Lightweek in Tech: Best of 2016

The dumpster fire that has been 2016 is over and we look forward to a better 2017…especially with CES going on this week. To call 2016 a complete failure would be unfair. It’s been pretty good for technology and gadgets. There’s a good handful of improvements to smartphones, but also the realization that they are in face completely volatile and care must be taken to design a safe phone. Looking at you Note 7. We saw a headphone jack get removed, and USB-C has invaded our desks and pockets. While personal assistants have invaded our homes. Here’s a walk through my favorite tech of 2016.

Starting off with my laptop, we saw a year of ultra-thin laptops and convertibles. I personally went from the 12″ MacBook to a Surface Book at the end of the year. I’ve got to say my favorite in the convertible market is the Surface Book. While MacOS is a very nice OS to use, I couldn’t justify it for the work I do and needed to go back to Windows 10. It’s very portable, even if the hinge and build adds a good deal of thickness. Because of the detachable screen, there’s only so much Microsoft can do there without compromising the internals. I went with the lowest end model with the graphics card and I’ve got to say it’s quite capable. Add in the extra functionality of being a Surface tablet as well and you’ve got a very versatile machine, even with the 2015 specs.

Going on to phones, if you’re an iOS person, get an iPhone 7 or 7 Plus if your old iPhone is busted or you absolutely need a replacement. If you can wait, wait for the new model. Especially if you’re on a recent model that can last you til the fall of this year. However, if you’re on Android or looking to switch, the Google Pixel is hard to beat if you want a vanilla Android experience. Otherwise, the Samsung Galaxy 7 Edge or OnePlus 3T are solid options. They all offer nice hardware specs, but you’ll pay more for the Pixel since you’re likely buying it outright unless you’re on Verizon. But for me, I’m completely happy that I picked up the Pixel (5″). The camera is fantastic, and it’s just been enjoyable to use. Aside from the keyboard – not a fan. I am a fan of how Google handled the USB-C situation. USB-C to USB-C for the wall charger. USB-A (male) to USB-C for computers, legacy charging or Android Auto. USB-C to USB-A (female) for things like an SD Card reader or thumb-drives.

In the vein of making my home smarter, and to cope with my inability to remember everything I need at the store, Amazon Dash buttons have been a great addition to my home. They cost $5, but your first time using one the item it’s tied to is discounted $5. So they effectively cost you $0. Early in 2016 Amazon expanded their lineup to include over one hundred brands and items you can tie them to, but now they claim to have over two hundred. However, some seem to be out of stock. I grabbed 3 early on, and I’m going to be ordering more in the future. The way they work is if you find yourself running low on something like laundry detergent, you press the button and it sends the order to Amazon and in 2 days (because they require Amazon Prime) you have a new batch of detergent. The setup isn’t too difficult, but basically the Amazon app sends ultrasonic signals to it so it can sync to your WiFi router.

I recently added the Google Home assistant to my house and while it’s still early in its life, it is certainly useful. I’m still in that learning phase of remembering to use it since it’s still new to me. I love the IFTTT interactions I can set up, but recently Philips Hue and Home integrated and allows me direct control over the lights through the Hue’s Bridge. iOS’s HomeKit works great, but still relies on app level controls, not network routed signals. Home has direct control over the network. It also lets me set the lights to rooms. So I can say “OK Google, living room lights on” and it just works.

Cord cutting has been a big part of my focus this year. And while I’ve tried a few different means of doing so, so far no one has done a better job at it than the Apple TV has. The new TV app is great for focusing you on content and less on digging through apps. The only downside about it is that PlayStation Vue isn’t part of the Single Sign On feature yet or any of the live TV features. I don’t know if it ever will – the PS Vue app is still new to the Apple TV. I leave YouTube and Netflix watching to my LG TV’s smart apps, but it’s only for ease of use and 4K features. If I’m watching anything live or on demand, it’s definitely on the Apple TV.

Bonus! I bought a new solder station this year. The Hakko FX888D. I’ve only needed to use it a few times since I rarely solder anything, but compared to the soldering I’ve done at work and previously at home with a cheap Radio Shack station it’s miles ahead. Having a nice soldering station is great as it allows you to repair some electronics with a little more ease than a cheaper station with no real features. I also nabbed a Leatherman Wave, and it’s realistically not a piece of tech, it is an invaluable piece of my everyday carry. Be on the lookout for a few of us to update our EDC/”What’s in the Bag?!” series.

All in all 2016 gave us some cool new stuff, and 2017 looks to raise the bar. What was some of your favorite tech of 2016? What are you looking forward to in 2017?

By Josh Hearne

Red Five standing by...Josh is a more gadget, science and space centric nerd, focusing on the physical, tangible aspect than the media and fictional. A big Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Carl Sagan fan, he’s more at home watching COSMOS than Gundam or Dragonball. That said, Star Wars is easily his favorite series, in all its forms. Also a bass player, he enjoys music, nerdy or not. Winter is his favorite season, Orion is always visible then and the cold nights offer often clear views of the nebula within.