Throughout 2017, I tested dozens of gadgets and probably twice as many apps.
But as the year draws to a close, there are only a handful that rose to the top of the heap.
This list includes a few unlikely winners, like a tiny phone designed to be used as little as possible, and a smartphone game that’s nearly impossible to win. Others, like the Powerbeats3 headphones or Google’s Pixel 2, are favourites that I keep returning to despite newer, flashier options on the market.
While I’m guessing 2018 will bring plenty of new tech products to get excited about, here are my favourite products I’ve tested in the past year:
The new Kindle Oasis is easily the best e-reader you can buy.
While I’m a longtime Kindle Fire user, I had never tried a more traditional e-reader until the Kindle Oasis – and I was instantly impressed.
The Oasis has an ergonomic aluminium body, a big, beautiful screen, and the ability to be submerged in water. Reading on the large, E Ink display is preferable to a digital screen, too. If there’s one drawback to the Oasis, it’s the price ($US280), but if you’re a Kindle enthusiast, it’s probably worth it.
If you’re curious to know more, I did a full review of the Oasis earlier this month.
‘I Love Hue’ is the most soothing smartphone game I’ve ever played.
When I first stumbled upon “I Love Hue,” I knew I was about to be hooked. The smartphone game – which is available for iOS and Android devices – has a super-simple premise: Choose a puzzle and arrange the blocks by colour and shade.
There are no “lives,” so you can play as much as you want. You can also pick it up and put it down at will, or just play for a few seconds when you have the time. “I Love Hue” is good for people who like to draw and colour, or for the hyper-organised who feel relaxed when things are in order.
If you’re curious to know more, I did a full review of the game back in October.
Google’s Pixel 2 is my favourite smartphone on the market.
I tested out the smaller Pixel 2 in October and I absolutely loved it. I didn’t experience any of the issues the XL had, and if anything, I criticised the phone for being a bit boring. That said, it has an excellent camera, a cool “always on” display, great battery life, and it’s waterproof. I’m considering switching to a new phone in the next few months and the Pixel 2 remains the top contender.
The reMarkable tablet is one of the most innovate gadgets I tried in 2017.
The reMarkable tablet, which arrived in September, isn’t intended to be a mass-market product. In fact, it’s actually intended for a small group of people: those who prefer reading and writing on paper over using digital screens.
I’m one of those people – reMarkable calls them “paper people” – and was delighted by the tablet when I tested it. It has a large E Ink display for writing, taking notes, and drawing, and the best part is that there’s essentially zero lag time between when your pen touches the screen and when the ink appears.
The tablet is pricey – $US599 – but it’s one of the most exciting and innovative products I tested in 2017.
Things 3 may be a $US10 app, but it’s worth every penny.
Things 3 launched in May, and it quickly became one of my favourite apps. It’s essentially the ultimate task manager – a virtual to-do list that keeps you on top of your schedule when life gets hectic.
If there’s one downside to Things 3, it’s that it’s rather expensive for an app. But for $US10, you get what you pay for. And if you aren’t ready to shell out for the app right away, this walk-through of how it works may help you decide.
Lake is a beautiful way to pass the time.
Lake may be one of several apps that jumped on the adult-colouring-book trend, but it’s also one of the best out there – and if you need proof, it won Apple’s prestigious Design Award in 2017.
Lake is well-designed, easy to use, and doesn’t have any unnecessary features or annoying ads – instead, it’s just you, a couple of types of paint brushes, a huge colour palette, and some beautiful illustrations. I first tried Lake in June and it might be my favourite app of the year.
I still prefer traditional colouring on paper than on my iPhone, but Lake is a great option for commutes, run-of-the-mill boredom, or when you just need to relax.
The Balmain Powerbeats3 are still my favourite pair of headphones I’ve tried.
The Balmain Powerbeats3 were created in partnership with high-end French fashion house Balmain. Other than the colour scheme and branding, the design and specs of the headphones are identical to the original Powerbeats3, which is why I can confidently say that any and all Powerbeats3 headphones are a great pair of headphones for most people.
From an audio standpoint, Powerbeats3 probably aren’t the best on the market. But the wireless headphones remain one of my favourite tech gadgets of the year because they’re stylish, easy to use, and just plain fun. If you don’t want to spring for the $US250 Balmain version, Apple also sells something called the Neighbourhood Collection that’s equally fashion-forward (and on sale).
Blackbox is the most difficult smartphone game I’ve ever played — and that’s what makes it so fun.
Blackbox is another winner from Apple’s Design Awards this year, and for good reason: it’s well-designed, fun, and incredibly challenging.
Blackbox presents you with small challenges that you have to complete by doing everything except touch the screen. To do this, you have to use your phone’s other sensors, features, and functions to trigger the puzzle.
If that doesn’t make any sense to you, read my walkthrough of Blackbox – and prepare to be frustrated.
The Motiv ring is an activity tracker I actually enjoyed wearing.
The Motiv ring is a small metal band you can wear on any of your middle three fingers. Designed to track activity, heart rate, and sleep, the ring can be worn 24/7, even in the shower.
When I tested Motiv in September, I found that it did a great job tracking my levels of activity and keeping tabs on my heart rate. But my favourite part about the ring was the fact that I actually wanted to wear it all the time, since it’s more comfortable and unobtrusive than a smart watch or a fitness band.
At $US199 it’s a bit pricey, but if you want to keep tabs on your fitness goals, the Motiv ring will work perfectly.
Kirakira+ is the most fun photo and video app out there (as long as you like sparkles).
For weeks now, kirakira+ has dominated the App Store’s top paid apps chart. The app – which costs $US0.99 to download and is only available for iOS devices at the moment – has quickly become a favourite among celebrities, Instagram stars, and lately, me.
Kirakira+ is an app for adding real-time sparkles to your photos and videos. The app identifies anything glittery, shiny, or metallic in the frame and adds sparkles in various colours. I’ve used the app on everything from the Rockefeller Christmas tree to the gold sprinkles on my birthday cake.
If you want to learn more about how kirakira+ works, read my full walkthrough of the app.
The Light Phone is one of the most unusual — but effective — gadgets on the market.
The Light Phone is unlike any other gadget I tried this year in that it does as little as possible. It’s an anti-smartphone, which means it doesn’t have apps, a camera, or the ability to send texts. It can make and receive phone calls, and that’s it. It’s not meant to be used as a full-time phone, but as a way to take a break from your smartphone obsession.
Buying a gadget that forces you not to overuse another gadget sounds sort of counterintuitive, but I loved using the Light Phone. It’s still a little pricey at $US150 (although it’s on sale right now for $US125), but it’s incredibly effective as relieving stress and reconnecting with life outside your smartphone.
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