As 2013 winds to a close, I'd like to take a moment to reflect on some of my favorite gadgets from 2013. A lot has happened, though not everyone was impressed. Some, like Christopher Mims writing for Quartz, claim that "2013 was a lost year in tech." (via: qz.com/161443/2013-was-a-lost-year-for-tech/)
I don't really agree with that sort of assessment. Sure, maybe there haven't been revolutionary leaps and bounds in technology, but there's still impressive iterative improvements. With that out of the way, here are some of my favorite gadgets and technology from 2013:
Sony A7 - It's no secret that I'm a huge photography nerd. I think the Sony A7 represents one of the most impressive leaps in consumer / prosumer photography in a long time. An amazing full frame sensor crammed into a body that's not any bigger than a traditional mirrorless camera? Amazing! I haven't gotten my hand on one yet (and I know some reviewers have complained about slow autofocusing issues -- similar to what I experienced with the Sony RX1), but I love the idea of this and what it represents for the future of technology.
Sonos Play 1 - The Sonos system isn't for everyone, but they continue to amaze me with their new products. We primarily listen to most of our music through Rdio (but sometimes listen to content from local computers) and it sounds fantastic. Ever since we first bought a Sonos speaker a few years ago, we've listened to music much more frequently -- dare I say that if we're not watching television or sleeping, the Sonos is probably playing music in our house (it's probably why my Last.FM profile says I've scrobbled close to 165K songs... www.last.fm/user/RockBandit). The Play 1 makes their system even more accessible -- it's cheaper, smaller, and still sounds amazing.
Harmony Ultimate - Full disclosure: I've been previously employed by Logitech, so my opinion on this remote is probably a bit biased. With that out of the way, the Harmony Ultimate has been a blessing in managing our home entertainment center. It's much easier to setup than the Harmony One (I complained about it extensively in the gdgt days: www.engadget.com/question/the-harmony-one-is-such-...). The included hub and IR dongles make it easy enough to hide our gear in a cabinet and makes our friends and family think we know magic.
Intel's Haswell CPU's - While CPU products and architecture aren't something we usually talk about in the Engadget forums, it still represents an impressive technological step forward for consumer technology. Since Intel announced the new architecture earlier this summer, we've seen a number of notebook suppliers implement the new chips and it's awesome. Ridiculously crazy battery life, better performance, and even a bit of an improvement to onboard graphical capabilities (you won't be playing BF4 at max settings, but still...). Because of this, our laptops are smaller, lighter, and last longer. What's not to love??!
Anyway, these are some of my favorite gadgets and technology from 2013. What are yours?
That Mims piece annoyed me because if anything it showed that we've become spoiled as consumers. We're actively seeking new and exciting instead of wanting refinement and polish.
My favorite pick up for a 2013 gadget this year would probably be my Garmin Edge 510. I ride my bike a lot and using the Motoactv began to suck, and relying on my phone is a no go. So I bit the bullet and picked up this rather expensive device but I've loved it. I get a brighter screen, better information layout, great battery life, and it all syncs up with Garmin's site (I use a plugin to pull that into Strava). I can pre-program routes to get directions and even set up routes to race against myself.
Other than the Garmin the only other 2013 gadget I purchased was the iPhone 5s. The Vita and GoPro are from 2012, as is the MacBook Retina model I have. I guess I don't buy new tech as much as I thought.
There are really only two devices this past year that I'd put up for this discussion. One was an excellent iteration. The other is an enormous deal for me in my home and my business.
I'll start with the iterative device: my Nexus 5. I've been using Android phones since the third month the G1 was released (December '08, I believe). I've had the G1, Nexus One, Galaxy Nexus, Nexus 4, and the Nexus 5. As much as I love Android, the Nexus 5 marks a significant point in the life of the platform: it's the first time that I don't feel like I'm being held back. Every Android phone I've used before this point has felt like it was almost good enough. Now with the Nexus 5 I never wait for my phone. It loads web pages immediately, apps aren't freezing, and I can move around my phone effortlessly. This is a big deal for someone who relies on his phone for his livelihood.
For the gadget that made the biggest impact on me this year, I'm going to cheat a little because I don't honestly know when it was released, but I only found out about it this year, and it hasn't taken off anyway: Ubiquiti's UniFi wireless access points. This might seem like a weird pick, but trust me when I say that the UniFi system is a disruptive one. Managed wireless access points used to be accessible only to corporations who could afford a $10K system of Cisco access points and a controller. Now a home user can start a completely scalable AP system for the cost of a single UniFi AP (around $70). Ubiquiti's free controller software installs on any computer in your network.
I've installed UniFi systems in several small businesses and homes, and my clients love the results. The signal is strong, the devices hand off signal perfectly, and the configuration is easy. I'll be installing four APs in a church this Friday.
Here's the Amazon link to the Long Range AP: http://goo.gl/cZctXM
I've used several new products this past year, and none of them have pleased me as much as a freaking wireless access point :)
Affordable and scalable managed AP solutions are HUGE. At a previous job everything had to be Cisco (I fought against this a lot) so when it came time for wireless pricing things go into the 10s of thousands.
I know, right? When I found out about these new products I couldn't believe I hadn't heard about them earlier, and I can't believe they haven't made a bigger impact in general. The AP I linked to is clearly very highly reviewed by Amazon users, but it's still #15 in the access point category, behind my least favorite devices: range extenders.
I'm thrilled about this product category, and it's shaping up to be a HUGE thing for my business, since these things are so easy to implement if you know even a little about networking :)
I'd love to love the Harmony Ultimate but pushing the transport buttons up above the (way too sensitive) touch screen is a huge ergonomic mistake. I'm hopeful they'll fix it soon and I'll happily peel off the cash to upgrade my elderly Harmony One.
For me, it was the Roku 3. Putting a headphone jack in the controller is the best thing that ever happened to people with young children. I have tried so many solutions in the entertainment center over the years it's ridiculous, but this is finally the one that has solved all my problems. I run Plex Server on our home server, so the Plex app on the Roku covers most of our needs with the other streaming apps picking up the slack. When people ask me about getting smart TVs, I now tell them to get a standard TV and the Roku 3. It's the best $99 I have ever spent on technology.