+ Friday April 19th, 2019

Chris’ best smartphone and smart home gear for 2018

Somehow it’s the end of 2018, the year that disappeared in the blink of an eye. I know it’s trite to say, but quite honestly, this year has disappeared in a flash.

Personally, it’s been a year of upheaval for me and my partner Rachel, and Ausdroid has remained a great outlet among job changes, health challenges, our son’s first year at school and daughter’s year of growing independence. We’ve managed to travel twice this year together for work, to Mobile World in February, and to London in October for Huawei’s Mate 20 launch. We’ve seen good and bad, used some great hardware and seen some utter crap.

On the state of smartphones, I sometimes find myself wondering what the next innovation will be. It feels like multiple cameras have been done, and how much more innovation there can be in this space is truly unknown. I suspect we’ll see four cameras on a smartphone in 2019, but will it take photos that are 33% better than a three camera setup? Doubtful.

The battle was once for who could make the most expensive phone (it seems), and in 2019, I think we’ll see that continue. Foldable phones seem to be the new frontier, and with them, an unfolding price that should inspire fear. With rumours Samsung’s foldable phone could exceed $2,000 AUD, one wonders how that cost/benefit ratio is going to look.

Still, 2019 is yet to come, and it’s time to take a look at the best this year has produced.

Best Smartphone

It’s a difficult (and sometimes envious) position to be in, but I’ve been fortunate enough to play with most of this year’s top flight smartphones. From Samsung’s Galaxy S9 range, to Huawei’s P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro, Samsung’s Galaxy Note 9, OnePlus 6, I’ve used a few others too. While I’ve not played with the Pixel 3 line, I’ve read enough of problems with it to convince me I’ve not missed out.

I believe I’ve spoken before about my favourite phone of this year, well before the year was out, and the choice for me was an easy one, and here’s why.

This year, I bought a smartphone, and used it for a good seven months of the year. Not once did I regret the choice, nor spending a grand of my own cash on this phone. Even though I had other phones to use, try and play with, in 2018 I returned to this phone every time. Though I’m not using it currently, there’s one phone for me that’s been a standout and it earns my favourite phone of the year.

My favourite smartphone of the year is Huawei’s P20 Pro.

From its powerful camera (ranked the best by DxOMark) to its true all-day battery life, from simple things like including a case in the box to fast charging and more, there’s not one area where I felt the P20 Pro was lacking. Huawei hit it out of the park with the P20 Pro, and it’s by good measure ahead of the pack as far as I’m concerned.

Yes, the Mate 20 Pro might be better still, but it’s still early days.

Best Smart Home device

In 2018, I tried a few smart home devices and only a few of them were actually announced this year. I tried Amazon’s Echo Spot and quickly dismissed it; while Alexa is powerful, and it did work with all the smart gear in my house, I just found the Echo Spot annoying. The scrolling display, tips, limited clockfaces, and its inability to use much personal information from my Google account consigned it to the bin.

Google’s Home Hub, on the other hand, has found a natural place in my place, operating everything useful and providing a great interface to our smart gear. Turning the lights on and off, seeing the status of equipment at a glance, and even providing a nice clock on the bedside table, the Home Hub has nailed it for me. Yes, it might lack a camera making it less useful for video calls, but I don’t make many of those, so it doesn’t matter.

My other favourite gizmo of the year is definitely Sensibo’s Sky air-conditioning controller. Besides allowing me to control the A/C in our place (there’s three units) from anywhere, my dead-set favourite feature is the climate react setting. This allows your smart home to control your A/C based on current temperature outside, or more usefully, how it feels inside. I’ve set our units to power on automatically when it hits 28 degrees inside, and to turn off when it drops below 22 degrees.

On a hot day, we come home to a pleasant house, and on a hot evening, we can go to sleep with the A/C on (in our room and the kids’ rooms) knowing that it’ll shut off in a few hours when it cools down.

At $159 or so (depending on where you shop) they’re not cheap, but I have ZERO regrets in buying three of these throughout the year. Our home is more comfortable and pleasant as a result, and we save power by having the A/C easier to control and coming on and off automatically to maintain conditions.

Best Vapourware

There’s a number of products announced (and that we hoped would be announced) that just never seemed to materialise. There’s not much to say about these, because they either don’t exist, aren’t available in Australia, or have only just come to Australia and it’s too early to say if they’re any good.

So, here’s a list of the things that were, or are, the best vapourware in Australia so far:

  • Huawei’s Matebook X Pro – announced in February, and only arriving in Australia last month. It feels like a great laptop, and though our first review unit had a couple of issues, the replacement one seems pretty good. Sadly, I’ve had too little time to really experiment with it, but the hardware is nice, it’s got an Intel Core i7 processor and a tonne of RAM, so there’s little reason to doubt it’d be an awesome Windows 10 laptop. It’s got a touchscreen, too.
  • A good Android Wear watch. Honestly, I’m not convinced there’s been any good ones for a good long time.
  • Google bringing feature parity to G Suite (i.e. paid Google accounts). I’d love for Google to release features for G Suite accounts the same time as it does for Google accounts, or even shortly after (instead of, in some cases, never). I still can’t access my G Suite calendar on Google Home, for example.

What are your favourite devices, accessories or gizmos for the year 2018? Let us know your thoughts in the comments. Keep an eye out too for the “Best of 2018” stories from the others, too!

Chris Rowland   Managing Editor

Chris Rowland

Chris has been at the forefront of smartphone reporting in Australia since smartphones were a thing, and has used mobile phones since they came with giant lead-acid batteries that were "transportable" and were carried in a shoulder bag.

Today, Chris publishes one of Australia's most popular technology websites, Ausdroid. His interests include mobile (of course), as well as connected technology and how it can make all our lives easier.

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Les
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Les

Computational photography is the future. In that, I’d include video and audio (computational audio will blow people’s minds).

My award for best smart device: JBL Link View. Superior sound, plus a camera for video calls. You’d do it more if you had one.

Award for best vapourware: JBL Link Bar. Announced early 2018. Got delayed. Still not here, but great concept to have Android TV in a sound bar.

New Year’s resolution: Well this is a request to you guys. I think you need a new logo for 2019. The droid draped in a flag has too many controversial overtones.

Lindsay
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Lindsay

Yes, regarding Google’s AI “mess”. . I found that I can’t invite my own wife, who has a G-Suite account, to be another ‘Home Member’ on our newly acquired Home Hub.

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