Many are tested, but few have made the grade for Gizmo Guy's Gadgets of the Year honors, now dubbed The Besties.
PlayStation VR and Samsung Gear VR : As exotic as a trip into space (or Tahiti), all enveloping virtual reality finally scored in user friendly fashion in 2016. Sony's $399 PlayStation VR headset (connected to a PS4 game console) earned our praise for polished gamesmanship, comfort (when games didn't make me nauseous) and relative ease of installation. Working with Galaxy phones, Samsung's Gear VR goggles are a terrific bargain at $99, with many globe-hopping adventures available for free.
4K TVs from LG and Epson: High Definition plasma televisions used to be the best for pure blacks, rapid refresh rate and off-axis viewing, but plasma cell structure couldn't be compacted for Ultra High Def TV. Now LG's "new category," energy efficient OLED sets like the 65B6P (about $3,000) are hitting the same performance peaks in the UHD domain, with images so sharp and revealing that filmmakers need to take extra care with their camera work. Also highly recommended, if you have the wall space for a 100-inch (or bigger) screen is Epson's 4K image generating, Home Cinema 5040 UB video projector ($2,700), well mated with a Philips BDP-7501 UHD Blu-ray player.
Mass Fidelity Core: The small footprint micro-audio system (a.k.a. "executive stereo") made a modern comeback this year with the Mass Fidelity Core, a little jewel box with front and side firing drivers and "holographic" imaging that lends a spacious stereo impression when the listener is at least 10 feet away. It connects to Bluetooth wireless or hardwired music sources, runs on AC or its own 12-hour rechargeable battery, and links wirelessly with other Cores for multiroom play. It runs $474 with checkout code Holiday125 at www.massfidelity.com.
Bose QC35 Quiet Comfort Headphones: Bose's pioneering noise reduction processing was first finessed in military pilot headsets (your tax dollars at work!) and has yet to be equaled by rival headphone makers. This year's QC35s ($349) are Bose's first big noise reduction "cans" to go wireless, so you can listen to Bluetooth-enabled sources without a connected cable. And unlike harder clamping rivals, QC35s don't wear out their welcome before reaching your final destination.
Behmor Brazen Connected 8-cup and Bunn 10-Cup Programmable Coffee Makers: The day is better when you wake to a really good cup of coffee. Both the Behmor and Bunn have been certified by the Specialty Coffee Association of America for presoaking coffee grinds and preheating water to an optimum 200 degrees. I prefer the $50-pricier Behmor ($249.95) for its thermal carafe and added flexibility. Soak time and water temp can be varied via a smartphone app which also issues an alert when brewing is done.
Weego Jump Starter 44 : Designed in the wilds of southern New Jersey, this small marvel ($149.99) has the muscle power to jump-start a car, truck or boat engine with its own high capacity battery. Better yet, its "smart" clamping jumper cables won't release juice (and fry your car computer) if you accidentally connect them backward to terminals. Also has an onboard light and a variety of sockets for charging stuff.
Samsung Galaxy Note 7 /LG V20 : Users' reluctance to give up on the battery-plagued Samsung Galaxy Note 7 speaks volumes to how much owners enjoyed the phone's otherwise terrific feature set, sigh. (Tens of thousands still in the field will be "bricked" on January 5, their recharging capability remotely disabled.) My other favorite 2016 communicator is the LG V20. It boasts a lovely 5.7 inch Quad HD IPS display, multitasking dual rear cameras that can capture an ultra wide view and a host of audio enhancements, including three microphones, sound overdubbing on video recordings and Hi-Res music playback with a Quad DAC (digital to analog converter).
Toto Washlet S350E and Alpha JX RW/EW toilet seats: Bidets on steroids, these smart toilet seats ($725 and $429 at Amazon) flush you clean, front and back, with warm water, then dry sensitive zones with a waft of warm air. Try one and there's no turning back. The less expensive Alpha is clunkier and lacks a motorized seat but takes care of business just as well.
Schlage Sense Lock: One of 2016's most useful smart home inventions, this keypad or app-opened door lock (about $200) lets you go jogging without keys, share temporary unlock codes with dog walkers and remotely unlock the door from your phone. This iOS-centric model networks works best when an Apple TV is installed nearby.
Nucleus video intercom system: Philly-spawned color screen devices (now $215 each at Lowe's) communicate wirelessly with family members on a different floor or town. Also works with Amazon Alexa voice recognition/smarts to share info and play music, but lacks integration with a front-door camera/bell like ring. Maybe next year?
Anova Precision Sous Vide Cooker : Here's a friendly introduction to low temperature sous vide cooking, where food ingredients placed in a plastic bag are submerged in a pot of water that's precisely heated, agitated and timed by this AC-powered device. A $149 Anova clamps to the inside of a tall pot, offers top-mounted controls and an app with recipes.
Petzi Pet Cam: From a smartphone screen, you can remotely ring the Petzi-cam, see and talk to your pet and hit a "bone" icon that triggers treat distribution. As fun for watchers as recipients. $149-$169.
Posted: December 22, 2016 - 6:00 AM
Jonathan Takiff, STAFF WRITER
The Inquirer Business Weekly Newsletter
Business news and analysis sent straight to your inbox, starting Aug. 20.