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 Ted Kritsonis, WiFi HiFi contributor in the areas of mobile, audio, video, smart home, and automotive tech.
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.
Philips Hue Smart Lights
These lights never fail to elicit reactions and inquisitive questions from friends and family when they see them in action. Rather than pick one specific product in the Hue line, I'm really just a fan of the brand overall. From the standard bulbs to the Bloom and LightStrips for accenting a home, and even the Hue Go portable light, these things can truly change the mood and ambience of a place. I use them all the time. Whether it's while I watch TV or movies, entertain guess, read a book, or get work done, the lights often play a supporting role. The regular white bulbs are serviceable, like they should be. But it's the colour bulbs that are my favourite, especially with the capability to create new scenes and combinations. The fact that they are efficient LEDs certainly doesn't hurt when it comes to savings on hydro bills, either. Get started for $83 with the White Starter Kit, and you can expand from there.
Blending the need for home theatre sound with a solid music speaker makes the mid-range $439 Beam ideal for condos, apartments, and man caves. While it may not match the sound stage of bigger Sonos models, like the Playbase or Playbar, it doesn't need to in smaller confines anyway. I found it perfect for my small living room, providing sound to accompany a movie, TV show, sporting event, or video game. Amazon's Alexa integration is great, too, so I can control various aspects of the speaker and other smart devices in my home by voice, including lights to set the scene for a movie or TV show. If you're in a bigger space, add extra ‘boom' by pairing the Beam with a Sonos Sub or two Play:1 speakers for surround sound.
TCL 6-Series Roku TV
The brushed metal design and lightweight frame of this 55" TV makes it easy to prop up or wall-mount (as I did). I would have liked more HDMI ports, but I've been managing with the current set-up, which includes three. The Roku streaming platform is built-in, essentially working as the TV's interface and operating system. Picture quality is what's most surprising with this TV, which is available at a sub-$1,000 price point. While some consumers have experienced issues with vertical banding, my unit has been fine. Dolby Vision and HDR10 support really help add a level of vibrancy to the picture, with impressive black levels for a TV in this price range. Don't expect to get picture quality to rival a premium LED panel, but this series is a clear sign that TCL is serious about making a living room TV in an affordable price range.
Nvidia Shield TV 4K
When anyone asks me about Android boxes (which happens pretty often!), I can't think of a better option than this one. The Shield has three things many no-name boxes don't: legitimacy, functionality, and compatibility. For example, Netflix's certification enables approved hardware to use its highest resolution streams, a privilege the streaming company doesn't afford to any of those cheap no-names. The Shield runs on Android TV, has updated apps and an interface that, while divisive for some, is far more intuitive for TV screens compared to the clunkier interfaces other boxes use. It has a thriving gaming section under Nvidia's GeForce Now branding, and purchasing the box comes with a free subscription. Even if you want to run Kodi on the device, you could. What you do with it after that is at your discretion. The $230 box also has Chromecast built-in for casting content to a TV, plus support for Google Assistant through the included remote.
Google Pixel 3 Smartphone
Google smartphones might lose the beauty contest, but they win in the talent competition. For me, the anchor for this phone, one of the latest in the line-up, is its superb camera. Software wizardry manages to emulate photography capabilities typically seen in expensive cameras. The Night Sight mode renders the flash all but useless, producing low-light and night shots that are incredibly well-lit and detailed. Top Shot is an insurance policy for missing a key moment. Anytime I shoot with that function, I scroll forward or back and save the best still image. Even beyond the camera, using a version of Android untouched by cumbersome overlays is a pleasure. Fast, smooth, capable and with good battery life: there's a lot to like. $1,000 outright; less on contract.
Huawei Mate 20 Pro Smartphone
In the same vein as the Pixel 3, Huawei has pushed the envelope with a stellar camera, but has also served notice in other ways with this impressive handset. The camera is, in my opinion, one of the best of 2018. It has the versatility to shoot in a variety of situations, be it with optical zoom, at a wider angle, super close, or at night. The Night Mode is capable of capturing beautiful scenes at night or in low-light, and is among the features I have come to trust most. While I'm still not crazy about EMUI, Huawei's Android overlay, I did find it better than past iterations. The reverse wireless charging, where the Mate 20 Pro can charge another phone wirelessly, has saved me in a pinch more than once as well. The features on this device are countless, and it's well worth the $1,300 investment (less on contract).
Jabra Elite 65t True Wireless Earbuds
Jabra's previous-generation Elite Sport true wireless earbuds already sounded better than Apple's AirPods. But the Elite 65t (there's also the Active 65t version) take the performance level even further. The audio spectrum pumps out good bass and decent mids and highs for what I consider to be the best overall sound quality in the true wireless category. They also fit comfortably and stay in place, even during sweaty workouts. The app integration is okay, with a basic equalizer and HearThrough Mode to let ambient noise in so that I can hear the outside world without having to take them off. I even like that firmware updates now route through the app instead of having to use a computer. Battery life is moderate at no more than four hours in most situations. But these $180 earbuds are the ones I recommend to anyone who wants to cut all wires.
GoPro Hero7 Black Action POV Camera
When it comes to travel and adventure, the GoPro is still the camera to beat, in my opinion. The Hero7 Black ($530) takes the excellent video quality of the previous model and makes it more resistant to shake. "HyperSmooth," as GoPro calls it, is an image stabilization mode that reduces the level of shake. I would stop short of agreeing with the company's belief that it's "gimbal-like:" it's not. But it's still pretty darn good, and makes footage captured during walks, runs, or drives buttery smooth. Night and low-light shooting is improved, but still needs work. I'm not much for live streaming, but that is an option here as well. I just wish GoPro stuck to the previous touchscreen interface. This one requires more swiping, but it took me some time to get past the initial confusion.
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite
It was a tough choice between the Kobo Forma ($300), which I also really like, and this e-reader. But in the end, the Paperwhite, which starts at half the price ($140), won out for me because it's lighter than the Forma, adds waterproofing the previous Paperwhite didn't have, plus has an ample 6" E Ink display with flush bezels, and the option to get 4G LTE service. There's something about being in a different country, or any random location for that matter, and being able to browse and download eBooks. I know e-readers are something of an acquired taste over the tactile feel of a real paperback or hardcover. But for me, the convenience of having a full library of novels to take with me is too hard to resist. Audible audiobooks also work, though you'll need Bluetooth headphones because there's no headphone jack.
Roku Streaming Stick
There are a variety of Roku devices on the market, but I find this one to be the most compelling. Sticklers for all the bells and whistles and slightly faster performance might veer toward the Roku Ultra, but I love that the Stick is small yet still packs a pretty big punch. It supports 4K and HDR10, and offers plenty of apps, or "channels," as Roku calls them. The voice features are okay (Amazon's Fire TV Stick 4K is better at that) but I tend to prefer physical buttons over voice control anyway, and it comes with a pretty slick remote. Once I got the TCL Roku TV, it rendered the Stick redundant. But before I opted for a full-fledged Roku TV, this was my Roku device of choice for accessing streaming services and apps, and it's the one I always recommend. $90