By Six Colors Staff
December 20, 2016 9:59 AM PT
Our favorites: Hardware and gadgets
We like technology. And we like gadgets. It has always been so. As the year comes to a close, we thought we’d share with you some of the favorite gadgets we’ve picked up in the last year.
Amazon Echo Dot
Yes, I extol the virtues of the Amazon Echo on what seems like a regular basis. But it was my favorite gadget of last year, and I’ve only continued to find it a benefit this year. If you’re looking to dip your toe into the voice-activated assistant pool, it’s hard not to like the second genration of Amazon’s Echo Dot. At just $50, it’s a bargain; it has all the same microphone and intelligence features of the full-size model, lacking only the better speaker. (And yeah, its speaker is really pretty poor.) Fortunately, a built-in aux jack lets you connect an external speaker, or you can pair one over Bluetooth.—DM
Logitech Harmony Hub
My house is a mess of conflicting smart-home technologies and home-entertainment devices. I’m slowly trying to clean it all up, or at least get it all working together. One way that I’ve managed to improve and simplify things is by replacing my old Logitech Harmony universal remote with the Logitech Harmony Hub.
The Harmony Hub is clever because it’s a little pod, including infrared blaster, that’s connected to your home internet. You can use your mobile device as a remote or buy a bundle that includes a physical remote (which I recommend). Now we’ve got a physical remote, with clicky buttons, that doesn’t need to be pointed in exactly the right location in order to turn various devices all and off. (My kids had a terrible habit of waving the remote around when the remote was still blasting out commands, leaving the TV on but the speakers off, or the game console on and the TV off.) The new remote is just sending radio signals to the Harmony Hub, which fires off infrared commands from an out-of-the-way location in view of all the devices it needs to control. (It also comes with remote infrared blasters, if you’ve got devices hidden behind a cabinet door.)
It gets better. My old Harmony remote could only be updated with a janky web app with a Mac app wrapped around it, and required a USB connection to update and reboot the remote. The Harmony Hub is programmable via an iOS app, and updates itself seamlessly as I sit on my couch. And since the Hub is on my local network, it ties in to my other smart home stuff—I can, for example, trigger an action on the Harmony Hub via my Amazon Echo.—JS
I’ve been a fairly new convert to the networked speaker arena, but I picked up a Sonos Play: 1—which is discounted to $169 as of this writing—this year on the news that it would at some point integrate with the aforementioned Echo. I’ve found myself enjoying the Play:1 quite a bit—so much so that I picked up a second one. The sound quality is phenomenal, and Sonos’s integrations with popular music services like Amazon, Spotify, and Apple Music make it a friendly and easy-to-use device, though I still wish I could simply have it play music from iTunes or audio from my computer.—DM
Anova Bluetooth Precision Cooker
So it turns out that sous vide cooking—a method by which you cook food in a plastic bag at a constant temperature—is all the rage these days. But you know what? One of the most satisfying gadgets I’ve bought recently is Anova’s immersion cooker.
It comes in a box that is clearly inspired by Apple’s packaging, and the product itself is beautifully designed silver-and-black appliance. The Anova cooker is a cylinder that you attach to the side of one of your pots with an included clamp. Plug it in and dial in your target temperature, and it starts to churn and warm the water in the pot. There’s a Bluetooth feature—and on newer models, even a Wi-Fi feature—that let you connect the cooker to a mediocre iOS app. I wouldn’t bother—the cute little translucent dial lets you easily pick a target temperature.
There are no end to the sous vide cookbooks and websites out there, so all I’ll say is that with the Anova cooker I can make chicken that is guaranteed to not be overcooked—very hard to do on the grill or in the oven—and beef that is exactly at the level of doneness that I desire, every time. Brian Chen’s sous vide explainer in the New York Times led me to buy a $14 chuck roast that, after a day of immersion cooking, turned into eight tender steaks. Eight steaks for $14! Amazing.—JS
Noise-canceling headphones have always struck me as a bit of a luxury, but with several multi-hour flights in the past few months, I decided to treat myself to a pair of the $349 Bose QuietComfort 35s. Most reviewers seem to agree that even if Bose models don’t always have the best sound, their noise-cancelation is second to none, and I’d have to agree. Putting on the headphones and flipping on the noise-cancelation feels like a curtain dropping around you. They’re particularly brilliant in places with constant noise, like a plane or train. I found I could hear my music or watch a TV show without hearing any background noise. The Bluetooth version works pretty well, pairing with two devices simultaneously, and featuring a quoted 20-hour battery life, a backup cord for wired use, an airline adapter, and a very nice hardshell carrying case.—DM
Kobo Aura One and Kindle Oasis
Look, if you want to buy a Kindle you should buy a Paperwhite. But I love Kindles and the new high-end super-premium Kindle Oasis is pretty great. It’s got physical page-turn buttons, is ridiculously thin and light, and comes with a leather case that offers not just protection, but battery recharging.
If you’re outside the Amazon ecosystem, it’s worth looking at the Kobo Aura One, which is a great piece of hardware. It’s got a big screen that makes it feel like you’re reading a hardcover book, and it’s waterproof, to boot.
I can’t decide which one I’m going to take on my upcoming vacation. The Aura One’s waterproof but the Oasis is so light! Oh well—either way, I can’t go wrong.—JS
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[Get into the buying, er, holiday spirit by reading our gift guide!]