The 25 BEST PRODUCTS of the Year
By Kate Bonamici

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Of the thousands of new product designs that manufacturers sprang on the public this year, which ones qualify as truly great--and why? Check out FORTUNE's second annual design roundup, which focuses exclusively on mass-produced consumer goods that hit the U.S. market in 2004. (Okay, in our eagerness we did include a couple of products that will not be shipped until next month--but they can be ordered now.)

To assemble this list, a team of four reporters spent months scouring the products landscape for innovation in materials, function, and form--ideally, all three. We quizzed designers, manufacturers, retailers, and consumers. From a field of hundreds, we winnowed the list to about 70 contenders. Then our distinguished panelists (see box) told us which they loved and which they didn't. With their help, we chose the 25 winners you see here.

MIRAVISION MIRROR TV Think a television set is ugly when it's turned off? So did the folks at Philips, who created the first flat-screen TV that becomes a mirror when not in use. Henderson applauds the "break away from the cold 'consumer electronics' aesthetic." Designer: Philips Electronics. Price: $4,200;

MIRAVISION MIRROR TV Think a television set is ugly when it's turned off? So did the folks at Philips, who created the first flat-screen TV that becomes a mirror when not in use. Henderson applauds the "break away from the cold 'consumer electronics' aesthetic." Designer: Philips Electronics. Price: $4,200;

HANDHELD VACUUM This isn't your mother's dustbuster. Made of stainless steel and thermoplastic resin, the vaguely whale-shaped vacuum recharges in a wall-mountable base. Display it like sculpture. "Cool!" says Amit. Designer: Stefano Giovannoni for Alessi. Price: About $125 (U.S.-compatible model available next year);

X-9 GPS WATCH The first normal-sized wristwatch with a built-in global-positioning system is small enough to wear to the gym and functional enough to get you off Mount Everest. "I use it constantly," says Outside magazine associate editor John Bradley. Designer: Kimmo Pernu for Suunto. Price: $769;

7280 PHONE Good design is about knowing what to leave out. Nokia left out the dialing pad. The mirror on the side of this cellphone (shown actual size) converts to a color LCD screen; place your call via speech recognition or an iPod-like rotary button. "This shifts the paradigm," says Thompson. Designer: Nokia. Price: $550;

AIRGRIP LASER LEVEL Using a laser instead of a pencil to mark a level line is a great idea. This model refines the notion: It includes a powered suction cup that attaches easily to walls, leaving your hands free to hang the paintings. Says Sinclair: "It's the ultimate gift for your anal-retentive friend." Designer: Ryobi. Price: $40;

CANTEEN AND PAVINA GLASSES A cushion of air between two layers of mouth-blown glass insulates these beautifully minimalist drinking vessels, which keep cold drinks cold and hot drinks hot. They perfectly showcase a well-made cappuccino. "No finger-burning!" says Antonelli. Designer: Bodum. Price: $12 to $20 for two;

EGG BIRD FEEDER With a sleek ovoid shape in slippery glazed ceramic that keeps hungry squirrels from getting a toehold, it's the perfect melding of form and function. Wakefield calls it "a great example of how ordinary objects can be elevated by design." Designer: Jim Schatz for J. Schatz Inc. Price: $125;

SOUNDDOCK DIGITAL MUSIC SYSTEM Pop in your Pod and fill the room with music. Critics say the SoundDock provides the best sound quality of any iPod-centric system. As for looks? "Elegant and unpretentious," says Antonelli. Designer: Bose. Price: $299;

SPACEFRAME BUILDING TOY Kids can use these modular pieces, which are up to 40 inches long and made from recycled soda bottles, to build oversized sculptures and forts--a significant step up from "the days of tape and sofa cushions," says Sinclair. Designer: Scott Klinker for Offi. Price: $169;

THUMP SUNGLASSES No more tangled wires and bulging pockets: These 1.8-ounce wraparound shades have a built-in MP3 player that holds up to 60 songs--perfect for the ski slopes. "Visually unusual, but pretty cool," says Iansiti. Designer: Oakley. Price: $395;

FLO BICYCLE Open a suitcase small and light enough to be checked onto an airplane without incurring overage charges--and pull out a full-sized, trail-abuse-worthy mountain bike. Says World Cup champion racer Ned Overend: "From a guy who repeatedly hassles with a full-sized bike in a big plastic box on the plane, this is a great concept." Designers: Joe Murray and Tom Ritchey for Dahon. Price: $1,999 (shipping Jan. 1);

DOZI PAPER-CLIP HOLDER A desktop riff on the Chia Pet, this naked plastic porcupine grows quills when you toss paper clips its way. A magnet inside keeps the clips sticking to the creature's back, not its nose. "Too cute to pass up," says Antonelli. Designer: Mika H.J. Kim for Alessi. Price: $18;

R7 QUAD GOLF CLUB By adjusting four weighted screw-in cartridges in the club's generously sized titanium head, you can correct your less-than-perfect swing. Henderson offers one caveat: "I could see lots of backup on the fairways while the golfer ahead of you is fiddling with this." Designer: TaylorMade Adidas. Price: $599;

VENEERWARE PLATES Made of organically grown bamboo, these sturdy disposable plates are fabricated without chemicals or dyes and biodegrade in a landfill in four to six months. "It's great when a manufacturer incorporates sustainable materials," says Sinclair. Designer: bambu. Price: $6 for eight seven-inch plates, $8 for eight nine-inch plates;

CRUZER TITANIUM FLASH DRIVE Roller's one-word review: "Simplicity!" The toast of the current generation of flash memory drives, the Cruzer is durable, pretty, and small enough to wear around your neck. Use it to transfer files between computers with a minimum of hassle. Designer: SanDisk. Price: $130;

FLATOUT CONTAINERS These plastic food-storage bowls collapse to less than an inch high when you're not using them; the size also adjusts to perfectly accommodate your leftovers. "Great idea!" says Iansiti. Designer: Tupperware. Price: $15 to $17.50 for sets of three;

MORRISON COFFEE MACHINE The sleek, minimalist exterior hides storage for a coffee scoop and filters. Amit calls it the "best coffeemaker designed in a long time." It makes a fast, tasty brew too. Designer: Jasper Morrison for Rowenta. Price: $175;

UNDERARM THERMOMETER With a comfortable rounded shape, soft nonslip material, and perpendicular, easy-to-read display, this is the first underarm thermometer kids might actually stand still for. Sinclair gives it five stars. Designer: Smart Design for Vicks (Henderson recused himself from voting on this one). Price: $12; drugstores

INTERNATIONAL CCD BAMBI Design freaks have always loved Airstream trailers' exteriors but complained about the interiors. Not anymore: These 16- and 19-foot models are sleek all over. "They strike a balance between respect for what made Airstream an icon and modern contemporary design," says Wakefield. Designer: Christopher Deam for Airstream. Price: $35,238;

FINEPIX F450 DIGITAL CAMERA This tiny, square machine has an "amazing feature set," says Iansiti: a two-inch LCD panel, 5.2 megapixels of resolution, 3.4X optical zoom, and full-motion video with audio. Most important, the F450 takes great pictures, making it a popular point-and-click among pros. Designer: Fujifilm. Price: $359;

IMAC G5 An engineering marvel, the new iMac tucks the computer and speakers inside the expansive flat-panel display--"an advance as welcome as the day that VCR/DVD players were encased in the TV monitor box," says Thompson. Built-in wireless technology lets you use a cable-free keyboard and mouse. Designer: Apple. Price: $1,400;

ALGUES SCREEN "All design should be this much fun," says Wakefield. You can snap together the plastic seaweedy shapes in myriad ways to create a curtain, a room divider, or an art installation. Add more pieces for greater opacity; take some away for a lacy effect. Designers: Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for Vitra. Price: $200 for a set of 50;

MCKINLEY 7 LED FLASHLIGHT The little McKinley (shown actual size) packs a big beam, the product of seven light-emitting diodes. And because LEDs can last for decades, you may never have to change the bulbs. "A good use of LED technology," says Sinclair. Designer: Peak LED Solutions. Price: $55;

JAWBONE HEADSET This lightweight cellphone headset has a cutting-edge sensor that touches your cheek, transmitting speech with unparalleled clarity even as it dampens exterior noise. "Very elegant," says Antonelli. It also does something that many competitors don't: It stays in your ear. Designer: Yves Béhar for Aliph. Price: $150;

HEARTSTART HOME DEFIBRILLATOR Suffering from heart disease? This compact 3.3-lb. defibrillator, the first approved by the FDA for sale over the counter, "is easy to use and [potentially] life-saving," says Koshalek. Designer: Philips Medical Systems. Price: $1,495;