As the year comes to a close, most people are looking for gifts for family and friends. I’ve had the pleasure of using many of the best smartphones, laptops, headphones, accessories, and more through the year, so here are some of my recommendations.
There have been a lot of really good smartphones this year, so much so that it’s actually a little difficult to pick which are the best for your money, performance, cameras, and the like. Below I’ve selected the 4 best smartphones I think you can get for: Overall Value, Camera, Bang for your Buck, and Affordability.
– Galaxy S8/Note 8 – Best Overall
For an overall smartphone, I don’t think you have to look much farther than the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy Note 8. While the former is obviously much more affordable, especially given the amount of time the S8 and S8+ have been on the market.
Samsung’s 2017 releases are wonderful devices. All three phones have been impressive across the board, with the Galaxy S8 and S8+ packing beautiful, refined designs and the Note 8 following in the same vein.
As for specifications, you’ll get a gorgeous SuperAMOLED display on all three, with sizes ranging from 5.8 to 6.3-inches. Those sizes are still manageable, though, since the bezels are so slim.
Under the hood on each is a Snapdragon 835 processor with 64GB of storage, and you’ll get 4GB of RAM on the S8/+ and 6GB on the Note. Cameras are also some of the best in the game, and you’ll get two of them on the Note.
Software could be better, obviously, but I think most people will be more than content with these phones. Samsung has really improved its skin a lot in the past few years and, especially on the Note, the performance gains are noticeable.
You can pick up the Galaxy S8 or S8+ for some serious discounts if you get your timing right. Some carriers are offering BOGO 50% off deals around the holidays, and you can even pick one up used for around $400.
The Note 8, on the other hand, is a newer and more expensive phone. As such, you probably won’t score any crazy deals, but carriers are definitely going to have some offers available.
– Google Pixel 2/Pixel 2 XL – Best for the Camera
If you’ll recall last year, the Google Pixel was my pick for the best phone you can buy. A year later, the Pixel 2 XL is what’s in my pocket every day, but it’s a much harder phone to recommend. Google has had some quality control problems especially with the screen, but there is one quality that redeems them — the camera.
Setting aside the excellent software and performance (which are also reasons you should consider these), the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL absolutely have the best cameras on any smartphones today. The 12MP sensors take crisp shots that blow me away constantly, especially thanks to their dynamic range.
With features like a single-lens Portrait Mode which works great and unlimited full quality camera backup on Google Photos, these are absolutely the phones to buy for a mobile photographer.
Pricing isn’t cheap though. The smaller Pixel 2 is $649 while the larger Pixel 2 XL starts at $850. It’s not cheap, but I don’t think many will be disappointed either.
– Essential Phone – Best Bang for your Buck
If you want the most phone for the least amount of money, the Essential Phone is where your search should end. While it launched to underwhelming reviews due to a high price tag, the new $499 price is a killer deal for what you’re getting.
Andy Rubin’s Essential Phone is a wonder when it comes to hardware. The ceramic and titanium frame combined with the bezel-less display is absolutely wonderful, and the specs are great too.
You’re getting a Snapdragon 835, 4GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, and a 5.7-inch QHD display. Combined with Android Oreo which is currently in beta, that’s a great package.
The cameras were a cause for controversy when this phone launched, and sadly, they haven’t really gotten that much better, at least not with Essential’s own camera app. For $499, though, they’re more than respectable. I don’t think you’ll get a deal this good anywhere else.
– Moto X4 – Best Affordable option
Pricing lands around $400 and offers up a glass design, 12MP dual-cameras, near-stock Android with great performance on the Snapdragon chipset, and a healthy 32GB of storage. Better yet, it’s unlocked for use on all carriers.
Chromebooks & Tablets
– Samsung Chromebook Pro
If you’re looking for productivity, the best place to go while sticking with Google’s ecosystem is the Samsung Chromebook Pro. Here you’re getting one of the best Chromebook packages at about half the price of the $1000 Pixelbook.
The Samsung Chromebook Pro offers a 12.3-inch touchscreen display on a 2-in-1 hinge, Android app support out of the box, a built-in stylus for drawing, and great battery life. It does all this with an Intel Core m3, 32GB of storage, and 4GB of RAM powering the show.
– iPad Pro 10.5-inch
If, however, you just want a proper tablet, the best you can get is honestly an iPad. I held onto my Pixel C last year, but Android on tablets just isn’t going anywhere, so it’s time to make the just to the iPad. While they’ll all handle whatever you throw at them, my personal favorite is the iPad Pro 10.5-inch with its excellent 120Hz display. Just keep in mind it’s not cheap — at all.
With headphone jacks disappearing, wireless headphones are definitely going to be on a lot of people’s wishlist. So, here are three options I’ve used through the year and really enjoyed.
– Pixel Buds
First and foremost, while they won’t be for everyone, I’ve absolutely loved the Pixel Buds. I think their audio is great, the form factor is solid, but what really seals the deal is the feature set. Google Assistant and notification integration are great additions, and translation, while limited to the Pixel, is very cool.
At $159 they’re not cheap, but if you’ve got the cash, go for it. I don’t think you’ll regret it.
– Bose QC35 II
Another great Googly option is the Bose QC35 II. If you’ll recall, these are the first headphones with Assistant built-in, and that just adds onto what are already solid headphones. These offer great sound quality and some of the best noise cancellation in the business. They’re pricey at $349, but worth it in my opinion.
– Samsung Gear Icon X (2018)
Lastly, an option for runners. Samsung’s Gear Icon X truly wireless earbuds are excellent to say the least. Sound quality is great, the fit in your ear is perfect for situations when you’re active, and built-in coaching features are useful for fitness. If you’re trying to make and stick to a New Year’s resolution, these are a great option.
Google Assistant Speakers
Google Assistant has really expanded in 2017, and that includes a host of new speakers.
– Mobvoi Tichome Mini
One of those speakers comes from a company you’ve probably never heard of, Mobvoi. The makers of the Ticwatch debuted their first smart speaker with Assistant this year, and it’s really nice. The $99 battery-powered speaker has good sound quality, all of Assistant’s best features, and a nice design too.
– JBL Link 300
If you’re looking for sound quality above all else (but don’t want to pay for a Google Home Max), the JBL Link 300 is a really nice speaker. It has a slightly larger footprint than any other Assistant speaker at the moment, but its sound quality is stunning. At $249, it’s a really nice product.
– Google Home/Mini
And of course, we can’t recommend smart speakers without mentioning Google’s own. The original Home and new Home Mini are excellent products at $129 and $49 respectively. They’re solid across the board, and even pack some extra features that other speakers don’t, such as calling.
Better yet, the Home Mini is just $29 through the end of 2017.
Accessories, Smartwatches, and more
– Samsung Gear S3/Gear Sport
If you’re looking for a smartwatch, I still can’t recommend anything that runs Android Wear — 2.0 is just a train wreck. Rather, there are some great options from Samsung in the Gear S3 and Gear Sport. I’ve been loving the Gear S3 for over a year at this point and it’s still my favorite wearable, but the Gear Sport offers excellent new features like increased water resistance and, more importantly, a more compact design. Either watch will suit you well.
– Moment Lenses
And lastly, let’s talk about upping your camera game. Moment Lenses are some of my favorite accessories this year, especially for the Pixel 2. The results are jaw dropping, and they work on quite a few Android flagships. That includes all Pixel phones, the S8, S8+, Note 8, and several older Galaxy phones as well.
- Moment Lenses for Pixel 2 XL Starter Kit
- Moment Lenses for Galaxy S8
- Moment Lenses for Note 8 Starter Kit
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