Here are my picks for some of the best products of 2014. They’re based on my personal use of these items, among the several hundred I examine throughout the year.
Best office gear
Fujitsu ScanSnap iX100: A small and light portable scanner that works with a computer, tablet and smartphone using Wi-Fi. Great for scanning receipts, handwritten notes and signed documents into your computer. The accompanying software makes it easy to turn your scans into PDF documents that can be stored or emailed. $229, www.fujitsu.com.
Epson WorkForce WF-3640: This is the successor to the full-featured WF-3540 inkjet printer that I’ve been using for two years. It’s been very reliable, prints high-quality color and black and white, both single- and double-sided, and has a large paper capacity that doesn’t require frequent refilling. Epson’s per-page cost is half that of a color laser, and less expensive than some of its competitors. $129, www.epson.com.
Best gift for frequent travelers
Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise-Canceling Headphones: These are the first in-ear noise-canceling headphones from Bose. They do an amazing job of canceling the background noise from airplanes and other steady sources. In my testing, they work better than their over-the-ear models. You can switch from noise-canceling to the Aware mode that turns off the cancellation when you want to carry on a conversation. The eartips don’t protrude into the ear canals, but sit firmly just outside them, making them comfortable for long trips. $299, www.bose.com.
Apple iPad Air 2: Apple’s latest 9.7-inch iPad represents the company’s best tablet yet. Compared to earlier models, it’s thinner and lighter and available in a new gold anodized-aluminum finish. The 2048-by-1536 resolution display has been improved to reduce reflections and enhance the color. From $499.
Best new camera
Lumix LX-100/Leica D-Lux 109: This brand new camera, available in versions from Panasonic and Leica, packs a sensor that’s five times bigger than last year’s award-winning Sony RX100, with an f1.7-2.8, 24-75mm equivalent zoom lens. It produces excellent images over a wide range of lighting conditions, particularly with very low lighting. It has a built-in electronic viewfinder that works great in bright light where the LCD is less effective. The Panasonic Lumix costs $895; the Leica costs $300 more, but provides a three-year warranty, a free copy of Adobe LightRoom, and a nicer finished metal housing.
Best new phones
iPhone 6: This and the iPhone 6 Plus are the best phones Apple has ever built — thinner and rounder than 5s, and with a larger display, now 4.7-inch or 5.5-inch, up from 3.5-inch. They are faster and have Apple Pay built in, using its internal near-field wireless technology.
Samsung Galaxy Alpha: The Alpha is a Samsung phone with a 4.7-inch display that’s built on a metal frame, making it more Apple-like in its construction and appearance. It is a big improvement over other Samsung’s models that feel less substantial. It’s even slightly thinner than the iPhone 6, yet has a removable battery. In my testing of the AT&T version, it felt solid, speedy and was feature-rich. Its replaceable battery lasts considerably longer — up to half a day more — than the battery in the iPhone 6. $199 on contract, $612.99 at full retail or $30.65 per month for a year.
Best desktop computer: HP’s new Sprout is the computer of the future, available now. It combines a scanner, camera, tablet and projector into a single easy-to-use, attractive product. It lets you move real objects from the tabletop to the computer screen, by scanning, and projects your Window’s desktop onto your real desktop.
Best GPS application: While the Waze app has an almost cartoonish appearance, its ability to find the best routes beats Apple Map and Google Maps every time. It takes an aggressive approach to get you through congestion, routing you through streets you never knew existed. In a recent experience, traveling from the Oakland Airport to San Francisco in rush hour, it took me through back road streets, zigzagging around congested streets and highways, shaving 15 minutes off of the 75-minute route calculated by Apple Maps and Google Maps. Free from the iTunes store and the Google app store.
Best backup: Carbonite is one of the simplest ways to back up your computer. Never again will you need to remind yourself that it’s backup time. Install Carbonite on your computer, subscribe and select what you want to back up. It’s all done in the background and you never need to think about it again. Just $5 a month, www.carbonite.com.
Best new travel luggage
Kingsville deluxe brief pack: This attractive backpack is designed for business. It has pockets for a computer, tablet, books, business cards, keys, a water bottle, and chargers, and can even hold a large DSLR camera or large headphones. The most convenient feature is that it’s designed to slide over the handle of a carry-on wheeled luggage. $445, www.tumi.com.
Torq International Carry-on Spinner: This hard-sided polycarbonate carry-on suitcase by Briggs & Riley has four smooth-rolling wheels. I’ve been using it for 100,000 miles of travel this year. Although the material twists and flexes as I try to stuff it beyond capacity, it has only a few scratches. Best of all, it’s easy on the back and can be pushed along with ease. $479, www.briggs-riley.com.
Gadget of the year: It could easily have been the iPhone, iPad2 or a Leica D-Lux camera — but it’s none of them. I looked for a gadget that is unique and solves a problem never solved before.
My hands-down favorite is the Coravin Wine System. It’s a product that solves a problem that wine experts never assumed solvable: tasting wine as it’s aging in the bottle without affecting the aging process.
It’s likely only something a consumer of fine wine might appreciate and it’s takes a little patience to use. But it clearly succeeds in its mission and brings a new dimension to wine consumption. It works by inserting a hollow needle into the cork along with argon gas that forces the wine back out through the needle. Oxygen, a spoiler of wine, never gets into the bottle.
It’s also changed the way wine is consumed in restaurants. Jeffrey Strauss, owner of Pampelmousse Grille (pgrille.com), and an early investor in the Coravin, has opened his wine cellar to offer some famous wines by the glass that would never have been considered. For example, he offers a $600 bottle of 2008 Domaine Romanee Conti in a 2.5 ounce pour for $75. And just using it in his restaurant has led to sales of over 600 Coravin systems to his customers.