Now that the end of the year is upon us, I thought it would be a good time to take a look back at 2018 and pick my five favorite tech and smart home gadgets.
#5 – Sonos Beam
If you haven’t seen my full review of the Sonos Beam, you can watch it here.
Sonos has created a home theater speaker at a price point that’s a little more mainstream than their other offerings. If you’re using the Beam in an appropriately sized room, it will give you a rich, room filling sound. You definitely feel like dialog is coming from the center, while music and ambient sounds are spread throughout the listening area. The soundstage is much wider than I was expecting. It’s not to say it’s perfect though. I wouldn’t hold this up as audiophile speaker or as a replacement for a true full-fledged home theater system, but for improving up a smaller setup like in my bedroom, it sounds really good.
And with Amazon and Apple Airplay support out of the box, you can tie this speaker into home automation and get some extra control for your television set. When it comes to how Sonos Beam works with Amazon, I’m very pleased. The Beam is able to pick up my voice from the other side of the room while the TV is playing. You can have Amazon turn on your TV or adjust the volume. If you have an Amazon Fire TV, you can even have it start playing a specific show, or play/pause a video.
There’s a lot of value packed into this little bar. Add to that the ability to add additional speakers to your setup over time, and you’ve got a great little home theater package.
#4 – Google Home Hub
This one surprised me. If you watch my channel, you know that I’m a big fan of voice assistants and have Amazon Echoes and Sonos One speakers throughout my house. I wasn’t too keen on the Amazon Echo Show because I didn’t want a camera on a smart home device like this sitting in my kitchen … and there’s no way I’d want that in my bedroom. The Google Home Hub caught my eye because it doesn’t have a camera and has a very small footprint.
Right now we have Google Home Hub in our kitchen, which seems like one of the prime locations for it. It obviously can do anything your smart home speaker can do, but the added display adds a lot of interesting use cases. We use Amazon for timers in our kitchen while cooking all the time (very handy when your hands are messy or full). Having a screen solves the downside of not knowing how much time is left on a timer without having to ask. The Google Home Hub displays all active timers on the screen. Ask for the weather, or what’s next on your calendar, and you’ll not only get the audible response, but you’ll get a visual of the forecast as well.
One of my favorite features of Amazon and Google is asking for the news report. On the Hub you can select video sources in addition to audio, which is great to see while we’re cooking or cleaning up in the kitchen. It can also act as your central smart home control center. Swipe down on the screen and you get smart home controls for the room the Hub is in, one more tap and you get controls for every item in your home.
And the final, “I wasn’t expecting to like this as much as I do” feature is the photo frame. The screen on this thing is absolutely beautiful and adjusts the color temperature and brightness based on the room. You can link a Google Photos album to the hub, so any photos you drop into the shared album will automatically show up on the hub when not in use. It’s beautiful.
#3 – Apple Watch Series 4
I’m not a watch guy and never have been. And I’m guessing that like a lot of you, I stopped using a watch when smartphones became the norm. Why strap a single use device to your wrist to tell time when you’re carrying a miniature computer in your pocket that can do the same thing and much, much more.
The Apple Watch changed the equation for me because it meant that I wouldn’t have to use my phone as frequently. I could see if a notification was important without pulling a phone out of my pocket. Set timers, check the weather report, see what’s next on my calendar. In my car I can ask Siri to play a song and control it from the watch if I need to.
Where the Series 4 Apple Watch takes one of my “favorites of 2018” crowns is based on four things: computing power, battery life, size, and health. This is the first Apple Watch that doesn’t feel underpowered. The Series 3 Apple Watch wasn’t a slouch, but you’d get hiccups in scrolling from time to time, and a lag pulling up your calendar or weather report. The Series 4 doesn’t suffer from any of those problems for me. There may sometimes be a little lag pulling the latest weather report, but that’s the phone waiting for the data from the network … not the watch struggling to display the data.
The battery life is amazing, even on the smaller model which I use. I can get between 36-48 hours of use before it needs to be charged, which is better than previous versions. Every night I drop it onto a charger on my nightstand, which doubles as a clock, so I never run out of charge … no matter how much I use my watch over the course of a day.
I’m not a fan of big bulky watches. The first Apple Watch felt like giant slab strapped to my wrist, this one feels more like a normal watch. The larger screen with smaller bezels, and the case’s rounded corners really helps it feel more watch like and smaller on the wrist.
And finally, the health tracking. Yes, it tracks steps like any other fitness tracker, but it’s also gotten smarter about automatically tracking your workouts. Every day when I take my dog for a walk I don’t have to remember to start an outdoor walk activity. The phone usually taps me on the wrist asking if I’d like to record my outdoor walk, as I’m doing it, because it figured it out on its own. At the beginning of the year I was part of a heart health study of Apple Watch owners. The watch automatically checks your heart rate every so often, but as part of this study they were seeing if they could proactively detect certain heart issues and notify the wearer. Apple is supposed to be releasing a new feature very soon that activates the Series 4 EKG feature. And if you’re older and prone to falls, or are more active and do actives where you may fall and hurt yourself, you can activate auto-fall detection on the watch, which can help notify emergency services if it detects you fell and are unresponsive. Wearable technology like this, which we have on us all the time, is going to be a game changer when it comes to healthcare.
The Apple Watch Series 4 finally feels like the definitive version of the product.
#2 – iPad Pro 12.9”
I’ve been an iPad fan since I bought the original in 2010. It immediately felt like the future of computing to me because it boiled down a computer experience to the bare essentials and reimagined it. Obviously, that first version was severely limited by software, slower processor and hardware, and was very much a 1.0 product that needed refinement, but I could see a bright future ahead.
Fast forward to 2018 and this 12.9” iPad Pro is an absolute beast of a computer … with some limitations. Yes, iOS 12 is still holding this thing back because it doesn’t good external storage file access (yet), and many pro apps like Final Cut Pro, Logic, Premiere, and Photoshop aren’t here (yet), but the hardware isn’t holding this thing back at all anymore.
The processor in this thing screams and apps feel fluid and I never experience any kind of lag at all, which I can’t say the same thing about for my desktop PC or Macs. With this version of the iPad I’m doing more “real work” on this thing than I’ve done with any iPad before it. I can do 90% of my tasks on this without any issue because the software options are finally here. With Microsoft Office and Google Docs you can do all of your email, spreadsheets, and documents without any problems. I use the writing app Ulysses to write all of my scripts on my iPad, and art programs like Affinity Photo, Procreate, and Graphic to edit photos, sketch, and design vector graphics and logos.
The only things I don’t do on my iPad yet are editing these videos and heavier lifting graphics production where I’m more at home with Photoshop and Illustrator, but that’s probably going to be changing in the next year or two. Adobe is releasing a version of Photoshop for the iPad next year, and I’ve been experimenting with Luma Fusion for video editing on my iPad. It’s really impressive what can be done now on something that’s this small, and yet still has the power of a laptop.
Don’t even get me started on the Apple Pencil. The previous version had a poorly designed charging mechanism that was enough of a friction point for me that I didn’t use it very often. When I did want to use it I usually found it’s battery dead because I wasn’t keeping it charged. The new Apple Pencil’s texture and shape feel more comfortable in my hand, and the magnetic charging solved the Pencil’s Achilles heal. It has a home on the side of my iPad, which keeps it charged, and ready for me when I need it. For me, it’s getting a lot more use than the previous version
`.Don’t look at the iPad Pro as a laptop replacement. It’s not. Right now, you have to look at it as another tool in your tool chest and use it if it’s the right tool for the job. With this new version, it’s the right tool for more jobs that I do … and in the coming year or two, it may be the only tool I need.
#1 – Tesla Model 3
If you’ve watched my channel at all, then this one won’t surprise you. My absolute favorite tech gadget, smart device, sustainable technology, and … car … is the Tesla Model 3.
The Model 3 is also a joy to drive. This car reacts almost as quickly as I can think of what I want it to do. I’m not talking about aggressive driving, but the incredible torque and instant power comes in handy when merging into traffic on the highway, or when pulling out onto a busy road from a side street.
The build quality on my car is rock solid, and in the time I’ve had the car several software updates have added and refined the features on the car … in some cases substantially. Features like TeslaCam, which uses the onboard front facing camera to record a rolling window of footage to a USB drive, or the improvements to autopilot with the new drive on nav features. And even small tweaks to improve how well the auto sensing wipers function, and cold weather features for those of us in colder climates. I’ve never had a car that gets better the longer you own it before.
While it’s the priciest thing I’ve ever bought myself, aside from my house, the joy this thing has brought me since I’ve had it can’t be understated. For me it goes beyond the “look what my car can do” 0-60 times, I get a lot happiness knowing that I’ve finally taken the leap into cleaner sustainable forms of transportation. I’m no longer burning gasoline to power how I commute. Just a few weeks ago I was talking to my wife about the fact that the last two gasoline powered machines we use are her car and our snowblower … and I’ve been eyeballing a few different options for battery powered snowblowers.
As all of these products become more mainstream, the production costs drop, which means more people can afford to dive into the cleaner, and more sustainable household technologies. For me, my Model 3 was one of the biggest of those … aside from the solar panels we also had installed this year. And my choice of the Model 3 as my favorite tech gadget of the year extends beyond the Model 3 itself. This is the first mass market all electric vehicle that’s taking the world by storm. It’s the tip of the spear and there are more electric vehicles coming over the next few years that will continue this trend. That’s the biggest reason why I chose this as my number one choice.
It’s been a really good year for smart home tech, gadgets, and sustainable technology like EVs. There are more options than ever, and even more on the horizon. I’m really looking forward to see more details on Tesla’s Model Y, as well as other cars that have been announced, like the Audi E-Tron, Hyundai Kona, Mini E, and others.
If you liked the video, be sure to give it a thumbs up and comment down below with what your favorite smart home tech, gadgets, or sustainable tech items are for the year. My list is by no means definitive, but they’re the items that have really struck a chord with me. I’d love to hear what struck a chord with you.
I almost forgot my absolute favorite thing of the year though, and that’s all of you. I started this channel in July of this year and had no idea what to expect, or if anyone would even care to watch my videos. If you had asked me if I thought I’d have over 6,000 subscribers by the end of the year, I’d have told you there was no way. The responses and community that’s been building around these videos has blown me away and has lit a fire under me to do even more. So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.