Members of the WiFi HiFi editorial team selected our top 10 product picks for 2018, ranging from audio to video gear, mobile, gadgets, appliances, and more. Here are the 10 personal picks from Steve Makris, WiFi HiFi contributor in the areas of mobile, travel, and gadgets.
Note: the products are listed in no particular order. Pricing may vary considerably based on the retailer, integrator, and/or time of year and special promotions.
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VI Camera
If I could only take one camera on a long trip, it would be the $1,599 Sony Cyber-shot RX100 VI. Yes, it's pricey. But with pro features, it's a worthwhile investment. I've been using RX100 cameras since the first version was released in 2012. Run your fingers over the solid metal black body, which helps prevent accidental nicks. It's compact, easily fitting in my coat pocket, and has a pop-out optical/ digital viewfinder, flash, and tiltable 3" sharp screen, perfect for my fussy selfies. The 24-200mm ZEISS lens is a game-changer for me, an avid fireball sunset seeker. The 20.1MP sensor size is a huge picture improvement over smartphones. I appreciate the fast focusing in stills or 4K movies, and the ability to accurately use the touch screen to focus when I'm traveling and shooting quickly passing scenes.
Huawei Mate 20 Pro Smartphone
At $1,315 outright, this phone earns a top spot, replacing the heavy cameras, lenses, and tripods I've carried for decades as a photojournalist. What a load off my shoulders! Now, I pull out this slick four-camera phone armed with a 16mm super wide and zoom to 135mm equivalent in rain or under water. Optical quality from Leica and Huawei's AI magic let me shoot in typically tough scenes, including under candlelight, handheld. On-the-fly video filters, like filming a person in colour while converting the background to B&W, impresses. I've re-discovered the hidden world of extreme macro photography, shooting from only 2.5cm away. Do I miss my Nikon, Canon, Sony or Olympus behemoth cameras? Nope, especially when using the Mate 20 Pro's special 40MP mode. Plus, I love that I can show off the 4,200mAh battery by offering to charge others' phones by placing theirs on top of mine.
Epson FastFoto FF 680W Scanner
My wife Vicky bugs me about those shoeboxes I have stored away with prints. My solution? This $700 scanner on steroids. I scanned 50 different sized prints in one batch, in less than a minute! Faded prints get colour enhanced and red-eye is removed. Both sides are scanned simultaneously, to catch personal notes. Nice! An included clear envelope protects partially torn prints through the scanning process. Now I can even digitize my languishing Polaroids. The default scans are good enough for digital books, but you can scan at higher resolutions, too. The scanner makes me a great librarian as well, organizing scans according to year, season, and subject.
SpotX Two-Way Satellite Messenger
I never fly without this two-way satellite messenger and global S.O.S. companion ($349), which is smaller than a satellite phone, and helps me keep in touch with family, friends, and co-workers via two-way texting. I Tweeted with an attached locater map from 35,000 feet in the air on a recent trip. In a life-threatening situation, one button press jolts S.O.S. 24/7 Search & Rescue into action. The built-in compass with programmable waypoints is accurate for casual hiking, just about anywhere. A BlackBerry-like keyboard and illuminated 2.7" display runs for 10 days between charges while tracking steps, and it's impact-resistant and waterproof (IP67) rated. Plans start at US$11.95/mo. Spot family devices have reportedly helped make more than 6,000 rescues to date.
Asus ZenBook 14 433 Laptop
At $1,400, this laptop is a keeper. It cleverly embeds a transparent numeric pad in the touchpad. I like its small size and NanoEdge Display frameless edges, and I find I can type much easier with the rear raised up. The stunning deep sea blue finish with rose-gold accents screams for attention. It's quiet, and can run for two working days per charge. But it's what's inside that counts, right? That includes faster speeds and more power compared to last year's similarly priced model, thanks to the new 8th Gen Intel Core i7 four-core processor. Boot up time is about twice as quick, so I can get going faster. It's much more comfortable and cool on my lap running at 1.8GHz; but I can bump it to 4.6GHz in Max Turbo mode when I'm rendering movies or working on large file photos. There's also an SSD drive, and 3D IR camera fast face login.
Amazon Alexa Echo Spot Smart Speaker
My favourite smart speaker is this $170 small tabletop sphere, which has an angled, circular bright LCD and built-in camera. Apart from summoning Alexa for home control, like dimming lights, setting room temperatures, and playing back music, you can make voice calls, and see callers' faces when they are using a Spot as well. Spot is my visual timer in the kitchen, or for fast calendar glances as well. If I leave her alone, she visually prods me quietly with questions and offers up jokes, news, weather, and more.
Philips Hue Indoor and Outdoor LED Home Lighting
I was a latecomer to the smart, colourful lighting game. How silly it was, I thought, for people to go crazy throwing light accents around their homes. I eventually relented and tried the Hue Lily Outdoor spot light kit ($350), placing three weatherproof lights outside my home, against my aging 25-year-old incandescent red-light strings. Wow! I got dancing lights galore on a timer! My neighbours took notice. But I also like the Hue Play Smart LED light bar double pack ($170.) They cast a gentle light on my office walls and ceilings with a choice of 15 million colours. Quick glances of simulated sunsets or custom light shows, controlled with the free Hue apps, bring calm to my otherwise hectic tech life. I'm now enlightened.
Nomad Universal USB 3-in-1 Charging Cable
I de-cluttered my mess of phone charging cables with Nomad's Universal smart charging cable. It includes micro USB, USB C, and Apple Lightning connections, and ingeniously switches among them as I swap out tips based on my needs and the device I'm using. It's tough too, made of indestructible braided ballistic nylon sheathing. It comes in a 0.3-metre length for $41, but I'd opt for the longer 1.5-metre length for $45.
Fitbit Charge 3 Activity Tracker
Fitbit's Charge 3 activity tracker ($199.95) is a simple tracker on a mission to gently keep me focused on my lifestyle and health. It stresses the right activity details and healthy habits, like displaying icons in the app reminding me to log what I'm eating through partner apps, and make sure I drink enough water. It tracks heart rate, swimming, running, stair climbs, biking, and is waterproof. It fully explains how sleeping patterns, from deep to shallow sleep, affect wellbeing. And there are breathing sessions in sync with heart beats...nice. The black and white screen delighted me with fireworks for new achievements. The well-designed UI software app complements the device, and it can impressively run for up to a week before it needs recharging. That exterior design oozes class with subtle curves, texture, and fine finishing. I love showing off the blue gray /rose gold aluminum. Every Fitbit comes with an extra longer band extender for larger wrists. Smart.
Rockstone Orbit True Wireless Stereo Speakers
I like the Rockstone Orbit True Wireless stereo speakers ($46) because of their small golf ball size, solid aluminum black lustre build, and loud, crisp sound. They have excellent spacial separation, which you can show off by swinging them around while in play. They don't have audio cable inputs, but work strictly via Bluetooth, with one large squeeze control button under each base. I easily got three hours of play between charges using the included thin plate charger (you can also charge each one through the built-in micro USB port). Each speaker has a built-in microphone, too, for speakerphone calls with crisp sound. Use the speakers individually, or in stereo pairs.