Let me learn you something big: the holiday season is the worst for a tech journalist. Playing tech support for Christmas gifts and managing the WiFi network – creaking under the weight of a thousand devices doing simultaneous updates – isn’t the best way to get rest. But there were some surprising lessons that the 2017 festive break taught me, and here they are in order of importance:
- I was too harsh on the Huawei Mate 10 Pro. I’m a big boy and I can admit my faults, especially when a freak power failure in early January leaves me hopping from device to device in search of charged smartphone. In my review I bemoaned the glass back without wireless charging functionality, yes it was a case of form over function, but how I longed for the 18 hours of use and 0-50 per cent in 30 minutes of charge time alongside that stellar camera and superb display. Great battery performance trumps charging convenience.
- Even the best smartphone cameras are crap. I test drove a Sony A6500 mirrorless camera over Christmas and it shamed even the mighty Huawei P10 Plus in all conditions. Who the hell did I think I was kidding when I proclaimed the death of the compact camera?
- Sony did right with the Xperia XZ1. Not quite a full redemption for this one-time Xperia fanboy, but the XZ1 is a solid offering that repairs much of the damage the utterly pointless XZ Premium did to my opinion of the Xperia line. Good camera, above average battery life and, crucially, Android 8.0 (Oreo). The design is dated and the front-facing speakers are a bit soft, but it remains a well-priced device that more than keeps pace with the best of 2017.
- LG needs more recognition. I could write a book about how much the V30+ design steals from the Samsung Galaxy S8 (and I probably will in the upcoming review), but the smartphone is quickly becoming my pick of the 2017 flagships. Above average battery life, crispy camera (in good conditions), compact design and horsepower for days. And that’s not even mentioning the party piece headphone amp or best in class microphones.
- Netflix is the most loved streaming service. I really value my Google Play Music and Apple Music accounts, but nothing comes close to the feeling I get when that email heralding the return of my favourite shows. Netflix currently has the best original content and most advanced algorithms when it comes to enticing you back onto the couch. The recommendations are mostly trash, but I’m also very picky, so they can be forgiven.
- The new Ford Kuga is an incredibly well-considered family wagon. I took the my family on a day trip to a remote beach location in our car, giving the long-term loaner a break, and couldn’t shake the feeling that I took the wrong vehicle. The kids ate lunch on the back seat and I missed the flip up trays. I wanted to play music off my phone and hated not having Android Auto. And then returned home to a house without electricity and immediately regretted not getting a full charge on my power bank from the 220V outlet in the car.
- Construction workers need a CAT phone. My father-in-law drove over his Galaxy S7 and turned it into a Willard’s Crinkle Cut chip. I handed him the CAT S41 I have on test and I don’t think that will ever happen again. Stand by for some real-world insight straight from the job site in the coming weeks.
It was a great holiday and 2018 will be a great year for the Popular Mechanics brand. Reviews and expanded stories to come soon.