TECH BITES: The ‘Best of the Best’ Smartphones, TVs and Laptops/Tablets of 2018

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OK, let’s be honest: A lot of people won’t have fond memories of 2018. Even from a technology perspective, this year was dominated by privacy scandals and security breaches, to name just two of the more ignominious issues of the past 12 months. But in terms of the actual consumer products that were released, 2018 was actually a pretty great year.

Yes, it was more about small refinements of existing categories and technology rather than big breakthroughs, but from a consumer perspective, that’s actually a pretty good deal. And while the trend towards $1,000 phones — and pricier — continued unabated at the high end, that same amount of money got you a gorgeous 65-inch TV too. A bargain.

Right, let’s get to the good stuff. These were the absolute best phones, TVs, laptops, tablets and smart home gadgets and appliances that we reviewed this year.

Best phones of 2018

We may have reached “peak smartphone” in terms of sales, but the quality and overall excellence of phones has never been better. To that end, here are our favorite phones of 2018, as compiled by Jessica Dolcourt:

Apple iPhone XR: Editors’ Choice

The best iPhone to get this year is also the cheapest. At $750, the iPhone XR lacks some of the extras of the iPhone XS and XS Max, but the most important features are the same on all three phones. That includes an excellent camera, vibrant screen, speedy performance and even longer battery life than the two step-up models. Face ID means that you’ll be able to unlock your phone with a glance, securely pay for things and make Memoji avatars.

Google Pixel 3: Editors’ Choice

Google’s Pixel 3 doesn’t have three rear cameras or come in purple, but it’s the phone recommendation we keep coming back to. The Pixel 3 takes the best photos — including low-light pictures — of any phone out right now. Period. And that’s with one lone camera lens on the back. It’s also water-resistant, can screen spam calls and can take wide angle group selfies. If you need more persuading, a Pixel phone puts you first in line for Android updates, and gives you free, unlimited photo storage on Google Photos.

Galaxy Note 9: Best ‘everything phone’

The two most exciting things about the Note 9: Its huge battery that lasted over 19 hours in our in-house battery tests, and the fact that its minimum amount of storage is 128GB. If that doesn’t tell you this phone was made for power users, then perhaps its massive 6.4-inch screen, robust Snapdragon 845 processor will convey. It came out of the gates at a whopping $1,000, but it’s the best Samsung phone of the year. (But that Galaxy S10 is just around the corner…)

OnePlus 6T: Best value Android phone

Speed, power and an awesome camera for about half the price of the iPhone XS or Galaxy Note 9. That’s the appeal of the OnePlus 6T, which is our favorite midprice buy of the year. This handset is a brilliant all-rounder that includes perks like an in-screen fingerprint reader. Its lack of water resistance, however, is one slight drawback for the splash-prone.

Moto G6: Best budget phone of 2018

If you’re looking for a budget phone, this is the one. At $250, the Moto G6 is a rare beast, a cheap phone that’s actually really good. Motorola has followed some of the most important trends of 2018, giving the Moto G6 dual rear cameras with portrait mode, and slimmer bezels than before. Some extra Moto software tricks add pizazz and a really nice way to navigate the phone one-handed.

Best TVs of 2018

David Katzmaier reviewed some of the best-ever TVs in 2018. These were his favorites.

LG OLED B8 series: Best high-end TV for the money

It’s definitely not cheap, but the B8 is still the least expensive 2018 TV to deliver the jaw-dropping picture quality of OLED. It has perfect black levels, accurate color, superb high dynamic range pop and looks great from any seat in your living room. Excellent LCD sets might cost less than half as much, but if you want the best a 55- or 65-inch picture you can get, it’s OLED or bust. And the slightly more expensive C8 isn’t worth the extra money.

TCL 6 series: Best TV for the money, period

You may not have heard of TCL, but the Chinese brand’s 6 series upset this year’s Vizio as our favorite TV for the money. Its full-array local dimming screen produces excellent image quality with plenty of contrast for the latest 4K HDR TV shows and movies, matching or surpassing any TV we’ve tested at the price. Its crowning extra is the dead-simple Roku TV operating system, our favorite take on the Smart TV.

Vizio P-Series Quantum: Best OLED alternative at 65 inches

Do you want a superb picture but can’t afford that LG OLED TV? Vizio’s Quantum is the next-best thing to OLED, blasting out a searingly bright picture with quantum dot color and 192 zones of full-array local dimming — the LCD trifecta. Compared to high-end Samsung and Sony LCDs that cost a lot more, it definitely holds its own and handily outperforms any other Vizios and TCLs. Unfortunately it only comes in one size: 65 inches.

The non-Quantum Vizio P is an excellent midrange choice in its own right. It costs a bit more than our top midrange TV pick, the TCL 6 series, and isn’t worth the extra money for most viewers at 55 and 65 inches. But unlike the TCL it comes in a 75-inch size too, and it’s our top picture quality pick for the money of 2018 if you’re in the market for that gigantic size.

Sony XBR-X900F series: Best 2018 alternative to TCL and Vizio

If you don’t want a Vizio or a TCL for some reason, this Sony also serves up an excellent picture and costs less than competing Samsung QLED sets (namely the Q8 and Q9). It’s the storied brand’s cheapest 2018 model to include full-array local dimming and while it’s both more expensive and a slightly worse performer than the TCL 6 series and Vizio P series, it’s still a great all-around TV. And it’s available in sizes all the way up to 85 inches.

Best laptops and tablets of 2018

More versatile two-in-ones, a wider variety of Chromebooks, upgraded gaming laptops and a bevy of affordable tablets. Dan Ackerman and Josh Goldman pick the top products across the board.

Companies make product design changes all the time, but there’s a difference between changing for the sake of change and actually using change to improve the product. Lenovo does the latter with the C930, making its ultraportable two-in-one better by turning its 360-degree hinge into a speaker soundbar, adding a privacy shutter to its web cam and giving it a garage to hold and charge the included active pen. Add to that excellent everyday performance and battery life and you’ve got a two-in-one that’s tough to beat.

HP Chromebook X2: Editors’ Choice, best Chromebook

Regardless of where you stand on Chromebooks on the whole, the X2 is undeniably a terrific laptop with a great display, a comfortable keyboard and performance that’ll make you happy you spent the extra money for this premium model. It’s a fabulous tablet, too, and it comes with its stylus and keyboard.

Apple iPad (2018): Editors’ Choice, best overall tablet

There’s really only tablet brand that really matters anymore, and it’s Apple’s iPad. While all the fancy Pro models are certainly impressive, the one you should actually buy is the classic non-Pro 9.7 model. It’s reasonably priced, gets regular component and OS updates, and the latest version works with Apple’s Pencil stylus, previously reserved for the pricey Pro models. Honorable tablet mention goes to Amazon’s low-cost Fire HD models, especially the tricked out Kids Edition versions.

Razer Blade 15 (2018): Best gaming laptop

There are more powerful gaming laptops. There are less expensive gaming laptops. There are gaming laptops with more bells and whistles. But there’s no other gaming laptop that so perfectly balanced power, design, portability and features than the revamped 2018 version of the Razer Blade. This minimalist matte black box jumps to a bigger 15-inch screen and a faster graphics chip, all in the same size body as last year’s 14-inch model.

Dell XPS 13 (2018): Best mainstream laptop

The laptop that declared war on big screen borders (or bezels, in tech-speak) had its best year ever in 2018, with the latest model tightening up the design, adding new components and getting even thinner and lighter. It’s one of my main go-to picks as a 13-inch Windows alternative to Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Air or Pro, held back only by some unfortunate webcam placement.

Acer Swift 7 (2018): Best ultraportable laptop

A laptop that’s just 9mm thick doesn’t have any right to be as full-featured as the Acer Swift 7 is. There’s room for a 14-inch touchscreen, backlit keyboard, big touchpad and even a fingerprint reader. The 14-inch display is bigger than you’d expect, and the fan-free design (where would you even put a fan?) makes it a silent operator, as befitting its stealthy profile.

Microsoft Surface Pro 6: Best detachable keyboard tablet/laptop

The best Windows laptop-tablet hybrid somehow just keeps getting better. The latest version makes a big jump in processing power to a new generation of quad-core CPUs (trust me, it’s fast), while adding a mod-looking matte black option and keeping the industry’s best two-in-one kickstand and keyboard design. It’s the closest you can get fulfilling the tablet-as-full-time-PC promise, and our only gripe is that the clip-on keyboard and the stylus are both sold separately.

Apple MacBook Air (2018): Best laptop for students or budding novelists

Apple gave us pretty much everything on the wish list for a long-awaited new version of the classic MacBook Air. New up-to-date processors, much better display, bigger touchpad, smaller screen borders, and a thinner, lighter body. Yes, there were some tradeoffs, including a super-flat keyboard, only USB-C ports and a significantly higher starting price, but it’s still the king of super portable laptops.

 

 

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