WIRED’s Favorite Gear of 2018: iPhone XR, Google Home Hub, and More

Every trip around the sun, we prod, poke, and test hundreds of products here at WIRED. Most of them are just fine. Not boring—few things are truly boring these days. But a lot of what we see doesn’t register more than a notch or two on the excite-o-meter.

However, every so often, we get a product in our hands that clearly stands out, either by pushing its category forward with some new innovation, or perfecting an established and already noteworthy design. When we get to handle a product like this, it gives us a rush of excitement that makes us want to tell you about it, explain why we love it, argue about why it’s important.

The products below exhibit the new ideas that pushed consumer tech forward during 2018. The list spans the width of our purview, from mobile phones and televisions to transportation, parenting, and the smart home. This is the best gear of the year.

Best Mobile Device: iPhone XR

Phuc Pham

The iPhone XR is not the fastest iPhone you can buy (that would be the XS). It’s also not the iPhone with the best screen (that would be the XS Max) or the best camera (same). The XR is the iPhone with the best battery life however; it delivers 11 hours of juice per charge. It’s also the 2018 iPhone that offers the best value of the Apple’s entire mobile line. And really, that’s the thing that lead us to name the iPhone XR our mobile device of the year. In a market where companies are pushing the capabilities of their phones to the limit and nudging the prices ever higher to match, the iPhone XR presents a more modestly priced ticket to the future. It comes very close to matching the best of the best $1,000 phones, but does so at only $750. Yes, there are even cheaper phone options, but none of them come with Apple’s attentive eye for hardware, software, and user experience. —MC

Best Audio Device: Sony WH1000XM3 Headphones

Sony

After years of trying, Sony’s third-generation WH-1000XM finally matched the noise canceling abilities of Bose top cans, the QC35 II. They still aren’t the perfect wireless headphones (people will have a tough time hearing you on phone calls), but thanks to the inclusion of Sony’s new QN1 chip, the 1000XM3 match or exceed Bose’ ability to silence the outside world in most situations. There are some added perks too. The Sonys are hi-res certified, with roomier and more lively sound than most noise-canceling competitors. They deliver a nice punch of bass when needed too. Somehow, the touch controls are fairly intuitive to use, and the buttons that do exist are easier to find and identify than Sony’s previous XM2s. The real kicker is that they get more than 30 hours of play on a charge; 40 if you turn noise canceling off. —JVC

Best Voice Assistant Product: Google Home Hub

The Google Home Hub ships in October for $149.

Phuc Pham

If you want to clearest picture of how AI could become ambiently accessible throughout your home in the future, look here. Google’s Home Hub has the voice-activated Assistant inside. It can control your smart home devices, answer questions, and play videos and music. And it really is meant to be an “ambient” device. The seven-inch screen flicks on when you ask for it, then disappears into the decor after, either by displaying AI-selected photos you’ve shot with your phone, or by showing the weather or a clock. Google gave its partners a many-month head start to build smart displays, and there were a few that we really like, such as those from JBL and Lenovo. But when we first saw Google’s own solution, it made clear the company’s vision about how these things should look and behave—much like when Google debuted the Pixel phone, which put into focus the company’s thinking about Android hardware. Also, it doesn’t point a camera at you, which we like. Though it’s still imperfect, the Home Hub is a product that makes sense in a category that often seems adrift. —MC

Best in Transportation: Scooters

Halie Chavez

If you saw this transpo development coming, please take my money. This was, improbably, the year of scooter-share. The things showed up on in almost every venture capitalists’ portfolio and on almost every street corner, racking up millions of rides and miles across the world. They’re pretty cheap, they’re fun to ride. I’m nearly even convinced people look sort of fine while they’re riding them? (Is this what Stockholm syndrome feels like?) Don’t get me wrong: The big scooter companies, including Lime, Bird, Uber, Lyft, and Spin, all have important things to work on. Their scooters aren’t lasting long enough on the streets, thanks to vandals and thieves, and many have questioned whether they’re truly safe to ride. (The US Centers for Disease Control is doing a study into that very issue.) It’s also extremely annoying when you finally find one and realize that its battery is dead or its electronics are on the fritz. Plus, the companies need to keep working hand in handlebar with government officials, who are wary of private businesses that want to claim public space for their own. But man, isn’t hopping aboard one of these wheeled steeds nicer than getting stuck in traffic on your way to work again? —AM

Best Home Entertainment Product: LG C8 OLED

LG

LG’s OLED display tech continues to reign over the TV market. It’s the reason why the C8 is our favorite television of 2018—and the same reason we picked the C7 last year. This new LG panel has many of the same problems most every TV has (even the most expensive models), like a confusing remote and poor sound. But nothing can match the visual quality of OLED displays, and LG is still the only company that makes them. Over the next couple of years, OLED should trickle down from high-end televisions into average-priced sets that everyone can afford. Then we’ll all get to see the benefits. The 8 million pixels light themselves up independently, so you don’t need a traditional backlight. You get more vibrant colors and blacks are as inky-dark as possible because each pixels can turn itself completely off. The C8 is expensive (the 55-inch costs $1,697) but the picture is worth it. —JVC

Best Laptop: Microsoft Surface Laptop 2

Microsoft

Frills may be in short supply on the second-generation Surface Laptop, but if you’re taking stock of Windows 10 machines with the same clean lines and portability as the brand new MacBook Air, Microsoft’s updated clamshell sits at the front the crowd. (Plus, that alcantara chassis is handsome.) This year’s pick for the best laptop has an eighth-generation Intel Core processor and a ten-hour battery that bests most other ultraportables. It’s also quite affordable at $999 and, unlike the MacBook Air, the Surface Laptop has a touchscreen. —MC

Best Cord-Cutting Device: Roku Premiere+

Roku

This was supposed to be the year when we finally started casually talking to our TVs. Amazon marched out its Fire TV Cube in the summer and a few Alexa-connected soundbars followed too. Those were neat, but not amazing. Luckily, Roku didn’t even bother to compete there. It stayed the course, making cheap and great media streamers. Its 2018 Premiere and Premiere+ aren’t packed with smart assistant features—you can’t ask the devices to ship you a new toaster. Nope. They have the same simple interface and voice-search remote Rokus have had for a long time, with a few small additions like easier-to-find free movies and TV shows. And unlike that $120 Amazon Cube, Roku’s boxes are each about the size of a fun-size KitKat and can play 4K movies for $50 or less. —JVC

Best Wearable: Apple Watch Series 4

Apple

Apple’s wearable was little more than a curiosity when it first arrived in 2015. Now, four generations and almost four years later, the Apple Watch has grown to become one of the most capable fitness trackers you can buy, and undeniably the best computer you can put on your wrist. This year’s top wearable shows that Apple continues to push its product design forward, watchOS keeps getting faster and more usable, and the addition of sensors that can take an ECG reading makes the device more useful if you’re monitoring your health. Now if only Apple can do something about the Watch’s only truly painful flaw: the single-day battery life. —MC


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