“Stuff” deconstructs the year in gadgets

June 3, 2010

-Fraser Macdonald is the editor of Stuff. The opinions expressed are his own.-

Deciding on the Cool List turns the Stuff office into a maelstrom. Our Gadget Awards, held later in the year, involves a straightforward categorised decision process.

Phone of the Year, for example, is one of the phones launched in the past year that meets all of the awards criteria. Easy.

The Cool List, on the other hand, is more subjective, because it isn’t necessarily about star ratings, or hype, or sales figures.

It’s about the gadgets that have that elusive ‘something’. What used to be known as the ‘X-factor’ before a TV programme removed all the credibility from that phrase.

As a consequence of this somewhat indefinable definition of cool, it takes us some time, and not a little in-fighting, to come up with the Cool List.

The HTC Legend, for example, made the list despite being a moderately specialised, inexpensive mobile phone. But as a foot soldier for Android, the mobile OS that is encroaching upon iPhone territory, and because of its more-Apple-than-the-iPhone styling, it makes the list.

Or, take the GenevaSound S. It’s a 300 pound iPod dock that doesn’t stream music from your computer, or from the internet, and doesn’t even have a USB port.

Why’s it on a list of the best gadgets of the year? Because, we decided after much arguing, of its simplicity of purpose, it’s crispy engineering and the sheer unnecessariness of its electrically rotating dock connector.

The Citroen DS3, too, very nearly brought us to physical violence over the argument that we’re highlighting a sub-20,000 – pound family hatchback in a world in which Jaguars, Bentleys and Ferraris exist.

But the DS3 manages to be cool and customisable in, what is for most people, the real world. Similarly, the Leica X1 and B&W P5 headphones get plaudits for retro styled contemporary tech.

Some decisions were more straightforward, in that they represented pure desirable tech: the Sony Monolith TV, Apple iPad and Olive music server. And this year’s quirky-but-cool mentions went to the eye-catching Dyson fan and the physics defying Cannondale ONbike.

New this year, and the cause of further gnashing of teeth, was the addition to the Cool List of non-gadgets. Apps have become a wonder of our time, and Hipstamatic for the iPhone got the nod for making the iPhone’s lacklustre camera fun to use.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, directed by Briton Edgar Wright, is our cool film of the year, whereas the long-anticipated Alan Wake marks the era of games that adults can play shamelessly.

Eventually we decided that Augmented Reality – the technology that recognises people and places via your gadget’s camera and offers additional information about them – was, in fact, not rubbish and worthy of mention. And, finally, that Adam Buxton, the British comedian, radio DJ, and tech-experimentalist was Stuff’s coolest person of the year.

Now Stuff begins a period of healing, followed by reconciliation, and then we begin judging products for the Stuff Gadget Awards in November. Relatively speaking, it’ll be a breeze.

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Having today seen a builder’s navvy using a previous winner – the iPhone – I’d say that “The X Factor” sums up the concept of “cool” to a T. Just give it two years, and you’ll be calling rotating electrical connectors tacky. I promise.

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