Technology is all about progress. Sometimes it’s incremental or subtle, but other times it can be colossal and even transformative. In 2015 we saw a metal and silicone cornucopia of gadgets and gizmos. There were amazing deals, sad departures, brand new product categories, and even world-changing ideas. These are the 20 best gadgets from 2015.
The Surface Book is equal parts WTF and pure future, which is exactly why we love it. This laptop builds on Microsoft’s Surface and Surface Pro lineup—which saw its own legion of copycats this year—but packages it into a more traditional laptop shape. Until you realize the screen also detaches completely...and you’re left stupefied. The Surface Book is very much a generation one device, so it has a few issues. But for being the first of its kind, it sure is something else.
The Galaxy S2 is one of the more inventive watches from 2015, primarily because of its dial-based navigation that hides in plain sight right on the bezel. The Tizen OS is set up with apps lined around the circular menu screen, which you can then turn left or right to select which app you want. It’s a great way to display a lot of small icons without worrying about missed presses from using your finger. Tizen OS is still app-deficient compared to Android Wear or Watch OS, but it’s the first Tizen watch that’s been worth a closer look.
Apple TV’s been neglected for three years, but the new set top box incorporates a bunch of new, interesting ideas. With a refreshed interface, a Siri-equipped controller, and most importantly, tvOS, Apple TV (2015) is an excellent deal at $150 (32GB). And since apps are going to continue being made for the platform, it will only get better with time.
Nexus took a bit of a hiatus from being among the top Android phones in 2014. The Nexus 6 was a fine phone, but it was too big to enthusiastically recommend. But in 2015, the 6P once again proved that Google can make a damn good smartphone. It’s also a big win for Huawei, the first Chinese phone maker to be part of the Nexus program, as the company’s been trying to make inroads into the U.S. smartphone market. The 6P is all metal, completely spec’d out, runs stock Android, and is impressively inexpensive. What’s not to love?
Samsung’s decision to ditch utility over design was a disappointment for many. But the S6 came with so many features, it felt like you were palming the future. Magnetic secure transmission technology meant you could actually use your phone to pay for more stuff, and the phone includes both Qi and PMA for wireless charging. With an improved fingerprint sensor, a heart rate monitor, and a wonderful camera, the S6 was a big step forward from 2014’s lackluster S5. A few rumors also suggest that those who were disappointed with a few missing features on the S6 might be happy with what Samsung has planned for the S7.
Drones, like VR, have this weird hobbyist glow around them. Companies like DJI and Yuneec are trying to design these little aerial lawsuits-in-waiting into something that the average person might covet. With super simple controls, a stunning camera, and features like “Follow Me,” the Yuneec Typhoon is the best drone that’s an out-of-the-box complete experience. If you want to take stunning aerial footage, or just annoy the shit out of your neighbors, Yuneec can get the job done on both fronts.
When Samsung released the Galaxy View, a massive 18.4-inch tablet, my first question was “Why?” But when you see the device in person, and specifically how Samsung made the View, it all starts to make sense. The View isn’t meant to be used as a normal tablet, which is obvious when you consider it’s weird, permanently attached stand/hinge. Instead, the View is basically a go-anywhere television—no wires attached. There’s certainly room for improvement (a few more media ports would be nice). But do we want one anyway? Hell yes.
Apple TV may have taken a giant leap forward, but in 2015, Roku continued steadily honing its streaming hardware. And with the release of the Roku 4, the battle for best set top box is now even more fraught. For one, the Roku 4 is $20 cheaper and offers 4K playback, giving it two easy wins over the Apple TV. But Roku’s voice search capabilities are still in their infancy, and some of the device’s new UI decisions that are a bit of head scratcher. Still, if you’re looking for the best of the best, the Roku 4 is near the top.
Smartwatches are tricky. Do you go with a bright, full-color LCD display with dismal battery life, or a more conservative screen that boasts battery life for days? Pebble has always stood firmly with the latter option, and the Pebble Time Steel is the culmination of those efforts. Classic steel casing, waterproof, and 5 days of battery life. It’s simply awesome.
I’ve never wanted a Chromebook until 2015, and the Dell Chromebook 13 is a big reason why. Until Dell released this super-slick, 13-inch machine encased in a carbon fiber, buying a Chromebook meant a crappy half-computer or one of the incredibly luxe (and incredibly expensive) Pixel lineup options. With the Chromebook 13, Dell tightroped between the two and created a device that’s as affordable as it is sharp. Starting at $400, the Chromebook 13 is the first convincing argument that ChromeOS can be your operating system of choice.
It’s easy to get caught up in specs and spare-no-expense gadgets and forget about the really great cheap stuff. The Moto G continues to be an incredible smartphone for $180. It was already the best cheap phone you could buy, and in 2015, Motorola decided to go ahead and waterproof the whole thing. It even improved the Moto G’s overall design while maintaining the phone’s stellar battery life.
Amazon makes a lot of hardware, some great and some terrible, but the shining star has always been the Kindle, and the Paperwhite is the very best of the bunch. As looks go, the Kindle Paperwhite looks about the same as all the iterations that have come before. But Amazon has greatly improved the reader experience with more sensible line break algorithms, a better font, and a much sharper display. It’s so, so, so good.
No gadget was met with more fanfare than the Apple Watch. It didn’t live up to the insane hype, but Apple’s smartwatch offers lots to distinguish it from Android Wear and Pebble. So should you buy one? Nah. Apple is notoriously terrible at shipping first generation products. The next Apple Watch, due to be announced in March, already sounds like it’ll be much better.
Fitbit has always been at the top when it comes to fitness trackers, and the Fitbit Charge HR is the near perfect mixture of form and function. If you’re looking for a smartwatch/fitness tracker hybrid, this isn’t the gadget for you, but it’s a good standalone fitness companion. Fitbit’s forte is simple hardware. And at $150, it’s an inexpensive investment in your health.
B&W’s P5 Wireless really make you believe that Bluetooth can soon be a viable means of listening to music. These things sound good, look good, and feel good. There’s one minor issue with initially connecting to Bluetooth, but once you do, you’re not going to want to listen to music any other way.
It’s ultra portable, ultra simple, and now, it’s ultra cheap. It’s also waterproof without a case, so that’s another notch in the portability column. The GoPro Hero4 Session is the perfect gadget for someone who wants to try an action cam, but who may be intimidated by more complex setups. And it’s just so damn cute!
Other than sub-par battery life, we’re not sure there’s anything to hate about the Sony A7r Mark II. The camera’s biggest asset is that it’s a complete champion in lowlight, but it takes amazing pictures in any setting. Sony’s long been the king of camera sensors, and the company clearly put its heart and soul into this camera.
This was technically announced last year, but didn’t launch until CES 2015. In a year of iPad Pros and a litany of Surface Pro imitators, we’re somehow still hung up on this almost year-old design. But Dell applied its Infinity Display design to an Android tablet, and it wowed us. At 8 inches, the Dell Venue 8 7000 doesn’t try to be a work-lite laptop or a desktop replacement. It’s just a thin, portable, and beautiful tablet.
Want a Bluetooth speaker? Buy a Boom. This year’s Boom 2 and Megaboom are simply the best Bluetooth speakers out there. Ultimate Ears even says that its new Boom 2 is “indestructible.” I’m going to assume that means under normal, not me-and-two-hours-with-a-sledge-hammer kind of conditions. Great sound without the worry that it’s going to get damaged or waterlogged into oblivion? There’s no other choice.
All the gadgets we’ve mentioned on this list are things you can buy. Like, right now. Even though the Hololens is an exception to that rule, it’s just too cool to exclude. For AR and VR, it was mostly a quiet year, with big companies preparing for their consumer releases in early 2016. But Microsoft’s Hololens was just such a cool idea, and one that actually seems feasible. I want one. I want one right now.