Everyone at Android Central has spent an amazing amount of time with mobile technology, accessories and gear throughout 2016. The goal is simple: use all of this stuff, find out what works the best and let you know the merits of what we determine to be the cream of the crop. 2016 was a fantastic year for new technologies to be released but also for older ones to mature.
Whether you’re looking to buy for someone else or just get the best of the best for yourself this holiday season, here are my personal picks for my favorite tech of the year. It starts with phones, but goes so much further: accessories, smartwatches, headphones, fitness products and even some non-mobile gear. Read on and see what I’ve enjoyed in 2016.
Not only is this the best phone to ever wear Google’s name, it’s the best Android phone to date. Fantastic build quality, great software, top-end internals and the best camera available today all add up to a great total package. If price is no factor, you can’t go wrong with the powerful, smooth and compact Pixel. If you need extra screen real estate and battery life, I have no hesitation recommending the Pixel XL either.
From $649 Buy Now
The OnePlus 3T gives you almost everything you expect in a flagship phone, but does it at a dramatically lower price. You get all of the top-end specs, great features and slick software for just $439 — that’s a fantastic combination. It destroys the competition in the $400 price category, but also gives top-end phones a run for their money, and that’s impressive.
$439 Buy Now
Google Pixel C
Yes it’s a year old, but then again it’s the only big tablet I’d recommend today. The hardware is fantastic, Nougat makes it far more useful and its perfect integration with the optional (but seriously, not really optional) keyboard accessories turn it into a pseudo-laptop capable of getting some work done. It’s a lot of money to spend on an Android tablet today, but I still use mine daily and enjoy it.
$499 Buy Now
Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 8.0
Not everyone wants a big, bulky tablet like the Pixel C. The Galaxy Tab S2 is where I go when I want something that’s compact, insanely light and easy to carry around. For me it’s perfect for casual reading and watching some soccer matches in bed on weekends. The screen is also fantastic and Samsung’s software gets the job done, even though it’s stuck back on Marshmallow for now.
$399 Buy Now
This tiny media streamer does what most people want: sit behind your TV waiting for commands, and quickly stream all of the content you want in the blink of an eye. The new Chromecast Ultra is insanely fast and capable of fantastic picture quality in 4K and HDR, provided you have the internet speed to support it. There’s actually a good chance that you don’t have (or expect to have) a 4K TV, though — if that’s the case, go pick up two second-gen Chromecasts instead.
$70 Buy Now
I’m generally skeptical of “smart” home technology, but Google Home has fit right into our lives sitting on a shelf in the kitchen. We use it for timers, alarms, music, videos (to the Chromecast Ultra) and requests for random bits of information. It has a pretty great speaker considering its size, it fits nicely with our modern home decor and is a reasonable price to give it a try. It has a ways to go in its capabilities compared to the lofty expectations Google set from the start, but for now it’s proving worth the money.
$120 Buy Now
Xiaomi Mi Box
I still like my NVIDIA Shield Android TV, but it’s a bit old to be recommending to new buyers at this point and is still expensive. For those who need a step up from the capabilities of the Chromecast Ultra, I have no problem recommending a Mi Box for the same price to get a full Android TV experience. Just know that with the extra capabilities comes more complexity — some people would prefer to not deal with individual apps, remotes and a big box that has to find room in your entertainment center.
$69 Buy Now
Moto 360 (2015)
It’s tough to make a sales pitch for any smartwatch at this point, but Android Wear is the best way to go if you’re an Android fan. Though it’s old, things haven’t really changed much since the Moto 360 (2015) was introduced — and now you can have it for a solid discount off of its original retail price. If you want a smartwatch with deep Android integration, this is the one to get for now.
From $349 Buy Now
Samsung Gear S3
If you want additional capabilities in your smartwatch, the Gear S3 is basically the only place to go. The new Gear S3 Frontier and Classic are both big and rather bulky — meaning many will prefer the Gear S2 still — but if you can manage the size you’ll get a very nice-looking and well-built watch with more software features than you can shake a stick at. You’ll probably ignore most of the features after the first few weeks, but what you’re left with is a great screen, nice always-on watch faces and communication with your phone for notifications and glanceable information.
$350 Buy Now
Acer Chromebook R13
The Acer Chromebook R13 is the best $399 computer you can buy. It’s well-built, has a great screen and can run over 1 million Android apps on top of all the things Chrome can do. When you want to step up from an entry-level laptop but don’t want to break the bank, the Acer Chromebook R13 is where you should look first.
$399 Buy Now
ASUS Chromebook Flip
For the crowd who want a cheaper and/or smaller machine, the Chromebook Flip is still an excellent choice. It has a good screen, a solid-enough metal build and performance that beats its price. The keyboard will be cramped for anyone with bigger hands (like myself), but then again it’s also super compact and light — you can carry it around in a bag and forget its there, just like any tablet of the same size.
$239 Buy Now
Anker PowerCore Speed 10000 QC battery
When it comes to mobile batteries I value compact designs over extra features and ports. This Anker PowerCore battery offers 10,000 mAh of capacity and Quick Charge 3.0 support over its single USB port, and is smaller than any other battery of this capacity. That’s why it’s in my bag every single time I leave the house, whether it’s for the afternoon or for two weeks.
From $24 Buy Now
iOttie Easy One Touch 3 car mount
When Android Auto finally released its standalone mode for phones, I went looking for a good inexpensive car mount and landed on the well-reviewed iOttie Easy One Touch and am completely impressed. Its two-piece suction cup design locks it down on your dashboard super tight while being completely removable and replaceable, which is extremely important. The “one touch” design is the killer feature, though: just press your phone in, and it automatically clamps down to the right size. Pinch in again, and the phone pops out.
$25 Buy Now
JOBY GPod Mini Magnetic tripod
To take your smartphone photography to the next level, you’ll want a tripod. The problem is tripods are big and bulky … unless you get an awesome super-compact tripod like this one from JOBY. Not only do the legs articulate and wrap around things for tons of positioning, they also have strong magnetic feet to keep things stable whenever possible. I mount phones on this for time lapses and smooth video, and it’s even strong enough to hold my Olympus camera in a pinch. Be sure to pair it up with a good smartphone tripod holder like the one JOBY itself offers.
$13 Buy Now
AKG N60NC headphones
Though I’m continually tempted by the more expensive Bose competition, I’ve been using the AKG N60NC noise-cancelling headphones for most of this year. I travel a lot and these have served me well on every train ride and flight. The noise cancellation is great considering these are smaller on-ear headphones, and while they don’t have Bluetooth connectivity they’re also extremely small and fold up into a small pouch rather than a hefty case. At about $100 less than the Bose QC35 headphones, these are worth a look if you value compactness and price.
$269 Buy Now
Samsung’s LevelOn headphones come in a couple different flavors, but in either case offer a nice and even-cheaper alternative to Bose and my AKG headphones. They offer both Bluetooth and wired connectivity, as well as active noise cancellation and are a $100+ less than the competition. The on-ear cups can get a little uncomfortable (at least for my ears) after a few hours straight of listening, but you can’t argue they look great and offer tremendous value — not something we can say about every Samsung accessory out there.
$130 Buy Now
Xiaomi Mi Headphones
When you don’t need noise cancellation — they’re actually rather open and leak sound considerably — Xiaomi’s on-ear Mi Headphones for an excellent value and great sound. They’re super comfortable thanks to the rotating ear cups and are built extremely well with great metal accents and a braided tangle-free cord that includes a mic and play/pause button (sorry, no volume keys). For all of this, you would expect to pay more from bigger brand names.
$129 Buy Now
Google Daydream View
I know it’s exclusive to just a couple of phones right now, but if you’re at all interested in VR (and have a compatible phone) you should be picking up a Daydream View rather than a simple Cardboard viewer. The headset is very comfortable, actually looks cool and pivotally includes a remote for navigation and games. That’s a lot to get for just $79, and worth it even if you just use it now and then to play some games or show off to your friends and family.
$79 Buy Now
Samsung Gear VR
Obviously there are far more people who could take advantage of a Gear VR when compared to Daydream View, and the new model is set up to immerse you using a Galaxy S6, S6 edge, S6 edge+, S7, S7 edge or Note 5. You’ll want to invest in a controller if you’re going to play games, but outside of that this is a fully contained headset that’s comfortable and has dramatically more content available for it than Daydream View does.
$99 Buy Now
Samsung Gear Fit 2
After so-so “Fit” efforts in past generations, the Gear Fit 2 is actually a fantastic fitness wearable. It’ll track everything from your regular movements to intense workouts without any of your own intervention, displays it all on a nice screen and includes GPS for all of the runners out there. It’s a little bigger than some non-screen trackers, and gets less battery life due to its features, but it also has the added benefit of bringing some smartwatch functionality like notification mirroring and glanceable information. More people should be checking out the Gear Fit 2.
$148 Buy Now
If you want to go all in with a fitness tracking system, Under Armour and HTC have you covered with the Healthbox. The UA Band is a simple fitness tracker you can wear daily with great battery life, and you can simply pair it up with both a heart rate monitor and a connected scale to get a full picture of your fitness and body in the UA Record app. It’s a big investment that’s really situated for the more hardcore workout enthusiasts among us, but perhaps you have some big aspirations for 2017.
From $350 Buy Now
Samsung Gear IconX
Samsung’s Gear IconX are smart, totally wireless earbuds that are tuned specifically for those who want to work out or run without the distraction of wires. The battery life is short and the sound isn’t great, but those features pale in comparison to the extreme ease of use, totally wireless experience and fitness tracking abilities.
$185 Buy Now
Timbuk2 Classic Messenger
This is the messenger bag that has been on my back for hundreds of thousands of miles traveled to a dozen countries, carrying all of my gear and looking good while doing it. Timbuk2 makes excellent bags and accessories, and while this may be more than you’re used to paying for a bag I can say it’s worth the money (and more). Pick up an off-the-shelf design for about $99, or customize one to be totally unique for a bit more. I recommend checking them out in store, if you can, before buying so you know just what size you need.
From $99 Buy Now