From Amazon Echo to Oculus Touch: the best tech of 2016


In a bad year for many things, technology actually had a good time – but what are the products and services really worth buying?

2016 may have been a bad year for most things, but it was actually a pretty good year for technology, with plenty of new products and services released that were worth the digital ink used to describe them.

Sky Q

Sky Q brings a fast box and excellent TV and on-demand content selection together into a package worth paying for. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

Price: from 20 per month

Traditional broadcast TV services have stagnated over the past couple of years, while over-the-top services such as Amazon Video, Netflix and the BBCs iPlayer led the way. Skys Q dragged broadcast TV kicking and screaming into the 21st century with a modern interface, fast box and service that put time and place shifting at the heart of it.

It records, it downloads, it supports 4K and can spit video around your house via Q Mini boxes or the Q app on smartphones and tablets using your home network. Sky Q was pretty expensive at launch, but now is available from 20 per month.

Wireless earbuds

Jabras Elite Sport earbuds come with a battery case to top them up with charge when not in use. Photograph: Jabra

Price: from 125

Bluetooth headphones are almost mainstream. From Beats and Bose to old school brands such as Sennheiser and Marshall, almost every manufacturer has a set. But 2016 was the year that truly wireless earbuds no wires connecting them at all became a thing.

Many tried and failed to produce wireless earbuds, but they werent capable of maintaining a stable connection between your ears because pushing the low-energy Bluetooth signal through your head when theres any interference in the air is difficult.

Apple had to delay its AirPods, but at the end of 2016 Jabras Elite Sport and Bragis the Headphone proved it could be done. Youll still have to pay early adopter prices, but they do what they say on the tin.

Oculus Touch controllers

Oculus Touch controllers throw your hands into the virtual arena in the most natural way yet. Photograph: Joe Pepler/REX/Shutterstock

Price: 189

2016 was the year of virtual reality. From HTCs Vive to Googles Daydream, there was a headset to suit almost any budget. But it was the release of Oculus Touch controllers that really made VR an experience worth having.

The revolutionary hand controllers did more than just track the motions of your hands and give you buttons to squeeze. They actually tracked the position of your fingers on the controllers you can point, grab, squeeze, give the thumbs up and pull a trigger with ease. The natural import of your hands into the virtual world is simply brilliant, even if you still need a 1,000 PC to run it.

Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge

The Galaxy S7 Edge has curved 5.5in screen squeezed into a body not much bigger than a traditional 5in smartphone. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

Price: 520

Wed had curved screened smartphones before, but the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge showed just why they were good. With a stunning 5.5in curved-edge screen, Samsung made a phablet in the body of a standard smartphone. It made a large-screen experience in a non-hand-stretching size with an excellent camera, waterproofing, expandable storage and all-day battery life to boot.

Amazon Echo, Echo Dot and Alexa

The Echo is a tower of smart, voice-controlled speaker that can hear you atop the noise of every-day life. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

Price: 150/50

Voice assistants have been around in the form of Apples Siri and Googles voice search since 2011. But it was Amazons Echo speaker and Echo Dot that brought voice control into the British home.

For answering questions, reading the news, playing music and being an everyday assistant with timers, alarms, alerts and even being a calculator when youre elbow deep in a DIY project, Alexa can do it all and amazingly can hear you above the racket of daily life.

But it was Alexas smarthome integration that really made the Internet of Things a reality, connecting and controlling disparate devices using voice commands. Want the lights on? Just ask. Maybe set the heating to a few degrees warmer? Yep. With the right equipment, it can even turn your TV over to the right channel and turn it all off when you head to bed.

Bose QC 35

Put on the Bose QC35 and hear the world fade away into the background of your music. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

Price: 280

Commuting sucks, but noise-cancelling headphones that block out the drone of your train, bus or aeroplane can make it a little more bearable. After years of avoiding wireless, Bose finally brought its world-leading noise-cancelling technology to Bluetooth headphones in the QC35s.

With an unrivalled ability to block out the world in a comfortable and sophisticated-looking frame, the QC35s are simply marvellous.

Dyson 360 Eye

Robots now ready to do as good a job as humans at vacuuming your home without crashing into things. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

Price: 800

Robot vacuums have been around for years, with many relying on simply bumping into things to make their way around your home. Dysons 360 Eye brought a vision system that maps out your home and added a proper vacuum cleaning bar to create one of the best around.

It costs a pretty penny, but itll get on with the chores cleaning your home more effectively than any other robot while youre out living rather than home vacuuming.

Amazon Kindle Oasis

The Kindle Oasis shows that less is most certainly more for the premium ereader experience. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

Price: 270

E-readers are a commodity item now, available for under 50 and able to carry millions of books. Amazons Kindle Oasis bucked the trend for the race to the bottom: an ultra premium ebook reader that costs as much as a tablet, but does just one thing exceptionally well.

With a real leather battery case that detaches to leave a svelte screen with buttons, which gets out of the way to let the book shine on the front-lit screen, the Oasis is the e-reader to top all e-readers. A luxury in the digital book era.

Samsung SmartThings Hub

The Samsung SmartThings Hub hopes to be the one device to join up your disconnected smarthome life. Photograph: Samsung

Price: 100

The Internet of Things is a mess of different smart devices that refuse to talk to each other. Samsungs SmartThings Hub acts as the bridge between brands, connecting your Z-Wave, Zigbee and Wi-Fi devices into one big happy family.

Some devices are supported natively, but it is the large developer community working tirelessly to hack together ways to connect stubborn devices that really makes SmartThings. If youre comfortable getting your hands a little dirty on the backend – with some pretty extensive instructions – then the Hub can join everything up and bring your house under control.

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