A talking digital assistant, an e-reader for the bath, flashy phones and cameras and tablets to rival laptops make 2018’s list of top tech.
1. LG C8 OLED TV
This year, so-called Oled (organic light-emitting diode) TVs displayed their ascendance with superb picture quality. Rapid price reductions also mean Oled is no longer a luxury. The 55-inch version of LG’s stunning C8 was on sale during November for $3200, a bargain for the quality of its picture. There are more expensive TVs in LG’s line-up, but the C8 has everything you need, from ultra-high definition, high dynamic range support and Dolby Atmos sound to one of the more intuitive and attractive user interfaces available. It provides excellent viewing, and in the dark the experience is up there with sitting in the cinema.
2. Huawei P20 Pro
This phone makes it easy to take perfectly lit, atmospheric shots at night – a real test for smartphone cameras. The P20 Pro’s three rear cameras, one of which is 40 megapixels, work in tandem and with artificial intelligence tools to great effect. Its high-quality screen, large battery and 128 gigabytes of storage make it a contender for best phone of the year. Huawei’s Mate 20 Pro is technically superior, but the P20 Pro’s styling and cameras add up to the best value for money among higher-end Android smartphones.
3. Fitbit Versa
Fitbit had to do something to appeal to fitness-tracker fans eyeing the more sophisticated Apple Watch. The answer is the Versa, a watch-like addition to its line-up that is about half the price of Apple’s gadget. Fitbit’s health-tracking features and associated phone app are popular and easy to use. The improvements had to come on the hardware side and Fitbit has delivered a lighter, better-looking watch with a touch screen that gives the wearer an overview of heart rate, steps taken and workout metrics. It doesn’t have a GPS chip for location tracking or as many apps as the Apple Watch, but with four-day battery life and good sleep-tracking features, it is a worthy rival.
4. Amazon Kindle Paperwhite 4
There’s plenty of life in e-books, and although some people are content to read them on a smartphone, those who regularly choose them ahead of print will want something easier to hold and gentler on the eyes. The Paperwhite is Amazon’s mid-range e-reader, and since the high-end Kindle Oasis is not widely available here, it represents the best bet in the Amazon stable. Its six-inch screen is bright, with crisp text and good for reading outdoors, yet it is easy on the eyes. It is also waterproof, so suitable for reading in the bath or by the pool. If used for about 30 minutes a day, the battery lasts for weeks. And it plays Audible audiobooks.
5. Surface Go
The tablet device market has been in slow decline, but one bright spot has been the arrival of Microsoft in the hardware business with the Surface line of tablets and two-in-one convertible laptops. If you need all the features of Windows 10 for work or home use, the Surface Pro is the ultimate mobile computer. It is powerful but expensive, particularly with the addition of a keyboard/cover and stylus. The Surface Go, a smaller-format model with the same look and feel but a 10-inch screen, is cheaper. It has less processing power but a great display for watching movies, good performance for running standard productivity apps and is ideal for household admin or school work.
6. HP Envy 13
For solid performance in an ultra-portable Windows 10 laptop, with the design finesse of a MacBook, HP’s 13-inch Envy does the job. The entry-level 2018 model has an Intel Core i5 processor with a boost mode for short bursts of heavy computing activity, 8 gigabytes of memory and 256 gigabytes of solid-state storage. There are flashier laptops around, but the Envy has an understated look and quality finish and weighs just 1.2kg. And the X360 model is a good option if you want a laptop that converts into a tablet as well.
Price: From $2,099
7. Fujifilm XT-3
Fujifilm’s XT-3 compact camera takes high-quality photos and videos. It’s a so-called “mirrorless” camera so is less bulky than the single-lens reflex ones hefted by many professional photographers. This year saw all the big camera makers release mirrorless models and the XT-3 slots into the category with a solid magnesium-alloy body that gives it a slightly retro look. The tactile dials are customisable for the optimal shooting set-up. It delivers stand-out autofocus, burst shooting and video recording performance without overwhelming the amateur snapper, making it possibly the best of the new mirrorless pack.
$2900 plus lens
8. iPad Pro
Apple’s new iPad Pro is something to behold. More powerful than many laptops in its price range, thanks to its AX12 Bionic chip, this model has a less rounded case, no home button and a gorgeous screen that is activated by facial recognition.
As well as catering for the artist and designer market, the device’s performance and high-quality design will appeal to people looking for a laptop replacement. As with Microsoft’s Surface, a keyboard and stylus are costly add-ons to factor into the price.
From $1399 (11 inch)
9. MacBook Air
The first big upgrade of Apple’s lightweight laptop since 2015 adds plenty of overdue improvements to the same wedge-shaped, aluminium-encased design that originally set the MacBook Air apart. At 1.25kg, it’s slightly lighter and smaller than its predecessor, but a thinner bezel means the new retina display is still a roomy 13.3 inches, and it gets a faster processor. A fingerpint-activated Touch ID button unlocks the device, a security feature that the Mac operating system will make increasing use of, including for online transactions. The gruntier MacBook Pro remains the machine for editing video or multitasking with demanding applications, but the Air’s slim body and full-sized keyboard make it an ideal – if premium-priced – travel companion.
10. Amazon Echo Dot
We are gradually getting used to the idea of speaking to digital assistant devices in our homes, but the technology stuttered along in 2018. That’s mainly because the services required to make them useful have been slow to take off in this country. Still, Amazon’s Echo, in combination with assistant Alexa, has good support for the Kiwi accent. It will deliver a news briefing from Newstalk ZB, or check on upcoming Air New Zealand flights for you. It is handy for adding events to a digital calendar, playing radio stations and serving up factoids from the web. I use one to control my home lighting. The Dot is Amazon’s entry-level smart-assistant device – it looks great and has surprisingly good sound.
This article was first published in the December 15, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.