11 tech products we couldn't live without

gifts

For these products, we truly give thanks

The editors at PCWorld and TechHive see a lot of tech come and go every year, most of it with scarcely a backward glance. But there are always a few we can't bear to give up—because of their design, speed, usefulness or enjoyability. Here are 11 items—tools, bits of hardware, applications, and devices—for whose existence we're truly grateful.

The first item on our list is so simple, you might have taken it for granted. But we've found it indispensable to our day-to-day productivity.

Desktop Applications

Desktop Applications

PCWorld and TechHive Editor-in-Chief Jon Phillips:

There was a year-long period between the launch of Windows 8 and the release of Windows 8.1 that compelled me to thank the world for desktop applications every time I powered up my home-office PC.

Lacking a boot-to-desktop function, I started every morning with the new Start Screen staring me in the face. It was a scary, unfamiliar experience, but a click to the desktop put me back on safer footing. Hello, Chrome. Hello, HipChat client. Hello, 64-bit Photoshop. Hello games, media players, and sundry other applications and utilities. You all stuck with me when times got tough.

IFTTT

IFTTT

TechHive Senior Editor Susie Ochs:

As a naturally lazy person, I'm always looking for shortcuts, workarounds, and ways to get technology to do stuff for me. IFTTT, aka "If This, Then That," helps automate all the Web services I use, so I can take advantage of their abilities without wasting time fiddling with them directly.

IFTTT can text me the weather forecast each day, back up my phone's contacts and photos, email me when something I want pops up on Craigslist or Etsy, and the list goes on.

Basically, it collects data from all over the Web and funnels it to the inbox you actually use, whether that's your email, your text messages, Evernote, or whatever.

Chromebook Pixel

Chromebook Pixel

PCWorld Senior Editor Melissa Riofrio:

The Chromebook Pixel is the shining flagship of the Chrome ecosystem. It’s the machine that lets you enjoy the Chrome OS to its fullest potential, thanks to its powerful processor and gorgeous, high-res touchscreen display.

The Pixel transcends the cheapie hard-plastic cases, the crummy displays, the clackety keyboards, and everything else that characterizes the low-end Chromebook crowd.

The Pixel is not about the cost or even the practicality. It’s about bringing the best to a new world.

Steam

Steam

PCWorld Assistant Editor Alex Cocilova:

Where would PC gaming be without the all-powerful Steam platform?

I'm thankful for the vast savings Steam offers on PC games throughout the year. And this time next year, I'll probably be saying the same about Valve's Steambox. This will be a living-room gaming PC that will run SteamOS.

The Steambox should give the brand-new Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 a run for their money.

Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1

PCWorld Senior Writer Brad Chacos:

I'm crazy about Windows 8.1. More specifically, I absolutely adore the secretive "Navigation" menu buried deep within the new OS. Right-click the desktop taskbar, select properties, and open that fresh, new Navigation tab to unlock a legion of hidden options that let you boot straight to the desktop, disable the upper "Hot Corners," and force the Start button to act more like the Start Menu.

The Navigation menu's basically a love letter to PC power users, and its inclusion means it's possible to banish the modern UI and focus on the desktop without all the hoop-jumping that was required to ditch Metro in Windows 8 vanilla.

Logitech K750 Wireless Solar Keyboard

Logitech K750 Wireless Solar Keyboard

PCWorld Downloads Editor Laura Blackwell:

A wired keyboard is just another way for me to knock things off my desk. But most wireless keyboards require batteries, and batteries die.

The sun is much more reliable, and that makes my Logitech K750 wireless solar keyboard all the more useful.

The K750’s tiny solar panels slurp the light from the window or even the overhead bulbs and store it for typing fuel. A button brings up the free Logitech Solar App (installed separately) to tell me when I should leave my keyboard a little closer to the light during lunchtime or on my day off.

Nexus 7

Nexus 7

TechHive Associate Editor Armando Rodriguez:

Android tablets never get the respect they deserve, which is why I’m thankful for the new Nexus 7. Google's redesigned tablet improves upon the original in every way, and it's proof that it is possible to make an Android tablet that doesn’t completely suck.

Although it's slightly more expensive than the original, the new Nexus 7 remains a steal compared to the iPad mini—and that goes double for the iPad mini with Retina display. This tablet is super-accessible to people on tight budgets.

Nothing beats reading books on that crisp, high-resolution display, and there’s even a rear-facing camera for those who insist on being one of those terrible people who take pictures with a tablet.

Evernote

Evernote

TechHive Executive Editor Jason Cross:

I take a lot of notes. I don’t take notes so that I can refer to them later. I take notes because the act of taking them helps me distill everything down to the essentials, and then fixes it in my brain so I don’t need to look at notes.

Evernote makes it fast, easy, and free to take notes on virtually any device. Those notes are then synced across all the devices on which you've installed Evernote and are easily searchable.

Moto X

Moto X

TechHive Staff Writer Florence Ion:

Deep in the sea of ginormous Android phones (the ones packed with apps you'll never actually use) is one that is exactly the right size and that delivers a nearly pure Android experience.

That phone is the Moto X, and it's the model that I'm most thankful for this year.

Its always-on listening features means it is my digital keeper, and I appreciate that it fits in my pants pocket as easily as in my bag. The ability to customize it to your liking is pretty neat, too.

I didn't think Motorola was capable, but this phone is a gadget to be thankful for.

Now if only other phone manufacturers would take the hint.

Lenovo X1 Carbon Touch

Lenovo X1 Carbon Touch

PCWorld Senior Editor Michael Brown:

I’m thankful IDG’s IT department let me pick my own work computer. IDG is a Lenovo shop, and I guess the standard laptop is a Lenovo Twist. At least two of my colleagues got one, and they’ve been complaining about them ever since.

I asked for—and received—a Lenovo X1 Carbon Touch. It’s been a joy to use on a daily basis, and it travels extremely well. I barely notice this Ultrabook's weight on my shoulder as I take mass transit to and from the office, and when I travel on business.

The X1 Carbon Touch would be even better with a super power-efficient Haswell processor, but that’s another story.

voice recognition

The coming-of-age of voice recognition

TechHive Staff Writer Evan Dashevsky:

I'm old enough to remember the PC-based talk-to-type programs from around the turn of the millennium, which would distort the most mundane phrases.

But recently, engineers have finally begun to deliver what sci-fi promised. It's not perfect, but today's voice-recognition technology is a world beyond the flawed programs of old.

For example, Google voice search via Chrome was able to understand me on the very first try when I asked for information on the basketball player Andrei Kirilenko. The Russian-born Forward's name is a mess of syllables and sounds, and my browser was able to decipher and process it accordingly.