11. Microsoft Windows 7 (operating system, prices vary) With Windows 7, Microsoft hopes to put the bad press from Vista behind it. Windows 7 smooths out a number of Vista annoyances (User Account Control, anyone?) and makes the interface cleaner and easier to work with overall (for example, the new taskbar uses one icon per open application instead of accumulating individual buttons for each window). It’s slightly faster than Vista, too, reversing the trend of software upgrades yielding performance downgrades.

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12. Intel Core i7 (processor series, prices vary) When Intel launched its Core i7 line of chips last fall, desktops powered with these Nehalem-based processors quickly began to dominate our charts of top-performing power PCs. Early tests of the Core i7 laptop CPU point to similar results. And that’s no great surprise: Aside from possessing a bigger cache, Core i7 chips have a Turbo Boost mode that automatically overclocks the processor when your system needs an extra burst of speed.

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13. AMD Phenom II (processor series, prices vary) AMD’s latest processors can’t match the raw power of Intel’s Core I7 line, but they’re loaded with features that enthusiasts love. Upgrading from a Socket AM2+ processor to a Phenom II is easy and relatively inexpensive. And you can overclock some of the chips to an insane 6GHz or more; just make sure that your cooling is arctic.

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14. Palm Pre (smartphone, $150 with two-year Sprint contract) The Pre wowed us with its engaging (and fun to use) WebOS software and eye-catching hardware. Thanks to the Pre’s responsive multitouch screen, its intuitive gesture-based controls, and WebOS’s beautiful way of organizing information, this smartphone is a pleasure to use. The keyboard may not be perfect, but that’s a minor trade-off for everything else the Pre offers.

Full review | Video

15. Amazon Kindle 2 (e-book reader, $259) This skinnier remake of the original Kindle boasts an improved interface and a redesigned keyboard. With 2GB of onboard storage (room for 1500 average-length books), this reader has everything but the faint rustling of paper pages turning. Text is crisp and tight, and the screen technology is noticeably better than in version one. The device charges via USB, and you can use it as a mass-storage device.

Full review | Video

16. Facebook (social media service, free) Facebook wasn’t the first social networking site, but it may be the first one that pushed social networking into the lives of mainstream Americans. The Facebook site is a cross between your personal digital scrapbook, and a running discussion with your friends. On Facebook, you can post pretty much anything about yourself, from songs to photos to movies to religious beliefs, and then invite your friends to check it out. It’s also a great way to reconnect with people from your past, including some you might rather had stayed there. In any case, Facebook has undeniably changed the way human beings interact with one another in the 21st century. When we say goodbye to our friends, don’t we now sometimes say “See you on Facebook”?

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17. HP Mini 311-1000NR (netbook, base price $399) The first netbook to sport nVidia’s Ion platform, which marries an Intel Atom processor to a discrete GPU produces a reasonably powerful combo that lets you run high-def video and games.

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18. Samsung LN40B650 (HDTV, $1700) Thanks to its very good picture quality, Internet and home network entertainment features, and general user-friendliness, this LCD TV ranks as the best 40-42-inch HDTV we’ve tested this year. The LN40B650 displays very sharp and crisp images, and according to one judge in our testing panel, looked “very pleasing, overall.”

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19. Novatel Wireless MiFi 2200 (Wi-Fi card, $100 or $150 with two-year Sprint or Verizon plan) Tired of hunting for Wi-Fi hotspots? With the credit-card-size Novatel Wireless MiFi 2200 and a wireless broadband plan, you can create your own hotspot wherever network coverage exists. This ultracompact Wi-Fi router lets up to five users share bandwidth from a single mobile broadband account via standard Wi-Fi utilities, without any special software–a real money saver for small groups of travelers. Gadgets don’t get much cooler than this.

Full review

20. Kodak Zi8 (digital camcorder, $180) This is the first ultracompact HD pocket camcorder to offer 1080p recording and digital image stabilization. Test videos we shot with the Zi8 had stellar image quality in well-lit settings. The only things holding it back are its sometimes-slow interface and controls. Otherwise, it runs circles around the pint-size competition.

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