iLounge’s annual Best of Show awards are designed to recognize standout products and major innovations in iPod, iPhone, iTunes and/or Apple TV products and services. This year, iLounge considered hundreds of newly announced 2008 products, planning to award as many as 20 Best of Show awards to deserving recipients. On January 16, 2008, 13 winners were selected, with an additional 10 finalists selected as runners up. Here are this year’s winners and finalists, in alphabetical order, along with photos and videos.
Atlantic iceBar2: Waterproof iPod cases can be fun or serious. IceBar2 is one of the fun ones, designed specifically to waterproof and add two speakers to any of the three versions of Apple’s iPod nano. You can still use the nano’s Click Wheel controls and see its screen while you’re in a pool or the shower; the case floats, plays audio through its good, waterproof speakers, and can be submerged safely to depths of 10 feet. Available in multiple colors, it’s a great deal at $70, especially when compared with competing cases that cost even more without the speakers. New: See the video here!
Belkin Podcast Studio: Podcasters who saw and liked Belkin’s TuneStudio last year but found the price tag and size unappealing will be thrilled with the newer, smaller, and optionally portable Podcast Studio ($100). With the ability to accept and adjust multiple audio inputs, including pro-quality microphones, as well as use a built in speaker and mic set if necessary, it enables you to record live audio directly to iPod 5G, classic, 2G and 3G nanos while you’re on the go. Carry AA batteries and you can use it anywhere, or plug it into a wall. A slick industrial design and small form factor make it far more attractive to carry around than traditional recording gear, too. New: See the video here!
Casio Exilim EX-Z80 and EX-S10 Cameras: Do you really need a new digital camera? What if it could record videos directly into iTunes/iPod/iPhone-ready 640×480, 30 frame per second format with AAC-format audio—no conversion required? That’s the appeal of the EX-Z80 ($200) and EX-S10 ($250), which provide your choice of 8-Megapixel or 10-Megapixel sensors with 3x optical zooms; the more expensive S10 is thinner and cooler looking with a slightly bigger and brighter 2.7”-inch screen. Both come in multiple body colors and offer the same Apple-friendly video recording mode; the only other non-cosmetic differences are in the prices and still photo functionality. We’d pick the S10 unless you’re on a tight budget. New: See the video here!
Contour Design SurfaceSound Compact: Though its name is still evolving, Contour Design’s new SurfaceSound Compact (aka Bluetooth Compact, Compact Auto, $100) provides a convenient handsfree car accessory that’s ready for use in virtually any car. Combining a visor-mounted NXT flat panel speaker with a wand-like microphone and Bluetooth technology, it bypasses your car stereo to let you hear iPhone or other Bluetooth mobile phone calls through its own speaker, and picks up your voice while you drive. A battery inside works for 15 hours of talk time, or 21 days of standby time; you can easily recharge with a USB cable. The clean design and simple operation had multiple iLounge editors wanting their own—ASAP. New: See the video here! [Note: This was updated on January 26, 2008 with the product’s new name.]
Elgato EyeTV3: Every year, Elgato Systems improves upon its EyeTV video recording software for the Mac with a newer, better version that’s reasonably priced while adding cool features. This year’s version, EyeTV3 ($80 new users, $40 upgrade), is the best yet, with an improved, TiVo-like interface, a Smart Guide recording scheduling feature, and the ability to stream recorded videos directly from your computer to an iPhone, iPod touch, or another computer. New: See the video here!
Etymotic hf2: Etymotic makes great headphones—so great, in fact, that a small company made a business out of hacking together Etymotic’s least expensive ER-6i Isolators with Apple’s iPhone Stereo Headset in an unsanctioned modification. Surprisingly, Etymotic rapidly came back with its own, superior alternative: hf2 ($180) blends the awesome, $330 ER-4P earphones with a slightly better-than-Apple-quality microphone and a similar remote control button. The new model is fully iPhone- and iPod-compatible, looks great, and sells at a very reasonable price given the sound quality of the ER-4Ps, which were long considered our reference standard for iPod in-canal phones. New: See the video here!
FastMac iV: One of our editors’ few unanimous Best of Show picks, FastMac’s iV ($100) is the Swiss Army knife of iPhone accessories. It packs a battery that adds twice the full runtime to the iPhone’s existing power cell, a bright white LED light to illuminate dark faces or rooms for photography, and a dual purpose belt clip and video stand. Best of all, it recharges itself and your iPhone while sitting in Apple’s standard iPhone dock; it even has the ability to let you simultaneously power your iPhone and recharge any other USB device. iV goes way beyond what we’ve seen in other iPhone batteries, and seems like a no-brainer for users who value added features and power over thinness. New: See the video here!
Griffin Evolve Extender Kit: Another unanimous Best of Show pick was Griffin’s new Evolve Extender Kit ($200), which adds two more speakers and two additional recharging plates to last year’s superb wireless Evolve speaker kit. As with the standard Evolve speakers, these contain 10 hour rechargeable batteries, and can be docked with the main Evolve system to instantly add additional left or right channel audio to your sound system; the recharging plates can then be placed anywhere around your house so that you needn’t keep dragging the speakers to the Evolve base. While we don’t typically care much about accessories for accessories, Griffin’s Evolve just begs for extra speakers, and this kit’s the best way to add them—if you prefer, you can buy individual speakers now for $100 and individual bases for $30. New: See the video here!
Griffin PowerDock Family: Our editors were initially a little skeptical of the value of the new PowerDock 4 ($70) and PowerDock 2 ($50) iPod and iPhone charging stations, which do nothing more than recharge two or four Dock Connecting devices at the same time. But when we sat down and discussed them, we realized how many families—including ours—now have multiple iPods or iPhones, and prefer to keep them charging in a single shared location; the only debate was whether people would prefer two or four docking bays. Though a USB synchronization port would have been a nice addition, the two PowerDocks offer nice convenience in their current form, and classy industrial design. New: See the video here!
ifrogz Audio Wrapz: The iPhone’s bottom-mounted speaker is one of our favorite features of the device—incredibly convenient for the times when you forget your earphones. ifrogz’ Audio Wrapz ($25) are rubber cases with three integrated speakers, not requiring any additional battery power, enabling you to protect your third-generation iPod nano and hear its music without earphones. If you want, you can plug earphones into a bottom port and disable the speaker; otherwise, the iPod nano plays on its own. Different versions of the case are available, some more stylish than others; the Tadpole version is made to help the nano be used easily by young children. A great idea at a very reasonable price. New: See the video here!
Kensington LiquidAUX Auxiliary Car Kit with Remote Control: With very clean industrial design, Kensington adds a steering wheel-mounted wireless remote control and an iPod- or iPhone charging/audio-out cable to your car. The standard version of LiquidAUX ($80) enables you to control tracks, play/pause, and shuffle features through the cool remote, and adds a mirrored charging bulb to the car cable. Convenient and sharp-looking. New: See the video here!
Vestalife Ladybug: We’re sick and tired of all of the forgettable iPod speakers out there, so going forward, iLounge is only going to focus on the ones that actually stand out from the pack. Shaped like its namesake and packing three drivers—two full-range, fold-out drivers and a subwoofer—Vestalife’s fun, attractive Ladybug comes in two versions—standard $110 editions and $125 limited editions—which are distinguished by multiple colors and art. The basic version uses a single color of soft metallic rubber-coated hard plastic, such as silver or red, while the special editions are born of partnerships with other companies, such as blue and silver girls’ and black guys’ Element Skateboards versions. Each comes with a remote control, power adapter, and carrying bag, plus Dock Adapters for various iPods and an audio cable. They can perform iPod video-out from current models, and optionally run off of AA battery power. New: See the video here!
XtremeMac Luna X2: The prior version of XtremeMac’s Luna was one of the very best iPod alarm clocks, and Luna X2 ($120) preserves most of its best features while lowering the price, updating its looks, and adding a couple of new frills—all positives. X2 now includes 7/5/2 (everyday, weekday, weekend) alarms, simplified controls, and the same good speakers as the prior model; the front screen still has huge white-on-black numbers and plenty of easy-to-read text, but without the color inversion options and detailed menus of the prior model. The new black and chrome body is smaller and sleeker than Luna, too. New: See the video here!
Best of Show Finalists
Belkin TuneCast Auto: This is the first iPhone-compatible car charger and FM transmitter we’ve tested, and offers good sound quality and nice industrial design with a simple radio tuner. At $80, it’s a little expensive, but provides an iPhone-ready shielded audio connection that—assuming your car’s speakers aren’t themselves weakly shielded—lets you hear music (not phone calls) through any FM radio-equipped car stereo. A ClearScan feature tries to find empty local stations; the early version we tested struggled a little in our tests.
Carl Zeiss Cinemizer: One of two new pairs of 640×480, 2007 iPod-ready wearable video displays we tested, the Cinemizer ($400) offers the most adjustable eyepieces we’ve yet seen—+/- 3.5D diopter dials—and superior resolution to last year’s products. It missed our full Best of Show award for a few reasons—an odd industrial design, a high price, and poor contrast settings that left blacks looking gray—but has real potential with some additional refinement.
Creative Xdock HD: As one of two upscaling iPod video docks designed to attach to either standard- or high-definition television sets, the Xdock HD ($400) preserves all the wireless audio streaming and Crystallizer features of last year’s Xdock, now bundling one wireless audio receiver and adding the ability to display iPod menu content on your TV. Video can be upscaled to 1080i or 720p for superior display on HD sets; the version we saw needed a little on-TV menu work and a price adjustment, but otherwise looked nice. New: See the video here!
DLO HomeDock HD: Similar to Xdock HD, DLO’s HomeDock HD ($200) offers 1080i/720p video upscaling and on-TV iPod music, video, and podcast browsing, but at a lower—not low—price. Packaged this time with an RF remote control, which wasn’t on display, the HomeDock HD had nicer-looking on-TV menus than Xdock HD or any non-Apple product we’ve seen. Like Xdock HD, however, it’s a tough call as to whether some users would prefer this to a $229 Apple TV, but composite video outputs for standard-def TVs are a major differentiator. New: See the video here!
Griffin TuneFlex Aux: A slicker, nicer-looking version of the company’s past car mount/charger/audio-out accessories, TuneFlex Aux didn’t break new ground, but won our attention with a clean, multi-iPod-friendly design. New: See the video here!
JBL On Stage IIIP: We’ve seen the On Stage in many prior iterations, but the new version, On Stage IIIP ($170), is the first that’s both iPhone- and iPod-compatible, and offers clean sound, battery-powered portability as an option, and an included remote control. It’s the best iPhone-ready speaker we’ve seen so far; many other options are coming. New: See the video here!
myvu Crystal: Competing with Carl Zeiss’s Cinemizer for the 640×480 wearable video display throne, myvu’s Crystal ($300) is decidedly better for users without vision issues, as its contrast settings offer much better blacks and its optics are optimized for users with relatively normal eyes. It also has superior earphones—the Ultimate Ears in-canals found in other new myvu models—and a much more attractive price. You’ll need to add prescription-style lenses (sold by myvu) if you need vision correction, though, and though the design continues to improve on last year’s model, it’s still not as mainstream as it could be. Crystal is a big step up for wearable iPod video displays, regardless. New: See the video here!
Targus SonicPak: This new backpack includes a NXT flat panel speaker pack that can be attached for iPod audio performance, or completely detached if you want to leave it behind or use it without the bag. Sold for $100, SonicPak’s price is a bit high, but the bag serves as a notebook computer carrier and/or a student’s backpack, looks good, and does a lot more for iPod-ready backpack design than most of the geeky options that have previously been released. New: See the video here!
Taylor Technologies iVolta: Using promising new technology, Taylor’s iVolta (approx. $25) adds a tiny speaker and four charging pins to your iPod, enabling you to recharge the iPod without using a cable—you just lay it down on a flat charging surface and the pins handle charging. Taylor’s tested it for safety, and it’s very easy to use; it would have been a full Best of Show winner if the speaker was more powerful and attractive. New: See the video here!
XtremeMac Tango X2: This update to the prior, nice-looking Tango speaker is more reasonably priced ($150 instead of $200), fixes the prior version’s downfiring speaker, and has a clean, black and chrome industrial design. A new AM/FM radio and dial on the front are welcome additions; there’s also a remote control in the package. Though not mindblowing, it’s an extremely competent update to a product that could easily have been tweaked less, and priced right. New: See the video here!
Congratulations to all of this year’s winners!