Image credit: Engadget / Matthew Lyons / Steven Harris / Marigold Bartlett / Koren Shadmi / Engadget

The best Engadget stories of 2017

Our staff shares their favorite reports and features from the past year.

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    Image credit: Engadget / Matthew Lyons / Steven Harris / Marigold Bartlett / Koren Shadmi / Engadget

    This year gave us an innovative new console from Nintendo, an iPhone without a home button, EVs and self-driving cars from almost all the major automakers, and fresh headaches for Twitter and Facebook alike. As busy as we were reviewing a new flagship phone seemingly every other week, Engadget's writers and editors looked beyond that never-ending gadget cycle to deliver impactful, thoughtful features. In fact, some of our favorite stories from this year were weeks, sometimes months, in the making. Here's a selection of our best pieces, chosen by the team. Enjoy, and here's to even more long-form in 2018.


    Aaron Souppouris

    Aaron Souppouris
    Features Editor

    Inside LeEco's spectacular fall from grace

    You can usually look at an article and make an educated guess at how long it took to come together. A simple news post? Maybe a couple of hours. A review of a new phone? Perhaps a week. But Cherlynn Low's investigation took months of planning and digging.

    This one started life, as so many stories do, as a vague thought and a few hand-scrawled notes. But before long, Cherlynn had mapped out a five-year timeline, trawled through court documents and talked to multiple sources. With support from the Engadget features team and Engadget Chinese editor-in-chief Richard Lai, she managed to piece together a complete story about how things went so wrong at LeEco. Seeing it mature from idea to finished article was a privilege.

    How the internet embraced a 'Simpsons'-'Akira' mashup

    Bartkira was one of those things that I was aware of but completely uneducated about. Through his feature, Nick Summers traced its origins so neatly, exposing the tension between the creator and the gatekeeper of the project (who, it turns out, aren't the same person), and also highlighted stories from individual artists. To be fair, you could probably just give me a pageful of Bartkira imagery and I'd be happy, but this was so much more than that.


    Dana Wollman

    Dana Wollman
    Executive Editor

    How an AI took down four world-class poker pros

    I'll be honest: I was surprised when senior mobile editor Chris Velazco volunteered to cover a poker competition in Pittsburgh. I wasn't aware that our resident phone reviewer enjoyed or even understood the nuances of the game. (No offense, Chris.) As it turned out, his trip to Carnegie Mellon University to watch an AI player trounce four world champions resulted in a compelling profile of both machinery and humanity. (Be sure to set aside time for the video too.) Just as important, Chris's narrative doesn't merely end with the AI Libratus' nearly $1.8 million victory. At the heart of this story is a more far-reaching question: If artificial intelligence can be used to defeat human poker experts, how else might we harness its power?


    Nick Summers

    Nick Summers
    Associate Editor, Engadget UK


    Reprogramming the piano

    My musical knowledge is limited. I spent a few years plucking away at a bass guitar once, but my technique was dreadful and I needed half an hour to read a piece of sheet music. So when I watch a musician onstage, flicking switches and tapping guitar pedals, I'm in awe. Playing is hard enough; the technology part takes it to another level. What do all those buttons and dials do? For me, it might as well be witchcraft.

    I've always wanted to learn more, which is why Chris Ip's piece on Dan Tepfer astonished me. The jazz pianist has developed an algorithm that "listens" to the notes he plays and creates a musical response. So when Tepfer sits down to play a song, it's as if a ghost partner is there with him, pressing different keys to expand and evolve the song. I found the concept fascinating -- a beautiful balance of human expression and digital creativity.

    The hidden depth of mobile puzzle game 'Where Cards Fall'

    Jessica Conditt's video game coverage is phenomenal. I could easily pick 10 pieces that should feature on this list -- how ESRB rules are killing boxed indie games, how Deck Nine picked up the Life Is Strange franchise, or Sony's worrying disinterest in indie games.

    Engadget

    Since I had to pick just one for this round-up, I went with Where Cards Fall, an upcoming mobile game by Snowman and the Game Band. The former is known for Alto's Adventure, a simple but addictive snowboarding title, while the latter is a young studio from Los Angeles. Together they're building a game about adolescence and the hurdles associated with college and adulthood. You help the characters from a lofty position, building card-based houses to open up new paths. It's a gorgeous, whimsical project, and Jess' piece perfectly encapsulates it all.


    Cherlynn Low

    Cherlynn Low
    Reviews Editor

    How to get fired in the tech industry

    There are so, so many pieces that I've read this year by my amazing colleagues, but we rarely do straight-up satire. In this piece, Jess Conditt took a controversial topic (that controversial memo from a Google employee about women in the workplace) and gave it a biting, instruction-manual treatment that made it stand out from more cookie-cutter hot-take reaction pieces. This story explained why the memo was terrible in such a way that it convinced even a self-proclaimed contrarian like me, who initially thought the Googler had a point.

    Olivia Kristiansen

    Olivia Kristiansen
    Director of Video Production

    RealDoll's first sex robot took me to the uncanny valley

    The Engadget original series Computer Love is a cinema verité take on editor-in-chief Christopher Trout's experiences with the technology and people who are changing the way we do it. Your curiosity about artificial intelligence, especially as it becomes more ubiquitous and eventually makes its way into our bedrooms, is proven in numbers. Trout's coverage of RealDoll's sex robot was Engadget's second-most-watched video, and one of our most-read stories of 2017. Don't miss Computer Love's second season in 2018.


    Jessica Conditt

    Jessica Conditt
    Senior Reporter

    Michigan's manufacturing past is fueling its tech future

    Engadget has reporters scattered across the globe, but much of our coverage is constrained to a few major, tech-centric cities: San Francisco, New York, Hong Kong, Tokyo. However, there are fascinating stories unfolding in small towns and metropolises far beyond the Bay Area. Timothy Seppala is a Michigan native who saw a tech-centric movement unfolding in his hometown of Grand Rapids as well as throughout the larger Detroit area, and he dove in.

    Over the course of several months, Timothy pieced together the tapestry of Michigan's new manufacturing future, emphasizing the humans at the center of this evolving industry. It's a brilliant piece of journalism and a story most technology sites might have skipped, or failed to notice. This kind of deep dive requires someone with intimate knowledge of the region and the instinct to spot the people at the heart of it all. He spoke with influential politicians and business leaders, game developers and entrepreneurs, to cover the breadth of Michigan's attempt at recovery after years of economic despair.

    This story isn't just about Michigan -- it mirrors efforts taking place around the country to reinvigorate or repurpose languishing industrial plants. The people of Detroit and Grand Rapids are reshaping their cities, and Timothy gives us a glance at the soul of a state fighting past the turmoil.


    Nathan Ingraham

    Nathan Ingraham
    Deputy Managing Editor


    GameChanger brings virtual worlds to the kids who need it most

    There are a number of charities that use video games to lift the spirits of sick children. One, called GameChanger, came to a New York City hospital earlier this summer. Mallory Locklear got a behind-the-scenes look at how much the group's efforts can affect the kids and families it works with. For many of those children, having a day purely devoted to games and fun offered some relief from constant thoughts about their disease or recovery.

    For a lucky few, GameChanger also provides financial support in the form of a scholarship; the hospital staff are tasked with picking someone they feel is deserving. At the New York event, the scholarship recipient told Jim Carol (who participates in the charity and is the father of GameChanger founder Taylor Carol) that all the money would help her mom pay the bills. Jim found out how much the family needed to get out of their financial hole and cut them a check by the end of the day. The Carols and GameChanger might not be able to do that for everyone, but Mallory's story showed me that getting a break by spending a few hours playing games, like normal kids, is just as valuable. For a little while, one social worker told Mallory, "it's kind of like being home."

    Timothy J. Seppala

    Timothy J. Seppala
    Associate Editor

    Nuclear warfare and the technology of peace

    It takes just 15 minutes to launch a nuclear warhead from a submarine and trigger mutually assured destruction. Jess Conditt's story on the past, present and future of peace in the nuclear age is full of arresting facts like that. It's a comprehensive, sobering look at what's keeping the world from nuclear annihilation. But it isn't preachy, nor is it political, although politicians are definitely part of the equation. Instead, what I came away with was a sense of cautious hope. That, regardless of who sits in the White House, "little wars" will preclude and, hopefully, prevent big ones. In 2017, that's a tough pill to swallow, but at least it's coated in optimism.

    Inside Grado Labs: A legacy of hand-built headphones

    Growing up working at a small, family-owned body shop with my dad, I'm an easy mark for stuff like Billy Steele's piece on Grado Labs. It has pretty much everything you could ask for: a David and Goliath story, the return of a prodigal son, and gorgeous photography throughout. What's most inspiring, though, is the company's devotion to quality, both in terms of sound and building materials. A majority of Grado's headphones, headphone amps and turntable cartridges are built and assembled in the Brooklyn building the family has owned since 1950. Perhaps more impressive is that Grado hasn't had to advertize since 1964. Rather than pump out new products every year like some of its bigger rivals, Grado keeps its lineup small, releasing a new model only when it needs to. Sometimes that takes 10 years. In our disposable society, it's nice to know that, like music, what you listen to it on can last forever too.


    Chris Ip

    Chris Ip
    Associate Features Editor

    The law isn't ready for the internet of sexual assault

    Daniel Cooper's deep dive into sexual assault in the internet of things was not just comprehensive, but prescient. The story points out how, in the tech world's rush to connect even the most pedestrian of items to the web, hacking smart sex toys could lead to remote sexual assault or stealing data about people's sex habits. But Dan also looks toward the future with a detailed analysis of the laws that will or will not protect humans from their compromised teledildonics. It's a fundamental question in the tech world: Can the legal system -- deliberative and thus slow to change, by nature as well as necessity -- keep pace with the breakneck pace of technological change? This story brings that abstract question all the way to the most intimate and troubling places.

    In the months after Daniel's story, Pen Test, the security consultancy that hacked a connected vibrator, was also able to hijack Bluetooth butt plugs from a moving vehicle (they termed it "screwdriving"). Worryingly, the issues in this story may be relevant for a while yet.


    Terrence O'Brien

    Terrence O'Brien
    Managing Editor

    No, Kellyanne, microwaves cannot turn into cameras

    This one is an obvious contender for the best headline ever to grace Engadget. (The subhead throws some delicious shade as well.)

    "Cherlynn carefully and clearly explains how a camera and a microwave work."

    But the excellence doesn't end there. Cherlynn Low carefully and clearly explains how a camera and a microwave work. She makes it painfully obvious to anyone with even a basic grasp of the English language (or an ounce of logic in their head) that, indeed, microwaves cannot turn into cameras. This story works both as an explainer for two common pieces of technology and as a merciless takedown of one of the more dubious public figures in 2017.


    Christopher Trout

    Christopher Trout
    Editor in Chief

    In the world of online media, it's rare that we get the chance to step AFK and connect with you IRL. It's rarer still that we get a massive chunk of cash to make it happen. That's why my favorite story of 2017 isn't a story at all -- it's an experience. Two years ago, Michael Gorman (our previous editor in chief) and I gave birth to a wildly unprecedented brain baby called the Engadget Experience, and this November, with help and a sweet pot of cash from our parent company, we got to share it with the world. Through the Alternate Realities grant program, we funded five truly out-there art projects that embraced new media like AR, VR and AI and introduced them to the world at a one-day event in downtown LA. For those of you who couldn't experience it IRL, we produced profiles of each of the five projects that will hopefully make you look at the world just a little bit differently.

    Check out all of Engadget's year-in-review coverage right here.

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