Our reception desk has so many brown boxes stacked up, it looks like a loading dock. We’re on a first-name basis with the UPS guy. We get new dishwashers more frequently than most people get new shoes.
What we’re trying to say is: We see a lot of products. And every year, before the ball drops in Times Square and we careen into yet another crazy CES, our editors like to think back, reminisce, and remember the special ones. From phones to drones, these were the products that impressed us, that broke new ground, and that made our lives better. They’re the best products of 2018.
And when we finished talking products, we also unanimously decided that one technology changed our lives more than any other in 2018. You should check that out, too!
Phones in 2018 were mostly iterative, but there’s one company that continues to take us aback: Google. The Pixel 3 is the best phone of the year. It shines in a year of fantastic phones because Google has shown yet again that a rich software experience and artificial intelligence have the biggest potential to meaningfully impact your daily life.
While it may not have the sexiest design or best-in-class hardware, the Pixel 3 undoubtedly has the best software experience, with A.I. powering many of our favorite features. Take Now Playing. It uses on-device machine learning to display the name of the song playing in your surroundings on the lock screen. We’ve reached for our phone, ready to search Google or use Shazam to find the song, only to see the Pixel 3 already has the answer.
Another favorite is Call Screen. In a year where robocalls are higher than ever before, Google has a meaningful solution that has enabled us to never answer one ever again. Then there’s Google Duplex, which uses Assistant to make restaurant reservations for you, and that’s all without mentioning the host of machine learning techniques that empower the best-in-class camera. Night Sight, for example, uses A.I. to color in ultra-low-light environments, enabling you to take shareable photos at night that were otherwise impossible with a phone.
The cherry on top? Timely security and software updates. You won’t have to wait months for the next Android version. If looks don’t impress, the Pixel 3’s A.I. prowess and camera will.
– By Julian Chokkattu
The year 2018 was full of daring, interesting, and downright experimental laptops. Some took big risks on specific features, and others attempted to redefine the form factor as a whole.
But through it all, the Dell XPS 13 remains the most dependable and well-balanced laptop you can buy. Don’t get us wrong: It’s by no means a boring-looking computer. It’s a refinement of a stunning design that’s been unchallenged for years now, defined by its iconic slim bezels, tiny footprint, and premium finish. The fact that it now comes in a beautiful white and champagne colorway is only the cherry on top.
It’s not just about design. We expect our laptops to give us tools to work better and play harder, and that’s where the XPS 13 truly shines. It’s in the innovative, Gore-powered thermal performance. It’s in the record-breaking battery life that lasts well over 10 hours in moderate use. Dell is pushing common components to levels not seen before by its competitors, and that’s exactly what we look for in a laptop we can call the best of the year.
– By Luke Larsen
Our pick for best TV was a no-brainer this year. The LG C8 series OLED TV offers the ultimate blend of stellar picture quality, gorgeous design, and outstanding ease of use, all at the most approachable price point available in this premium TV tier.
OLED TVs make a stunning impression thanks to their incredibly thin profiles and best-in-class contrast. Only OLED panels can produce perfect black levels, and when you start with perfect black, every other picture element is elevated. The C8 OLED TV’s contrast, color, and motion are all the best we’ve ever tested.
Adding to incredible picture quality is LG’s highly intuitive WebOS operating system, which makes the TV extremely easy to use. Find what you want to watch and where to watch it faster, instantly switch between live TV and your favorite streaming services, and rest assured you are getting the best possible picture and sound quality thanks to HDR, Dolby Vision HDR, and Dolby Atmos processing.
While LG’s own step-down B8 OLED series is a little less expensive, we picked the C8 series due to its superior processing and aesthetics. Available in 55- and 65-inch screen sizes, this jaw-dropping TV is bound to light up your living room with a picture that will impress all who see it for years to come.
– By Caleb Denison
In 2016, Jaguar design chief Ian Callum told Digital Trends that electrification gave his team more freedom to design a car. “Watch this space,” he said with a broad smile when we asked about what he had in store. The model he was talking about is the 2019 I-Pace. It’s the firm’s first-ever battery-electric vehicle. It’s also Tesla’s first serious competitor.
Jaguar bluntly said “to hell with tradition.” The I-Pace doesn’t use a straight-six engine and it doesn’t wear the long hood, short decklid proportions that characterize fan favorites like the F-Type. The British firm’s designers instead pushed the wheels toward the corners to extend the wheelbase in a bid to create a spacious, luminous cabin without stretching the overall footprint. Mission accomplished. Once inside, the driver faces a tech-led dashboard Jaguar calls the flight deck that’s equipped with a trio of screens.
The I-Pace’s drivetrain consists of a large, 90-kWh lithium-ion battery pack located under the passenger compartment. Think of the platform as a skateboard, but don’t try to do a kickflip with it; it’s made by Jaguar, not World Industries. The battery powers two electric motors that deliver 394 horsepower, and it holds enough electricity for up to 240 miles of range.
With the I-Pace, Jaguar made a quick, high-tech, and stylish car that just happens to be electric. And by acting fast, it enviably launched the I-Pace into a class of one.
– By Ronan Glon
Read our full Jaguar I-Pace review.
Best Smart Home Device
The Amazon Echo Dot has always been an inexpensive way of accessing the voice assistant Alexa and not so much about sound. With tinny, barely audible music playback, most people with a Dot in their homes rely on a bigger, better speaker for great sound.
With the latest version of the Dot, that’s all changed.
Released by Amazon in September, the third-generation Echo Dot is a home run: It looks better, with a mesh-and-cloth fabric, and more importantly, it sounds significantly better than its predecessor, the second-generation Echo Dot. It’s 70 percent louder, features room-filling sound, and gives its more expensive big brother, the Echo, a serious run for its money.
With a $50 price tag (cheaper during sales events), giving the Echo Dot smart home device of the year honors was a no-brainer. And for those of you less interested in sound and more interested in Alexa, she’s built inside the device and is better than ever, ready to read your Flash Briefing, turn off your smart lights, or make tiger noises for your kid. Or you, if you’re into that.
– By Kim Wetzel
The third generation of Sony’s flagship wireless headphones offer top-tier noise canceling, excellent-quality wireless audio, and plush comfort. With steady improvements from the already-amazing previous generations (with MDR-1000X and WH-1000XM2), the latest version of the WH-1000X are the best headphones you can buy today.
Outstanding wireless fidelity is at the heart of the WH-1000XM3. The headphones can “upscale” wireless music from high-resolution audio devices using a special chip, helping to make music sound dynamic and beautiful, with authoritative bass and clear treble response held together by a well-rounded midrange. They also feature wireless support for AptX HD and Sony’s LDAC technology.
When compared to other industry-leading noise-canceling headphones like that of Bose, the Sony model sounds much better and showcases similarly astonishing noise reduction.
Comfortable earpads, sleek touch controls, and a staggering 30 hours of battery life mean that they are among the best headphones we’ve ever tested in terms of daily use. When it came time to pick the best headphones of 2018, our choice was easy: There are no other headphones that compete with the WH-1000XM3 in 2018.
– By Parker Hall
We were treated to several excellent new cameras in 2018, and amazingly, not one of them disappointed. But it was Nikon’s Z-series — comprising the Z7 and Z6 — that earned the top prize. The two full-frame mirrorless cameras deliver excellent image quality that rivals Nikon’s own DSLRs, while packing the features found only in mirrorless, including a top-notch electronic viewfinder and smaller body. For videographers, they offer professional-grade 4K shooting. The Z7, with a 45.7-megapixel sensor, is the resolution powerhouse, while the Z6 is the versatile camera for everyone else.
Granted, many of our other favorite 2018 cameras also deliver great image quality and performance (Sony’s A7 III cannot be ignored), but the Z-series injects some fresh technologies into the full-frame camera segment. It also retains the wonderful feel of a DSLR, while keeping things compact. It introduces a new lens mount that promises performance not yet realized, while supporting Nikon’s extensive lineup of DSLR lenses. But ultimately, it shows Nikon — once steadfastly committed to the DSLR — can build a great mirrorless camera that delivers the best of both DSLR and mirrorless. We are excited by what’s next on Nikon’s Z-series road map, as well as what the competition is cooking up to rival this new mirrorless contender.
– By Les Shu
It should come as no surprise that the best drone of 2018 was made by DJI. The company has been the undisputed heavyweight champion of drones for years now, and it defended that title multiple times in 2018 with a handful of knockout products.
Our personal favorite is the Mavic 2 Pro. Despite being more of an evolution than a revolution, this drone brings so many excellent features to the table that it’s impossible to avoid falling in love with it. In addition to omnidirectional obstacle avoidance and best-in-class auto-follow abilities, the Mavic 2 Pro also comes with one of the best cameras we’ve ever seen on a consumer drone.
The shooter, which was built in partnership with legendary Swiss camera maker Hasselblad (which DJI acquired in 2015), is capable of capturing images and video in 10-bit color — which essentially means that it can capture billions more discrete colors than other drone cameras.
– By Drew Prindle
Smartwatches that aren’t the Apple Watch have shown how difficult it is to produce a desirable, user-friendly wearable that people actually benefit from putting on their wrist. While Wear OS watches are showing signs of life, the best most rivals can hope for at the moment is to be mediocre.
The Apple Watch Series 4 is the culmination of Apple gradually improving usability, features, and customization over several generations of the Watch, while steadfastly retaining the now highly recognizable design, with one extremely well-judged enhancement for 2018 — a small but meaningful screen size increase.
Watch OS is by far the simplest and most rewarding wearable operating system available today. Apple continues to add various health-related features that could genuinely mean the difference between life and death for some. The software is so fluid and attractive that it makes iOS look a little complicated, while the Digital Crown is wonderfully natural and pleasing to use.
We awarded it five stars in our review, the highest possible. It’s not only the best smartwatch available at the moment, it’s the best Apple mobile product of 2018, and absolutely the only wearable you should consider buying.
– By Andy Boxall
This shouldn’t come as a surprise: Apple’s iPad is the best tablet. The company has continuously tweaked iOS to work well with the iPad, and there are a variety of tablet-optimized apps to help you get the most out of such a large screen. Android tablets, on the other hand, often feel like oversized phones; the software needs more polish, though Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S4 is a solid entry.
While we’re still drooling over the redesigned 2018 iPad Pro, it’s the $330 iPad Apple unveiled early in the year that takes the win. It doesn’t have Face ID or slimmed-down bezels, but it’s affordable and all most people really need. It’s powerful enough to run most games, the 9.7-inch screen is expansive, and support for the Apple Pencil makes it even more versatile.
While it won’t suffice as a laptop replacement for most people, it’s possible to get some light work done on this affordable slate. If you’re looking for an excellent, all-around tablet that can do almost everything, the iPad is the answer.
– By Julian Chokkattu
In the past year, we’ve seen lots of innovation in the world of appliances, including computers in refrigerators and clothes dryers that siphon out the moisture and then use it to steam clothing. But of all the things we’ve seen, we found ourselves most impressed with the Hestan Cue Smart Induction Cooktop. For those of you who don’t know what induction cooking is, let’s put it this way: It provides a precise degree of control unlike any other method. Put some onions on the cooktop to saute and do nothing else. You’ll have perfectly-textured veggies, meats, or anything else you want to put on the burner.
Hestan’s induction cooking technology brings such precise cooking at a serious cost — $2,500. But we think induction cooking, and Hestan’s rangetop, represents the future of the kitchen experience.
The appliance comes with the Hestan Cue app, which provides recipe instructions on video and helps you to cook with precise temperatures regardless of whether you’re stirring risotto or spaghetti sauce. The burners heat immediately but have temperature control embedded for even cooking results. Induction power is also energy-efficient. The device comes with a fry pan with a temperature sensor for great cooking compatibility.
Finally, the sleek cooktop is absolutely gorgeous, with an easy-to-clean glass finish. While we do wish there were controls directly on the cooktop, the app is intuitive and easy to use. The future of cooking, indeed.
– By Kim Wetzel
Best Home Security Device
When it comes to video doorbells, Nest wasn’t the first to enter the market, but the company’s offering is the best. That’s why we’re giving our Home Security Product of the Year award to the Nest Hello video doorbell.
With a 160-degree field of view and crisp imagery, the Hello delivers crystal-clear video via an app on your phone, even on damp, drizzly days. There’s also two-way talk, allowing you to speak to the person who rang your doorbell through your phone regardless of where you are. It also allows you to fire off canned responses via the app if you’re unable to have a conversation. You can also answer the doorbell through a Google Home Hub or any smart display with Google Assistant, like the Lenovo Smart Display.
One feature that’s unique to Nest Hello is its facial-detection functionality that recognizes regular visitors over time and will give notifications announcing visitors by name. There’s nothing more exciting than the kids hearing that Grandma is at the door.
At $229, the Nest Hello is a little bit pricier than competitors, but its sleek form, good looks, and intelligence make it a great addition to your front porch.
– By Kim Wetzel
Best Media Streamer
For a device to take the crown of media streamer of the year, it should be able to do a little bit of everything. And nobody does a little bit of everything better than Amazon’s Fire TV Cube. Offering a speedy processor, 4K resolution and HDR support, and even IR blasters to go with CEC to control your entire home theater setup, the Fire TV Cube is a jack-of-all-trades that trades best in versatility. Oh, and did we forget to mention Amazon Alexa? It’s got that too, of course.
With Alexa built in, the Fire TV Cube gives your voice full command of your home theater, allowing you to control functions like input switching and volume on a wide variety of TVs and receivers, and even change the channel on many cable boxes. Of course, Amazon’s flagship streaming box works pretty well for its main purpose, too — namely streaming video. Bottom line: If there’s a more powerful, versatile, and just plain cool way to control virtually everything in your TV room, we haven’t found it yet.
– By Ryan Waniata
Best Fitness Tracker
Fitness trackers can be gaudy, but the Fitbit Charge 3 finds a balance between utility and aesthetics by packing all the fitness features you need into a slim, sleek device.
It’s our favorite fitness tracker of the year because Fitbit’s interface is dead simple to use. With a few simple taps and swipes, you can see useful metrics like time, step count, resting heart rate, and more right from your wrist. The Charge 3 also goes a step further by offering smartphone notifications, from social media alerts to text messages.
For fitness, you can go as basic or advanced as you want. Whether that’s simply using it to track your steps during the day or setting goals to achieve during workouts, the Charge 3 is versatile. It packs Fitbit’s SP02 sensor that measures blood oxygen, allowing you to monitor your sleep patterns to gain insight on how to improve your sleep quality. It’s also so lightweight, you won’t want to tear it off your wrist in the middle of the night.
But one of its best features is battery life. Even after a long day or grueling workout session, you won’t have to worry about charging it. Its battery lasts up to one whole week — even with notifications and everyday health tracking.
There are caveats — there’s no built-in GPS, music connectivity, or third-party apps available for download (yet) — but at $150, Fitbit’s Charge 3 is your best choice to track important health metrics without sacrificing style.
– By Brenda Stolyar
The world of consumer speakers changed dramatically in the past 12 months. Voice assistants from Google, Apple, and Amazon first appeared in devices with any semblance of audio quality in 2017, but 2018 is the year that they went hi-fi.
Virtually every brand that followed Sonos into the world of wireless, multiroom audio has launched their own smart assistant-integrated speaker to chase the heels of the late-2017 Sonos One, but there are none that offer the fantastic blend of sound quality, affordability, and functionality of the Riva Concert. That’s why it’s our speaker of the year.
With true stereo playback, and the ability to play high-resolution audio at up to 192 kHz, the tiny, splash-proof rectangle is easily the best-sounding compact speaker we’ve ever tested. Add to that onboard Amazon Alexa, Wi-Fi, Airplay, Spotify Connect, and Bluetooth support, and you’ve got one of the easiest-to-use speakers on the market — all for just $200.
Snag an optional battery pack, and it even transforms into the perfect poolside companion.
With the ability to play your favorite music at extremely high quality, and give you a weather report as you’re about to step out the door, there are very few products as satisfying as this one.
– By Parker Hall
Best 3D Printer
This year was a big one for 3D printers — particularly for those of the SLA/DLP variety, which are vastly different than the Makerbots and Ultimakers of yesteryear. Rather than pushing plastic filament through a hot nozzle and depositing it layer by layer onto a substrate, SLA/DLP printers work by shining light into a pool of UV-curable resin, which hardens a layer of the object.
This technique allows SLA printers to create objects with far greater detail than FDM printers can. However, up until very recently, these printers were prohibitively expensive and largely out of reach for the average consumer.
Anycubic changed that this year with the release of the Photon. Despite the fact that this machine produces incredibly high-detail parts, it also costs just 500 bucks. That means you can now get your hands on a cutting-edge SLA printer for half the price of an iPhone. That’s huge.
– By Drew Prindle
Best Video Game
Red Dead Redemption 2 combines some of the most essential features players crave in modern video games: A thematic open world filled with purpose, intricate systems that compliment gameplay, strategic yet satisfying combat, and a story that builds in the same way a blockbuster movie would. That’s the reputation Rockstar Games is known for, but there seems to be an extra glimmer of polish on this particular set of cowboy boots.
You’re put in the boots of Arthur Morgan, who you’ll guide on a journey in the late 1800s. His story is a tumultuous one, containing themes of betrayal, loss, and self-discovery. Firefights, unpredictable events, and volatile story missions keep RDR2’s open world lively and engaging.
But you can also enjoy the lazy pace of the West. Hunting, fishing, crafting, and building a bond with your horse are just a few of the hobbies you can choose from. Table games, trips to the theaters, and collectibles are also present, easily turning a wild romp through the West into a slow, relaxing trot.
With over 50 hours of in-game content available through the campaign and the recent (and promising) addition of Red Dead Online, Red Dead Redemption 2 is certainly worth more than the cost of admission. It’s a surefire classic you’ll cherish for a lifetime.
– By Felicia Miranda
Filmmaker Damien Chazelle has an uncanny ability to make stories deeply personal, whether it’s a music student’s struggle to appease his relentless mentor, a pair of lovers trying to make their Hollywood dreams come true, or one man’s journey to the surface of the moon. First Man is his most ambitious film to date, and what it achieves emotionally is just as impressive as all of its technical and creative accomplishments.
Chazelle’s film completely immerses its audience in the sounds and sights of astronaut Neil Armstrong’s experiences on his way to becoming the first human to set foot on the lunar surface. We hear the groans of stressed steel and the jangling tremors of acceleration, all set against the quiet hiss of oxygen and Armstrong’s controlled breathing. Through his eyes — and Chazelle’s expert lens — we see the test flights and botched missions that preceded his experience on Apollo 11 in all their chaos and complexity. Archival footage merged with re-creations combine to blur the line between history and reality.
It’s those moments — in the upper reaches of the atmosphere or the far reaches of space — that make First Man breathtaking, but it’s the quieter, more personal moments that give the film and lead actor Ryan Gosling’s performance as Armstrong the depth to be more than a story about an iconic moment in human history. It’s one thing to watch a re-creation of the Apollo 11 mission, but First Man offers the chance to experience it on a personal level.
– By Rick Marshall
Read our First Man review.
Best TV Show
On the surface, the 10-part Netflix series from Oculus filmmaker Mike Flanagan looks like a run-of-the-mill haunted house tale that puts a fresh coat of paint on Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel of the same name. On its face, this is the story of a family terrorized by ghosts haunting the gothic estate they renovate one summer, but The Haunting of Hill House turns an otherwise standard jumping-off point for scares into so much more than that.
One of the horror genre’s most talented filmmakers, Flanagan fills every shot with a palpable dread that has as much to do with what appears on the screen as what he leaves for the audience to imagine. When the scares do come — and there are plenty of them — they never feel cheap or gimmicky, and there’s a genuine sense of weight to every ghostly encounter and bump in the night that make them each feel memorable and unique.
What makes Hill House special, though, is how it uses its decompressed format to explore the fractured family at the heart of the story. For some, the personal demons they battle are as terrifying as the phantoms of Hill House, and Flanagan’s clever manipulation of the show’s timeline gives the narrative an introspective, poignant depth that few horror stories attempt, let alone achieve.
One of the surprise hits of the year, The Haunting of Hill House is the rare, genre-busting series that reminds you how powerful — and personal — a well-worn tale can be with the right storyteller.
– By Rick Marshall
Heartbeat-like bass drum and ticking, clock-like hi-hats lay the foundation for Chicago musician Saba’s latest solo effort, a lush and intimate portrait of grief, musical struggle, and the distorted ways in which we often think about those who have been touched by the limelight.
Created following the stabbing of his close friend and cousin Walter Long Jr. and in the wake of high-profile collaborations with fellow Chicago native Chance The Rapper (who also appears on the album), Care for Me demonstrates that the most moving art is always the most personal, and that our most poignant thoughts often come in the face of the harshest realities.
“Jesus got killed for our sins, Walter got killed for a coat/I’m tryna cope, but it’s a part of me gone/In this packed room I’m alone,” he raps to finish out his first verse on the opening track, immediately arming listeners for the dark journey ahead.
And yet, in a year where many artists began more openly discussing their struggles with mental health issues, very few approach the stripped-down honesty of this modern masterwork. There’s catharsis in hearing someone else’s struggle, just as it seems Saba found catharsis in sharing it.
– By Parker Hall
Make sure to check out the rest of our selections for best albums of 2018.
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