From gigantic iPhones and 4K TVs to fitness trackers and, believe it or not, Internet-connected coffee makers, a huge number of new and interesting gadgets made their debut in 2014. And we here at Yahoo Tech got to play with all of them.
So which of this year’s myriad tech toys were among our favorites? Check out our list to find out. And don’t forget to add your personal faves in the comments below.
Parrot Bebop drone
Someday, we’ll look back at this as the earliest dawn of drones (remote-controlled quadcopters). But we’ll look at the $500 Bebop as the Model T: the first high-end drone that’s even close to affordable by the masses. Incredibly stable, safe enough to fly indoors, with a 1080p video camera built right in.
The camera doesn’t physically move, but you can nonetheless change its angle by remote control using some clever software tricks. If the FAA’s new drone restrictions don’t mess everything up, this one will fly off the shelves.
Logitech Harmony Home Hub
This shiny plastic capsule ($100) plugs in near your home-entertainment system and acts as the broadcasting unit that controls all of it: TV, sound system, TiVo, Blu-ray player, even Nest thermostat and certain other home-automation gadgets.
What makes it great is that (a) you don’t have to do any programming; you just tell it what components you own, and it does the rest, and (b) your smartphone becomes the actual remote control, so you never lose it.
I am not a fanboy. I tell myself that every time I preorder a new iPhone and then wait like a puppy at the house for the mail carrier to deliver it. But, you know, this phone is fantastic.
The screen is big enough to read on and watch videos on (and no, I don’t have the gargantuan iPhone 6 Plus, either), the camera is stellar, Siri is eerily smart and accurate, and using Apple Pay really is easier than using cash or a credit card.
I could live without any other gadget on this list. But in the modern world, you need the smartest smartphone, and I’m ridiculously happy with my iPhone.
There are a bunch of little gadgets that can tattle on your car to you. The Automatic plugs into your car and communicates to your phone over Bluetooth. It remembers where you’ve parked, which is cool, and can even double as a ghetto OnStar, calling friends via your mobile if it senses you’ve been in an accident.
But I have higher hopes for the new Mojio, which, unlike the Automatic, has its own GPS and cellular radios. That means it works even when you’re not in your car. If your car is started or moved when you’re not in it, you’ll get an alert on your phone. If your kid drives your car too fast: alert. Like the Automatic, it’ll also tell what’s behind the “Check Engine” light if it happens to turn on. Mojio is very new, and not all the features are available for it yet, but it has a ton of promise as a platform for cool new car-based apps.
The Muse straps to your forehead and measures your brain waves while an app walks you through a guided meditation to calm your fevered mind. Sounds crazy, right? But, crazily enough, it works. Use the Muse every day, and you may find yourself a calmer, less neurotic, more productive human.
Yes, at $300 it’s insanely expensive, and with only one app so far, it’s pretty limited. The Muse should really cost $99 and offer other brain-training apps — and one day I’m betting it will. Still, it’s a significant step toward creating the ultimate human-machine interface: your brain.
Tangible Play’s OSMO
What I love about the $80 Osmo is its utter simplicity: You place your iPad or iPad mini in a sturdy plastic stand; put a downward-facing mirror over the front camera, and launch the app to play games by arranging cardboard letters and plastic puzzle pieces in front of the camera. It’s an addicting merger of real- and virtual-world play that you will enjoy as much as your kids do.
Riva Turbo X
There are a million Bluetooth speakers in the naked city, but damned few of them that sound good from more than 3 feet away. The $350 Riva Turbo X, though, can fill a decent-sized room with music.
Connect it wirelessly to your phone or wire it to your home entertainment system and then stand back; an iOS or Android app serves as your remote control. A battery that runs from 18 to 26 hours means you can take the party with you on the road, though at 3.5 pounds you won’t be able to casually toss it into your purse or backpack without crushing your lunch.
Jawbone UP Move
This affordable clip-on fitness tracker is brilliant for one simple reason: It doesn’t look like a fitness tracker. Not to mention, it takes just about as much maintenance as a pet rock. Its little lithium coin battery doesn’t need to be charged, just replaced every six months.
To alert it that you’re exercising or sleeping, you just need to hold down the face of the circular tracker. And if you click it once, you can see your progress in steps for the day. Very no nonsense, especially for those who don’t want to invest much time in tracking their movement.
Breeze Bluetooth Breathalyzer
Finally the question of whether you’re good to drive isn’t left up to a random bartender and your tipsy friends. The tiny $100 Breeze connects to your phone via Bluetooth. Once you’ve waited 20 minutes from your last drink, you blow into it for a few seconds, and then you’re immediately diagnosed.
Depending on your BAC, the Breeze app will tell you whether you can drive home and when your blood stream will ultimately be alcohol-free. If you’re way over, it’ll call you an Uber. Every mom should send her kids to college with these.
The Nexus Player is Google’s third foray into the streaming TV market. Running on the tech giant’s new Android TV operating system, the $99 Nexus Player offers many of the same features as the company’s $35 Chromecast. Unlike Google’s Chromecast, however, the Nexus Player can also be operated via a microphone-packing, Amazon Fire TV-looking remote control. Android TV also lets you download apps and games from the Google Play store (“NBA Game Time” with League Pass streaming is my favorite) directly to the Nexus Player.
The hockey puck-sized Nexus Player is the first Android TV device to be released, but other similar television add-ons, as well as HD TVs built with Google’s new software inside, will be coming soon from Sony, Sharp, Philips, ASUS, and others. I, for one, would love to see Google’s latest smart TV platform become a standard for most major television manufacturers.
Microsoft Surface Pro 3
Redmond finally got it right this time. Or at least right enough to garner my praise. The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 has a display that’s larger than its predecessors (it’s 12 inches), but the device is still magically the company’s lightest Surface PC/tablet hybrid to date.
The redesigned kickstand on the latest Surface can prop its gorgeous screen at almost any angle you’d need, as well, which finally makes it a true “lap”-top alternative. And if you don’t like the idea of spending $130 for its Type Cover, then don’t. I plug a wireless USB mouse and keyboard combo into the side of my Pro 3 anytime I’m at my desk. Microsoft was right to drop its Windows RT tablet line in order to focus all of its efforts into this do-it-all device. The beautiful Surface Pro 3 with Windows 8.1 is truly the first device I’ve ever felt fully comfortable with using as both a tablet and a PC.
Motorola Moto X (2nd generation)
I’ve used more phones this year than I can count, but the one that I keep coming back to is Motorola’s excellent 2nd-generation Moto X. Why? Well, apart from its beautiful 5.5-inch 1920 × 1080 resolution display and super-fast processor, this phone runs on an unaltered version of Google’s Android operating system, something many Android phone makers seem to have a problem with.
There’s also the Moto X’s slick Moto Voice feature, which lets you control apps, post to Facebook, and send texts using nothing but your voice, even when the phone is locked. But the best thing about the Moto X is that you can customize how it looks, from its accent colors to the materials used for its back panel. I just wish its camera was as good as the rest of the phone is.
Garmin VivoSmart Fitness Band
I’m not the biggest fan of working out; I’d much rather spend my time eating Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and playing video games. But Garmin’s VivoSmart fitness band actually made me want to get up and moving every time I put it on. That’s because whenever I sat for too long, the band would vibrate, letting me know that it was time to move around for a bit.
And thanks to the VivoSmart’s media controller, I could play, pause, and change songs I was listening to on my phone from the band’s touchscreen. What’s more, the band’s screen displayed text messages and emails sent to my phone, so I could still keep in touch with friends while I was out for a run without having to reach for my handset. Now, if it could just make me actually enjoy working out, that would be perfect.
Nintendo Wii U
The follow-up to the Wii was first released in 2012, but 2014 was the year it achieved excellence. For more than a year, the Wii U operated slowly, needed constant updating, and featured few games worth owning. In 2014, Nintendo engineers figured out how to speed up the Wii U and (mostly) eliminate the updating headaches; meanwhile, long-awaited versions of both Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. hit the Wii U. Both are a blast to play with friends and family, and simple enough for anyone to figure out in a few minutes. Nintendo also dropped the price of the Wii U down below its competitors, the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4, which anyway are better suited for more serious gamers.
Cheaper, faster, and funner: In other words, the Wii U is now precisely what it should have been in the first place.
The light-up iPhone case called the Lunecase hits a lot of my sweet spots. It’s ingenious: The case uses electromagnetic energy that your phone is emitting anyway and harnesses it to light up a small display to tell you when you get a new message, and what kind of message it is. It’s in high demand: The Lunecase was announced on Kickstarter and easily surpassed its funding goal, ending up with more than $150,000. And it comes from an unlikely source: Its inventors live and design in the Ukraine, a country that otherwise made headlines in 2014 for less-than-sunny reasons. So here we have a story of a clever gadget, loved and desired by many, from surprising entrepreneurs. What’s not to like?