We are officially living in the future. The evolution of gadgets in 2016 has seen anything and everything getting smaller, quicker and more connected.
As the analogue world slips further and further into the past, you ask yourself just how did you switch your lights on and off before Amazon Echo? What kind of in-home entertainment were you consuming before HTC’s Vive? And did you really used to have to open your fridge to see what leftovers you had hiding in there, pre-Samsung’s Family Hub Fridge? Pfft, practically archaic.
Here, we run down our top game-changing gadgets of the year, and wonder just where they’ve been all our life.
Hot on the heels of last year’s Dash Button, Amazon Echo is actually three devices in one: a smart voice-activated assistant called Alexa, a central hub for smart-home devices and a high-quality Bluetooth speaker.
You can ask Echo to do almost anything, just say a ‘wake word’ (“Amazon”, “Echo” or “Alexa”) and ask it to do anything from add items to your basket on Amazon to communicate with other smart devices in your home – even the lights (CBA actually getting up to switch them off).
Available at Amazon, priced £149.99.
Once the thing of straight-up sci-fi, it seems that soon we’ll all be enjoying the world virtually, whether we like it or not. While the Oculus Rift clinches most of the headlines in this space, the HTC Vive headset seems to have set its sights on the future of VR.
The device is focused on a much higher level of immersion, having been built with room-scale VR experiences in mind. This allows users to actually move around the spaces they are exploring, making it feel all the more real. That’s probably why most of the YouTube videos of people trying it out show them freaking the hell out.
Available at Currys, priced £759.
Samsung Family Hub Fridge
This year Samsung released its Family Hub smart fridge – and when they say smart, they mean really, really smart. First of all, it has a 21-inch touchscreen complete with apps that let you create a shopping list and even order your groceries direct from the fridge itself. Then there’s the fact that it comes complete with internal cameras that can be accessed through the accompanying app so you can see what’s left in your fridge, wherever you are.
To top it all off, you can even assign expiry dates to items in the fridge via the camera and app, and get notified when they’re about to go off. The kitchen of the future has finally arrived.
Available at John Lewis, priced £4,499.
Need some hi-tech security to protect your hi-tech gadgets? Check out Noke, the keyless, Bluetooth-enabled lock that means you never have to worry about losing your keys again – the locks are locked and unlocked completely via smartphone.
Using Bluetooth, the locks recognise that your phone is nearby and will lock and unlock on command – just press and hold the shackle (the lock ring). What’s more, Noke even has you covered if you lose your phone: when you set it up, you programme a morse-code like series of short and long presses on the shackle that can be used to open the lock.
In a world of shiny gadgets that can do anything, it’s worth investing in smart safety.
Available at Amazon, prices start at £50.99.
Google rounded off 2016 with the release of its Pixel handset, AKA the first potential iPhone-killer. Running Google’s own Android software, it comes in at around £599, so it’s clear this isn’t just another budget alternative.
With its 5-inch full HD display, super-fast processor, 4GB of RAM and top-end cameras (both front and back) the Pixel is a real powerhouse. The phone even comes with your own Google Assistant; a Siri-challenging offering that is conversational, accurate and has the full power of Google at its disposal. Better stay woke, Apple.
Available at Google, prices start at £599.
Microsoft Surface Studio
If Google’s Pixel is an iPhone killer, then Microsoft’s Surface Studio is taking aim at the iPad. Flawlessly doubling as a conventional PC and a giant tablet, the gadget’s 28-inch screen sits on a flexible axle which means it can be used as a conventional desktop computer, but also a flat tablet-like surface.
Yet that level of innovation wasn’t enough for Microsoft, which went one step further and unveiled the Surface Dial: a new input device for the Surface Studio. Put the Dial on the Surface’s screen and it interacts with the programme you’re using and gives you another way to engage with your work; in drawing software it turns into a colour selector, while in other programmes it’s just a speedy way to navigate through menus.
Available at Microsoft for pre-order now, prices start at $2,999.
Fitbit Charge 2
The fitness wearables market has blown up in 2016, but the Fitbit Charge 2 is leading the race in both functionality and price. Coming in at around £129.00, the Charge 2 won’t break the bank, but it will help you get healthier.
Pairing with your phone’s GPS signal, the Charge 2 can track your runs, movement and even your heartbeat, all with five days battery life from a single charge. It also has the sharpest screen seen on a Fitbit device (due to it being OLED), making it easier than ever to check your vitals. You can even use it to keep track of your sleeping patterns and quality of your sleep, making it an affordable and all-round impressive option in a usually pricey market.
Available at Fitbit, prices start at £129.99.
Just when you thought it was already easy enough to binge on TV boxsets, Sky goes and makes it even simpler. Sky Q works like a supercharged Sky Plus – not only can you record five shows at the same time, but with 2TB of storage it’s also almost impossible to run out of space.
The main Sky Q box acts as a hub, connecting via WiFi or Ethernet to smaller Sky Q Mini boxes located in other rooms around the house. This network means that any recordings, or live TV, on the main box can be streamed instantly to other TVs (connected to a Q Mini), laptops, tablets and smartphones – even if you aren’t at home. So wherever you are, your recordings and boxsets come with you, making it easier than ever to take Netflix-and-chill on tour.
Available at Sky.
Tesla Model III
Can a car be a gadget? When it’s the Tesla Model III, it can. The Model III is being touted as the car that could change the industry forever. It’s packed with Tesla’s best-ever battery, which goes further on a single charge than ever before. And not only is the car fully electric, but Tesla announced that all Model III’s will ship with full self-driving hardware already built in.
There are of course some rules and regulations that mean these features probably won’t be switched on right out of the box, but will be in the near future. Not only is the car itself packed full of gadgets – from touchscreen controls to intelligent GPS – but the seats in the Model III can actually be folded down to create a ‘camper mode’ too, giving more than enough space for two people to sleep in the car.
With over 400,000 pre-orders already, the Model III is set to change the auto industry forever. How’s that for game-changing?
Available at Tesla for pre-order now, prices start at $35,000.