2016 is here, there’s no escaping it. While it may have been a tough financial year for many South Africans, especially when looking to purchase some nifty tech, and made more difficult by the weakening Rand, there are still a number of really good gadgets we’d spend our hard-earned money on. Let’s take a look back at some of the best devices from 2015 reviewed on Fortress of Solitude. Unfortunately, we aren’t always able to review the many devices that were announced and launched over the past year, but there were still a relatively large amount of reviews pushed through by our small crew.
What was really impressive with the L1800 is the quality of the A3-sized printing. Despite not having the standard multifunction support and limited connectivity options of modern printers, the high-res photo quality prints more than made up for this. Having printed quite a number of photos in A3 size, the verdict was positive. At an RRP of R9,000, the price soars above most other printers we’ve reviewed over the years, but it does likewise in terms of its performance.
The Logitech MX Master has a number of great features, from the three-device switch, to the Bluetooth- and Wi-Fi-enabled connectivity options. But, by far the most impressive was its ability to work on multiple surfaces, even glass. While the build quality is premium, its looks don’t say much about what lies beneath. The unit has an RRP of R1,400, which slots in a similar price range to many modern gaming devices, only with a lot more to offer than just fast response times.
Contrary to the device name, the Razer Kraken 7.1 Chroma doesn’t offer real surround sound. Instead, the experience is simulated. But, without any tools and equipment to test, the user experience doesn’t fall short of what it claims. The virtualised surround sound provides a full range of directional sound in 360° that is useful for both games and movies. The microphone is clear, and one of the better headset microphones I’ve used, with a number of settings to fine-tune to the user requirements. Although the lighting may be a bit of a gimmicky additive, the price isn’t dictated by it, but rather relies on quality of gaudy design.
Technically, we didn’t quite complete a full review of the Raspberry Pi 2 Model B, but we did feature the device on FoS when it was launched in early 2015. The original units made quite a splash worldwide and opened up the door for great research at affordable pricing, numerous educational projects, and forced many of the big players to sit up and notice. With the likes of Intel now also offering a similar model, the Pi 2 was launched as a “turbocharged” version of the Pi B+. Another reason to get your hands on the Pi 2 is Microsoft’s support of Windows 10 IoT, which, in itself, opens the doorway for even more research and development in the upcoming months. It isn’t hard, then, to suggest the Raspberry Pi Zero will be making an even bigger splash when it reaches South Africa in the next month or two.
In the conclusion of the review for the Huawei Mate S, I suggested the unit was one of the stand-out smartphones of 2015, which still remains true. The reason I chose the Ascend G7 ahead of the Mate S was mostly down to the fact that it offered almost all the functionality at less than half the price. Furthermore, the G7 also offers a few other features not many other phones have, not to mention its large screen and impressive battery life. The unit has received overwhelmingly positive reviews from leading tech sites around the world, even though it almost snuck in under the radar with not many knowing about it beforehand. It’s not too far-fetched to suggest that the G7 paved the way to the success of the Mate S, and possibly even the P8, given the new-found promise Huawei had reached on quality and performance, at a really good price. The unit had a starting price below R5,000 when it was released, and can be picked up for much less a few months on. And if you’re still in the market for a good smartphone without the premium, I would still suggest the Huawei Ascend G7.
The list shouldn’t be viewed as an out-and-out countdown of the favourite devices reviewed on FoS in 2015, but rather as a collection of the top 5. Here’s to more top reviews in the year ahead.
Noteworthy Mentions Not Reviewed on FoS:
Even before the release of the The Force Awakens, fans were eagerly gearing up to get their hands on the lovable BB-8 droid (created by Sphero), as was seen in the trailers leading up to D-day. At a cost of around R2,400, the unit isn’t easy on the pocket, but given the features, including its ability to develop its own personality based on its user, it has made a fairly large splash in the tech world.
Google Nexus 6P:
Google has always shied away from offering the ultimate latest when it comes to specs, but it’s always been right up there, with a lot less burn on your pocket. The Huawei-made phablet builds on last year’s Nexus 6, and improves on a lot of negative aspects that plagued it, even a lower starting price. A bevy of new features were added, some in its own right, while some were as a result of directly competing with Apple. The camera still isn’t for everyone, but given the techie nature of owning a Nexus, as it were in previous years, it isn’t much of a gripe for prospective owners.
Samsung Portable SSD T1:
The unit is slim and light enough to fit into your wallet. Even better still is that it’s faster and offers more storage than your standard flash drive, while also offering 256-bit encryption. The 250GB version will set you back roughly R2,000, but delivers on quality, performance and ultra-portability.
Smartwatches have been around now for a few years, with some manufacturers already having released their 3rd and 4th iterations. This space is really hotting up of late, with many smartphone OEMs having streamlined their designs to something that looks more stylish than the previously gaudy, oversized units of previous years. Noteworthy mentions go to the Huawei Watch, Apple Watch, and Samsung Gear S2.
Samsung Gear VR:
Virtual Reality has been a major talking point in previous years, and 2015 saw the launch and announcement of many units, mostly for use in conjunction with the smartphone. The Gear VR was one of the few that had launched during the year with global reach to buyers. 2016 is shaping up to be an even bigger year for VR with the likes of HTC and Oculus releasing in the coming months. Google has also offered a more affordable option with the Google Cardboard project, which can be picked up anywhere between R100 and R1,000 depending on the options available.