5th Annual Boomie Awards – The Best Tech of 2016 for 50+

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Once again it’s time for Tech50+ to look at the best tech products for our audience in the year gone by. While we did find some truly innovative products, most of our choices represented improvements on already existing products or form factors. Regardless of whether or not they were intentionally designed with the 50+ market in mind, many have turned out to be well suited to us. Some of the newer technology trends, such as Virtual Reality, hold the promise of creating great products for us, but they may take a while longer to get to market. To pick the best in each category we looked at a variety of factors:

  • Is it 50+ Friendly? – Does it have features that make it easy for those of us over 50 to use?
  • Quality – Is the product built to last? Is it solid, well-built, and reliable? Is it easy to set up? Is the manual readable and understandable? Does it do what it’s supposed to do?
  • Value – Our product choices are not always the most or least expensive in each category, but we aim for those products that offer the best bang for the buck.

In a couple of cases, we’ve found two products in a category that we think are both worthy of awards, in some other cases we have found one that we think is a strong runner up. This year’s Boomies were selected by Chief Content Officer Gary M. Kaye, Editor-At-Large John Quain, and Contributing Editors Linda Moskowitz, Bill Stoller, and Tim Bajarin. Here now, our picks:

Samsung Phone ImageBest Smartphone – Google Pixel XL – Call it luck, call it timing, call it technology. But no matter which way you slice it, Google hit a home run with its first “Made by Google” phones. The big screen Pixel XL hit the market just as the competitive phone from Samsung, the Galaxy Note 7, was literally blowing up. You can read our complete review here. With a screen size of 5.5″, the Pixel XL is easy to see, has an attractive industrial design crafted from a single block of aluminum, has a fast processor, and a great camera that has many features generally found only on standalone cameras. It also works well with Google’s new VR device (when and if you decide VR has something to offer you). It is the first phone to come with Google Assistant built-in, which we’ve had more success with than Apple’s Siri. Price is $770 at Verizon.

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Best TabletBest Tablet Huawei + Harman Kardon MediaPad M3 – Most 8″ inch tablets offer mediocre performance on a number of fronts. The Huawei MediaPad M3 has a fast home-grown processor, uses Android Marshmallow, and has a sharp display which advertises a 16 million color palette. The highlight of the tablet is the stereo speakers designed by Harman Kardon. They offer better sound than we’ve heard from a small tablet, though they are still weak on the bass. The tablet comes with a fingerprint ID sensor and is available in both LTE and Wi-Fi models – priced at $299, which makes it a bit more expensive than most other 8″ Android tablets, but significantly cheaper than the latest Apple iPad Mini.

Lenovo Thinkpad X! Yoga
Lenovo Thinkpad X! Yoga

Best Laptop or Convertible – We really like two machines in this category: The Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Yoga and the HP Spectre x360. Both of these machines use the form factor that originated with the Lenovo Yoga – a laptop that can convert to a tablet, stand, or tent. In 2016 Lenovo took what was best in their classic Thinkpad X1 Carbon series and melded it into the Yoga form factor, producing an extremely lightweight, versatile machine that is a solid performer for either office productivity or entertainment. You can read our review here. It has a 14″ display and an Intel Core i7 processor, along with a half terabyte solid state drive. It’s not cheap, with pricing starting around $1649.

HP Spectre x360 (13")
HP Spectre x360 (13″)

The Hewlett Packard Spectre x360 is a little smaller, with a 13.3″ screen. It features a solid aluminum chassis, a standout keyboard, and a very thin profile. It has a Full HD display and is available with a number of processor options beginning with the Intel Core i5. You can read our review here. The Spectre is also available in a 15.6″ screen size. Prices for the 13″ model begin at $949, while the 15″ model starts at about $1350 at the HP Store.

 

Netgear OrbiBest Wireless Router – Netgear Orbi – 2016 was the year that mesh networks took over the home Wi-Fi marketplace. Instead of offering up one device, mesh networks recognize that often our homes are too big, and our devices too many, to be handled by one wireless router. Mesh networks use multiple units that can be spread around the house and use multiple frequencies, so if one is crowded or weak, connections can jump to another. We looked at Portal, eero, Amplifi, and Orbi, among others. But it was the Orbi that was the overwhelming favorite of our editors. You can read our review here. We found the Orbi very easy to setup and found it provided great wall to wall and floor to floor coverage through a four-story townhouse that had been plagued by dead spots before. Price for a two unit system is just about $380.

Best Audio Devices 

Mass Fidelity CorePortable Bluetooth System – Mass Fidelity Core – The Core uses holographic sound to make you think the sound is coming from more than just one point source. It creates a big sound from a relatively small package. You can read our review here. We found sound quality to be excellent, but better at higher volumes. The 3D effect will vary depending on the nature of the recorded content. Giving the system an optical input means you’ll be able to use your both lossy (like MP3) and lossless files (Hi-Res). You can also hook it directly to the output of a turntable. The system is designed to compete with market leader Sonos – and in many ways is comparable to the mid-price Sonos Play 3. Because of its nature, the Core may not do true justice to your Hi-Res files, but it sounds great with everything that your CD or MP3 player can pump out. Price is $499.

Denon HEOS 5 HS2Whole House Music System – Denon HEOS 5 HS2 – The Denon HEOS system connects with your home Wi-Fi network, making it ideal for a whole house music system. At $299 per speaker, you may be able to afford two or three to fill several rooms in your home with great quality sound.  The HEOS was easy to setup, which is not necessarily the norm for Wi-Fi connected music systems. It also connects via Bluetooth. The system offers a variety of music sources, everything from your own smartphone to most of the popular streaming services. HEOS has a thumping bass and offers great stereo separation from such a small unit. It also supports Hi-Res tracks, and we heard a discernible difference in moving between MP3 and Hi-Res. There are iOS and Android apps that will let you decide which music you’d like to play to each of your HEOS devices.

Sony NW A26/27Hi Res Audio Player Sony NW A26/27 – In 2016 Sony upgraded its entry-level Hi-Res music player by reissuing the device in a variety of colors. The only difference between the two models is storage, and of course, price. We like the NW A20 line because it offers listeners who’ve been nervous about upgrading into to the world of Hi-Res audio an easy way to stick a toe in the water without spending thousands of dollars. Hi-Res audio tracks add back much of what you’ve missed when the industry squished out the sound color, highs, and lows in order to fit them into MP3 files. With most of the Hi-Res formats, you can recreate the richness of vinyl without the hassle. The NW-A26HN comes in a variety of colors and has 32 GB of internal storage plus a micro SD card slot. Price is just about $320. The NW-A27HN has 64 GB of internal storage, a micro SD slot, and is only available in silver. Price is just about $400.

Pioneer XDP-300RHi-Res Audio Player Runner-Up – Pioneer XDP-300R – This Hi-Res player from Pioneer has plenty to recommend it. It runs on the Android operating system, something many users will find familiar so you can use your Android apps (on Wi-Fi). It will also handle MQA files, which stands for Master Quality Authenticated, a high-end playback format that’s gaining in popularity. It has 32 GB of internal memory and 2 micro SD slots. Playback quality is just terrific. And the pricing, at just about $700, makes it much less expensive than comparable models from Sony or Astell&Kern. There were a couple of items that made us stop short in giving the Pioneer our award. The first is that font size in the Music Player app is quite small and cannot be adjusted. The second is that we found the supplied downloading software very awkward to use. But no mistake, this is a great quality player at a very reasonable price.

AudioEngine HDP6 and AudioEngine HD6Passive Speakers and Powered Speakers – AudioEngine HDP6 and AudioEngine HD6 – We’ve long been fans of the AudioEngine line of premium bookshelf speakers that brings a combination of great sound and beautiful solid wood craftsmanship, all at a very reasonable price. In 2016 the company upgraded its line with the HDP6 passive speakers and the HD6 wireless powered speakers. The speaker components in both are identical, the only difference being that while the HD6’s support Bluetooth wireless and have built-in amplifiers, the HDP6’s are powered by your home music receiver or amplifier. Sound quality for both is identical, providing sharp, crisp, room-filling sound in a small form factor ideal for bedroom, den, or office. Price for a pair of the HD6 speakers is $749, while the unpowered HDP6 will run $499 for the pair.

Sony MDR-1000X Best Headphones – Sony MDR-1000X – These headphones combine the best of three technologies – noise cancellation, Hi-Resolution, and Bluetooth – all at a price that won’t break the bank. You can read our complete review here. The MDR-1000X phones have a number of innovative features. Sony uses sophisticated software to tune the sound hitting your ears based on the ambient noise around you and the shape of your ears and head. Sony has microphones both inside and outside the earcups to measure noise and cancel it. You can adjust how much of the outside world you want to allow in. That’s a good thing in places like an airport where you might want to listen to music but also hear announcements. Phone controls as well as volume, track forward and backward, and pause controls are all touch controls embedded in the exterior of the right-hand earpiece with no visible buttons or markings. Price is just about $400.

Apple AirPods -Best In-Ear Phones – Apple AirPods – When Apple decided to remove the 3.5mm headphone jack from its iPhone 7, it upset plenty of users. Apple, in essence, said, “don’t worry, we’ll give you a dongle to connect your old headphones to the Lightning slot.” But Apple also sent a message that it would drive the Apple ecosystem toward wireless earbuds, specifically Apple’s AirPods. Even then a delay in shipping caused further consternation. But in the end, Apple delivered a solid product. The phones pair easily with Apple devices, as you’d expect. They will let you talk to Siri without taking the phone out of your pocket or purse, but you’ll also need to talk to Siri to make adjustments since the wireless AirPods have no controls. Sound quality is good, call quality is also quite good. They will give you five hours of listening on a charge, and come with a case that’s also a fast charger. Price is $159.

ZVOX Accuvoice AV200 TV SpeakerBest Soundbar – ZVOX Accuvoice AV200 TV Speaker – When you watch television, do you have difficulty making out the voices? If so, you are not alone. The current generation of flat screen televisions has sacrificed speaker size and sound quality in favor of thin. So TV sound, never great, has gotten comparatively worse. And many of us over fifty are already suffering from some hearing loss, especially in the high frequencies. ZVOX’s AV200 TV Speaker is a soundbar that directly addresses the problem. At the touch of a button, you can highlight the dialogue and bring it out from the music and sound effects. You can read our review here. If you turn off the Accuvoice feature you still have a great soundbar that improves the sound of that flat screen TV, and it’s easy to install and use with your existing cable box or TV. Price is just about $250.

Clarity TL100 TV ListenerBest Television Listening Device – Clarity TL100 TV Listener – This is one of those products that solves a real world problem. If you live in a small home or apartment, there’s a decent chance that when you’re watching television you may be disturbing someone else close by, often a spouse or significant other. The Clarity TL100 is a Bluetooth transmitter that is connected to your cable box or the output from your receiver. It wirelessly connects to a set of rechargeable headphones with excellent sound quality. The Clarity headphones fit on your ears so you can still hear what’s going on around you. We found it very easy to setup and operate. Price from Clarity is $179.95 though we’ve seen it elsewhere for slightly less.

LG E6 55" 4K Ultra HD TVBest Big Screen Television LG E6 55″ 4K Ultra HD TV – For the second year in a row we’re giving the Boomie for best television to an OLED set from LG. Wraith-thin OLED TVs continue to improve each year, and in 2016 LG’s E6 model was the pinnacle of perfection. It has a jaw-dropping crisp picture, can deliver inky blacks (which conventional LCD sets cannot do), and displays even punchier, more intense colors, thanks to a new 4K format called high dynamic range (HDR). We think there may be a more discernible difference between sets with early 4K and newer HDR models than between original HDTV sets and the first generation of 4K UHD sets. The E6 supports all the main HDR versions (HDR10, Ultra HD Premium, and Dolby Vision) and can be upgraded via software to handle a broadcast version of HDR when it becomes available. Price is about $2500.  

Raleigh Sprite IEBest e-Bike – Raleigh Sprite IE – While electric assist bikes are a long way from taking the 50+ market by storm, they’re now being sold in sufficient numbers that e-bike makers are coming up with many models aimed specifically at us. The Raleigh Sprite IE represents the best in breed in terms of a reasonably priced e-bike with a 50+ friendly frame and enough power, battery life, and comfort features to get us where we’d like to go. You can read our review hereThe first two things you notice about the Sprite are its low step design, easy for anyone to get on and off, and the beautifully designed silver frame. This is a work of art in aluminum. It uses a Currie Electro-Drive® center drive motor. There’s a nicely crafted chain guard so you can keep your pants grease-free. The 48V Lithium-Ion battery does have a bit of heft but it sits well protected on a rear mounted rack, which easily supports a bike bag. The Sprite has external bars to support a set of panniers. The bike comes standard with pedal assist, meaning you need to pedal to make the motor run, but there’s also an optional $50 boost addition that can give a rider extra thrust getting across an intersection or starting up a hill. Price is $1900, which is a solid value for what this bike offers.

Best Wearable Fitness Tracker - Garmin Vivosmart HR+ Best Wearable Fitness Tracker – Garmin Vivosmart HR+ – There are hundreds of fitness trackers on the market, though the field seems to be thinning a bit. In 2016 Garmin upgraded its Vivosmart HR to the HR+ by adding GPS functionality, something many runners wanted. It does make the device a little thicker though. The HR+ offers the ability to measure your heart rate right on your wrist, without the need of a strap. GPS tracks distance and pace while mapping out your run or walk. It has an always-on touchscreen that displays your stats, readable even in bright sunlight, and it’s easy to swipe through a surprising number of information screens. It measures steps, distance, calories, floors climbed, and activity intensity. The Vivosmart also tracks your sleep and will prompt you to move if you’ve been in that chair too long. You can receive notifications including email, call, text, social media alerts, and more. It will auto sync to the Garmin Connect App for additional functionality. And one other feature we really like: it’s waterproof. Price is $200.

Best Wearable - Smartwatch - Samsung Gear 3 Frontier
Samsung Gear 3 Frontier
Best Wearable - Smartwatch - Samsung Gear 3 Classic View
Samsung Gear 3 Classic

Best Wearable – Smartwatch – Samsung Gear 3 – This was another unanimous choice of our editors. There’s a lot to like about this watch, which many reviewers are calling the best smartwatch for the Android market. And surprise, it even has limited compatibility with iOS devices (calls, texts, and limited email). The Gear 3 is available in two models, the Classic and the Frontier. Besides the looks, the only real difference is that you can get the Frontier with an LTE option so you can make calls without your phone (you’ll need a separate data plan). The watch looks like, well, a watch, but may be a little large for some women. It has interchangeable standard sized bands so you can customize it to your liking. Unlike that “other” smartwatch, this one has a battery that will last up to three days. It is water and dust resistant and comes equipped with built-in GPS. That’s particularly helpful for activity tracking, or even setting a pickup point for Uber. Turning the bezel takes you through an assortment of apps. Price for either model starts at $350.

Best Automotive Assist Device - Garmin DriveAssist 50LMTBest Automotive Assist Device – Garmin DriveAssist 50LMT – Garmin has crammed most of the best features from its entire line of PNDs (or personal navigation devices) into this one compact 5″ package. You can read our review here. It features a dashcam, front collision warning, lane departure warning, as well as upcoming curves. And it has all the features you’ve come to expect from Garmin including Voice Command, detailed intersection views, and lifetime map and traffic support. Price is $300.

Best High Tech Car - 2017 Volvo S90Best High Tech Car – 2017 Volvo S90 – Despite all the buzz, you still can’t go out and buy a totally self-driving car. That’s probably a couple of years away. But you can get lots of cars with some pretty impressive technology. Yet all the technological marvels in the world don’t make a bit of difference in a car if they don’t make it safer. Fortunately, Volvo is aggressive on both the technology and safety fronts, as demonstrated by the 2017 S90 sedan. Not only is it beautiful, but it contains the latest in advanced driver assistance systems, including a unique large animal detection feature, road edge detection (to prevent rollovers), and a semi-autonomous driving mode that helps out in city traffic as well as at speeds up to 80 mph. Price as tested, $57,245.

Best Travel Tech Device - OmniChargeBest Travel Tech Device – OmniCharge – If like many of us you do a lot of traveling with a bag full of gadgets, you’re always wondering when some crucial piece of gear will just run out of juice. Those little power banks that will charge your smartphone aren’t up to the job of supporting your laptop in the absence of a wall socket. Well, here’s a device that does that and much more. The OmniCharge comes in two versions, the OmniCharge 13 with 13,600 mAh of juice, and the OmniChage 20 with 20,400 mAh. They both have 110 volt AC outputs to keep your laptop going for hours. And then there are two Qualcomm QuickCharge USB ports and even wireless charging for Qi-enabled devices. There’s a comprehensive display that shows you just what’s charging and what power is remaining. To charge up the OmniCharge itself, you can plug it into the wall, or you can use almost any barrel plug charger you have lying around the house. It has a sophisticated power management system to figure out what’s plugged into it. You can charge it from your car, or even from a solar panel. And while it’s charging, the OmniCharge can continue to charge your other devices. Price for the OmniCharge 13 is $199, while the OmniCharge 20 will run $299.

Best Connected Home Device - Amazon Echo/AlexaBest Connected Home Device – Amazon Echo/Alexa – This was another unanimous pick from our editors. For the second year in a row, we think the Amazon Echo, with Alexa voice command and its ecosystem including the Echo Dot and the Amazon Tap, is the clear winner in this category. One quick look around the show floor at this year’s CES and there was no doubt that Amazon is creating alliances with hundreds of companies and potentially thousands of devices that will all respond to the sound of your voice. Amazon’s Echo, with the Alexa voice, is clearly becoming the gold standard for creating the smart home and the Internet of Things (IoT). Among the things that Alexa can do is turn on lights, brew your coffee, raise the curtains, control your security cameras, run your robotic vacuum cleaner, power your outlets, play your music, change your television stations, and, well, you get the idea. Yes, Google has now entered the same market with Google Home, but it’s got a lot of catching up to do. Meanwhile, there’s no sign that anyone is going to knock Alexa off its perch as king of the connected hill. Price for the Echo is $180, Price for the Dot is $50 and price for the Tap Bluetooth speaker is $130.

Best Travel Point and Shoot Camera -  Canon Long Zoom PowerShot SX720 HSBest Travel Point and Shoot Camera  Canon Long Zoom PowerShot SX720 HS – One of the frustrations in taking travel pictures is that you never seem to have enough zoom to get you the shot you want. The alternative is to carry a heavier, bulkier DSLR with interchangeable lenses. Canon solves that dilemma by letting you travel light with the PowerShot SX720 HS camera. It is a traditional point and shoot camera with a 20 Megapixel sensor. But it has a nearly unbelievable 40x Optical Zoom lens. That translates to 24-960mm in traditional 35mm parlance. It means you can capture close-up portraits of your family, landmarks in the distance, and virtually everything in between. It will let you share your pictures by connecting with built-in Wi-Fi and NFC. You can also shoot 1080P video. The PowerShot SX720 HS can automatically compile your images and videos into a mini highlight reel complete with music and effects. Price is $350.

Best Appliance - Ember Mug Best Appliance – Ember Mug – If coffee is a big deal for you, as it is for us, the Ember may be the best thing to come along since the K-Cup machine or the coffee grinder. It’s a high-tech coffee mug that allows you to keep your beverage at your desired temperature for hours on end. The rechargeable battery powered mug sits on a charger that plugs into an AC outlet. If you want to go mobile, it will hold the charge, and the temperature for about two hours.  It’s ideal if, like us, you sit at a desk and just want periodic sips without having to go back and reheat. There is a smartphone app that will also regulate the temperature, though you can operate Ember just fine without it. There’s a screen on the mug that tells you the temperature and the battery life. You can adjust the temperature with a floating ring at the bottom of the mug. The Ember is available at some Starbucks stores and online for $149.95, and by all accounts, it’s been selling like hotcakes.

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