Microsoft Windows 8 (Windows 8 Pro download, $39.99, retail $69.99; windows.microsoft.com)
The most dramatic overhaul of the Windows operating system in 25 years, Windows 8 ushers in the tablet era for Microsoft with a tile-based interface that is designed for touch first and foremost. That doesn’t make it unusable on standard PCs because many models within the past few years are upgradeable, but beware: If your PC is running a 32-bit version of Windows, you won’t be able to upgrade to the 64-bit version of Windows 8 unless you do a clean install. If you bought a Windows 7 PC since June 2, you’re eligible for an upgrade to Windows 8 Pro for $14.99.
HP Spectre One (starting at $1,299; hp.com/canada)
An elegant all-in-one Windows 8 desktop PC, the Spectre One measures 0.45-inch thick with a curved back and a 23.6-inch 1080p (1920x1080) display. It runs on the latest Intel Core processors, a one gigabyte (GB) Nvidia graphics card and optional solid state drive (SSD). HP’s TouchZone near field communication (NFC) technology lets you tap a smartphone or NFC tags on the computer’s base to log in or instantly transfer content. You also get two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) input and Beats Audio. The included trackpad is designed for navigating Windows 8 as if it were a touchscreen, complete with special gestures for specific tasks.
Apple iMac (starting at $1,499 for 21.5-inch, starting at $1,999 for 27-inch; apple.ca)
Apple’s new iMac sheds 80 per cent of its previous thickness, and reduces the screen’s glare by as much as 75 per cent. Despite that, it still runs Intel’s latest Core processors, a much faster Nvidia graphics card and a multitude of ports in the back, including four USB 3.0s and two Thunderbolts. Fusion Drive is a storage option that learns your habits and allocates oft-used programs and data to the faster solid-state drive (SSD), while others go to the standard hard drive. The internal speakers and dual mics are said to be improved, as is the 720p FaceTime camera for video calls.
Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13 ($1,299; lenovo.com/ca)
When your home office doesn’t always keep you planted at home, this IdeaPad can be easy to carry around. The 13.3-inch high-definition screen is touch enabled and rotates 360 degrees, effectively turning the Yoga 13 into a tablet. Running on Windows 8, the display recognizes up to 10 simultaneous touch points, while the trackpad offers gesture controls when the screen is upright. An Intel Core i5 processor, 128 GB SSD, eight GB of random-access memory (RAM) and a solid graphics card should combine for consistently good performance both at home and on the road. Battery life is rated at eight hours, but five to six is more likely.
Sony VAIO S Series (starting at $999; store.sony.ca)
You get some choice here because there are both 13.3-inch and 15.5-inch models in the S Series, though neither are touchscreens. There are no real gimmicks or proprietary features, but they are good-looking machines that provide solid performance and options for upgrades to certain hardware components, such as more RAM, a larger SSD or a larger battery. The shells come in eight colours.
Dell XPS 13 (starting at $999; dell.ca)
With an aluminum body measuring 0.24 inches at its thinnest point, and a 13.3-inch HD display made of tough Gorilla Glass, this ultrabook also has a thinner bezel, making the overall footprint more like an 11.6-inch ultraportable laptop. Intel Core processors, SSD, fast boot-up time and a glass trackpad with Windows 8 gestures are all here. E-mail, contacts and calendar can all update automatically, even when the XPS 13 is asleep.
Toshiba Satellite Z930 ($899.99; toshiba.ca)
A 13.3-inch ultrabook weighing just less than 2.5 pounds, this ultrabook is less about flash and more about being utilitarian. It uses the latest Intel processors, has a 128 GB SSD, a backlit and spill-resistant keyboard and a magnesium alloy casing that gives it some durability. Use the HDMI-out to connect to a larger monitor or HDTV or just carry it around the house.
Ooma Telo ($174.99 for hardware, $9.99 a month for Premier; ca.ooma.com)
Create a cheaper land-line using Ooma’s hardware and VoIP technology. Plug in a phone on one end, the other into your router, and pay only the taxes and fees. You can sign up for a local phone number (or port over an existing number) in almost any area code of Canada or the United States. Premier service offers a slew of extra features, and long-distance minutes packages cover more than 60 countries.
Epson WorkForce WF-3520 ($149.99; epson.ca)
An all-in-one printer that gives you scanning, copying and fax, plus built-in WiFi and remote printing, the WF-3520 is said to be among the fastest on the market. It can also cost 40 per cent less to print than a colour laser printer. You get automatic two-sided printing, as well as the ability to print remotely from smartphones and tablets through Epson Connect, Apple’s AirPrint or Google’s Cloud Print.
Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300i ($269.99; fujitsu.ca)
If you need to scan a lot of pages, receipts or you like going paperless, this scanner has a small footprint, but can still do up to 12 pages a minute. The accompanying software, both PC- and Mac-compatible, lets you scan directly to a specified folder or Dropbox, Google Docs, Evernote, Salesforce and even smartphones and tablets. Output scans can also be edited in Word or Excel.
Cisco Linksys EA6500 ($219.99; linksys.com)
This is among the first routers to support 802.11ac, the successor WiFi standard to the current 802.11n. There aren’t many devices that take advantage of the extra speed now, but there should be in 2013. You get four GB ethernet ports and two USB ports for printers and backing up to external hard drives. Cisco Cloud Connect lets you manage the router from a Web browser, smartphone or tablet.
Logitech wireless headset H800 ($119.99; logitech.com)
An indispensable headset that can just as easily work with Skype as it does your smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth. Take calls, make calls or listen to music while you work. Use it with dictation apps, roam around away from the computer or smartphone during a call and then recharge the battery when needed. Works with both Windows and Mac software.