There was no shortage of great products coming to market in 2014. And regardless of whether they were intentionally designed with the 50+ market in mind or not, many have turned out to be well suited to us. To pick the best in each category we looked at a variety of factors:
- Is it Boomer 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 setup? 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.
Best Smartphone – Apple iPhone 6+
This was a tough category to judge. There were a number of companies that brought smartphones to market that have feature sets making them attractive to the 50+ market. Several are worth mentioning including the Samsung Galaxy Note4, the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge, Huawei Ascend Mate 2 which has a great big button software overlay, and the GreatCall Touch3. We selected the iPhone 6+ because of some dramatic improvements from earlier versions of this iconic phone. For starters, the large screen made everything likeable about the iPhone including its huge ecosystem that much easier for the 50+ market to enjoy. But what ultimately won us over were Apple’s improvements in accessibility, including the addition of both Zoom Display, making it easy to display fewer but larger icons, and the addition of a zoom slider so you can adjust the amount of zoom on the screen. It makes a huge difference in reading and navigating text. Price starts at about $240 with a two year contract and 16GB of memory.
Best Hybrid/Convertible Computer – Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro
Lenovo named its Yoga series for its ability to take on different configurations from laptop to tent to stand to tablet. The Yoga 3 Pro is thin, sturdy, sleek, and powerful. It is 17 percent thinner than its predecessor and 15 percent lighter. The Yoga 3 features a new wristwatch band style hinge that allows it lie flat. And it has new low power Intel chip, which means it doesn’t need a fan for cooling. The Yoga 3 Pro is so versatile that some people who have been traveling with both a Windows laptop and a tablet will be able to travel with one less device. Price is just under $1300.
The Best Tablet Computer – Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2
When it comes to a tablet computer for our generation, we think that size does matter. That’s one big reason we picked the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 with it’s commanding 12.2” diagonal screen. The display is striking. But this tablet isn’t just beautiful, it’s smart too. It has the Samsung “S’ pen which enables you to write, and have your scribbles converted to text. Or you can use the pan to annotate photos, articles, whatever. It’s a great tablet for both entertainment and productivity. It’s big enough to really enjoy a movie when you’re on the go. And with it’s multitasking capability, it’s easy to move among productivity applications if you need to get some work done. Price for a 32GB WiFi version is about $650.
The Best Camera – Sony DSC RX-100 III
When the first version of this camera was introduced, many reviewers called it the best point and shoot camera in the market. Since then it has only gotten better. The latest version, the RX-100 Mark 3 adds a couple of features that makes it even better for the 50+ market. At the top of my list is a pop up electronic viewfinder (EVF) with a diopter so it can be adjusted for individual vision requirements. This also means you don’t have to rely on the big tilting LCD screen which can be difficult to see in in direct sunlight. This is an ideal camera for the amateur who wants a really good point and shoot camera with lots of professional features and capability and good optical stabilization. It’s also a good backup for the prosumer who wants a backup camera to go along with an interchangeable lens rig like the Sony A7.
The Best Music Player – Astell&Kern AK120 II
When we listened to the original Astell&Kern AK120 music player, we were impressed. In fact we called it “A Pocketful of Miracles” With the AK 120 the company pretty much set the bar for portable hi-res audio players, but now they’ve successfully raised it with the AK 120 II, a product that combines art and music in one sleek handheld device. At its core are twin high end Digital Audio Converters (DAC), specifically the Cirrus Logic CS4398’s Most other players use a single circuit to process both left and right channels. Physically, this is a work of art, with a solid aluminum case. It has a large, bright 3.3″ AMOLED touch screen that is significantly larger than its predecessor. To protect the device, it ships with both a leather case and front and rear protective film. The device supports most of the current digital music formats. Internal storage in the new version is 128 GB, and you can double that by adding a 128 GB micro SD card from companies like SanDisk. It has both an optical output and a 3.5 mm headphone jack. It has Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity. It can be connected with a micro USB plug either for charging or to sync with a music source such as your computer.
The Best Desktop Computer – Lenovo A740 All-In-One Desktop
The Lenovo IdeaCentre A740 is a great desktop productivity and entertainment center. You can even get it with an integrated TV tuner. It has a top of the line Intel Core i7 processor which can quickly handle almost any task you throw at it. It has a 16:9 aspect ratio which makes it excellent for watching wide screen HD movies. It has four USB 3.0 ports so you can attach printers, scanners, external drives etc. and move data ten times faster than a USB 2.0 port. It has a full ten point multi-touch screen. And it comes with 1TB of storage, which will comfortably handle your documents, music files, photos, and video library. The entire package is attractively designed with a very thin screen and a very small base. The big 27″ touchscreen makes it easy to see everything you need to see and move around the screen with either your fingers or the wireless mouse. The A740 comes with a stand that tilts from straight up to almost flat down so you can use it for two person touchscreen games. Prices begin at about $1600..
The Best Automotive Device – Safe Drive Systems RD-140
There’s lots of great new technology coming to market to assist drivers, everything from collision avoidance to blind spot warnings and even self-parking. Unfortunately almost all of it is only available in new cars. The Safe Drive Systems RD-140 is an aftermarket product that enables the rest of us to get collision avoidance and lane departure warnings without having to buy a new car. The system must be professionally installed. It uses front facing radar to warn you if you’re too close to the car in front of you, and is particularly useful if someone unexpectedly cuts in front of you. It also uses a windshield mounted camera system to warn you if you are inadvertently crossing into another lane, or veering off the road. We’ve been using the system for several months now and find it quite helpful both in highway traffic, and on late night trips from the country when it’s all too easy to lose focus and start drifting across lanes. Installed price is $1700.
The Best Personal Emergency Response Device – V.Alrt Button
There are a lot personal emergency devices on the market. And many bear little resemblance to what you’ve seen in the “Please help me, Ive fallen and I can’t get up” commercials. One of the most compact we’ve seen is the V.ALRT from VSN mobil. The device pairs with your Android or iOS device so you are not limited to your home landline service. It’s the smallest we’ve seen with a built-in accelerometer for fall detection. You pair the V.alrit with your smartphone then you set up the contacts you want to notify in the event of an emergency. Get into trouble, push the button, and it emits a screeching alarm and sends your personalized message to your contacts. For example, the message for my wife and kids says simply “Dad is having an emergency and may have fallen.” Using location services on your smartphone the device provides your contacts with your location in case they have to send help. In the event of a spurious fall alert you have a couple of seconds to cancel the alert before the notification is sent out. The button can be worn in a number of ways. You can snap it into a provided wristband, or you can put into a rubber collar that can be worn as a pendant or attached to a clip. The price is $60.00 and unlike many other devices there is no monthly subscription or service fee.
The Best Television – Samsung 78” Curved 4K model UN78HU9000F
In 2014 the price of big screen 4K or UHD televisions began to drop to the point where real consumers can start to afford them. But that still doesn’t resolve the issue of the lack of 4K content. I don’t believe these will really take off until 4K content is available on both disc and cable television. We may see the discs this year, but the technical issues of cramming all that digital information into a cable is something the providers haven’t solved yet. And after the fiasco with 3D TV they may be reluctant to splurge on another untried format. Sony offers a server that can download and stream 4k content, mostly from its own library. The Samsung set we tried came with a big hard disk with a smattering of 4k titles. But for the most part, you’ll be watching these gorgeous big screens with content that’s upconverted, basically doubled from standard HD. The larger sets from Sony, LG, and Samsung all provide an immersive viewing experience. This impressive 78” curved Samsung Smart TV gives full access to Internet channels such as Netflix and YouTube, where you can find true 4k content. Many reviewers have not been kind to the curved screens, saying they are a gimmick that cuts down on the viewing angle. But we take issue. The curved set dramatically cut down glare in our sundrenched living room and did not impede the view when the room was darker. Should you run out and buy a new 4K TV today? Not unless you need a new television anyway. In that case you might as well get a 4K instead of a lesser HD set. Prices continue to decline. The UN78HU9000F has dropped by more than a $1000 in just the past few months to an almost palatable $4500 or so. The picture on this set is beautiful, discernibly better than current HD. But current 4K content is very limited. It is coming, but it’s not here yet.
The Best Smartwatch – Samsung Gear S
In 2014 smartwatches made some great leaps forward, though we’re still not convinced that they will be a “must-have” for the 50+ generation. And while we like some of the watches on the market, frankly we think the landscape will change dramatically when Apple introduces the Apple Watch this year. The advent of Google’s Android Wear software and app system did a lot to smooth out the rough edges, and allowed the creation of some less clunky looking watches. We like the looks and functionality of both the Moto 360 and the LG-G Watch R, both of which look more like traditional timepieces. Our favorite among the Android Wear watches is the Sony Watch 3, which looks good, but is also the only one in the category that allows you to adjust font size. In the final analysis we picked the Samsung Gear S because it is a true smartwatch and not merely a smartphone appendage. The Samsung Gear S is a smart watch that can make calls on its own, no paired smart phone required. The Dick Tracey comparisons are hard to resist with the Gear S, although this watch lacks a camera. It has a bright, 2-inch AMOLED screen, a built-in pulse rate monitor (a.k.a, a blood flow sensor), step and exercise trackers, GPS navigation, apps, messaging, and calendar alerts. The rechargeable battery lasts for about two days with typical use; less if you’re in a rural area and the phone is constantly searching for service. .To make connections, the phone includes not only 3G cellular support but also built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. So you can receive or initiate a phone call on the watch itself without a paired smart phone. You can talk over the built-in speaker phone, or go with your own Bluetooth earpiece.
One catch: the Gear S does have to initially be set up using a smart phone, and it uses Samsung’s own software (rather than Android) so it only works with the latest Samsung smart phones, such as the Galaxy S5. It’s available on several carriers for about $350. Wearable data plans that enable you to use the 3G functionality will cost you about $5 per month.
Best Fitness Activity Tracker – Garmin vivosmart
This was another very competitive category. At the recently concluded Consumer Electronics Show we saw hundreds of fitness trackers, many with nearly identical form factors and functionality. But we were actually a little disappointed that we didn’t find stronger competition at the top of the heap. Two other activity trackers came highly recommended. One was the Fitbit HR, which measures your heart rate without a strap, a feature we like. But it’s not waterproof, a significant issue for a device that you’ll be using outdoors in all kinds of weather. The Peak Basis was also highly recommended, but neither of two units sent to our reviewer was functional. The Garmin vivosmart works. It consists of a thin band with an almost invisible LED display that comes to life when you double tap it. It displays the functions most fitness buffs want including distance, steps, calories burned, and it will pair up with a wireless heart rate monitor. In addition, it will alert you to notifications from either your iOS or Android device, though you cannot interact with them. It will track your sleep, and will alert you if you’ve been sitting around too long without moving. The rechargeable battery is good for a week. It works with Garmin’s own apps, as well as a number of third party providers. And it is waterproof down to 50 feet. Price is about $170.
Best Connected Home Device – Leeo Smart Alert Nightlight
Short and sweet, the Leeo turns your home smoke alarm or carbon monoxide detector into a connected device that will let you know if your home might be on fire wherever you are . While most of us have these detectors in our homes (or certainly should), unless they are part of an expensive home monitoring system there’s no way for them to alert you to a problem if you’re away from home. Leeo listens for the sounds of an alarm going off and then calls you. It’s configured as an LED nightlight that goes into any outlet. You can use the free app to change brightness and colors, but more importantly to configure Leeo to notify you of a problem. It listens for an alarm then uses your home wi-fi to message your smartphone. It’s smart enough to let you press a single button to connect with the emergency service serving your neighborhood, no matter where you are. If Leeo can’t reach you in an emergency it will go down your pre-set contact list.. Leeo will monitor your home’s interior temperature and humidity. That’s a pretty good way to see if things are really heating up in the house. Leeo bridges the gap between the ideal of a connected home and the practical issue of networking some non-networked devices you already have. Price for Leeo is $99.
The Best Computer Backpack – Eagle Creek Convertabrief
You may ask why we give a Boomie Award to a piece of luggage. It’s really simple. If you spend a lot of time traveling with your electronic gear, you probably get really attached to that bag, and obviously it gets attached to you. One of the problems I encountered with more traditional backpack style bags is that when they are fully stuffed, they can be tough to tuck under an airline seat. The flatter design of the Convertabrief alleviates that problem. This is the most versatile computer bag we’ve seen. It can be carried as either a shoulder bag or a comfortable backpack. It has one padded pocket to carry a laptop computer and tablet that can be zipped open so you don’t have to take the computer out at airport security. It has a big central pocket that can carry clothes for an overnight trip. And it has other zipped internal and external pockets for accessories like chargers, smartphones, music players, cables, headphones, and plenty more. What’s more, almost every one of the external pockets can be locked. I find it particularly useful on those transcontinental airline trips where you want instant access to lots of things and there’s very little light or space in which to maneuver. Price $175.
Best Video Streaming Device – Google Nexus Player by Asus
Every month thousands of people are dumping their expensive cable service. In large part it’s because the world of video including gaming has come to the Internet. The Nexus Player is a bit like Google’s successful Chromecast only on steroids, with access to a world of video programs, YouTube, and gaming. The device has extensive search functionality including voice recognition. There’s an optional game controller that will turn the Nexus player into a gaming system that’s competitive with standalone systems from Sony and Microsoft. Price for the Player is $99. Price for the Game Pad is $40.
The Best Audio Streaming Device – Audioengine B1 Bluetooth Music Receiver
So here’s the problem. You’ve got this great legacy music system. A dynamite set of floor standing speakers you’ve had for years. Maybe you have a top end amplifier like a Macintosh or Citation. And then you’ve got all this music on your tablet or smartphone that you’ve downloaded from iTunes, Amazon, or HD Tracks. This device will let you move the music from almost any digital storage system to that music system that you’ve had since 1973. And do it with great quality. it couples a high end Bluetooth receiver with Audioengine’s excellent 24 bit Digital Audio Converter (DAC) technology. i was able to setup the B1 in a matter of minutes. I opened the box. Plugged it into the wall. Connected the audio cords to the B1 and to my Hi Res Audio Receiver,. Then I paired it to my iphone (a process that literally took only a few seconds). Once I set the input on my receiver, instant great music from my smartphone. It worked equally well using the optical output on the B1. And if you’re in the world of hi-res audio, this is a great device to take advantage of the high quality audio you can now keep on your computer and move it to that hi-fi system you still love.
Special Award For Product Innovation – AARP/Intel RealPad
2014 was the year that AARP got into the technology business. The organization teamed up with chip maker Intel to create a tablet for an older, tech-shy market. The $189 tablet itself is relatively mundane from a technological perspective. But AARP has made it very friendly with big buttons, simple menus, and 24/7 customer support. It also comes with a lot of promotion for AARP and a free membership. We’re a little skeptical about the execution, and while we won’t give AARP an “A” for achievement, we do give them an “E” for effort. At least this may get the point across to the rest of the industry that this marketplace is worthy of attention, and effort.
Best Product of the Year – Apple iPhone 6+
We picked the iPhone 6+ as our product of the year because not only is it a great phone for the 50+ market, but because it is a great example of how companies can make things better through user experience. In some ways Apple has been a contradiction in terms for our marketplace. It quietly acknowledges that the iPad for example has become a desirable communications tool for those who want to stay in touch with children or grandchildren without being tied to a desktop computer. If you step over to the Genius Bar at many Apple stores you’ll find plenty of us seeking and getting help and advice. And yet Apple’s marketing message has been distinctly younger facing. With the iPhone 6+ Apple has introduced accessibility features like the display zoom setup, which allows the user to choose a home screen with fewer icons that are larger. And then zoom slider makes it much easier to flexibly adjust font size. We can only hope that this marks a recognition on the part of the denizens of 1 Infinite Loop to keep us in the loop.