Spacecraft / InSight Lander
Just a few weeks ago, NASA's InSight lander arrived on Mars, completing a more than six-month-long journey. And because Mars is a such a difficult place to land -- an endeavor at which many have failed -- a successful landing on the planet is a win in and of itself. InSight will be the first probe to study the interior of Mars, but even in its short time on the planet, it has already given us other first-time experiences, like hearing the sound of Martian wind. It's a groundbreaking craft, both literally and figuratively, and it's just getting started.
But InSight is just one of a number of successes humanity has had this year when it comes to space. We've also placed a probe in orbit around an asteroid, launched a spacecraft to study the sun, started another hunt for exoplanets and sent a lander to study the far side of the moon. We achieved major milestones, too: Opportunity surpassed 5,000 days on Mars and Voyager 2 entered interstellar space. It may be weird to catch feelings for spacecraft, but it was also bittersweet when we had to say goodbye to Kepler, which was retired after an almost 10-year hunt for exoplanets, and Dawn, which began its asteroid belt mission in 2011.
It wasn't just about study and discovery, either. 2018, more than any other year, marked a new era in spaceflight. SpaceX made reusing equipment routine and with the successful launch of its Falcon Heavy, it delivered the world's most powerful operational rocket. Further, both SpaceX and Boeing are getting closer and closer to providing NASA with its first Commercial Crew flights.
What an exciting year it's been for space study and spaceflight. And since many of this year's successes are only just beginning their missions -- such as the Parker Solar Probe, TESS and InSight -- 2019 is already shaping up to be a great year for discovery, curiosity and learning.
Google Pixel 3
Bureau Chief, UK
When Cherlynn reviewed this year's Pixel phones, she said the hardware took a backseat to software. While it pains me to admit it, she's not wrong. The best example is that while the Pixel 3 packs just a single rear-facing camera, it's capable of fantastic images that best dual- and tri-camera layouts found on other phones. Google knows what it's doing: Top Shot isn't going to rescue bad photos but it does offer extra frames to pick from when friends have blinked or a moving subject is slightly blurred, while Night Sight (now that it's finally here) performs imaging miracles in a phone that isn't going to peep out of my jean pockets. The Pixel 3 is also one of few options for flagship specs at a sensible size.
At its core, the Pixel 3 camera is stunningly effortless. You don't have to deep-dive the camera menus to make your pictures sing, Google's imaging smarts do it for you. I recently went on a weeklong vacation to Belgium and Holland. Instead of a camera, I just made sure I had my Pixel 3 and the photos came out incredibly well, with great contrast, colors and next to no blur. I could even let my family take the selfies, because it's pretty much foolproof. Just last week, after lengthy testing, we called it the best smartphone camera of the year. Talk about vindication.
But it's not just the camera. There are plenty of hardware touches and improvements I like: the matte finish on the back, the brightly colored power button and the fastest wireless charging on a smartphone ... if you have the right (Google-made) wireless charger.
So why isn't it objectively the best phone? It's not perfect. The Pixel 3 and 3 XL are substantially more expensive than before, and Google has struggled with a litany of bugs and issues since launch. Maybe the Pixel 3 isn't the best phone of the year, objectively, but Google has proven that it can consistently make devices that can sell themselves.
Retro emulation done right
In a year where we've reviewed trainwrecks like the C64 Mini and Sony's PlayStation Classic, it's worth noting there were still some positives for emulation in 2018.
First and foremost, Analogue continued its fantastic NT series with the Super NT, a dream of an SNES micro console that sports near-flawless emulation of any cartridge you can throw at it. It's built solidly, outputs at various resolutions, and includes advanced buffer options, interlacing and other video modes. Unlike Analogue's older consoles, which ran close to $500, the Super NT is priced at a more-affordable $189.
Away from the high-profile launches, there's now an abundance of cheap, "good enough" emulation options. The Raspberry Pi and other similarly tiny DIY computers have lowered the bar of entry to emulation, letting you consolidate your retro game collections in a tiny Linux box for just a few dollars. And portable consoles such as the Pi GRRL Zero, the Game Boy Zero and the RetroStone essentially do the same thing, but with a low-power chip and a battery for gaming on the go.
None of these Linux boxes offer anything close to perfect emulation. The PlayStation Classic, which is just a locked-down system running the PCSX ReARMed emulator, is proof of that. But when you're DIY-ing it, these machines are flexible and very easy to get started with. The communities developing both the emulation cores and the front-ends like RetroArch are constantly working to improve them, and you can usually work around any issue you might come across. And hey, not needing to spend hundreds on an OSSC or Framemeister to make your old console play nice with a modern TV can only be a good thing.
Here's hoping next year brings more of the good, and less of the bad. We're already excited for Analogue's take on the Genesis next March, and, despite Nintendo's protests to the contrary, we won't be at all surprised to see an N64 Classic drop in time for the 2019 holiday season.