Google’s Chrome Web browser. Free.
Last year I called Chrome the best Web browser on the planet. Google quietly updates Chrome seemingly every few minutes, so naturally it got even better in 2011. Among other improvements, the company added something called Instant Pages, a system that “preloads” the first Google search result into the browser’s memory. This makes for faster searching—when you click on the first link in any Google result, the page loads up in pretty much no time at all. All of Chrome’s great features are helping it win converts: This month, Chrome’s market share surpassed that of Firefox. Download it now and help it beat Internet Explorer.
I’ve got a strangely proportioned body, so finding off-the-rack dress shirts that fit me has always been a drag. This year I tried three services that promised to make shirts exactly to my size for less than I’d spend on shirts at a department store. I liked shirts from all three companies—Indochino, J. Hilburn, and Blank Label; each was better than any other shirt I’d ever purchased. But I liked Blank Label best for its low prices and terrific customer service.
Amazon Prime. $79 a year.
Prime has long been an amazing deal—for a small annual fee, you can get free shipping on millions of products at Amazon, a feature that will change your approach to shopping (you’ll start to buy everything at Amazon, and you’ll make back your Prime investment in a couple months’ time). But this year the Prime deal got even harder to resist. Amazon added thousands of movies and TV shows that you can stream for free (on your TV, computer, or Kindle Fire). Sure, most of them are bad, but hey—they’re free! Then there’s the new Kindle Owner’s Lending Library: Prime members who own a Kindle get to borrow one free book every month. Some of them are pretty good, too!
Dimmable LED light bulbs. Around $15 to $25 per bulb, depending on the model.
This year I saw the world’s greatest light bulb—an energy-efficient alternative to the old incandescent bulb that isn’t as ugly or as toxic as compact fluorescents. The amazing new bulb—created by a company called Switch Lighting—generates light using LEDs, and it solves all the problems that have long plagued LED bulbs. The Switch bulb’s light is warm yellow, not harsh white, and you can dim it. That bulb isn’t selling to the public just yet, but many other dimmable LED bulbs are now on the market, and we’ll see a lot more next year. These light bulbs of the future may sound expensive, but many promise to last for decades. That means that over the long run, they pay for themselves.
Square’s Card Case app. Free.
Paying for stuff with your phone is the hot new thing in the tech industry—which is odd, because it’s a dumb idea. What’s the point of paying with your phone when you can just pay with your credit card? Square, Twitter-founder Jack Dorsey’s company, invented a better way to pay: by doing nothing. When you shop at a Card Case-compatible merchant, your phone and the store sync up without you having to remove your phone from your pocket, start up an app, or swipe and sign. Just tell the cashier your name. She sees your picture on her screen and taps it. That’s it: You’ve paid. Card Case satisfies the main requirement of any revolutionary technology—it feels like magic.
Amazon’s E Ink Kindles. Starting at $79.
Last year I predicted that Amazon would cut the price of its e-reader—which was then selling at $149—to $99 before the year was out. “And at $99, demand will be unbelievable,” I predicted. Well, I was wrong—Jeff Bezos kept the Kindle above $100 last year. But this year he’s not messing around. The new Kindle line-up gives you the same great e-reader for a rock-bottom price. Even if you already read Kindle books on your iPad or smartphone, it’s still worth a look. After all, E Ink is easier on the eyes than an LCD screen, and you can read it in bright sunlight. Plus, owning a Kindle gets you access to Amazon’s Prime Lending library—which means free books. This is a deal you can’t pass up.