It’s been a long year, with some very solid tech released. The Samsung Galaxy S8 was stellar, as was the next generation of the Amazon Echo. We got upgrades to some great PCs, notebooks and tablets, and a look at what the future may hold with Intel’s next generation of processors.
But the top five pieces of tech to make this list – in no particular order – brought something new in the way of innovation. Popularity was not a factor, but the device wasn't iterative. Each brought something new to the table that others before them had not done successfully. And now others are trying to follow.
So let’s get to it.
The Essential PH-1 (the "Notch")
What’s so interesting about a new Android phone? This one came from the OS’s founder Andy Rubin, and was the first to sport a nearly bezel-less design with a notch for the front-facing camera. Previously, smartphones had bezels that were getting smaller and smaller, but they still housed a camera at the top within them, like the Galaxy S8. The PH-1 opened up all that extra real estate at the top, and still offered a rather solid “nostril camera” – as Rubin called it – within the notch.
The rest of the specs were solid, with a 19:10 5.7-inch 2,560 x 1,312 display, a Snapdragon 835 processor, 4GB of RAM, 128GB onboard storage, and two rear-facing 13-megapixel f/1.85 sensors cameras. The price was nice, too, starting at $699, but was already discounted $200 only two months after its August release.
Other phones are making similar attempts, such as the iPhone X, but the PH-1 was the first to market, and the one with the least intrusive notch to date.
The Xbox One X (Native 4K 60fps)
Project Scorpio hit the gaming scene with an earthquake in November. While the PlayStation 4 Pro from last year tried to get most games in native 4K resolution, not all games were capable of hitting 60fps and 4K. There was always some sort of upscaling or hitting 4K at 30fps. The Xbox One X, however, made sure that true native 4K was possible. Games looked - and ran - incredibly, living up to the promise Microsoft had made when the device was announced at E3 2016.
While the innovation was important, the Xbox One X also delivered a solid console. And it better have for the $499 price tag. If you are just into playing games, you could easily get an Xbox One S, but if you are in for the experience, then the Xbox One X delivers that immersive feeling. Of course, you'll still be able to get an improved 1080p experience, but make sure you have a good 4K screen to see the best that the Xbox One X has to offer.
Going forward, native 4K will be the standard for gaming, thanks to the Xbox One X.
iPhone X (Face ID)
Previous iPhone handsets had always been heavy on the bezels, and the requisite home button. While the new line of iPhone 8 devices followed closely in the iteration footsteps of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 6 handsets, the iPhone X kicked its cousins to the curb not only with a notch, but with the elimination of the home button. These alone, however, were not enough by themselves to put the iPhone X on this list. It was the Face ID that was the true next-step innovation.
Getting rid of the solid fingerprint ID sensor was a bold move, considering that it worked rather well. And Face ID was new with even an admitted problem of not being able to distinguish between twins. But Apple chose to push it through, and while the launch has had some rough spots with attempts to crack the system - both intentionally and unintentionally - Face ID is now tech that many high-end smartphones will be trying to emulate and refine. It will likely even make its way into Apple's next iteration of MacBooks and iPads.
So while the tech is far from perfect yet, Apple took the chance with its high-end device. It remains to be seen if the iPhone X reaches the popularity - and sales - of its older relatives, but for the $999 price tag, you got something no other smartphone has yet been able to boast about.
Nintendo Switch (Handheld/console Hybrid)
Before the Nintendo Switch launched in March, some publishers, particularly EA, felt the proposed device was going to be a gimmick, only promising FIFA 2018 for the device. Analysts weren't that enamored with it either. But that hasn't stopped Nintendo before. Now, with the year coming to a close, Switch sales are pushing it into the lofty realms previously only held by the Nintendo Wii. It has also regularly outsold its more powerful competition - the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 - by a wide margin.
Players are able to take the portability they loved with the 3DS and, when docked, mix it with their beloved Nintendo console and motion sensing JoyCons. Not even Nintendo foresaw the popularity, and devices have flown off the shelves as the company has tried to keep up with the demand.
The innovation is such that Nintendo has stopped producing the Wii U, and there are rumors that it could even eventually replace the 3DS. It is such a hit that the company may not need to promise another device for a few years. The fact that there isn't a competitor on the market right now - or one that has even been announced - shows just how far ahead of the curve, the Nintendo Switch is.
Star Wars: Jedi Challenges (AR Lightsaber controller)
Yes, there have been a lot of immersive augmented reality games released for various headsets, but being able to put yourself into the Star Wars universe with the feel of a lightsaber in your hand is one step closer to bringing your sci-fi fantasies to life.
The app-based game uses a Lenovo Mirage headset and tracking beacon to help with the immersiveness. While the kit runs $199, having it run off an app keeps it from being a $400 experience. Setup can be a bit difficult and the controls do have their kinks, but once everything is working, the experience offered via the different modes - Lightsaber Duels, Holochess, and Strategic Combat - make the experience one that you might expect to find at a Disney theme park.
It's far from a perfect experience, but the Lenovo-Disney collaboration really stepped up to try to deliver gameplay reminiscent of a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
This is cheating a little bit, but we would be remiss if we did not mention the 15-inch Surface Book 2 from Microsoft. While it is somewhat iterative of its predecessor, it is the only detachable device with a quad-core Core i7 and a GTX 1060 GPU. There are no other devices in that form factor with that type of power. Traditionally, you only see that GPU power in gaming rigs.
The devices are expected to ship by the end of this week.