Consumer Reports recently tested more than 600 smartphones, tablets, TVs, and other devices. Only 10 products made the short list for performance and innovation:
Groundbreaking tablet. Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (16GB, $500). The 10-inch Galaxy Note adds capabilities that no other tablet, not even the Apple iPad, currently offers.
Apple’s best phone yet. iPhone 5 (16GB, $200 with two-year contract). The iPhone 5 builds on its predecessors’ strengths and adds new features, putting it head and shoulders above previous iPhones.
Android champion. Samsung Galaxy S III (16GB, $100 to $200 with two-year contract). Flaunting an excellent screen that’s bigger (at 4.8 inches) than the iPhone 5’s, this Android model offers some features you can’t get on Apple’s phone — for example, watching a video while doing other tasks on the screen.
Tip-top TV. Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT50 ($2,500). This 55-inch plasma is one of the best TVs Consumer Reports has tested. Spot-on colors contribute to superb picture quality.
The Fire gets hotter. Amazon Kindle Fire HD (7-inch, 16GB, from $210 with charger). Amazon’s top-of-the-line 7-inch tablet is one of the best for the price.
The world’s smartest camera. Nikon Coolpix S800c ($350). This 16-megapixel, Wi-Fi-enabled point-and-shoot camera is the first that Consumer Reports has seen that runs Google’s Android operating system.
Loaded lightweight. Sony Cyber-shot RX100 ($650). This 20-megapixel point-and-shoot weighs about 9 ounces but doesn’t cut corners.
Excellence in a box. Samsung HT-E6730W ($800). This 7.1-channel system marries old-school vacuum tubes with digital amps to produce excellent sound.
First ultrawide TV. Vizio CinemaWide XVT3D580CM ($2,000). Cinephiles finally have a TV that displays flicks in all their wide-screen splendor.
Wi-Fi winner. Sonos Play: 3 ($300). This compact stereo speaker system is a great, easy way to enjoy music throughout the house.
Get the best deal on electronics
Buying electronics online was more pleasing for Consumer Reports readers than buying at a walk-in store, according to its survey on almost 30,000 buying experiences. And the proportion of major electronics purchases that readers made online more than doubled from 2006 to 2011.
Wherever you shop, Consumer Reports offers three simple steps to help you get the best deal on a major electronics purchase:
Consider coupons and gift cards. It’s worth checking sites such as Techbargains.com for coupons and other deals. Relatively few readers surveyed searched for online coupons before shopping in stores or on the Internet, but one in four of those who did found it to be worthwhile. Another useful tactic: Check retailers’ ads and bargain sites to see whether they offer gift cards that can save you money on future purchases from the retailer or manufacturer.
Haggling can pay off. Negotiate for a major electronics item? Absolutely. Consumer Reports’ advice: Go to a walk-in store armed with evidence of the lowest price you’ve found online and ask whether the store will match the price or at least come close. You may have the greatest success in getting stores that also have websites to match their own online prices.
Skip the extra contracts. It’s more likely than ever that you’ll be pushed to buy an extended warranty on your major electronics purchase. P.C. Richard was the pushiest retailer with those plans, which Consumer Reports thinks are seldom if ever a good buy. At Best Buy, you might also be pitched on the chain’s paid Geek Squad technical support.