No matter how jaded we become, each year the fine gadget purveyors of the world manage to find new ways to delight and surprise us with gear that’s inventive, exciting, and just plain cool. We put our heads together and collected the very best and most interesting products we were lucky enough to try this year. Here’s to more in the year ahead.
Using a $498 laptop is normally an exercise in severe compromise. It will be powerful, but huge and heavy, or light but so slow as to not be worth it. The Surface Go has the best build quality we’ve seen in a $498 laptop in quite some time, a lovely design, and it’s fast enough for the applications that matter.
Nikon Z7 and Canon EOS R
While the standalone camera might be in decline from a market perspective, there’s never been a more exciting time to be a camera nerd. The full-frame mirrorless camera arms race is in full effect these days. With its five-year headstart on the competition, Sony wins the year with the A7R III. But maybe the most exciting news was that Nikon and Canon finally got their act together and released mirrorless full framers of their own.
Lots of companies have tried to make truly wireless headphones that actually work well, but Jabra is one of the few that’s totally succeeded. Aside from sounding great, the Jabra Elite 65t earbuds nail the three tough challenges of such a tiny gadget: fit, connectivity, and battery life.
You can even buy an active version that’s water and sweat resistant. After spending a week with these earbuds—each of which is the size of a large piece of popcorn — you’ll wonder why wires ever existed.
The Sony 1000X series wireless headphones blew us away when the first set of hit the market three years ago because they produced terrific audio fidelity and had impressive noise cancelling. This third generation model is undeniably the best yet. Aside from offering best-in-class noise cancelling, the newest Sony headphones are remarkably comfortable and sleek with neat features like touch-sensitive earcups that let you control your music without fetching your phone. Sorry Bose. Sony makes the best noise-cancelling headphones now.
The Palm’s performance is bad, its battery life is even worse, and its screen is so small you may have to squint just to read normal text. So why is it on our list of the best gadgets of 2018? Because it put a smile on the face of pretty much anyone that touched it. By this point, smartphones have become notched Quasimodo looking things that are as boring as toasters, but the Palm is downright adorable. You might even call it cheery.
But even more important than its appearance is that in a time when people are growing more concerned with digital wellbeing, this tiny phone takes a different approach to fighting internet addiction. Running a full version of Android, the Palm offers just enough horsepower to perform all the basic smartphones duties and run your favourite apps, while its size and hands-off design encourages you to spend less time looking at a screen and more time enjoying life, which if you think about it, is sort of the whole point behind tech in the first place.
Xbox One players have had a wide array of easily customisable controllers to choose from, but PS4 gamers have been stuck. The Scuf Vantage is the first PS4 controller designed from the ground up to be as adaptable as the ones from Microsoft, and it shows. You can tweak almost every single aspect of the controller without any tools and finally build something perfect just for you.
Most smartphones ditched physical keyboards ages ago, but when it comes to laptops, most people would rather wrestle naked with a porcupine than give up their typing buttons. But with its second-gen Yoga Book, Lenovo has given the world the best showcase for a lack of a keyboard doesn’t have to be that scary. Not only is the Yoga Book C930 a much more capable laptop replacement than its predecessor, thanks to the e-ink screen where its keyboard would normally be, but you can also use Yoga Book as an e-reader or a sketch pad, even when the main display is off.
If dual-screen laptops really are on their way, the Yoga Book C930 is our best peek into the future yet.
It’s not the largest Lego set currently available, but the Voltron set might be the most ambitious one. The 2,321 piece set is part of Lego’s new Ideas program, where designers can submit their own ideas for Lego sets. Created by Leandro Teyag, it’s actually five Lego sets in one. You can build the five lions from the popular cartoon, or you can combine them into a 38cm tall Voltron.
Google wasn’t the first company to make a smart speaker with a display, which is probably why the Home Hub is actually useful. Taking notes from its competitor’s failures, this Google Home-plus-a-screen puts an emphasis on home control and brings a visual element to its voice assistant. There’s no camera on it, so you don’t have to worry about the gadget watching you, and it’s specifically designed to be good at showing you recipes while cooking. The Google Home Hub is also pretty cheap at $199.
Since 2015, it seems like for every new “innovation” Apple added to the MacBook Pro, it also jammed in something else that annoyed the living hell out of people. Is making a well-designed laptop with up-to-date specs, a decent keyboard, and a great screen really that difficult? Turns out the answer is no, it just took someone besides Apple to do it. Sporting both types of USB ports, a gorgeous aluminium chassis, brilliant 36cm touchscreen, and a nifty webcam that disappears into a comfy keyboard, Huawei’s MateBook X Pro is exactly the kind of laptop people wanted Apple to make for years, except it runs Windows 10 instead of macOS. Which depending on your preferences, might make it just that much better.
GoPro invented the action camera as we know it, and for a while, that propelled the company to fortunes. The problem is that from one generation to the next new GoPros don’t offer that much improvement that might lead someone to upgrade. While the Hero7’s incredible stabilisation might not be the killer feature that makes the gadget essential, it’s very damn impressive.
If 2018 was the year of the notch, then the Oppo Find X was the phone that killed them. That’s because while almost every other phone maker was trying to figure out how to implement different types of cutouts, the Find X axed the notch altogether. This leaves you with a device offering an incredible screen-to-body ratio of 93.8 per cent, and no buttons, bezels, or any other distractions to get in the way. And when you want to take a selfie, all you have to tap the camera app.
Then, like a gadget inspired more by James Bond films than lame arse consumer devices, the Find X’s hidden cam rises up like a secret weapon. While Oppo’s phone isn’t without its flaws, by reviving the slider phone and killing the notch with a little imagination and some old-school gadgetry, the Find X has more than earned its spot as one of the most interesting gadgets this year.
Dyson has always made very nice rechargeable handheld vacuum cleaners, but the V10 is the first one Dyson insisted could replace the corded vac. In fact, Dyson was so sure of the V10's prowess it actually discontinued its corded vacuums. While we don’t think it quite replaces the corded vac if you live in a giant house, it will absolutely be a good solution for people in smaller homes and apartments. It might start at $349 and only last 10-minutes on a charge, but it gets the house clean.
Robot vacuums can be hit or miss at cleaning, but iRobot’s Roomba i7+ gets nearly everything right. Instead of crashing into walls, it can automatically recognise rooms and its intelligent camera-based system means you don’t have to worry about it getting lost. It can also memorise multiple floor plans, and best of all empties its own dustbin. Plus, you get Alexa and Google Assistant compatibility. It’s a little loud, but all vacuums are. The only thing we don’t love is the price at $1,499, but at least you get what you pay for with the most advanced robot vacuum currently out there.
Dolby Atmos is a futuristic audio technology that adds a dimension of height to surround sound. It used to be confined to high-end theatres, but recently, a number of companies have started introducing Atmos-ready soundbar. At $689 this Vizio system is the cheapest way to get Atmos in your living room. That doesn’t mean it skimps on quality either. Upward-firing speakers bounce audio off your ceiling, while a subwoofer and two satellite speakers surround you with sound. It must be heard to be believed.
Taking the next step in photography means learning how to light your photos yourself, and that requires a flash. But flashes are hard to use and most people use them wrong, resulting in ugly photos. The Canon 470EX-AI is trying to make it a little easier by actually helping you find the right place to bounce your flash with nothing more than the press of a button.
Wear OS finally has a good smartwatch in the form of the Fossil Sport. On top of a zillion colour options, it’s got the upgraded Snapdragon Wear 3100 chip. That means less lag when you swipe between screens, and rapid charging takes some of the inconvenience out of its roughly 20-24 hour battery life. On top of being swimproof, it also has accurate tracking, built-in GPS, heart rate monitoring, and NFC payments via Google Pay for an affordable $352.
A 100 inches is a whole lot of TV. A whole lot of TV, and for most people, it’s simply too much TV. Hisense sells this projector and screen for $US10,000, which could get you something a little smaller and much, much nicer, but it wouldn’t be nearly as fun at parties.
Headphones from legendary Brooklyn producer Grado have a reputation for uncompromising quality, so there was always some question about whether the company would ever build a wireless headphone. At long last they have, and it was worth the wait.
Most headphones are built to shut out the rest of the world, and while some have microphones with pass-through audio, that never sounds quite right. So instead of cramming tiny speakers in your ear canals, Sony’s wireless headphones have earbuds with holes in the middle that let noises from the outside world blend with your favourite tunes naturally, like the best soundtrack in the world. And while the Xperia Ear Duos still suffer a bit when faced with things like a screeching train or roaring jackhammer, Sony’s earbuds are an amazing tool for the enlightened commuter.
Retro gaming is especially popular right now, but instead of just slapping 21 games in a tiny nostalgia-wringing box like Nintendo did, Analogue re-engineered the original Super Nintendo from the ground up with its Super Nt that makes your favourite 16-bit games look absolutely gorgeous on a modern hi-def TV. It can be easily upgraded with wireless controllers, and there’s a slot on top for playing the same cartridges you grew up with. But here’s a secret: it can also be easily hacked to play all those SNES ROMs you’ve been secretly collecting for years.
Audeze, best known as the maker of audiophile headphones that cost a bundle, did something totally different this year by introducing a new set of headphones designed to deliver a realistic 3D audio experience for gamers, movie buffs, and yes, even music fans. There’s a lot of tech in these things. In addition to generally doing a great job reproducing cinematic surround sound, they’ve also got head tracking technology inside that slightly adjusts the audio as you move your head around, keeping the origin of sound sources at the same point as if they were actually in the room with you.
Some of the tech in this gadget is borderline gimmicky but taken as a whole, the great-sounding cans are ambitious, exciting, and a hell of a lot of fun to use.
By now, everyone should be familiar with two-factor authentication. After entering your password to access your email or another account, 2FA requires that you enter a code generated by an app or sent to you via SMS. Physical security keys have long been the more secure version of this technology, requiring that you have a physical object in your possession to work. By making its version of the technology available to anyone, Google is helping to mainstream a super secure technology that could help keep you from getting phished.