2011 brought an avalanche of hardware running Android -- some if it good, some of it not so good. We try to love everything Android-related around these parts (really, we do), but some things just stand out more than others. We asked you guys what your picks were in all the categories, but of course we had to chime in ourselves here. We've fondled just about every Android device out there, and after a bit of discussion amongst ourselves, we've decided on just what ones rise to the top.
Remember -- our choices don't have to mimic yours. That's the great thing about Android, there is a ton of choice for just about any taste. Anyhoo, see our winners (and losers) after the break.
And coming up on Thursday -- the Readers' Choice Awards!
Smartphone of the year
Winner: The Motorola Droid RAZR
Yes, the Droid RAZR.
It's beautiful, it's thin, it's fast, it's got a good camera, and it's our pick. Other phones are out there that would have made a great choice here, but the RAZR nudged them all out. We can't say any one feature is better than anything out there, but when you add them all together you have one hell of a smartphone. Motorola and Verizon have outdone themselves. If you're using one, you probably agree. If you haven't used one, check one out next time you're at a Verizon store. We think you'll be pleased.
Samsung Galaxy Nexus
For many, the newest Nexus is the phone to have. It had a bit of a troublesome launch -- and if you're on Verizon, you're probably still dealing with issues. But it has turned into an excellent smartphone in its own right. Because it's a Nexus, it lacks a bit of the UI flare you have on some other phones, which is why it's a number two pick for our phone of the year.
Traditional 10-inch Android tablet of the year
Winner: Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1
Thin and light, it's a great piece of technology and our choice as the best 10 inch tablet of 2011. The beautiful screen and the standard Tegra 2 innards make for a great experience -- whether playing games or trying to be productive. It's the Android tablet that changed Android tablets, and put that other company into a tizzy -- you can tell by all the courtroom drama.
Since all 10-inch tablets are basically the same inside, look, feel, and features are the deciding factors here. The Iconia has a full size USB port, a micro SD card slot, and is priced right. Nobody will blame you if this is the tablet you choose.
We tell ya, if ASUS hadn't been hit with supply constraints, the Prime's easily in the Top 2. Look for it to be a top contender in 2012 as more people get it.
Sub-10-inch tablet or e-reader of the year
Winner: Amazon Kindle Fire
Full access to the Amazon eco-system, decent hardware specs, great build quality, and a $199 price point. That's a recipe for success if there ever was one. And if you're not afraid to void warranties, it's easy enough to drop the full Android experience on to the Fire. There's a lot to love here.
A great book reader with a color screen, in-person support at any Barnes and Noble location, and practically unbreakable on the software side. It's getting long in the tooth, and the Nook Tablet is already at its heels. But at just $199, the Nook Color is still worth a look.
Most disappointing smartphone of the year
After all the fanfare, the ThunderBolt just failed to deliver. Poor support from HTC and/or Verizon, issues from a brand new LTE network, and a build quality that leaves much to be desired makes the ThunderBolt our choice for the biggest disappointment this year. If it weren't for the amazing developer community, we'd just want this one put out to pasture.
Take a phone with amazing build quality and materials, running stock Android on a Tegra 2 chip and you have something a lot of folks would love. Once you add in really bad software and updates that took forever to fix it, you have a different experience. The phone you can drive nails with died from lack of support. Cest la vie.
Most disappointing tablet or other device
It's a given that version one products usually don't work as well as we'd like them to. The Logitech Revue fits right in here. It's a bit slow because of underpowered hardware, and did finally get that Honeycomb update we've been waiting for, but it just didn't live up to the hype.
Get LTE on your Motorola Xoom in one week, and a dozen or so easy steps.
Game of the year
It's challenging yet simple, attracts both the young and the old, and looks amazing. Sprinkle is one of those games you can play when you need to waste some time, and leave it sit when you don't. That's perfect (in our opinion) for a mobile game. And it's fun.
It's Angry Birds. Even if you don't love it, you have to show them some respect. (They are angry, after all.)
Check-in app of the year
It's simple and it works. It's also multi-platform so your friends and family that haven't seen the Android light can participate. And there's a certain satisfaction in being the mayor of your couch!
We're loving Google+, and check-ins combined with the great picture upload ability of Google+ make it a winner.
Social networking app of the year
We're loving Google+, and glad that the folks in Mountain View finally figured out what to do with Wave and Buzz. Hangouts are a killer feature, and the Android app is great. If you're not on Google+ yet, what are you waiting for?
Facebook may be more popular than Google+ (for now, anyways) a quick look at the Android app shows why it gets the number two spot instead of the blue ribbon. You can do better, fellas.
Travel app of the year
Whether you're running all over the globe or just trying to keep track of your roving boss, Tripit has you covered. Set up the app, and have your itinerary pulled right from your e-mail, and shared with your networked friends. It's an Android bloggers best friend come this time of year.
Want to know when your boss' plane is about to touch down so you can call him? It doesn't get much better than FlightTrack.
Business app of the year
Winner: Documents To Go
The granddaddy of them all, integration with Google Docs, and support for just about any format. Docs to go is a staple in the business world for a reason. Some things are simply worth the price, and this is one of those things.
If you use Google Docs for your groups documents (and you probably should) having them at your fingertips is a big plus.
Keyboard of the year
Winner: SwiftKey X
When you can write an entire sentence by just entering a few characters, you know you have a winner on your hands. Take the time to set up SwiftKey X, then spend a week or two letting it learn how you type, and you'll see what we're talking about.
A popular choice in its own right, but lack of availability (while it's preinstalled any many phones, it needs to be in the Android Market) keeps this one at number two.
Twitter app of the year
Winner: Twitter for Android
Twitter has come a long way this year with its Android app, and it shows. Push messaging, multiple accounts, and a pleasant UI make for a great application. If you like the Twitters, and we know a whole lot of you do, be sure to try the official application.
If customization is your thing, then Plume is the Twitter client for you. This one does it all, but can be a bit daunting to set up for the new user.
Tablet app of the year
Winner: IMDb Movies & TV
This is how a tablet app should be made. IMDb fills your screen with relevant information, is easy to navigate, and looks great. It sure beats using the desktop optimized website in your browser. Content aside, the UI and layout make this one our choice. Besides, who hasn't seen an old movie on Encore and just had to know who was starring in it?
Google's learning how to make apps that are functional, full of options, and look great. Currents is hopefully only the beginning, and a hell of a start it is.
Hacking app of the year
If you're going to allow apps on your phone to run as root, you had better have a way to monitor who is doing what. SuperUser is simply a must-have for everyone who roots their Android device, and ChainsDD has been hard at work bringing the UI and feature set to a whole 'nother level.
A file manager, text editor, and image viewer that can run as root. Root Explorer has saved countless numbers of people an infinite amount of time by not looking for a data cable.
Podcatcher of the year
If you're into podcasts like we're into podcasts, you'll love Doggcatcher. Video and audio podcasts are grabbed and managed with ease, play back works great, and the settings allow for a great amount of scheduling to keep your battery usage in check. Well worth a few bucks.
Listen ties in very well with your Google Reader feeds, which makes it a fine choice for many. If you use Google reader to manage your podcasts, be sure to have a look at Google Listen.