Top products and great buys for every budget

    Our round-up of more than 550 items from a year's worth of testing

    Published: September 2013

    Consider this special section—available to subscribers as a PDF—the ultimate buyer's guide. A supreme cheat sheet. The best electronicsappliances, and other products among more than 3,550 items. (The total bill: about $1.7 million for products and an additional $2.5 million for cars.)

    All of the products we list are recommended, which means that they performed well in our labs, and where we're able to assess a brand's reliability, we believe the brand to be reliable. We've also included many choices in each category, so you're bound to find at least a few that meet your needs. (We highlight CR Best Buys across a range of prices. CR Best Buys perform well in our tests and are of exceptional value.

    There are more than 550 recommended items for you in almost two dozen categories. And because we know that cost is always important, we've arranged some products by price range in the middle of each page of the PDF so that you can get find something for every budget. Happy shopping!

    Best Products of the Year

    CRO_Best_Products_of_the_Year_2013_09-13 (3891Kb)

    Great buys $50 and under

    Calphalon Simply Nonstick 10-inch Omelet

    The Calphalon Simply Nonstick 10-inch Omelette Pan, a $40 CR Best Buy, beat out models from All-Clad, Le Creuset, and Rachael Ray. It is superb at evenly heating food, say, for an omelet or frittata, it's easy to clean, and it shrugged off our tough durability test in which steel wool is rubbed over a pan up to 2,000 times.

    You can get some very good wines for under $10 a bottle. Our taste testers found chardonnays: Charles Shaw, $3, from Trader Joe's, is very good, as are Whole Foods' Trackers Crossing 365, $7, and Costco's Kirkland Signature Sonoma, $7.

    The Samsung Ativ Book 8 NP880Z5E-X01UB, $1,200, is one of the new breed of touch-screen laptops designed to optimize Windows 8. Another new feature on this speedy, top-scoring model: You can share the screen, keyboard, and mouse with Samsung phones and tablets. Battery life is an impressive 10-plus hours.

    The 12-cup Mr. Coffee BVMC-SJX33GT, $40, delivers great value and an even better cup of joe. The automatic drip machine gets the water hot enough to bring out the coffee's full flavor, and we found it easy to set up, operate, and clean. Plus the spill-free carafe is helpful if you're a bit clumsy before that first morning cup.

    Sennheiser's CX-215 earphones, $40, come in five fun, funky colors and have easily gripped, contoured shells. The overall sound quality is very good, and the in-ear design helps muffle outside noise.

    Google Chromecast, $35, is a pint-sized media player that packs a powerful Web wallop. Slip it into a TV's HDMI slot, power it up, connect it to your Wi-Fi network, and start streaming TV shows and movies from Netflix, YouTube videos, and more. You can also "cast" Internet content from a PC or Mac loaded with a Chrome browser to a TV. There's no remote—you use a laptop, smart phone, or tablet.

    Fight back itchy eyes and sore throats with the Vicks V4500 tabletop humidifier, $70. The quiet, filter-free device can humidify up to 420 square feet with ease, and it's effective at inhibiting bacterial growth, though as with all humidifiers, regular cleaning is required.

    Great buys $100 and under

    Casio G’zOne Commando 4G LTE

    Here are headphones for guitarists, as well as those who love listening to music. The Vox AmPhones Twin headphones, $100, can double as a personal guitar amplifier, letting you get your inner Satriani on without disturbing others. You can even plug in an audio player and jam along. When used as conventional headphones, the AmPhones Twin delivers very good sound quality.

    With its rugged, weather-resistant case, the Casio G'zOne Commando 4G LTE, $100 (Verizon, with two-year contract), should survive anything nature (or your toddler) throws at it. It has a larger display and a better rear-facing camera than its predecessor. It also adds a front-facing camera, near-field communication (NFC) technology, global roaming, and 4G LTE.

    Many hand vacs have a hard time keeping in the dirt and dust that they pick up, but not the Shark Perfect Pet II SV780, $80. The 4-pound cordless unit offers impressive surface cleaning on carpets and even better performance on bare floors.

    The Ninja Professional NJ600, $100, outperformed many premium blenders that cost four or five times as much. With its 9-cup container, the blender makes a superb fruit smoothie, purées soups and sauces to perfection, and whips up a fabulous frozen drink. It also aced our durability test, so it should stand the test of time.

    Yes, you can find a helpful GPS navigator for a modest budget. The Magellan 2230T-LM, $100, is an intuitive device with helpful exit guides, reality view, lane assistance, multi-destination routing, and pedestrian mode. It might not be quite as easy to use or have as long a battery life as pricier models, but it's still a bargain.

    Canon's Pixma MG3220, $70, is an all-in-one inkjet that has a low price and offers very good overall performance, including the ability to print very good quality photos quickly. Plus it's wireless, so you can print photos and text from your phone or tablet.

    The  Jacques' Choice box of chocolates, $66, from Jacques Torres, provides an excellent selection of small ultrasmooth pieces of milk, dark, and white chocolates. It contains 50 pieces, some of which have fillings that include tropical fruit, caramel, nut butter, and more.

    Great buys $250 and under

    Panasonic FlashXpress NB-G11OP

    Ruggedly handsome (and designed to be weather-resistant), the TDK Life on Record portable Bluetooth speaker, $150, is just the ticket when you want to pump up the volume with friends. The speaker has a rechargeable battery, and its built-in microphone lets you use it as a speakerphone.

    The Olympus Stylus TG-630 iHS rugged point-and-shoot is relatively inexpensive, at $180. It takes very good flash photos and is easy to use. It's designed to be waterproof to a depth of 16 feet and to withstand a 5-foot drop. It has a 5x non-telescoping zoom lens and is faster than most models.

    With its unique double-infrared technology, the Panasonic FlashXpress NB-G11OP, $150, eliminates the 5-minute preheat time of other toaster ovens. Pizza and corn muffins both came out nicely in our tests, and the Panasonic is also a capable toaster, delivering evenly browned results with almost every batch.

    The Philips Hue LED Web-enabled system, $199, lets you use any smart device to switch the color of your LED bulbs, say, from warm yellow when you first wake up to vibrant white or many other colors while you're getting dressed. Setup is simple, and our testers found the app easy to use.

    The Samsung Galaxy Tab 3  7.0 (Wi-Fi, 8GB), $200, is all about portability, weighing in at just 0.7 pound, with an impressive 9.7-hour battery life. It also packs a lot of features for the money, including a memory-card reader, GPS, and the ability to double as a remote control for your home theater.

    The Garmin Nuvi 2597LMT GPS, $250, is loaded with features to make commuting and traveling easier. This big-screen model includes exit guides, reality view, lane assistance, multi-destination routing, Bluetooth connectivity, voice commands, and historic traffic data that can inform route planning, predicting routine flow changes such as rush-hour congestion.

    Great buys $500 and under

    Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50V

    Want a compact TV for a dorm room or the nightstand? Samsung's UN29F4000, $280, is a basic 29-inch 720p LCD TV that has excellent high-definition picture quality. And its energy-efficient LED backlight will keep electric bills low.

    The Nokia Lumia 1020, $300 (AT&T, with two-year contract), is essentially a high-resolution camera fused to a capable smart phone. Its 38.2-megapixel camera takes the sharpest photos of any smart-phone camera we've tested, even in low light, and pro-style controls, editing tools, and a bevy of features help you take pictures like a pro. This Windows phone also features a dazzling 4.5-inch display so that you can enjoy your handiwork.

    Who says you have to trade performance for fashion? The Beats by Dr. Dre Executive over-ear headphones, $300, provide something most noise-canceling models can't: excellent sound quality in addition to very good noise reduction and a stylish design.

    The Amazon Kindle Fire HD 8.9 (Wi-Fi, 16GB), $280, is a great tablet for bookworms, with an 8.9-inch display that's a perfect size for reading magazines. The top-quality display is also great for viewing videos. And subscribers to Amazon Prime ($80 per year) can get lots of videos free.

    This Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50V, $450, a wireless superzoom, is packed with features and has a long 30x zoom lens in a small, compact camera body. It shoots very good quality photos and video. It also can fire off photos at 10 frames per second, includes many manual controls, and can be manually focused.

    In addition to delivering superb evenness in mulching and bagging modes, the self-propelled Honda HRR2169VLA mower, $500, has an electric-start feature with a battery that recharges while you mow. Easy handling is another plus forthis 21-inch, rear-drive model,as are infinitely variable drive speeds, a premium engine, and no-prime starting.

    Great buys over $500

    Sears Craftsman 88173 snow blower

    Impressively quick and clean snow removal, along with plenty of muscle for the dense piles left by municipal plows, are top attractions of the gas-powered Craftsman 88173, $680. The 24-inch, compact two-stage model also offers electric start, and the unit stores more easily than the largest model we tested.

    The ProForm Pro 2000, $1,300, is a CR Best Buy. It's excellent for ergonomics and exercise range, with a longer, 61-inch running surface, and it has among the highest maximum inclines for folding treadmills.

    The Panasonic Viera TC-P60ST60 60-inch plasma TV is a sweet deal at $1,500. It has excellent high-def picture quality and a ton of features, including 3D and a full Web browser, an apps market, and access to streaming movies and TV shows from several services. Using the remote control app, you can send content back and forth between your  TV and smart phone or tablet.

    Fine wines deserve first-class storage. The Electrolux IQ-Touch EI24WC65GS undercounter wine chiller, $1,530, is tops in our tests, maintaining steady conditions throughout its interior, which can hold almost 60 bottles. The unit's shelves have full-extension ball-bearing glides for easy access, and it's one of the most energy-efficient models we tested.

    Editor's Note:

    This article appeared in the November 2013 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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