Every trip around the sun, we prod, poke, and test hundreds of products here at WIRED. Most of them are just fine. Not boring—few things are truly boring these days—though also not really exciting. But every so often, we get a product in our hands that very clearly stands out, either by pushing its category forward with some new innovation, or perfecting an established and already noteworthy design. When we get to handle a product like this, it gives us a rush of excitement that makes us want to tell you about it, explain why we love it, argue about why it’s important.
The products below exhibit the new ideas that pushed consumer tech forward during 2017. The list spans the width of our purview, from mobile phones and televisions to transportation, parenting, and the smart home. This is the best gear of the year.
Best Mobile Device: iPhone X
It’s not that the iPhone X is the fastest phone (though it is) or the one with the niftiest features (also true). The thing that makes the iPhone X the best phone of 2017 is that it tried the hardest. While other companies kept integrating fingerprint readers, Apple threw that out and made facial recognition work. It also pushed augmented reality into unexplored places, and kept trying new camera tricks. All is not perfect in the world of iOS, and Apple has some work left to do on that whole “all-screen” thing, but the iPhone X still counts as the best phone anyone released this year. No other device or company is trying this hard to move the smartphone game forward.
Best Audio Device: UE Wonderboom
This is the third year in a row that a UE speaker has won an audio award, and we honestly could have given the award to the Boom 2 again, or the new UE Blast with Alexa just as easily. But the $80 Wonderboom is special. It doesn’t have a trendy voice assistant in it, but it’s sort of the perfect portable Bluetooth speaker in many ways. The 4-inch party ball of a speaker is completely waterproof (IP67). In fact, it floats, making it the ultimate pool toy. It even has a little loop on the top so you can hang it on a backpack or bike—and since it’s been drop-tested extensively, don’t worry about fumbling it. Did we mention it gets 10 hours of battery life and belts out pristine sound? Considering its size, bass notes come through with a wallop, and the rest of the audio frequencies are balanced and never tinny. This little ball has it all. Read more about it here.
Best Voice Assistant Product: Sonos One
Sonos’s newest speaker is nearly identical to the Play:1 from a couple years ago. But while this wireless speaker puts out excellent audio as part of a multi-room, app-controlled system just like any Sonos product, it also has Alexa inside. The Sonos One plunks Amazon’s voice assistant directly inside a box that sounds amazing (way better than any of the Echo devices) and adds voice control to your Sonos system to boot. If you don’t like Alexa, you can add Google Assistant when it shows up in the One during 2018. It’s when that upgrade happens that this speaker becomes the most powerful node in your smart home. For now, it’s still the best-sounding Alexa speaker, and that’s enough to land it on our list.
Best Home Entertainment Product: LG C7 OLED
When it comes to TVs, a lot of new words and hot acronyms have popped up in the last few years—terms like UHD, 4K, HDR. But the only acronym you need to know is OLED. Organic Light Emitting Diode screens outperform other TVs because every pixel on an OLED panel can be lit up individually, or turned completely off, at any time. This earns you incredibly bright and vivid colors that never appear washed out, as well as the deepest blacks your eyes have seen. LG is the only major company making TV screens based on this technology, though a few others, like Sony, are using its screens in their own TVs. Last year, we picked an LG OLED as our top TV. This year, the company’s C7 OLED is the best TV you can own, hands down. LG improved the brightness, made blacks even blacker, and continued to tweak its impressive WebOS interface, which might be the only TV interface worth keeping over a Roku. The 55-Inch C7 is currently $1,700 over the holidays, about a grand cheaper than last year, and worth every penny.
Best Laptop: iPad Pro
OK, so it’s not a pure laptop. But 2-in-1 PC design is here to stay and the iPad Pro was the best of these hybrid machines we tried this year. The new 10.5-inch size splits the difference between media consumption wants and productivity needs, and improvements to iOS 11 and the app ecosystem make this year’s iPad a huge step up from previous Pro Apple tablets. From its gorgeous screen to its blazing-fast A10X Fusion chip and Apple Pencil support, the iPad Pro is a device that rivals Apple’s own notebooks. All you need to add to the base configuration is a good keyboard.
Best in Transportation: Dockless Bike Sharing
Bike sharing burst upon the US scene in 2008, when Washington, DC launched a 10-station, 120-bike pilot program. But it took until 2017 multi-modal concept to go full-techie—and to start attracting venture capital dollars like nuts and bolts to a magnet. This is the year bike share programs freed themselves from the dock, and (hopefully) the year cycling began rolling toward the American mainstream. Dockless bike sharers locate their steeds with specialized apps, unlock them with their smartphones, and park them where they want. (OK, not in a tree, please.) For everyday commuters and errand-runners, dockless cycles mean cheaper rides and more flexibility; for cities, they mean fewer capital construction costs up front. This year, Chinese companies Mobike and Ofo (both valued at $3 billion) launched in Washington, DC, and Seattle, respectively. American-born Limebike boasted 1 million rides in the country in 2017, with a 60 percent retention rate and a $225 million valuation to boot. If cities can keep building bike lanes, the American revolution revolution is well on its way.
Best Gaming Device: Nintendo Switch
After a few years in the wilderness, Nintendo returned with a bang in 2017. Bolstering its lackluster console track record with mobile DNA, the hybrid handheld Switch was an instant hit for good reason. What the Switch lacks in pure graphical power, it makes up for in versatility—dock it to a TV for couch co-op, or play single-player games in your window seat as you cross the country at 35,000 feet. Nintendo has successfully brought its signature characters and games into the modern mobile age with this unique device, and it’s done so without sacrificing an iota of its trademark quirkiness.
Best Parenting Product: Veer Cruiser
Given how common it is to have two small kids of different ages, it’s surprisingly hard to find an easy-to-use vehicle for toting them around. The Veer Cruiser is an endlessly adaptable stroller-wagon hybrid that easily accommodates multiple infants, toddlers and all their gear. It has a telescoping, locking handle for pushing or pulling the load. It’s rugged too, with a sleek, matte black, aluminum chassis on large, airless, knobby tires made for tackling tougher terrain like trails and grassy hills. This go anywhere, do anything human-carrier is our favorite parenting product of the year. If you take the kids out in one, just make sure you remember to pack the snacks.
Best Smart-Home Device: Ecobee4 Smart Thermostat
Even regular thermostats have trouble regulating the temperature in different parts of your house. But the latest unit from Ecobee keeps everything cool (or warm) via wireless remote sensors that monitor rooms individually. Sensors! How obvious and necessary an innovation is that? The Ecobee4 comes with built-in Amazon Alexa Voice service and is compatible with Google Home, Apple HomeKit, and Samsung SmartThings. It’s like installing a virtual home assistant that also automatically monitors your energy usage, tracks local weather via Wi-Fi, can be controlled remotely with an app, and offers access to certified professionals to help with installation. Whew. Sorry, Nest. You’ve got a beautiful dial and all, but the Ecobee4 is the year’s smartest thermostat.
Best Cord-Cutting Device: Roku Streaming Stick+
Roku’s latest streaming stick gives any modern television an instant upgrade. A $50 bill gets you the best and most comprehensive smart TV platform out there, with almost every streaming service presented in a clean, voice-controlled menu. You plug this little stick directly into a TV’s HDMI port. It can handle 4K content, and the antenna has been beefed up this year to offer better throughput over Wi-Fi and fewer stutters. Sure, there are a dozen ways to get the internet on your TV, but none of them are as pleasant to use—or offer as wide a range of streaming options—as Roku’s stick.
Best Toy: LittleBits Droid Inventor Kit
Finding the perfect gateway to get kiddos into STEM education is tough. But the Droid Inventor Kit gives younglings a path through the wide cultural portal that is Star Wars. Curious kids get a chance to be a part of the Star Wars universe while dipping their toes in the world of programming. This kit has kids assemble their own R2D2 droid, which they can program to do tricks like send secret voice messages, doodle across a surface, or whiz through an obstacle course. We picked this toy as the year’s best simply because it brings together different elements core to the WIRED world: hacking, a DIY ethos, and yes, Star Wars.
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