You may have noticed over the years that, unlike many other sites, we don’t give stars or other quantitative scores to the items we review. The reason for this is quite simple: while there may be quantitative aspects to a device review — an example being a laptop that claims to get ten hours of battery life and only gets two hours in real world use deserves a low rating — there is also a highly subjective aspect to any and all electronics. Case in point, I’m not an overly enthusiastic fan of Android. I have had the chance to review some nice pieces of hardware, but I’ve had to work hard to keep my “issues” with Android over the years from coming out in my reviews. So with that said, you can understand how a numerical rating of an Android device would simply not allow me to distinguish between those aspects of a particular item that are subjective and those are not. Ending reviews with “What I Like:” and “What Needs Improvement” lets us better distinguish between those things that are subjective and those that are not.
Dan: This even holds true internally on the site. For example, Judie and I use the same laptop but, were you to ask us to list our top five “best” applications, the two lists would look quite different. Tech is, after all, largely a matter of personal taste, needs and aesthetics and, no matter how similar two people are, what is “best” to one may not be “best” to the other.
Judie: It is for this same reason that we have stayed away from giving awards such as “CES Best of Show”. Could we pick a Best of Show television? Certainly. But what would be a “Best in Show TV” to one of us wouldn’t necessarily be “Best” to you. It is, once again, highly subjective.
We did, however, want to do something to recognize some of the companies that impressed us at CES, so we decided to actively recognize just how subjective it is to select a few items or companies and highlight them. The result? During CES 2013 we kept mental and written notes as to which products and companies stood out as OUR favorites. The result is this highly exclusive list of three “Gear Diary Favorites CES 2013” Awards.
We will list the three winners and include our personal rationales for picking each one, but before we do that we want to share some observations with regard to qualities each of our three winners share.
In each case the company or product is the result of a relatively small group of people who are passionate about what they do and the products that they bring to the market. While none of the three is in a unique business area, in fact all three compete in markets where there is intense competition, each has taken steps to guarantee the best consumer experience possible. And in each case they are seeking to give good consumer value, but they are not trying to compete in the budget or discount arena. In fact, in each case it seems obvious that choices have been made that cost a bit more — and likely reduced margins somewhat — in order to delight customers and create a dynamic where those who make a purchase are more likely to come back.
What differentiated these three companies from all the others we saw at CES was that when people asked us what we’d seen or what we were excited about, these three companies products consistently came up. We actually created out initial lists independently from one another and discovered our lists were exactly the same!
So who are the three winners of the first ever Gear Diary Top Picks Award?
Dan: We set aside time to meet with Martian Watches because, quite frankly, we really saw CES 2013 as the coming out party for the smart watch. I had already received the highly tech-looking MetaWatch I backed on Kickstarter, but I am a bit mixed on the device (a review is coming soon).
Judie: I didn’t back the MetaWatch, because although I thought its features were great, I also thought it was ugly; ugly means I’ll never wear it. This was a case of “function over form”, and ugly won.
Dan: Judie and I also backed and received the Cookoo Watch. It looks a bit less techie than the MetaWatch thanks to its lack of a digital time readout but still offers plenty of tech thanks to the various icon readouts around the face. I am more than a bit underwhelmed by the final product. It looks okay (but not great), and it offers minimal functionality.
Judie: I backed the limited edition Kickstarter version with the green, and although I think the watch looks fashionable enough, I don’t like the way it uses notifications enough to use it regularly. This was a case of “form over function”, and for me the result wasn’t quite functional enough.
Dan: The Martian Watch was also a Kickstarter Project. And while we categorize it as a smartwatch, the Martian watch line takes a different approach than others in this new and quickly growing market. The Martian Watch has a classic watch face that comes in three different designs and a variety of colors for each.
Judie: Rather than go for the power-watch “let’s do everything and the kitchen sink” approach, the folks behind the Martian Watch decided to focus on what they thought people would actually need. The result is a watch that has classic style that includes a thin digital readout and the ability to function as a speakerphone. From the watch you can launch Siri or Google Voice Actions, receive key notifications and carry on a conversation.
Dan: Truly an extension of your smartphone, the Martian Watch is the most refined smartwatch we have seen and, best of all, it actually works. This is, in no small part, because instead of creating new technology and unique apps for its watch platform the Martian Watch simply leverages the technology already available in Siri or Google Voice Actions. It is a much simpler approach that actually works. The Achilles heel of the device? It only gets about two hours of talk time when used as a speaker phone, and it will need to be charged every three or so days. That isn’t great, but for a first generation product from a company that began by making emergency notification systems for seniors, we could not help but be impressed. I’m wearing mine regularly.
Judie: I liked the Martian Watch Passport style so much, that after our meeting with the company and then fiddling with Dan’s, I purchased one of my own. I’ve already pre-ordered the steel mesh watch band for it, and now I’m considering purchasing the Victory.
Dan: We’ll have a full review of the Martian Passport Watch soon!
Dan: When I purchased my first MacBook Air, Judie was kind enough to send a leather BeyzaCases envelope she had reviewed. I loved the air and the soft, gorgeous leather and stunning build quality of the case enhanced the appeal many times over. From that day on, I joined Judie as a fan of BeyzaCases.
Judie: When we stopped by the BeyzaCases booth and finally had a chance to meet Ali Y?ld?r?m, the company’s founder and CEO, along with some of the members of his team, we were blown away. The new cases are nothing short of gorgeous.
Dan: As I said to Judie at the time, BeyzaCases has really emerged as THE luxury leather accessory company. The designs are stunning, the leather looks, smells and feels fantastic, and the degree to which the company’s line has expanded is impressive; there is something for pretty much every taste.
Judie: Ali was so humble and grateful that we liked his products, his pride in the work they are doing was obvious. He honestly beamed when he spoke about the leather company he had named after his daughter, Beyza.
Dan: There was a point in the middle of our conversation when one of his team members came over and whispered someone to him. He looked stunned. He then looked at us, smiled and said, “I was just told the entire Aston Martin line for 2013 is already sold out.”
Judie: The cream rises to the top, and BeyzaCases products are the cream; clearly others recognize this as well. I have an assortment of sleeves and cases that I’ve brought home to review, and BeyzaCases has promised to send us even more soon.
Disclosure: BeyzaCases is a long-time Gear Diary advertiser.
Dan: Knowing nothing about this company before CES, Judie and I took this meeting because a PR rep with whom I have previously worked asked us to. Honestly it was as simple as that. Brian Hughes came to our suite shortly after we had checked in and before he had stopped at his hotel after arriving in Vegas.
Judie: We had planned to meet for a half hour, but we had to cut the conversation short two hours later because we had an event to attend. During the time we had spent with him, Dan and I quickly discovered that MiPow and Brian are the real deal. The company’s products are popular in forty differently countries and they are now breaking into the US market.
Dan: Rather than go for the quick buck and cut as many corners as possible, MiPow focuses on creating products they can be proud of. To accomplish this, they control as much of the manufacturing process as possible.
Judie: That means they design in-house, create as many components as possible in-house, and they test the resulting items to make sure they are the best possible products the company can produce.
Dan: In an environment where companies often seem to choose between form and function, MiPow insists on both. Their external batteries look like fashion accessories and their headsets are more in the camp of jewelry than they are mobile accessories.
Judie: It didn’t hurt that Brian was so enthusiastic about his company and their products … and then, when we had an opportunity to try them out, the products actually lived up to the expectations he had created.
Dan: Case in point: Brian told us that the Boom and Boom mini, which were to be announced the day AFTER he had told us about them, weren’t simply MiPow’s token offering in the now over-loaded mobile speaker/speakerphone space, but that they had been designed and tested in-house with special care taken with regard to tuning so they would blow everything else on the market away.
Judie: It sounded like hyperbole, but when we had a chance to hear them in a quiet suite, they were that good. Even better, they come in at a reasonable price. We were further impressed by Brian’s openness about the care that MiPow took when designing their products, coupled by the quality we witnessed, made MiPow one of our obvious choices.
Dan: We have a few MiPow products on hand for review now, and I will be receiving the speakers in the near future.
So there you have it, three companies and products lines that are quite different but share the same DNA of quality, care and pride. In a world where, too often, we are given the choice between form and function all three have found a way to merge aesthetics and function that offers the consumer a premium experience. When we set out to come up with this first-ever awards list we never expected it would be so easy to come up with the list — thanks to these three companies and their products, it was. Our congratulations to them!