With new technology pouring into the market rapidly and new and future tech currently being unveiled at CES 2018, we thought we’d take a look back at the best of 2017.
You could call this pick controversial or you can take it as a reward for a category-defining product with a litany of consistently excellent games. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is obviously the marquee release claiming ‘game of the year” plaudits from all critics, but the platform deserves at least some of the credit. The game would be a lot less immersive were you not able to seamlessly transition from the couch to the airplane seat without missing a beat.
It’s the Switch’s dual roles that deserve the most rewards. Nintendo combined the best bits of its legacy – portability of the Game Boy and the interaction of the NES – into a single device that didn’t cheapen the experience, whichever way you decide to play. And adding an easy way to share the experience with the JoyCons is effectively what sealed this award.
There will be more powerful consoles and consoles that strive to be the only box under your TV, but do those really add more joy to your life? The Switch is console gaming distilled into its core ingredients, yet still accessible to a wide age range and gaming level. It’s fun in a box and you don’t need to overhaul your entertainment system to get maximum enjoyment from it.
Smartphone of the year: Samsung Galaxy S8
It’s been a fantastic year for smartphones but there is one device that, despite its many flaws, we keep returning to. Samsung nailed it with this device. The best expression of the trendy new 2:1 display, subtle improvements to its already celebrated camera, future-facing hardware and a beautifully fresh take on its Android skin. Yes, there are incessant Bluetooth and Wi-Fi problems and the fingerprint sensor is in an annoying place, but outside of that there isn’t another Android device that offers this many features in such a pretty and compact package. This device will go down in smartphone design history.
Making smartphones smarter
Huawei Kirin 970 and Apple A11 Bionic both jumped on the artificial intelligence bandwagon for its latest smart device. AI processors add extra number crunching power on top of the traditional cores with neural processing and machine learning computing nodes. These nodes are simulated using floating points, allowing for masses of data to be processed instantly. This is the future of mobile phones.
Other notable devices:
The price of the newiPhones is driven by the storage options. Processor and camera improvements are tangible. This is the cheapest new one.
Motorola Moto Z2 Play
When Motorola slashed the battery size, we were worried. Z2 Play turns in some solid endurance and improves in key areas.
Still the king of the sub-R4 000 handsets. Stock Android that runs fast, decent cameras and a superbly machined aluminium body.
Huawei P10 Plus
This was the best camera on a smartphone in South Africa until the Mate 10 came in to the country. Still a solid option as an all-rounder.
Personal computer of the year: Samsung Galaxy Note 8 + Dex
When Samsung decided to play from the S8 hymn sheet with the Note 8 design, the company immediately drew attention to the similarities with the Plus variant. The answer: a dual camera system and a portrait mode. There is another difference outside of the camera and S Pen and that’s 6 GB of RAM. Extra memory makes the DeX desktop experience fly. Now you can have a large format smartphone with a stylus to get work done on the go, and then plug it into DeX for a full computer set up. It’s the ultimate personal computing solution.
Macbook Pro 13-inch
Underwhelming launch aside, if you want a Macbook Pro, this is the one to get. The maximum specification we get in South Africa is Intel’s Kaby Lake Core i5. Get the 2,3 Ghz model without the Touch Bar for maximum value.
Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga 260
That 2-in-1 versatiity combined with that ThinkPad pedigree is a hard to beat package. Our test model was the Core i5, 8 GB RAM version. It sits just below the top end and retails for just above R20 000. Wait for the Coffee lake processors, though.
Tablet of the year: iPad Pro 10,5
You’re not going to get a decent laptop for under R15 000 and it’s time you made peace with that. By decent we mean something that will handle a wide spectrum of modern challenges and still be useful 24 months later. You can always try living on a Chromebook, but even those are sparse at the southern tip of Africa. The iPad – the iPad Pro family – pack in a lot of computing power in their svelte form factor and iOS 11 brings some crucial usability upgrades such as file management. Narrower bezels on the newest model give that new screen breathing room. Mate it to a keyboard and you’ll wonder why you wanted a full-sized notebook.
Bluetooth buds of the year: Apple Airpods
We hissed when Apple removed the 3,5 mm phonojack from the iPhone last year, but then the Cupertino company pretty much solved Bluetooth problems with an innovation called the W1 chip. Bearing the flag for this new wireless future are the AirPods. They still look weird, but there’s a reason they were perennially sold out in the first months of release: these things work excellently. Pairing is seamless, connection is stable and the audio is almost exactly like the EarPods that come boxed with the iPhone. Every owner we spoke to loves the product and that’s enough of an endorsement as anything.
Bluetooth speaker of the year: UE Wonderboom
We would’ve appreciated a microphone, but we’ll take room-filling sound and thumping bass from something the size of a large grapefruit. You can also fully submerge this nuggety speaker and it accidentally fell off of a high table on to tiles and still kept playing.
Headphones of the year: V-Moda Crossfade M100
For a company that pitches itself squarely at DJs, V-Moda does a good job impressing audiophiles, too. Although a bit bass-heavy for some tastes, the M100s have impressive frequency response and deliver a full spectrum of aural stimulation. The main selling point is the premium construction with metal, leather and high quality plastics the order of proceedings. These will take a beating and come back for more.
Bluetooth headphones of the year: iFrogz Coda Hp
Prices have dropped as low as R300 at some outlets for these and it’s an absolute steal. Great Bluetooth performance, about 6,5 hours of wireless playback and a cabled mode with the 3,5 mm jack that doesn’t need battery power. Yes, you can use these as standard cabled headphones when the battery is dead.
Smartwatch of the year: Polar M600
This watch lanched over a year ago on a now defunct version of Android Wear OS and is still the best option for a fitness focused smartwatch. That it made the cut for Android Wear 2.0 is in itself an amazing feat, but besting newer devices that launched on the new software for battery endurance is incredible. Polar’s Flow online service also has the most comprehensive list of activities and you can customise your own profiles. It’s the only real Apple Watch alternative for Android users.