The year 2015 was a happening year in tech. From autonomous cars to augmented reality to crazy space missions, many boundaries were broken. In the land of gadgets, there were many expected hits and some surprising misses as well. So we (Nimish Dubey and I) at Technology Personalized put our heads down and listed down the 10 hits and 4 misses in tech for 2015.
The point to be noted is that this list reflects what we thought were good products. They need not be necessarily commercial hits. We just felt that these products stood out from the crowd in what was a very crowded 2015!
Huawei Nexus 6P
Google Nexus devices are always associated with compromises so much so that many believed Nexus devices aren’t meant to be perfect. Almost every single Nexus device compromised on the battery and/or the camera, but 2015 delivered a sweet surprise in the form on Nexus 6P – a beautifully designed metal unibody with top notch hardware and delicious software, carefully blended to deliver a top class experience. At USD 599 (Rs 39,990 in India), it was still cheaper than the launch price of most other flagships unveiled in 2015, but more than the price, it stood out as the most complete smartphone of the year with stunning looks, smooth performance, capable camera and superb battery life.
Xiaomi Mi Band
No, 2015 did not turn out to be the Year of the Wearable as many had predicted but it did see the mainstream consumer making a beeline for one wearable in particular – Xiaomi’s Mi Band. It did not have a display and did not track your heartbeat but it was tough, handled call alerts, tracked steps and stairs taken, and even did neat tricks like unlocking your phone. And well, at Rs 999 in India (about USD 15-16), it was almost a fifth of the price of the nearest competitor. The Apple Watch might be the aspirational wearable for many geeks, but the Mi Band remains the super affordable one – and not just for geeks, but even general consumers. Which is why it is on this list – it made wearables appear accessible and mainstream.
No, we are not sold on Windows 10 Mobile as a whole, but Continuum deserves to be on this list (despite not being a ‘gadget’) for giving us a glimpse on how our future might pan out. Continuum is like Apple’s Continuity feature on steroids. The demo at BUILD 2015 was jaw-dropping, and when we actually got to see it in action last month, it was equally impressive. The idea of using your phone as a PC isn’t new, but the ease with which one can work across multiple devices with absolutely NO lag made us sit back and appreciate just how far we have come with this concept. Just can’t wait for Apple, Google and Microsoft themselves to better this technology and find more real world use cases.
Google had unveiled the design of the Google Cardboard a while ago, but it took OnePlus’ decision to launch the OnePlus 2 through a virtual reality (VR) event that suddenly made the Cardboard. And just as in the case of the Mi Band, price had a big role to play – even as other companies were offering their VR glasses for prices that were smartphone-like, OnePlus offered its Cardboard at less than the cost of a monthly periodical – Rs 99 (About USD 1.50). The core idea was to offer people the option to watch the event easily but people ended up using the glasses for much more and while the VR revolution was not officially on, OnePlus had definitely opened the VR door with its Cardboard.
This isn’t included in the list just because it’s the Star Wars season, but because this was the coolest toy to launch in 2015. The dull looking Sphero ball was given an epic personality in form of BB-8 with an ability to control it through an iPhone or an Android smartphone. We absolutely loved the augmented reality mode which shows videos stored on mobile devices through holographic projection. Yes, it’s a bit pricey at $149.99, but we believe it was the most entertaining gadget in 2015, even for non-Star Wars fans.
Lenovo ThinkPad X250
Rugged and tough notebooks have been around for a while. And well, they are not supposed to be lightweight, sleek and ultra portable. The ThinkPad X250 was all of those. We were actually asked by the company to give the notebook hell. We did. Water, the refrigerator freezer, coffee, ten foot drops…it just kept working. And barring the odd dent from the fall, was still amazingly smart to look at. Less than 2 kgs in weight, less than an inch in thickness, with battery life close to 7-8 hours and a very good display, processor (i5 or i7, depending on your fancy and wallet) and keyboard, and able to take pretty much everything you could throw at it. All at the price that was well below that of the MacBook and in the vicinity of the MacBook Pro. This is what notebooks should become, really.
Samsung Galaxy Flagships
The four Samsung flagships this year – the Galaxy S6, the S6 Edge, the S6 Edge+ and the Note 5 forced their way onto our list primarily for their camera prowess. Till last year, we couldn’t recommend an Android device over an iPhone when someone asked us for the phone with the best camera. Although iPhone still holds an edge in terms of ease of use, Android devices led by the Galaxy series (and complemented by Nexus 6P/5X and LG G4/V10) showed us how far Android smartphone cameras have come in recent times. And not to forget, Samsung finally managed to get out of their design rut with gorgeous looking glass backs on their flagships.
No, it was not perfect and yes, it was insanely expensive (it started at a price well above that of the iPhone 5s in India at the time of writing). But if there was one device that came closest to showing the world what a wearable could really do, it was the Apple Watch. Critics bayed that it worked only with iOS devices, but the fact remains that it is the only smart watch that really seems to work in the way one would expect a computer on one’s wrist too. Yes, it could do with more apps (and a price cut) but it was the only wearable that came close to being addictive – it made me tap a normal watch’s display and sigh sadly when nothing happened!
Dell XPS 13
We have lost count of the number of Ultrabooks trying to look cool, but ending up looking like a cheap copy of MacBooks. Many Tech neutrals had sort of resigned to the fact that Windows PCs can never be as stunning as MacBooks. Dell wowed us with the (near) bezel-less XPS 13 right at the start of the year. Not only does it look gorgeous, it packs a punch internally as well with no major compromises that we usually associated with ultrabooks till 2014. It’s as much a device for consumer use as it is for business – a perfect fit to get on our list of top 10 gadgets.
We can see some hackles going up at the inclusion of this product in the list, as it has tended to polarise opinions. My reason is simple: it delivered a staggering spec sheet at a staggeringly low price and with decent design to boot. It was also perhaps the first phone from an Indian brand to go toe to toe against the best in the world. Whether it emerged victorious or not will be revealed in our shortly to be published review, but in my opinion, the very fact that it could be mentioned in the same breath as much more high-profile devices made it a winner.
It had a clear head start over iOS in terms of time, features and devices. And yet, by the time the curtain came down on 2015, one could not help but wonder if Android Wear had missed its great opportunity to be the flagship OS of the wearable era. Yes, the devices looked better (new Moto 360 and the LG Watch Urbane) but ease of use and apps remained issues. As one cynical friend of ours put it: “Android Wear’s biggest achievement of 2015? Making the Apple Watch look amazing!”
When the year started, Qualcomm had a huge lead over Mediatek and others in the smartphone SoC market, but a shocker came in the form of Samsung declaring the Snapdragon 810 unfit to power their 2015 flagships. Qualcomm protested Samsung’s claims, but it proved to be quite a disaster with real overheating issues on phones like HTC One M9 and Sony Xperia Z5, so much so that HTC went with Mediatek for the One M9+. Qualcomm tried to do damage control with v2.1 and likes, but with little success, at least in terms of general consumer perception. Same was the case with their mid-range variant, the Snapdragon 615. Quite a forgettable year it was for Qualcomm.
Moto E (2nd generation)
I know there are some eyebrows going to be raised about this, but for me, this was the ultimate irony – the company that played a HUGE hand in busting the “low price = low performance” trend in smartphones, released a device that seemed seriously out of place in a world which (oh so ironical again), it’s predecessor had changed. Even as the likes of Xiaomi, InFocus and YU upped the ante in the low price smartphone segment, Motorola chose to be curiously out of sync with the world it had changed. A 960 x 540 display and a 5.0-megapixel shooter in an entry level smartphone in 2015? And backtracking with the promised update to Android Marshmallow? Hello, Moto?
Windows 10 Mobile
It’s sort of ironical that we have Continuum in the list of best tech for 2015, while Windows 10 Mobile is grouped under the tech fails for the year. Please allow us to explain. Though it’s still early days for the mobile version of Windows 10, the initial reviews are majorly negative, specially considering the hope we had for it to finally make a case for being a proper alternative for Android and iOS. Windows 10 itself was well received, but the fact that there were innumerable delays in the launch of Windows 10 Mobile, and the steep pricing for the two flagships (Lumia 950/950 XL) didn’t help the matter.
So what are YOUR hits and misses in tech for 2015? Do let us know in the comments section below.