In the market for a tech upgrade or looking for Christmas-present inspiration? Our columnist delves into his review archive to give you his top 10 gadget picks of 2019.
1. Freeview SmartVu
This pint-sized box was the saviour of many frustrated Spark Sport subscribers during the Rugby World Cup. Its ability to reliably stream video apps and a selection of Freeview channels over the internet makes it a powerful entertainment gadget at a reasonable price. Based on Google’s Android TV platform, it supports such apps as YouTube and Google Play Music. It also functions as a Chromecast, letting you wirelessly send content to your TV from a smartphone or computer. Take it with you on holiday – all it needs is a Wi-Fi connection.
2. Huawei P30 Pro
Huawei’s P30 Pro, released in early 2019, was a highpoint in a year when the Chinese company was shut out of 5G network projects and blocked from selling the full suite of Google services with its flagship Mate 30 smartphone. The P30 Pro held its position as the most feature-rich Android smartphone for its price. It has a stunning camera that includes a 5x optical zoom and a strikingly good night-shooting mode. In-screen fingerprint scanning works well and it can be used for wireless charging of other devices. On the whole, the P30 Pro is great value.
3. Surface Laptop 3
Microsoft’s sleek, light (1.26kg) Windows 10 Surface Laptop 3 provides a significant performance increase on its predecessor, and is up to three times more powerful than Apple’s MacBook Air, with which Microsoft likes to compare it. Battery life isn’t great, but its new fast-charge feature gets the battery to 80% of capacity in an hour. This is a respectable upgrade.
Price: from $1899 (15-inch version from $2249)
4. Amazon Echo Studio
A belated but impressive debut in the large smart-speaker market for Amazon. The Echo Studio has excellent sound quality and supports lossless and advanced audio formats, including Dolby Atmos. With built-in microphones and Amazon’s Alexa smart-assistant software, it can be controlled with voice commands. It includes line-in and optical connections for plugging into music players and works with a selection of music-streaming services.
5. Samsung 4K QLED
Samsung debuted its stunning 8K TVs this year, but a scarcity of content to take advantage of them and hefty price tags ensure 4K QLEDs are still the sweet spot for the Korean TV maker. The 65-inch Q60 is ideal for a mid-sized living room. The TV’s 4K Quantum Processor optimises the display to suit the content and your viewing conditions. The upscaling of standard and high-definition content is impressive, as is the screen’s colour handling. With minimalist design and great support for streaming apps, it is the king of the 4K TVs for 2019.
6. Sony wireless earbuds
Paying more than $400 for a pair of wireless earbuds may seem excessive, but when they deliver such well-balanced sound as Sony’s WF-1000XM3s, they’re worth considering in place of full-fledged headphones. You get a pair of lightweight (8g apiece) buds with noise cancellation and proximity detection, so if you remove one, the sound automatically pauses. A range of silicone earpieces ensures a good fit and battery life is an impressive six hours. Their audio quality is as good as anything on the market.
7. Vodafone TV 2
The best option for TV viewing and not restricted to Vodafone customers. The second-generation Vodafone TV box puts free-to-air and Sky TV channels and streaming apps in one slick user interface. Watch programmes live or access them for up to three days from broadcast, or set it to record shows and series. Content is delivered via a broadband connection – you’ll need an unlimited data plan to make the most of it. Streaming quality is excellent and the remote is easy to use. It’s a big improvement on the clunky Sky box for those on ultra-fast broadband.
8. iPhone 11
It doesn’t have the fancy screen and telephoto camera of its iPhone 11 Pro sibling, but the iPhone 11 has most things you need and costs significantly less. It has the same processor and software as the Pro model, including Night mode, which produces great photos in low light, and 4K video shooting at 60 frames per second. Battery life is an hour better than you can expect from the iPhone XR, but the entry-level model comes with a meagre 64 gigabytes of storage. That aside, it is an exceptionally good phone with Apple’s usual mark of quality.
9. HP Spectre x360 13 inch
This is one of the best two-in-one laptops around, with sharp design and a copper trim that gives it a stylish look. The Spectre isn’t the most powerful laptop on the market but, unless you are looking to play high-end games, it has more than enough grunt with its Intel Core i7 processor to handle all your Windows productivity needs and power-hungry applications such as video editing. In tablet mode, used with a stylus, it is comfortable to hold and the screen is crisp. Battery life is impressive – expect up to 12 hours between charges.
Price: from $2899
Price: from $1349
10. JBL Link View
Google hasn’t released its Home and Mini devices here officially, so one of the best options for a decent bedside radio and music player with Google Assistant built in this year was the JBL Link View. It’s a smart speaker with a high-definition touchscreen and good audio quality for its size. It includes a five-megapixel camera for making video calls, has Chromecast built in and is splash-proof. It is easy to set up and clean and can be customised to display photos.
- Apple MacBook
- Pro 16 inch
- Apple Airpods Pro
- Samsung Fold
- Oppo Reno
- 10x Zoom
This article was first published in the December 21, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.