It’s been a wholly amazing year for the tech industry, with plenty of exciting innovations to be seen in 2014’s gadgets. Be it in smartphones, ever-shrinking laptops to wearables, this is a year to be excited about gadgets once more, with equally interesting stories to match. You’ve voted for your favourite gadgets and stories, now here are our picks of the best this year had to offer.
Best Smartphone of 2014: Sony Xperia Z3
Let’s start with everyone’s favourite topic: smartphones. 2014 saw Qualcomm’s all-conquering Snapdragon 801 chipset offering spectacular battery life and the Quick Charge 2.0 feature, allowing devices to be charged faster, safely. Smartphone companies quickly found ways to optimise the feature with their own additions, but only one company claimed its flagship offers a never-seen-before two-day battery life without turning on Power Saving mode. The Sony Xperia Z3 combines the best of Sony’s know-how in photography, display and mobile technology into a smartphone that delivers consistently long battery life in a package that does not compromise in any aspect.
For its handsome (and waterproof) OmniBalance design language, the improved display and one of the best photo- and video-taking capabilities, the Xperia Z3 is, in our opinion, the best smartphone of 2014.
Best Value for Money Smartphone of 2014: OnePlus One
It says a lot that a startup company’s first smartphone ticks so many boxes on the first try. OnePlus may have just started as a smartphone company earlier this year, but its strategy was ingenious: take the highly competitive Chinese smartphone sales model and adapt it for the Western market. This proved to be a masterstroke, and the smartphone itself proved to be no slouch either. Despite its low price, the OnePlus One packed flagship-level hardware and features at half the price of mainstream flagship devices.
It was a close fight between the OnePlus One and the Huawei Honor 6, but in the end we felt the One had more character in its design, which is largely due to the Silk White and Sandstone Black textured back covers. With a Malaysian launch imminent, we’re already excited about what’s to come from the young and dynamic company in 2015.
Best Smartphone Camera of 2014: Samsung Galaxy Note 4
There used to be a time when the best all-round smartphone camera was without a doubt the iPhone. Nokia’s smartphone offering have gradually swayed into the professional/enthusiast level, but the iPhone’s camera was simple, intuitive and more importantly, produced consistently great shots without requiring you to tweak its settings. But this year, Samsung surprised everyone with a spectacularly good camera on the Galaxy Note 4 – and didn’t seem to harp on it as much as it did on the Galaxy S5’s disappointing camera.
Personally, the Note 4’s camera blew me away. It was everything the Galaxy S5’s camera should have been: fast, focuses accurately and most importantly produces shots that look just as good on a PC as they do on the Note 4’s saturated Super AMOLED screen. Couple the 16MP OIS Sony sensor with an equally capable 3.7MP front-facing camera with Wide Selfie mode, and you’ve got pretty much the best smartphone camera package you can find this year.
Best Tablet of 2014: Microsoft Surface Pro 3
Don’t be fooled: the Surface Pro 3 is a full-blooded laptop disguised as a tablet. Packing up to an Intel Core i7 processor and running on Windows 8.1, this device manages to successfully merge the power of a laptop with the portability of a tablet – making this the productivity device of choice for those who are always on the go.
Like the iPad Air 2, the Surface Pro 3 is a feat in engineering. While most tablets are content with just being larger entertainment devices than your smartphone, Microsoft’s lofty ambitions is rewarded with a product that can finally come close to rivalling the MacBook Air.
Best Smartwatch of 2014: Pebble Steel
The original smartwatch, refined. The Pebble remains one of the most popular smartwatches around, due to its fuss-free interface and hackability, giving it more functions than most smartwatches have today. The week-long battery life also makes it less painful to use than virtually all smartwatches these days.
This year, Pebble went one step further by introducing a marine-grade stainless steel watch case, adding class compared to the Pebble’s colourful polycarbonate. It comes standard with a leather band, while steel bands are also available. And, at just $199 (about RM700) it is also cheaper than the premium Android Wear smartwatches and is a lot less bulky, too.
Best Affordable Gaming Laptop of 2014: Lenovo Y50-70 & Acer Aspire V15 Nitro Black Edition (Tie)
Just a few years ago, the notion of an affordable gaming laptop meant bulky lumps of plastic holding together a middle-class GPU with poor cooling solutions. How times have changed. This year companies began seeing huge potential in the RM3,000 to RM4,000 market, and swiftly designed quality products to suit the price. For some time, Lenovo’s Y series of laptops were largely successful in offering value-for-money laptops for gaming, and the Y50-70 takes it to the next level by finally offering an NVIDIA GTX-class GPU. It’s handsome, too, while its build quality and cooling solutions are as good as it gets. For a while, too, this laptop was a steal at just RM3,599 (without Windows 8.1 pre-installed).
Then came Acer and its Aspire V15 Nitro Black Edition. “Nitro” obviously was not enough to subtly imply the laptop’s gaming prowess, which is perhaps why Acer added the “Black Edition” moniker. That being said, this laptop is a pretty great laptop, especially considering the RM3,399 retail price, and is actually the most affordable GTX 860M-equipped gaming laptop in Malaysia.
Flop of the Year: iPhone 6 #Bendgate
Pretty much a unanimous choice for the team. A defining product for your company, and it’s plagued by build quality issues. The iPhone 6’s proneness to bending was one of the most talked-about stories this year, causing plenty of bad publicity for Apple, a company renowned for its pursuit of quality. Even our readers agreed it is easily the biggest flop of the year – though we must admit we enjoyed the lighter side of the whole affair.
Story of the Year: The Great Chinese Smartphone Invasion
2014 is without a doubt the most challenging year for mainstream smartphone companies, as it faced the emergence of smartphone companies in China, releasing smartphones with powerful hardware at prices that are so low, it defies belief. Xiaomi’s low-priced, high-spec smartphones quickly gained plenty of traction, before Huawei introduced its sub-brand, Honor – which utilises a similar strategy to Xiaomi’s online-only sales model.
Then, there are the other players like Lenovo and Oppo. Using different approaches compared to Xiaomi and Honor, these companies opt for unique features not found in other smartphones. Oppo’s latest smartphones, the N3 and the R5, respectively feature a motorised camera and a chassis that used to be the thinnest in the world. Lenovo, on the other hand, has a “layered” smartphone in the Vibe X2 while its flagship Vibe Z2 Pro packs the most powerful hardware it can find.
With such intense competition, companies such as Samsung and HTC were badly affected, posting poor quarterly results in 2014 and surely into 2015 if these companies do not do anything.
Thankfully, they are, and the fruits of these labours will be seen early on in 2015 – which will make next year potentially even better for consumers.