It's that time of the year when we look back at the best consumer tech unveiled in a year. Of all the gadgets that we reviewed throughout the year across various categories including smartphones, IoT devices, accessories and wearables, we have shortlisted the best. Among the top contenders, we have picked a winner and a runner-up each. Here are top picks of the year 2019.
Winner: iPhone 11
Instead of being a successor to the last year's XR, the iPhone 11 seems to be the younger sibling of the new iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro Max line-up. Running iOS 13 and powered by Apple A13 Bionic chipset, the dual-camera setup captures some stunning images. The iPhone 11 yet again proves that Apple always focussed on quality over quantity. Even the performance was top-notch backed by a good battery. Priced aggressively at Rs 64,900 onwards, the cashback offer of Rs 6,000 with HDFC cards, made it a sweet deal.
Runner up: Redmi K20 Pro
Stepping out of the comfort zone, Xiaomi had introduced a premium flagship at an aggressive price point. The Redmi K20 Pro checked all the right boxes - from a full-screen AMOLED display to in-display fingerprint sensor, Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor to lasting battery backup, pop-up selfie camera to triple camera module with a wide-angle lens, all under Rs 30,000 (Rs 27,999 to be precise). Redmi K20 Pro was a decent looking budget flagship smartphone with an impressive camera and superb performance.
Noteworthy contender: Realme 5 Pro
The year witnessed many smartphones featuring quad-camera setup but it was restricted to mid-premium and premium segment. Realme with the 5 Pro introduced a four-camera module at Rs 13,999. Comprising a 48MP Sony IMX 586 48 MP primary sensor along with an 8 MP ultra-wide sensor, 2 MP macro lens and 2MP depth sensor, it did a decent job at capturing images. The image quality of the primary sensor was bright and clear. Even the ultra-wide-angle lens did a decent job. Powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 712 processor paired with 8GB RAM, Realme 5 Pro has been a decent performer, capable of handling multiple apps at the same time.
Winner: Apple Watch Series 5
Smartwatches are plenty but Apple Watch has always come across to be the best health and fitness wearable. With this year's Apple Watch Series 5, the 'Always-on' display was a welcome addition. The screen only dims and continues to show the time with other relevant information on the selected watch face all the time. Raising the hand or tap on the watch brought the screen back to full brightness. With accurate ECG tracking, support for various activities for workout tracking, Noise app to measure decibel level - noise levels in the environment are some of the features that make it a winner. Designed only for Apple iPhones, it always leaves Android users longing for one.
Runner Up: Mi Band 4
Among the most accurate activity tracking bands in the market, the Mi Smart Band 4 has 24/7 heart rate monitoring, sleep tracking, along with two weeks of battery backup. It accurately tracks light and deep sleep along with heart rate during sleep to help the user adjust sleep patterns. The detailed information including deep sleep, light sleep and time awake is neatly presented in the Mi Fit app. The band can also be used to track walking, running and cycling sessions. It has a 0.95-inch colour AMOLED display and weighs 22.1 grams.
Best Smart Speakers
Winner: Amazon Echo Studio
The new top-of-the-line Amazon Echo Studio is a perfect amalgamation of great looks, smart functionality and impressive sound. With smart speakers predominantly used for playing music other than fetching information and controlled ecosystem devices, the Echo Studio addresses the pain point of average sound. Hidden under the chassis are five strategically positioned speakers for playing instrument and vocal, three midrange speakers for offering rich, natural vocals. A single tweeter has been used for producing high frequencies and the downward-firing woofer for powerful bass. Depending upon the place where the Studio has been placed, it can automatically sense the acoustics of the space and fine-tune playback to deliver optimal sound. If on Amazon ecosystem, one can pair the Studio with the Fire TV for streaming movies with Dolby Atmos audio. The Studio measures 8.1-inch x 6.9-inch and weighs 3.86Kg.
Runner Up: Google Nest Mini
The Google Nest Mini is an entry-level smart speaker from Google powered by the popular Google Assistant. Capable of fetching information, playing music, scheduling alarms and even controlling compatible smart devices - all with a voice command, it also offers great sound. Given the compact size, the sound output is rather impressive. It has clear vocals and deep bass. At higher volumes, the sound is good enough for a medium-sized room.
Best Smart Displays
Winner: Google Nest Hub
Elegant looking, the Google Nest Hub has a slightly tilted 7-inch display with thick displays on all the four sides and a speaker at the rear. The touch response is rather impressive. One can easily confuse it for a seven-inch tablet. Powered by Google Assistant, it shows a lot of information on the screen, including the controls for compatible devices such as smart lighting and appliances. The paired devices list appeared on the Nest Hub when swiped down from the top for one-touch access. But what I loved the most about the Nest Hub is how it helped me relive all my memories with its digital photo frame feature. While setting up the Nest Hub, I allowed it to access my pictures from Google Photos (selected faces and highlights) to display images I wanted to view on the small display. Every minute it showed a new and different picture, transporting me back into my memories. The Ambient EQ sensor at the top of screen auto-adjusted brightness and colours to match the room's ambient light and temperature. All this worked like a charm.
Runner up: Echo Show 5
Competing against the Google Nest Hub, Amazon's Echo Show 5 is of the perfect size, and could easily fit in on a nightstand, TV-unit, study tablet, kitchen counter or anywhere you can think of. Addition of the physical mic mute button and camera shutter addresses privacy concerns, helping Echo Show finding a place in bedrooms too. Using the touch display, I was able to set up this entry-level smart display from Amazon in just a few minutes. All it required was wireless connectivity and Amazon account login details. Swiping down from the top reveals brightness control toggle along with settings and do not disturb. Making the experience more intuitive, swiping towards the left from the right edge opens dashboard, giving access to communications, smart home controls, music, video, routines and alarms. The display also adjusts the brightness automatically, which comes handy at night, especially in dark.
Best Smart Lighting
Winner: Mi LED WiFi Smart Bulb
Lighting is not just about improving visibility in the darkness, but it defines ambience and even has the power to lift your mood. Xiaomi's Mi LED Wi-Fi Smart Bulb with 16 million colours, 800 lumens brightness, close to 11 years of run time (claimed by Xiaomi) and impressive built-quality is a complete package. It seamlessly snuggles into your smart home set-up and is compatible with Alexa as well as Google Assistant. Pairing it with the Mi Home app, I could play around with colours and choose from the pre-set modes.
Runner up: Philips Smart Bulb
Smart lighting solutions are aplenty these days. What I liked about the Philips Smart Bulb is the availability in both E27 and B22 cap types. While testing the smart bulb, pairing took a little time but once paired it was convenient to use. The Wiz app interface was rather intuitive.
The bulb is quick to switch colours and is just perfect for mood lighting. Moreover, there is a dedicated mode for 'circadian rhythm' where the light is automated for providing the best-suited lighting throughout the day according to the wake-up and bedtime. I was also able to schedule the time to turn on the light. For many, the vacation mode can come handy when away from home on a vacation or work. The app also has the option of checking power consumption.
Winner: Apple AirPods Pro
Active noise cancellation has been quite successful in over-the-ear headsets. But Apple did an impressive job by incorporating this technology in compact earbuds. Popular with an over-the-ear headset, it does the active noise cancellation work with in-ear buds. Focussing on the smallest of the details, Apple has added three sets of ear tips in the box for the comfortable fit. There is also a fit test for ensuring a good seal for noise cancellation. I was able to switch between active noise cancellation and transparency mode (to hear outside voices) for the earbuds as well as the iPhone. Most importantly, active noise cancellation works well - Apple has used an outward-facing and an inward-facing microphone for this. The former detects external sound and cancels it using equal anti-noise. The latter identifies unwanted sound inside the ear and eliminates the same. Apple says that noise cancellation is continuously adjusted at 200 times per second for truly immersive sound. And the AirPods Pro does not compromise on sound either.
Runner up: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
Building on its past expertise, this one is a superb noise cancelling headphone that not just looks good but sounds great. A lightweight stainless-steel headband covered with soft foam, it is connected with an angled earcup, which is comfortable to wear for longer durations.
Having a combination of hardware buttons and gestures, the Headphones 700 is intuitive to use. The left earcup houses a noise cancellation button that comes handy for situations where the outside noise shouldn't be shut. Pressing the button switches between zero, five and 10 levels. At zero level, the noise cancellation was almost nil, whereas at 10 it isolated the noise and level five was a mix of both. Using the app, I was able to choose anywhere between zero and ten levels.
The vocals were pronounced. The sound was well-balanced. It had deep bass and everything from highs and lows was clear even at higher volumes.
Best Home Entertainment Devices
Winner: BenQ W1700M
With a lot of premium, high-resolution movies and shows available for streaming from over-the-top (OTT) players, having a cinema-like experience at home is more compelling than ever. The BenQ W1700M turned out to be an ideal 4K projector for a home theatre setup. Good looking, this is rather easy to set up and convenient to use. It houses physical buttons at the top and is accompanied with a backlit remote. BenQ W1700M uses a 0.47 single-DMD DLP (Digital Light Processing) projection system with 2000 ANSI lumens brightness and 10000:1 contrast ratio.
The projected content was sharp with natural-looking and bright colour reproduction. It worked well for projecting content across genres including action, anime, cartoons and more. For various genres, the host of modes include bright, vivid TV, cinema and sports. Even the auto-source selection option came in handy. I was manually able to switch it using the remote or physical controls. For source, it supports two HDMI ports and one PC VGA port.
Runner up: Mi TV 4X 50-inch
Mi TV 4X 50-inch packed in a 4K HDR 10 panel with 3840x2160 pixels and 60 Hz refresh rate, 20W speakers Dolby+ DTS-HD, PatchWall and Android TV OS, multiple ports and hotkeys for accessing Netflix and Prime Videos for an aggressive price point. It offered the best of both worlds - its own PatchWall TV UI, which is super quick and Android TV OS, which is great for voice search and gives access to Play Store for downloading apps. The content streamed on this TV appeared sharp and bright. It could have been better. The sound was just about average. Given the price and features onboard, this one came across the best in its price category.
Best Wellness Devices
Winner: Dipitr Strack
Breaking from the clutter of fitness bands and smartwatches, this wellness device focusses on having a correct posture. A small device that is attached to the back, it gives vibration alerts every time you slouch. It was a quick and good reminder to sit straight. Other than giving reminders to sit straight, it also has a coach mode that helps in improving the sitting posture. All the data - straight minutes and number of slouches - is accessible within the app. The data is categorised on an hourly basis as well as an overview of the week. Measuring 47x31x9mm, the Strack houses an LED indicator along with a multi-purpose button at the front. One can wear it using supplied magnets (on the shirt) or the adhesive tapes (pasted on the back).
Runner up: Dyson Hot+cool air purifier
Using an air purifier during winters is a must, but at the same time, the clean air it pushes out makes it a challenge to use one. Dyson innovative solution addresses this concern with style. This premium Pure Hot + Cool air purifier manages to warm the room with clean air when cold. Easy to use, the accompanying remote has dedicated buttons with red dots for heating that can be used to reach the desired temperature (maximum 37 degrees). Once you set the temperature on the purifier, it starts throwing warm air (purified) to reach the desired temperature. It works flawlessly. Once the desired temperature is reached, the machine automatically stops and resumes operations once it senses a drop in the temperature. For this, Dyson has used PTC (positive temperature coefficient), which is commonly used in aircraft heating systems and the heating element is encased within heat resistant material.
Mi Smart Water Purifier
Mi Smart Water Purifier is an IoT water purifier featuring wireless connectivity to be paired with the smartphone app for displaying the water quality, consumption as well as the life of the filters. More importantly, it eliminated the need for after-sales service as it has DIY filters that one can order online and change on its own. For water purification, it follows a five-step purification process. The first filter - PPC Filter (Polypropylene Cotton + Activated Carbon) - cleans water of large and visible objects such as residual chlorine, the second filter - RO Filter- clears the water of all heavy metals, bacteria, viruses, and the third filter - post activated carbon filter - absorbs odour and organic substances. This one has been customised for the Indian market as a seven-litre storage tank has been added at the top that automatically starts refilling when 30 per cent of the stored water is consumed. To clean the water stored in the tank regularly, it uses UV sterilisation that activates by every four hours for 25 minutes.
Shifu Orboot is a great knowledge-building toy for kids. Using augmented reality, it helps kids learn not just the names of the countries, their capital and cities but also explore and understand more about the culture, monuments, food and animals. Primarily a globe minus boundaries and country names, it has graphical representation all over and comes to life with the Orboot app. It has over 400 highlights and 1000 facts. Shifu Orboot is an addictive learning tool not just for kids but for adults as well. Once a kid gets a hang of Orboot, they continue to explore new countries across the globe. With parent's constant concern about reducing the screen time of their kids, Shifu Orboot can convert the existing screen time into a productive and educational one.