The latest in smartphones, high-resolution digital cameras, large-screen e-readers and highly portable netbook computers were favorite purchases last year. But many technophiles say they're already saving up for the much ballyhooed debut of Apple's tablet computer -- perhaps the world's most sought-after handheld device that doesn't officially exist.
But just what is it that draws the technically savvy among us to the latest and greatest gadgets and gizmos? According to one IT professional, the answer is simple.
"We are adults, but we've never outgrown playing with toys," said Rachel Baker, a Chicago-based IT consultant and founder of the burgeoning Chicago Nerds social club, where likeminded technophiles get together to speak geek. "I could play with gadgets all day long."
Smartphones: The year in review
Smartphones like the new Apple iPhone 3G S and Blackberry Curve 8530 hit most gadget geeks' shopping lists in 2009.
Verizon Wireless and Research In Motion unveiled the latest Blackberry Curve in November. The new addition to the Blackberry arsenal of smartphones offers customers access to the Verizon Wireless 3G network and built-in GPS and Wi-Fi capabilities.
The Apple iPhone 3G S debuted in June and boasts faster speed and longer battery life than its two predecessors. Despite a recent report in the New York Times that said problems experienced by iPhone 3G S users may have more to do with Apple hardware than AT&T's service network, iPhone loyalists remain faithful.
"The iPhone 3G S, for me, is a huge winner," said Michael Sheehan, a technology evangelist with Go-Grid Cloud Hosting and the founder HighTechDad.com, a labor of love blog dedicated to gadgets and gizmos. "It was a huge jump just in terms of the processor and the GPS [capabilities]. Plus, the new OS is really fantastic and the camera is better."
The iPhone Apps store experience continues to improve as well. "I think any company that has a really good [iPhone Apps] store presence is going to do really well," said Sheehan.
This year also witnessed the debut of the new Motorola Droid smartphone, which Sheehan tested and reviewed.
"I think this is the closest thing there is to an iPhone competitor," Sheehan said. "If I wasn't locked into AT&T and iPhone didn't exist, I would be a Droid user myself."
Because the Droid phones run on the open source Google Android operating system, users can have access to many applications that aren't approved for Apple iPhones. Sheehan warned that this openness can be a double-edged sword and users should exercise caution when downloading.
People interested in purchasing a new smartphone should take a hard look at the Nokia N97 and N900 phones, which made their debut in 2009, said Corvida Raven, a social networking consultant and the creative force behind SheGeeks.net, a blog dedicated to the latest gadgets and social networking technologies.
The Nokia N97 combines a 3.5-inch touch screen display with a full keyboard and quick, desktop-based access to popular social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. The N900, features an ARM Cortex-A8 600 MHz processor and a 3D graphics accelerator with OpenGL ES 2.0 support. The N900 also runs on Nokia's new open source Linux-based Maemo 5 operating system. Both cameras feature a powerful 5-megapixel camera.
"The N97 is a great experience for social networking," Raven said. "The N900 is way more business focused, but it's super geeky."
More gadgets and gizmos
IT professionals were also highly impressed with the latest netbooks, wireless readers and digital cameras in 2009.
Netbooks -- thin, lightweight and highly economical laptop computers that run on low-end processors -- started to proliferate last year. Baker, the IT consultant from Chicago, said her new Dell Mini-9 netbook is great for simple tasks like surfing the Internet and sending email. She also likes the fact that the netbook often saves her from having to lug around the considerably larger and more expensive MacBook Pro laptop she owns.
"There is totally a tradeoff in terms of performance," she said. But its Internet capabilities make it "great for settling living room arguments."
An avid reader, Baker says she also can't get enough of her new Amazon Kindle e-book reader. E-book readers, or e-readers, allow users to wirelessly receive and read e-books and negate the need for a back-breaking book bags.
The Kindle DX -- the latest version of Amazon's popular e-reader -- was released in May and features a screen more than twice the size of its predecessor, the Amazon Kindle 2. The Kindle DX also boasts enhanced Internet navigation capabilities and a built-in PDF reader. Other popular e-readers on the market include the Sony Reader and the IREX DR800SG.
Sheehan and Raven give a big thumbs up to the advances made this year in high-definition pocket video cameras such as the Kodak Zi6 and Zi8, the Creative Vado Pocket Video Cam and Pure Digital's Flip Mino and Flip Ultra camera.
"These cameras are really small -- like the size of a lotion bottle -- and they have a lot of battery life in them," said Raven, who particularly likes the Creative Vado. "I've recorded at least three or four hours straight on that camera. It lasts a pretty long time."
Gadget geeks in a fervor over Apple tablet and Google Chrome OS
Looking ahead to 2010, gadget lovers say they're anxiously awaiting the Apple tablet computer, which is rumored to be set for a spring release. Apple isn't saying much about the possibility of a tablet computer, but industry watchers predict it will be a thin, handheld device with a 10.1-inch touch screen, making it bigger than the iPhone yet smaller and lighter than the typical laptop.
"Apple has been much rumored to have this device," Baker said. "Geeks are drooling over it."
The planned release of netbooks that run on Google Chrome OS also has gadget lovers frothing at the mouth. According to Google's official blog, Google Chrome OS-based netbooks will be available by late 2010. Technophiles are excited because Google Chrome OS skips many of the startup steps associated with standard operating systems. As a result, Baker explained, the new netbooks will be perfect for the geek on the go.
Google Chrome OS "boots up in like seconds," Baker said.