The insider guide to gizmo greats: The smartest gadgets you’ve never heard of

iPhones, iMacs, iPods, iBooks... but is there an iAlternative? Adam Jacques goes in search of the best gadgets on the market – from smartphones to cameras, netbooks to satnavs – and finds that it pays to look beyond the most famous brands
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The Independent Tech

1. The portable media player

Can't fit a laptop in your pocket; struggle to watch a movie on your phone? Enter the Archos 5. The Archos tries to be a lot of things: web browser (via wi-fi), MP3 and video player. But it's the latter it excels at – beating even the iPod Touch, thanks to its super-slim dimensions and gorgeous 4.8in screen that makes everything from three-hour epics to TV shows a pleasure to watch, once you've "ripped" them from a PC or downloaded them from the Archos store. £275, www.archos.com

2. The smartphone

The HTC Hero comes closer than any other phone to matching the iPhone, and in some areas actually exceeds it thanks to a (slightly) better camera and partial Flash support (for a better web experience). And while the apps aren't as plentiful, or the touchscreen interface quite as slick, it's early days, and both areas will improve as more apps and updates come online. Free on contract with Orange and Vodafone

3. The netbook

Dell, HP and Sony dominate the laptop market, but it's Taiwan's Asus that leads the way in the smaller netbooks. The technical specs in its Eee 1008HA Seashell notebook may be near identical to many others (10in screen, a weedy Intel Atom processor), but it's their implementation that sets it apart. It's easily the best-looking netbook, with sleek styling, while its tiny dimensions (it weighs just 1.1kg and is only an inch thick) and respectable battery life – Asus claims six hours – make it a must. £294.94, www.simplyasus.com

4. The satellite navigation system

What sets Garmin's Nüvi 1490T apart from the smorgasbord of excellent TomTom units available is its screen. While 4.3in has become the standard for most devices, Garmin has provided a bigger, 5in screen – great for those of us whose eyesight isn't as sharp as we'd like. Alongside a powerful address searcher and an eco-route feature for cutting down fuel consumption, it's also been bundled with a traffic updater. £228.86, www.amazon.co.uk

5. The MP3 player

Sony has spent eight years playing catch-up to Apple, and now, with its NWZ-E444 player, it is finally taking on the iPod Nano, with a similarly specced unit including up to 16GB storage in the top model, MP4 video playback and FM radio. But is it any better? If a super-slick interface and covetability are top of your list, then the E444 can't quite compete. But if sound quality and value for money are your priorities, take another look; the audio reproductions far outperform the Nano and, at £81 from Amazon, it's 30 per cent cheaper.

6. The social-networking phone

Teens and social networking go together like fish and chips, which is why INQ's surprisingly powerful pay-as-you-go Mini 3G "Facebook phone" is such a triumph. It has Facebook, Twitter and Skype (free calls galore) support built in. While you might question the wisdom of a 24/7 connection to cyberspace, it's the future, so accept it and empower your teen. £60, www.three.co.uk

7. The digital compact camera

Anyone who has taken pictures with their camera phones in low light will know there's some way to go before they catch up with digital compacts. And with the release of Fujifilm's Finepix F200 EXR, the gulf has been widened further, thanks to what is easily the best low-light performer on the market, far eclipsing anything from Canon, Sony or Nikon. £199.40, www.pixmania.co.uk

8. The TV digibox

If you want to pause, rewind or record live TV without a hefty Sky+ subscription charge, Humix's minimalist PVR-9300T delivers. It combines a Freeview tuner with a generous 320GB hard drive, so you can record up to 200 hours of programming via an easy-to-use interface (set it to record a whole series at the touch of a button). And, like the Sky+ HD box, it comes with an HDMI connection, so existing content looks great and when the BBC and ITV's HD services come on stream in the next few months, you'll be able to watch and record shows in high definition, too. £163.99, www.amazon.co.uk

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