way of taking the fight to Apple, of cajoling manufacturers to produce sleek, light and powerful Windows machines as good as a MacBook Air.
By stumping up the cash to market the Ultrabook brand, and applying strict requirements on manufacturers governing slimness and performance, Intel hoped to create a completely new category of laptops.
And you know what? It worked. We’ve seen more sexy Windows portables in 2012 than in any year we can remember, kicking off with the superlative Dell XPS 13, Asus UX31 and UX21, followed quickly by the HP Envy 14 Spectre, and later the Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A.
More recently, the ranks of Ultrabooks have been swelled by the arrival of Windows 8-specific hybrids such as the Sony VAIO Duo 11, the Toshiba Satellite U920t, pushing the concept to the limit.
Here’s to more of the same in 2013.
Read our full Dell XPS 13 review
Read our full Asus UX31 review
Read our full Asus UX21 review
Read our full HP Envy 14 Spectre review
Read our full Asus Zenbook Prime review
Read our full Sony VAIO Duo 11 review
Read our full Toshiba Satellite U920t review
“Affordable” full frame SLRs
The “full-frame” sensors in professional SLRs have around four times the surface area as the sensors found in most consumer and mid-range SLRs, are capable of collecting more light, and offer a significant improvement in image quality over comsumer APS-C models. Yet prices have long remained out of reach for keen amateurs.
In the latter half of 2012 we saw a development that could finally herald a trickle down of full-size sensors to more affordable cameras. After years of producing exclusively professional full-frame models, Canon and Nikon announced two targeted at consumers: the 24.3-megapixel Nikon D600 and 20.2-megapixel Canon 6D.
When we reviewed it in November, the Nikon D600 instantly became our A-Listed SLR and already, after launching at a body-only price of around £1,600, the price has fallen dramatically. With this fabulous camera now available for a fraction over £1,200 it represents a dramatic shift in the enthusiast camera market, and a seriously tempting purchase for anyone who takes photography even remotely seriously.
Read our full Nikon D600 review
The 41-megapixel camera phone
When Nokia announced it was putting a 41-megapixel sensor in a smartphone, we all rushed to double check the date. Surprisingly, it wasn’t April Fools Day and Nokia (eventually) came through on its promise, with the Nokia 808 PureView arriving in the PC Pro Labs in July.
You might have expected such a ludicrous concept to fall flat, but far from it – the Nokia 808 PureView was (and still is) the best camera phone we’ve ever used, capable of superbly detailed stills and video quality that wouldn’t look out of place from a top-end camcorder.
The genius of Nokia’s 41-megapixel sensor, however, isn’t that it produces high-resolution photos. It’s brilliant because it allows for lossless zooming without the need for complicated optics, and incredible low-light performance at more standard resolutions.
Such a shame that Nokia chose to team such a spectacular snapper with a Symbian not-so-smartphone.
Read our full Nokia 808 PureView review with full resolution sample shots
Affordable compact tablets (that are actually good)
This time last year, we were putting the finishing touches on a Labs covering both compact and full-sized tablets. Our top recommendation was the Motorola Xoom 2 Media Edition – an 8.2in tablet that cost £330 – the best of a fairly average bunch.
Since then it’s been all change. Soon after the Labs was published, Samsung weighed in with its £200, 7in Galaxy Tab 2 7.0, then later in the year the £159 Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire HD showed us all that you don’t have to pay £300 plus for a top quality tablet.
With such excellent hardware threatening to take a significant bite out of Apple’s tablet pie, the technology giant was forced to react. The result was the superb iPad mini; but Apple couldn’t quite bring itself to match the prices of its cutthroat rivals.
Read our full Nexus 7 review
Read our full iPad mini review
Read our full Samsung Tab 2 7.0 review
Read our full Motorola Xoom 2 Media Edition review
Illuminated ebook readers
In 2011, we wondered if it was possible to improve on the Amazon Kindle. It was simple, it was effective and better still it was cheap. Barnes & Noble came up with the solution in 2012 – build a light directly into the frame of the reader.
It’s a brilliant idea which means it’s possible to keep on reading when the lights are low, or when you’re in bed without disturbing your partner. And, as the tiny, white LEDs are highly power efficient, the battery in your ebook reader is still likely to last for weeks rather than days.
It’s such a good idea that Amazon itself has since copied the idea, introducing it in the even more dazzling Kindle Paperwhite.
Read our full Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight review
Read our full Amazon Paperwhite review
Read our full Kobo Glo review
Fibre broadband isn’t new – some people have had it since 2010 – but in the past year BT has undertaken a huge expansion of fibre services into residential areas, bringing the technology into the mainstream.
For anyone previously stuck on flaky ADSL, the switch to a solid 76Mbits/sec internet connection is transformative. Suddenly there’s no need to worry about downloading large games and applications, even while you’re simultaneously watching a high-definition TV stream.
There are catches: some of BT’s fibre packages come with a 40GB monthly download cap, which is easy to hit when your connection speed is so fast. Some types of traffic are throttled or dropped altogether, to discourage people from sharing vast audio and video libraries over the network.
But you don’t have to accept BT’s terms: plenty of other ISPs, including Plusnet, Sky, TalkTalk and Zen, offer their own fibre packages, so you can choose the package that suits you best.