Dozens of tech press conferences and product announcements fill our days, but often, the largest and most important among them orbit the biggest shows of the year. CES kicks off the year in January, Mobile World Congress sets the pace for spring, Computex sets the agenda in the summer, and IFA has become the big show to watch each Labor Day weekend. And this year it’s bigger than ever.
To cover IFA 2016, Digital Trends sent its biggest crew to date. Nine of our best editors, video producers, and writers have been scouring the show floor in Berlin this week to bring you the latest major tech from companies like Samsung, Lenovo, Huawei, LG, Sharp, Philips, ZTE, and many more. We’ve seen it all and had a blast writing, tweeting, and covering the show live on Facebook for you all.
It took us a few days, and some intense deliberation, but we’ve put our heads together and finally picked our favorites from the show. Without further ado, here’s our Top Tech picks of IFA 2016 in each major tech category.
Best of Show: Lenovo Yoga Book
For years, we’ve seen sci-fi movies, designers, and futurists dream of a device with a massive touch surface that doubles as a keyboard. Now it’s reality. The Yoga Book is that device.
Actually, it’s more. The touch surface is not only a keyboard but also, well, a touch surface, usable with finger and stylus. That makes it easy to jot down notes, something that’s now possible without touching the display itself – though, you can still do that, too.
You might expect such forward-thinking tech to cost a fortune. It doesn’t. The Yoga Book with Android is $500, and with Windows 10, it’s $550. It’s even light, thin, well built, and features a beautiful 1,920 x 1,200 pixel display.
It’s not just a solid 2-in-1. It’s a visionary concept that hints at how smartphones, tablets, and notebooks could coverage.
– Matt Smith
Audio: Audeze iSine 10
Audeze is on a roll right now. So far, every Planar Magnetic headphone has been a hit with reviewers and headphone lovers alike. That trend will likely continue with the new iSine 10 announced at IFA 2016, the first single-driver planar magnetic in-ear headphones ever made.
We had a chance to give the iSine 10 a listen on the show floor, and although their open-backed design let a lot of the surrounding noise through we could very clearly hear how wonderful they sounded. Bass is immense and deep, the mid range is lush and transparent, and treble is crystal clear with not so much as a hint of harshness.
Top to bottom, the iSine 10 are a luscious sounding headphone. Toss in the conventional 3.5 mm headphone cable and Apple Lightning cable with built-in DAC and amplifier, along with the price tag of $400, and you have an easy winner for our audio category.
– Caleb Denison
Computing: Lenovo Yoga 910
The Lenovo Yoga 910 isn’t an innovative notebook. Lenovo came up with the Yoga concept about four years ago, and even the watchband hinge has been around for years. Yet the 910 is a strong contender, and noteworthy 2-in-1, because it brings many innovations together in one, complete package.
It has everything, including: 7th-generation Intel Core processor, thin-bezel display, 4K resolution, PCI Express solid state drive, and USB-Type C. All of that’s wrapped into a system that’s less than 15 millimeters thick, and available for $1,300. It’s a powerhouse, yet it’s also a system you can take anywhere. And that makes it a winner.
– Matt Smith
Cool Tech: Yuneec Breeze
There were a lot of drones at IFA this year, but even among a sea of incredible UAVs, Yuneec’s Breeze drone stood out.
Why? Well for starters, it’s the first 4K camera drone from a major manufacturer that you can get your hands on for under 500 bucks.
But that’s not the only reason we picked it. This little whippersnapper also boasts a range of automated flight modes (follow me, orbit, selfie, and more) that are normally only available in much more expensive hardware.
Basically, it’s a highly capable camera drone designed for casual pilots instead of hobbyists. It gives average Joes an easy way to snag eye-popping aerial video, and for a reasonable price, too.
– Drew Prindle
Cool Tech: Botscan
Botspot’s giant 3D scanner, the Botscan, is absolutely ridiculous. The company claims that it’s one of the most advanced 3D scanners in the world — and after stepping inside it and seeing what it can do, we definitely believe them. Botscan is essentially a cylindrical room with walls made of light and a series of high-resolution DSLR cameras.
With this setup, and a technique called photogrammetry, Botscan can capture insanely detailed scans of practically anything — people, products, or even cars. These scans can then be used for 3D modeling, developing prosthetics, virtual shopping, or even architecture.
– Drew Prindle
Home: LG InstaView Signature Fridge
It was pretty cool when LG let you knock on a fridge’s opaque surface to turn it transparent, letting you scout for snacks without letting a ton of air inside the appliance. But soon, there will be a third face to the InstaView Signature fridge: Windows 10. Late next year, LG will roll out a smart version, and essentially the entire right top door will be a computer. Stream Pandora, tag food with expiration dates, and leave notes from your family, or just leave it on the opaque setting to give the illusion that this is any old refrigerator. LG plans to open the platform to developers, so hopefully by the time the fridge is available, it will have even more tricks hidden behind its black surface.
– Jenny McGrath
Home: Netatmo Smart Valve
Sure, smart thermostats are neat, but apartment dwellers often can’t make use of them — especially if their heat comes out of radiators. Netatmo debuted its Smart Valve at IFA, and a lot of renters might see the value in it (as in, it should save them some bucks on their heating bill). It replaces your standard radiator knob with an attractive piece of hardware that works in concert with the Netatmo thermostat. But even if you don’t have access to your building’s thermostat, the valve will still work with your phone via a bridge. Best of all? It’s pretty easy to install and uninstall, so you can take it with you when you move.
– Jenny McGrath
Latin Innovation: Solidmation
Solidmation is an Argentinean company that locally designs, develops, and produces IoT solutions for the home automation industry.
And the company is at IFA to introduce a new portfolio of connected-home devices focused on comfort and energy saving. The platform lets you control almost any electrical appliance at home with a smartphone app. To use it, you need only a Wi-Fi connection and a Solidmation device connected to the appliance (your current light bulb, a curtain, the air conditioner or thermostat, a coffeemaker, etc.). By adding Solidmation devices, you add intelligence to your current appliances.
The company just introduced its Wi-Fi solutions to the Argentinean retail market and looks forward to finding suitable partners to enter other markets. This is clearly a company to watch.
– Juan Garcia
Mobile: ZTE Axon 7 Mini
When ZTE released the Axon 7 earlier this year, it impressed us with a svelte, curved, metal body and a very reasonable price. The Axon 7 Mini boasts the same sexy design and snappy performance, but every element has been scaled down, including the price.
The 5.2-inch, 1080p screen looks crisp and vivid, and the octa-core Snapdragon is backed by 3GB of RAM offering plenty of power, but the real star of the show is the Axon’s audio quality. The dual front-facing speakers are impressively loud, and through headphones the sound really sings, with punchy bass that never gets boomy, and clean, crisp highs.
– Malarie Gokey
Video: Philips 901F 4K UHD OLED TV
At IFA 2015, Panasonic emerged as the first tier-one TV maker to take on LG with an OLED TV — and this year Dutch electronics outfit Philips joined the party. The 55-inch 901F offers 4K Ultra HD resolution, high dynamic range (HDR), a 6.1-speaker system developed with Dolby, and the Android TV platform powered by a quad-core processor.
The 901F’s black levels are exactly what you’d expect from an OLED TV, and its colors looked vibrant and well-saturated in the short demo reel Philips had running. What really makes this OLED TV stand out, however, doesn’t have anything to do with its picture quality: the Philips Ambilight system. The 901F is also priced pretty well for an OLED TV at $4,500.
We’re glad to see LG getting some more competition, as competition has a way of driving down prices – we’ll gladly take more affordable OLED TVs, thanks very much. Also, Philips was the only major TV manufacturer to unveil a new TV at IFA 2016, making it a shoe-in for our Best of IFA award in the video category.
– Caleb Denison
Wearables: Samsung Gear S3 Frontier
We were impressed by the Gear S2’s debut last year, but Samsung has not rested on its laurels. The Gear S3 Frontier joined the smartwatch family at this year’s IFA and offers significant improvements over its predecessor.
Samsung consulted Swiss watchmakers to create a design that feels and looks like classic wristwear. Coupled with the always-on display and a veritable feast of watch faces, the Gear S3 is easily mistaken for an analog watch, but it’s actually one of the most powerful and versatile smartwatches we’ve ever seen.
Everything that worked so well in the S2 has been retained, including the innovative rotating bezel and Tizen interface, but Samsung also worked in support for Samsung Pay, more apps, a bigger battery, and an LTE option that allows you to leave your phone at home.
– Simon Hill