Top Tech of 2017

With each passing year, the latest tech seems to be a lot more focused on daily life and routine.

From your smartwatches and fitness bands, suggesting to you when and how to move, to new and immersive forms of entertainment, we’re inundated with it from all angles. For some, this is good and, for others, it may be a bit of a deterrent. Whichever way you look at it, tech will continue to improve and continue to work its way into more of your life, from how you shop, eat, exercise, play games, work, and much, much more. 2017 has been one of the busiest years for me in terms of the number of tech reviews and news, making my job of selecting the top 5 best tech of the year quite challenging.

Despite the recent slump of the Rand (I say recent, but I mean over the past 5 years), South Africans continue to enjoy their tech and the industry continues to do relatively well enough to have investors and manufacturers keep bringing in their latest and greatest offerings.

Smartphones sales especially have thrived. Not even Apple’s iPhone X price of R20,499 could put a damper on sales. Portable gaming and eSports has also picked up in recent months, with many top manufacturers pushing new equipment and putting their names behind teams competing in tournaments both locally and around the world.

2018 may still prove to be tough when it comes to feeling the pinch of the currency in terms of luxuries, but we can only hope that the recent turnaround of the Rand may be a sign of better things to come.

As in previous years (2016, 2015, 2014), the list is comprised of tech that has been featured on Fortress of Solitude over the past 12 months.

5. Asus ZenBook UX330UA

Asus ZenBook UX330UA

With most manufacturers pushing most of their budgets into portable gaming, such as gaming laptops, it’s good to know that the daily work-horse hasn’t suffered as a result. In fact, it may be better for it. Laptops, in previous years, seemed to have peaked, in terms of functionality, performance and design. This year saw a flurry of new devices hit the market, most of which fell under the hybrid category.

The Asus ZenBook UX330UA is a no-nonsense unit without all the additional bells and whistles that, at present, not many people need or make use of. The unit ticks all the boxes in terms of performance, functionality, build, design, and display. Even more surprising is the R13,999 recommended cost.

Read the full review here.

4. Epson EB-U04 Projector

Epson EB-U04

The debate over whether projectors will replace TVs as their daily driver still rages on and will continue for the foreseeable future. While projectors have no doubt improved in recent years, manufacturers continue to provide new and useful tech for their television investments, with some good-looking units on the market. In 2017, the debate has now been focused mostly on brightness (for daytime viewing), clarity (resolution), as well as space, as opposed to previous years where cost was the main deterrent.

Epson’s EB-U04 is one of the most affordable projectors offering native 1080p resolution, also providing good levels of brightness at 3,000 lumens. I enjoyed my time reviewing the unit so much that I decided to get one instead of buying a new TV.

The unit is more than capable of displaying most of my daily shows at any time of the day (unless for really dark set movies and series in full daylight). I managed to pick up my unit for R9,999, which halved in cost, thanks to the cost-split with my accumulated eBucks.

For those still looking for a good projector for daily use, this is one of the best recommended out there. The EB-U05 has since replaced this model, with the inclusion of Wi-Fi now built in.

Read the full review here.

3. Nokia 8

Nokia 8

2016 was a bit of dud when it comes to the latest and greatest smartphones. All that changed in 2017 with the release of several great flagships having dropped throughout the year. With units such as the Samsung Galaxy S8, Apple iPhone X (not reviewed), LG V30, Huawei P10 (not reviewed), and more, we’ve been spoiled for choice. That said, my favourite smartphone of the year is somewhat surprising, rising from the dead it would seem. When HMD bought the brand from Microsoft, most pundits didn’t expect much from the brand.

The Chinese company, however, had big plans for the brand, having released the modern version of the most popular Nokia device in the form of the 3310. With the groundwork neatly laid out, the release of a slew of new devices made for interesting reading, with the Nokia 8 crowned as the flagship. The unit provided some of the best performances I’ve experienced in 2017, along with a very simple vanilla Android build, as well as the new #bothie camera capabilities, makes for quite a neat smartphone.

I was truly surprised by the overall performance of the Nokia 8, which swayed it for me in terms of the best smartphone of the year.

Read the full review here.

2. Apple iPad Pro and Pencil

Apple iPad Pro and Pencil

In previous years, the tablet industry had really stagnated. Despite OEMs continually adding new devices to their respective ranges, there wasn’t much, if anything, new or surprising to warrant replacing your two, even three, year old tablet. All that changed with the release of the iPad Pro in 2016. While Apple slated it as the laptop replacement for the future, things didn’t go according to plan and the claim was dropped from the 2017 variants.

The addition of the Pencil made for an impressive package, as I enjoyed hours at a time being able to use the tablet for my daily requirements, and then switching it up with a few sketches and designs whenever the mood struck. The device would be a great addition to any designer’s list of tools, with the Pencil and 120Hz adaptive refresh rate second to none.

Read the full review here.

1. Nintendo Switch

Nintendo Switch

It’s hard to believe that with all the great devices of 2017, the Nintendo Switch was among them. This was the standout tech by far this year, as I enjoyed every minute of my brief time with the device. At the time of the review, most of the device’s functionality was still fairly limited, but did more than enough to justify the purchase. Despite being an avid PC gamer, the Switch is still on my list of must-haves, even into 2018.

The ability to play the same level of game on your console and on the go makes for impressive results, something I can’t oversell enough. Having clocked up over 50 hours of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in little over two weeks, it’s also my favourite game of the year.

With a new stockpile of games released since my review in May, the device remains a top seller as Nintendo constantly face challenges of the unit being sold out in various countries time and time again.

Read the full review here.

Notable Mentions

With all the devices released in 2017, and also reviewed on FoS, it’s a bit unfair to simply reduce that list to just five. Here are a few additional favourites from the units covered in review on the site this year.

Beats Solo 3

The Beats Solo 3 is one of the best consumer grade, wireless headphones on the market. I’ve reviewed many wireless devices this year and this is one of the best out there, offering great additional functionality on your iPhone and iPad to boot.

UBTech Alpha1 Pro

We’re still some way to having robot technology become the norm in every household, but the UBTech Alpha1 Pro is huge step in that direction. At a cost of R8,500, the unit is still fairly pricey, but does quite a lot in terms of features and functionality. The more recently released Stormtrooper cuts the price by R2,000 for a more affordable R6,499.

Wacaco Minipresso NS

Coffee has grown quite big in South Africa, even spreading to the townships. Who doesn’t enjoy a good cup of coffee (unless you’re allergic, or just simply crazy)? The Minipresso was a useful device when I reviewed it in 2015, which has since received a useful overhaul to include the support of Nespresso pods. The really good coffee on the go, made possible with the portable unit, is fantastic. The unit does carry a steep price of R1250, but the upfront investment is worth it.

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