Technology companies like Apple, Samsung, Microsoft and more are constantly finding new ways to improve their cutting-edge products, whether it’s with stunning new hardware designs, useful software improvements, or by coming up with entirely new products we didn’t even know we wanted.
When it comes to new gadgets and gizmos, 2017 was the year of several big changes. First and foremost, it was the year of the voice-activated assistant, with devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home invading homes everywhere. It was also the year that smartphone designers figured out how to pack a massive screen in a device that’s still easy to hold, as seen in the iPhone X and Samsung Galaxy S8. And it was the year that consoles like the Nintendo Switch meant gaming on the go no longer meant making big sacrifices in terms of game quality.
Here’s a look at TIME’s top 10 gadgets of 2017.
With notable improvements over its predecessor and a cheaper price than Sony’s A9 Alpha, the recently unveiled Sony Alpha A7R III stands to be one of the best mirrorless cameras ever made. It can shoot at twice the resolution of the A9 and has an autofocus that’s twice as fast as the A7R II, although it’s worth remembering that the A9 offers faster burst shooting. But the lower price and heightened performance are likely more than enough to impress pro and novice photographers alike.
Apple’s latest smartwatch finally lets you leave your phone at home. Since it supports LTE, you can receive calls and texts on your wrist even when your phone is out of range. The third-generation Apple Watch also brings a faster processor and a new barometric altimeter for measuring activities like the numbers of stairs you climb. The Apple Watch isn’t meant to replace your phone, and just about anything you would usually use your phone for is better on a larger screen. But the freedom to leave your phone at home when you step out to walk the dog or go on a run may be just enough to persuade smartwatch skeptics that the Apple Watch is worth considering, especially for athletic types.
If you’re still not convinced that the days of buying large, cumbersome consoles to get the best gaming performance are over, look no further than the Xbox One X. Microsoft’s latest console crams six teraflops and native 4K gaming support into a sleek package, making it the choice console for players who want screaming performance for less than the price of a high-end gaming PC.
Virtual assistants like Siri have been around for years, but it wasn’t until the first Amazon Echo launched in 2014 that voice-enabled gadgets really started to take off. Three years later, Amazon’s true successor to the original Echo improves on the first version in every meaningful way. The design is shorter and more attractive, the improved speaker includes a woofer and a tweeter, and most importantly, it’s noticeably cheaper at just $99.99. These enhancements should help keep Amazon at the top of the smart speaker market as competition from rivals like Google, Microsoft and others heats up.
Nintendo’s iconic grey-and-purple Super Nintendo gaming machine made a huge comeback in 2017. The SNES Classic comes loaded with 21 retro titles, including Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and a previously unreleased Star Fox game. Everything from the games themselves to the way the controllers feel in your hands are exactly as you would remember from the 1990s. Catering to players’ nostalgia has seemingly paid off: the SNES Classic was the second best-selling video game console during the month of October, according to research firm NPD, and it’s been nearly impossible to find since its September launch.
Samsung’s flagship Galaxy Android handsets set the standard for smartphones in 2017. It may have not been the first phone with a nearly borderless screen, but the Galaxy S8’s exquisitely curved display certainly made it the among most attractive phones of the year. Not to mention its eye-popping OLED display, which for a long time was the best you could ask for on a phone. Samsung also made an effort to simplify the phone’s software, cutting a lot of the extraneous features that made its older phones feel clunky.
DJI’s palm-sized drone is a big step in the direction of making drones easier and more convenient for the average person. The Spark’s standout feature is that it doesn’t require a remote control for navigation. Just tap the button on the back of the drone twice, and it will prepare to take off from the palm of your hand. You can also pilot the Spark with your hand, prompting it to fly higher, lower, or in a certain direction with a wave of your arm. Of course, these features work best under optimal conditions, and the Spark doesn’t always operate flawlessly, but its size and simplicity are a feat in their own right.
Microsoft’s first crack at a real laptop (not a tablet-notebook hybrid) is a real winner. Between its light and elegant design, sharp screen, and long-lasting battery, the Surface Laptop is solid choice for anyone seeking a new Windows computer. Microsoft is positioning the Surface Laptop as a showpiece for Windows 10 S, the newer version of Windows that can only run programs from Microsoft’s app store. With Windows 10 S, Microsoft is essentially hoping to bring to Windows machines what Google has done for Chromebooks: making the software simpler to allow for faster performance, more battery life, and better security. But those who find Windows 10 S too restrictive can upgrade to Windows 10 Pro on the Surface Laptop for free for a limited time. The software upgrade will cost $50 after the promotional period ends.
Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, you’ll probably have a hard time getting your hands on one. And yes, Android did it first. But the iPhone X’s edge-to-edge screen and facial recognition system will undoubtedly set a new standard for phones to come. For one, Apple’s Face ID system, even despite the security concerns, is already being used in more creative ways than Samsung’s facial identification tech. Third-party apps like Snapchat and Warby Parker are taking advantage of the iPhone X’s face-mapping technology to project realistic masks over your eyes or select glasses that suit your face’s shape. That, combined with a sharp camera, long battery life, and large screen packed into a more palatable size, make Apple’s iPhone X a top pick.
For about as long as game consoles have existed, players have had to choose between gaming in front of a TV or holding a tiny screen in their hands while out and about. Not so with the Nintendo Switch, the first console that’s truly designed for both at-home and on-the-go entertainment. The Switch consists of a tablet with a 6.2-inch screen with slots for attaching Nintendo’s Joy-Con controllers on either side, turning it into a handheld video game machine. But when you’re at home, you can slide the slate into a dock that hooks up to your TV and play it like a traditional console. That “play anywhere, anytime” approach, combined with a stellar games roster, from the recently launched Super Mario Odyssey to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, makes the Switch a true knockout.