Each year, technology evolves more than any other vertical we cover at Gear Patrol. Tech helps us listen to music better (and listen to better music), take better photos and watch more movies and shows, in higher quality. Tech helps us make our homes intelligent and our work more efficient, and allows us to get lost in alternate worlds. 2016, specifically, was a banner year for wireless technologies, virtual assistants and virtual reality. Smartphones also excelled (minus the ill-fated Note 7).
To sum it all up, we asked our staff writers and contributors to pick their favorite tech product or tech innovation of the year. From a $9,000 camera to the headphones that’ll get everyone to switch to over to wireless, plus a new instrument of sorts, these are our favorite tech products of 2016.
As resident camera dork I have to call out the Hasselblad X1D. Yes, it’s a $9,000 camera with $4,000 lenses. No, it wouldn’t replace every other camera I own and I almost definitely won’t buy one. But by cramming a huge medium-format sensor into a tiny body, it’s probably the most innovative camera of the last three years. Just a few months after Hasselblad debuted the X1D, Fujifilm introduced the comically similar GFX-50. Rumor has it that you’ll be able to pick up a camera and lens for less than $8k. I’m sold. — Henry Phillips, Manager of Photography
I drank the Kool-Aid from MacPaint to Lightning port. I basked in the ecosystem — smartphone, tablet, laptop. I evangelized Cupertino. I praised Steve Jobs. I never cheated. I remained loyal, through the Samsungs, Nokias, Microsofts, LGs. No temptation. Never foolish.
Pixel made the righteous weak. Apple faithful, you feel this. Under cover of the confessional, you admit to longing for that camera (the stabilization!), confess to hearing the siren call of Google Assistant, acknowledge the deep desire to upload 4K photos, videos — everything — for free.
I haven’t switched. I am the faithful. I obey Tim Cook. But how the loins burn to convert! Cult of Google, this is your year. Your Pixel lands on high — the sleek design, pitch-perfect marketing, illustrious performance. For the first time in decades, the pious have faltered. — Matthew Ankeny, Deputy Managing Editor
With the essentially simultaneous arrival of virtual reality goggles from Oculus, HTC, and Sony, the technology has had a hell of a debut year. Though expensive and often annoyingly retro in their installation and use — seriously, I thought I was done re-installing “drivers” a decade ago — the goggles truly are a glimpse into our collective entertainment future. Mind you, the current first-gen experience is excellent overall, with commendable resolution, exceptional processing power, and increasingly sophisticated games and experiences, but what’s truly more important and more exciting about the tech right now is what it signals about the tech of tomorrow.
VR will only get better and better, with lighter and more streamlined hardware that isn’t tethered to pricey gaming computers, and whole new generations of VR experiences that are created explicitly for the format, with all the new challenges it brings with it. It’s hard to imagine our world a decade from now not being consumed by VR. Furthermore, while it is somewhat solitary and isolating in its first iteration, VR will — by necessity — become more social and engaging as it evolves. It’s going to be a most excellent new ride. — Eric Adams, Contributor
Ableton Push 2
There is a scene in the 2013 music documentary Sound City where Dave Grohl talks about his admiration for Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor. While Grohl spends much of the film hand-wringing against cold, impersonal digital recording, he makes a critical distinction in his praise of Reznor. “Trent’s using technology as an instrument, not a crutch,” he says.
The Ableton Push 2 is hardware that may also pass the Grohl test, and it’s a creative way forward for electronic music. Technically, it’s a MIDI controller, but that term can be wide-reaching and varied (your own computer keyboard could act as one). Really it’s a new class of instrument and a songwriting tool, featuring 64 pressure- and velocity-sensitive pads that can act as a surface for playing chords, sequencing drum beats and triggering and affecting samples.
In many ways, the Push 2 (which came out at the tail end of 2015) is a modern evolution of the MPC, a sampler that has long been a cornerstone for hip-hop producers. In fact, Q-Tip cited the Push as an instrument he relied on for making the new Tribe Called Quest album (and Complex’s photos from the studio seem to confirm it). It may just be a piece of hardware, but it has a sonic identity, and it tends to make you write music in a specific, compelling way. That bludgeoning, jaunty beat on Tribe’s “Solid Wall of Sound?” Classic Push. – Hayden Coplen, Contributor
Bluetooth headphones are nothing new. Apple themselves, having partnered with the likes of Bose and Beats (to name a few), have been selling them for a while now. Yet the AirPods, the first wireless headphones that Apple has exclusively manufactured, will be the great equalizer: they encourage everybody buy a wireless pair of headphones. Why? Because they’re made by Apple and people love Apple EarPods (the wired kind). These wire-free guys sound good, come in a nifty charging case, and sync alarmingly quickly. And no, they won’t fall out of your ears. – Tucker Bowe, Associate Staff Writer