The Best of IFA 2016

Dozens of tech press conferences and product announcements fill our days, but often, the largest and most important among them orbit the biggest shows of the year. CES kicks off the year in January, Mobile World Congress sets the pace for spring, Computex sets the agenda in the summer, and IFA has become the big show to watch each Labor Day weekend. And this year it’s bigger than ever. This year, we saw a flood of wearables, about a dozen desktop and laptop PCs, a surprising number of phones, at least three smart refrigerators, and a tasty sprinkling of quantum dots.

But don’t forget, IFA is just the tip of the consumer electronics iceberg. It leads into a busy fall that’s sure to be filled with high-profile releases in anticipation of the holiday season, with no sign of slowing down before CES early next year. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. For now, here are the best products we saw at IFA this year.

Best of IFA : Lenovo Yoga Book

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For years, we’ve seen sci-fi movies, designers, and futurists dream of a device with a massive touch surface that doubles as a keyboard. Now it’s reality. The Yoga Book is that device.

Actually, it’s more. The touch surface is not only a keyboard but also, well, a touch surface, usable with finger and stylus. That makes it easy to jot down notes, something that’s now possible without touching the display itself – though, you can still do that, too.

You might expect such forward-thinking tech to cost a fortune. It doesn’t. The Yoga Book with Android is $500, and with Windows 10, it’s $550. It’s even light, thin, well built, and features a beautiful 1,920 x 1,200 pixel display.

It’s not just a solid 2-in-1. It’s a visionary concept that hints at how smartphones, tablets, and notebooks could age. It’s no suprise it made our list of the 5 most eye catching devices at IFA this year.  Read more.

Best Desktop: HP Pavilion Wave

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The entertainment PC lives. HP’s Pavilion Wave is a family or kids’ room PC with a built-in speaker, eliminating an extra component, and it’s good enough looking to sit out in the open. But it’s also, securely, a PC desktop, with desktop-class components, an eminently reasonable price, and plenty of ports. The Pavilion Wave, has a tall triangular physique surrounded with woven fabric and an integrated speaker on top for 360-degree audio production. By making it tall, the unique PC takes up as little space as possible, without compromising the internals. The 6th-generation Intel Core i3 or i5 processor (no mention of 7th-generation Kaby Lake CPUs here), up to 2TB of hard disk storage and 16GB of RAM, as well as the choice of a dedicated AMD graphics card prove that there’s no need to worry about performance. Read more.

Best Laptop: Lenovo Yoga 910

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Lenovo and Acer embarked on the Battle of the Ultra-Slim Laptops here at IFA, but Lenovo’s Yoga 910 takes the prize with the classy fit and finish Lenovo is known for. The Yoga 910 has the roomy keyboard which was on the Yoga 900, with new USB Type-C ports and 7th generation Intel Core processors. It’ll be a leading business ultraportable this year.

 The new Yoga 910 will not only offer higher performance (something that is logical to expect from a PC based on a newer CPU), but also a slightly larger 13.9” IPS display panel with either 4K (3840×2160) or FHD (1920×1080) resolution. Thanks to thinner bezel, the larger screen does not affect dimensions of the convertible, and in fact the new model is even a little smaller and thinner (14.3 mm vs 14.9 mm) than its predecessor.

Still, it is noteworthy that the Yoga 910 weighs 1.38 kg (3.04 lbs), which is around 80 grams more than the weight of the Yoga 900. When it comes to battery life the UHD model can offer 10.5 hours on one charge (in line with current models that have 3K displays), whereas the FHD promises to work for up to 15.5 hours (which is a massive improvement over current SKUs). Read more.

Best Headphones : Audeze iSine 10

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Audeze is on a roll right now. So far, every Planar Magnetic headphone has been a hit with reviewers and headphone lovers alike. That trend will likely continue with the new iSine 10 announced at IFA 2016, the first single-driver planar magnetic in-ear headphones ever made.

Although their open-backed design lets a lot of the surrounding noise through the sound coming out of them is wonderful. Bass is immense and deep, the mid range is lush and transparent, and treble is crystal clear with not so much as a hint of harshness.

Top to bottom, the iSine 10 are a luscious sounding headphone. Toss in the conventional 3.5 mm headphone cable and Apple Lightning cable with built-in DAC and amplifier, along with the price tag of $400, and you have an easy winner for our audio category. Read more.

Best Smartwatch : Samsung Gear S3

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The Samsung Gear S2 was everyone’s favorite wearable of IFA 2015, and a lot of that was the software: Samsung’s Tizen OS is much less confusing to use than Android Wear, and it’s compatible with a much wider range of phones than the Apple Watch. The Gear S3 has a chunkier, manlier design, and uses the extra space to add a bigger battery, bigger screen, and water resistance. Its always-on screen shows that it’s a watch first, but dig in and you’ll find a capable wrist computer. It’s also one of the more eye catching things at IFA this year. Read more.

Best Home Appliance : LG Smart Instaview Door-in-Door Refrigerator

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It was pretty cool when LG let you knock on a fridge’s opaque surface to turn it transparent, letting you scout for snacks without letting a ton of air inside the appliance. But soon, there will be a third face to the InstaView Signature fridge: Windows 10. Late next year, LG will roll out a smart version, and essentially the entire right top door will be a computer. Stream Pandora, tag food with expiration dates, and leave notes from your family, or just leave it on the opaque setting to give the illusion that this is any old refrigerator. LG plans to open the platform to developers, so hopefully by the time the fridge is available, it will have even more tricks hidden behind its black surface. Read more.

Best Fitness Tracker : Fitbit charge 2

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The Fitbit Charge 2 upgrades the Fitbit Charge HR, with more features and an improved design. It automatically tracks your calories burned, distance traveled, heart rate, steps, and sleep, and it can help you return your breathing to normal after a workout. It offers the best balance of comfort and functionality in the fitness tracker market; it feels great to wear, and it does a lot.

With guided breathing, phone notifications and an improved heart rate monitor, along with a larger screen, this seems to be just the update we were looking for from Fitbit.

In terms of pricing, the Fitbit Charge 2 costs $150 (£130, AU$250), which is just a touch more than a Charge HR today. Read more.

Best Smartphone : ZTE Axon 7 mini

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When ZTE released the Axon 7 earlier this year, it impressed people with a svelte, curved, metal body and a very reasonable price. The Axon 7 Mini boasts the same sexy design and snappy performance, but every element has been scaled down, including the price.

The 5.2-inch, 1080p screen looks crisp and vivid, and the octa-core Snapdragon is backed by 3GB of RAM offering plenty of power, but the real star of the show is the Axon’s audio quality. The dual front-facing speakers are impressively loud, and through headphones the sound really sings, with punchy bass that never gets boomy, and clean, crisp highs.

Read more.

Best Gaming Machine : Acer Predator 21X

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This monster laptop (cough cough its a desktop) almost needs no introduction if you’ve been following us. Acer’s Predator 21 X is a 21-inch laptop, complete with a curved (!) screen and dual Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 desktop graphics cards inside….just let that sink in. It did? It requires two power supplies to run, and needs five system fans and eight  heatpipes to stay cool. It holds up to 64GB of memory and five storage drives at a time. So apart from crushing your lap because it weighs a solid 8 kilograms, there’s also a rare chance it may burn it. It does look quite ready to shoot lasers out of somewhere.

It’d rather be easier to just list the internals than talk about them. Of course, desktop-spanking performance in a laptop form-factor won’t come cheap. It never does. And while we still don’t know the actual price tag for this twisted machine, expect it to cost a small fortune. And sure enough, when a laptop looks like a decepticon in disguise it surely makes it an eye catching piece of machinary.

The Acer Predator 21 X makes a statement that, once and for all, “can it run Crysis?” is no longer a valid question for a gaming laptop. Read more.

Best Speaker : JBL Playlist

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Yes, we know wireless speakers are ten a penny these days – and certainly not in short supply at IFA 2016 – but the JBL Playlist stood out from the pack.

Why? Well, for starters, it’s got Google Cast built in, which means you can “beam” tracks to it from your phone then wander out of Bluetooth range and it’ll keep playing. Cast also lets you group a collection of compatible speakers together to work in unison, so if you own multiple Playlists (or even a collection of various Chromecast Audio-connected hi-fis and other brand Cast speakers), you can team them all up, making it house party o’clock.

It also supports Spotify Connect (so you can control it from your phone’s Spotify app) and will play hi-res audio without downgrading the quality. Read more.

Best Smart TV : Philips 901F OLED TV

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At IFA 2015, Panasonic emerged as the first tier-one TV maker to take on LG with an OLED TV — and this year Dutch electronics outfit Philips joined the party. The 55-inch 901F offers 4K Ultra HD resolution, high dynamic range (HDR), a 6.1-speaker system developed with Dolby, and the Android TV platform powered by a quad-core processor.

The 901F’s black levels are exactly what you’d expect from an OLED TV, and its colors look vibrant and well-saturated. What really makes this OLED TV stand out, however, doesn’t have anything to do with its picture quality: the Philips Ambilight system. The 901F is also priced pretty well for an OLED TV at $4,500.

We’re glad to see LG getting some more competition, as competition has a way of driving down prices – we’ll gladly take more affordable OLED TVs, thanks very much. Also, Philips was the only major TV manufacturer to unveil a new TV at IFA 2016, making it a shoe-in for our Best of IFA list in the Smart TV category. Read more.

Best Smart Home : LG SmartThinq Hub with Alexa

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Like the Echo, the SmartThinQ is essentially a cylindrical speaker with some buttons for control on the top. The biggest distinction between the two is the SmartThinQ’s pill-shaped 3.5-inch LCD on the top edge; the Echo doesn’t have a display. It can show information like the weather, and whether your doors and windows are locked. It’s a useful addition, though it isn’t terribly sharp.

When LG introduced the SmartThinQ Hub at CES earlier this year, the only options for control were the buttons on top of the speaker or through a companion app. Alexa integration adds voice control to the mix. Using voice commands, you can direct Alexa to add events to your calendar, control music playback, or check the traffic and weather. Unfortunately, you can’t use Alexa to hook into your other smart home devices, like light bulbs or door locks, like you can when using an Amazon device. Read more.

Best Monitor: Samsung CF791

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Quantum dots are one of the hottest technologies in TVs right now; they’re little sprinkles of inorganic matter that make LCD TVs’ colors purer. The new Samsung CF791 is one of the first monitors, rather than TVs, to use quantum-dot technology. It’s a 34-inch, 3,440-by-1,400 curved gaming monitor with 4ms response time and a 100Hz refresh rate, and it comes with 7-watt speakers. The real advance here is in color reproduction; Samsung says this brings LCDs to the rich color levels we’re more used to from OLEDs, but without the OLED prices. Read more.

Best Headset : Sony MDR-1000X

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Sony’s audio product line is being improved with MDR-1000X active noise-cancelling over-ear headset, which even upscale standard definition audio to higher-res through built-in DSEE HX tech. And they are wireless, which is impressive for the category.

First impressions of this noise-cancelling headset are really good. Not only is the technology very clever and the effect well handled, but they simply sound fantastic too, delivering punchy detail, bags of bass and plenty of volume. The Bose QuietComfort headset has been everyone’s noise cancelling choice for years now.  But Sony could potentially unseat them. It’ll be a tough call, but Sony has piled in the audio technology in its spectacular MDR-1000X headset and added noise cancelation that’s customized to the shape of your head. Cup your hand over one ear to talk to someone, and it mutes your music until you’re done chatting. Read more.

Best VR : Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 VR

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Qualcomm’s untethered VR reference design fills in the missing piece with mobile VR: it can do location and position tracking, so you can walk around virtual rooms and look around objects. Previously, we’d only seen that in the PC-tethered Vive and Microsoft’s $3,000 HoloLens. But since the 820 VR is based on the common and relatively affordable Snapdragon 820 platform, it’s likely to enable fully interactive VR headsets in the $500 range early next year. That’s a big step forwards. Read more.

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “The Best of IFA 2016

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