+ Monday May 20th, 2019

Don’t you hate it when a year disappears and you’re not entirely sure where it went? Well that was 2018 for me with the usual array of family, Emergency Services, Tech and Work commitments leaving not a lot of spare time as usual. Particularly when I’ve also gone through a job change and had significant time investment in learning my new role.

Regardless of other things going on in my life, I enjoy the work at Ausdroid. I had the opportunity to travel to a major Australian device release in August for the Galaxy Note 9 and Tab S4 launch in Sydney, I’ve been lucky enough to get hands on with some amazing devices and worked hard to stay on top of the news for the Android ecosystem.

In the Android world, there’s been some really solid evolution in the hardware and specs of various phone series, perhaps a little disappointingly there really hasn’t been a huge amount of revolution or massive innovations. Much like Chris, I feel as though the manufacturers are lining up for a camera showdown but personally would prefer they focus some attention on battery technology and getting a couple of days worth of battery per charge consistently on flagships.

In 2019 I also hope we see the top manufacturers realise that users don’t have bottomless wallets, or perhaps users realise they don’t need the latest and greatest phone for it to meet their needs. It’s been a disturbing year in terms of mobile hardware cost when you consider the $1499 price for the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 128GB model ($1799 for the 512GB) and astounding, perhaps disturbing $2369 for the top of the range iPhone and a “solid” phone is now topping $800.

Let’s take a look at what I liked and didn’t in 2018.

Best Smartphone

As usual there’s a lot to choose from when it comes to phones and we’ve seen some absolute crackers. Huawei have dripped a couple of excellent devices, The P20 Pro has some impressive stats and a mind blowing camera and the Mate 20 Pro is also quite spectacular in it’s capabilities. The OnePlus 6 rates a high mention since it offers not just great bang for your buck, but it’s a really impressive phone in its own right.

There have been some differing opinions on the Pixel 3 phones (dare I say the N word?) with particular hatred from some around the notch, but ultimately they’re really nice devices but perhaps a little overpriced starting at $1199 for the Pixel 3 and $1349 for the Pixel 3 XL. The recent addition of Night Sight for the Pixel Camera adds a certain attraction to them, particularly for those living the nightlife and wanting to put out some stunning InstaBangers.

I’d also suggest that OPPO rate a mention in the pack with the Find X particularly with the speed, its reliable camera and solid battery life. Despite some of the issues they faced through the year, OPPO have delivered some impressive devices that makes them worth recognising here.

For me though, Samsung’s Note 9 is the winner for the best phone of 2018 but only by a nose over the chasing pack. In Scott’s review he rated it 4.5/5 and in my hands on time, I agree. There’s a few little niggles, but nothing that I can honestly call a deal breaker. The battery is a touch lacking, but consistent. The camera is really reliable and of high quality in its image delivery and the S Pen has come a very long way in recent times, now offering some significant functionality that previously wasn’t available.

Best bang for buck mobile

The mid range, bang for your buck mobile phones is where I feel that the manufacturers need to focus some attention. It’s where a lot of phones are sold, but the problem is that this segment of the market is flooded with phones, some really good, some worth looking at and frankly there’s some garbage devices in here too. So how do you decide what phone is worth your while?

OPPO have a couple of phones in the mid-range worth looking at, as do Samsung but they’re both fairly consistent with their device delivery so pick your price range and you’ll get a pretty consistent experience based on the device cost.

To name a few devices though, from what I’ve seen (check out Dan’s review) the Huawei Nova 3i deserves a very honourable mention. It’s got almost everything that I really want and need from a phone, but the lack of NFC means that I’ll lose functionality that I just can’t make it my daily driver.

The Nokia 6 is pretty impressive as a standalone device and worth taking a look at as well. I’d be inclined personally to keep an eye out for specials and grab my personal favourite in the mid range for 2018 the Nokia 7.1 which gives you that bit “more phone” for nearly the same dollars and for my mind, just feels a touch nicer but I struggle to put my finger on exactly why I like the feel more.

Best Smart Home device

Alexa and I don’t seem to get along very well. Either I mumble slightly, she doesn’t listen properly or discussion I’ve previously had with friends along the line of “Alexa is the weird kid in the corner of the class eating glue” is true – or perhaps that’s why Alexa and I don’t get along? Regardless – while I’ve tried a couple of them, Amazon Echo devices just aren’t going to make an appearance at my house again in the short to medium term.

What did make an appearance this year in my tech kit was the Google Home Hub. Given the deep investment I have in the Google ecosystem as a whole, it makes sense for me to have Assistant based smart speakers. My house is slowly being taken over by them, 2 Google Home speakers, a Home Mini and now a Home Hub fill my home and while I use them quite heavily – they’re also child friendly which makes them an excellent addition to my home.

The broad range of functionality with the Home Hub means I can operate my speakers, have visual reminders and calendar queues but also a touch interface for my smart equipment in the home. One of the functions I particularly like when I’m home alone, either expecting visitors or my family home is the ability to stream my security cameras direct to the home hub screen. Perhaps the only real grumble I have is that there isn’t a camera, but honestly – I’d rarely use it so for me it doesn’t matter that much, if it did I’d be looking at one of the other options such as the JBL.

There are a seemingly never ending array of smart power plugs emerging around the market, most of them are very similar in functionality and cost, so don’t be discouraged by what’s out there – check them out, ask questions and confirm that hardware will meet your needs (working with your chosen voice assistant) before you drop some coin on it.

Who’s failed in 2018?

I feel like there’s a couple of pretty major fails for 2018. Let’s start with some of the major companies and security breaches for the year. Facebook had a major data breach, Strava and Google Plus which is doomed to obsolescence in April 2019 all had fairly significant security breaches or security holes exposed – the difference being data being exposed vs data being improperly accessed.

There’s a couple of stand out devices but in general terms, the world of Android Tablets are in disarray. There’s no real consistency to delivery, the hardware doesn’t have a minimum standard and the tablets that are worth taking a serious look at are really overpriced. Were I looking for a new tablet personally at this time, I think I’d be looking at a convertible laptop/tablet like the Surface Go which Scott took a look at in October.

The other disappointment for me is the approach that Google have taken to ChromeOS tablets which just don’t feel like they’ve been taken seriously in the build. While there are absolutely some higher spec devices available and I’m happy to be shown my experience is specific to this model, the Pixel Slate that I’ve had a little bit of hands on time with (Celeron Model) is a massive disappointment. The expectations were huge, the look is excellent and the display is really impressive. The sad part is that the delivery is deplorable with lagging performance on ChromeOS (which I really like) making the user experience clunky and quite annoying.

Other gadgets

There were plenty of other cool gadgets through the year, one that has me interested (both Chris and Duncan have them in their homes) is the Sensibo Sky Air Conditioning Controller. You can set it for climate control through your Assistant based devices or if you’re simpler of setup inclination simply control your aircon from your phone wherever you are. Either way you choose to set it up, you’ll come home to a pleasantly cool or warm home throughout the year.

I recently reviewed a Cygnett ChargeUp Pro which has 27,000mAh capacity. While the battery capacity directly is attractive when you’re on the road a lot, but the fact that it puts out enough power (60 Watts) to charge the vast majority of current generation notebooks. So despite its physical size and hefty weight, it’s worth packing if you’re going to be on the move for a big chunk of time.

The Microsoft Surface Go which I mentioned above is pretty impressive. The upshot was that it’s a really impressive piece of kit which meets most of the needs of a laptop, converts well to a tablet and is lightweight enough to become a daily carry item for many users. Well worth a look if you’re in the market for tablet and/or laptop in the near future.

We’ve looked at some TVs, laptops, ChromeOS devices and a heap of hardware that’s been announced for overseas markets or as concept devices. Checkout the site for details on them.

What are your favourite gizmos for 2018?

Phil Tann   Associate

Phil Tann

Phil is an Android enthusiast who spends most of his time reading up on U.S. Android news so he can get the low down on what could possibly hit Australian shores. Coming from a background in IT & T sales, he’s in the perfect position to give an educated view on hardware and software.

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Adam J

Hey Phil, your Nokia 7.1 link goes to the 7 Plus. Do you guys have a review for the 7.1 somewhere?

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