Recently I was asked to appear on my local Fox affiliate, Fox 13 to appear on their weekly lifestyle show, “The Place”. They wanted me to talk about my top 10 favorite gadgets of 2015. I agreed to take on the challenge, which really wasn’t a challenge since I already own most of them! You can see some of my reviews over on Youtube.com/TheSocialGeek (where I’ll post more in the future as well). If you’re coming from seeing me on TV, welcome! Introduce yourself in the comments and share with your friends!
2015 was filled with many pivotal moments in “the future”. It is 2015 after all – you know, the year when Marty McFly meets his future children as he travels to the world decades away, one we sat in amazement when we saw it in the 80s. We are in a world now of self driving cars, drones, hoverboards (just not the same as Marty’s!), and houses you can talk to! For an idea of where we’re headed, check out my predictions around “The Entirely Contextual, Peer-to-Peer, Self-Aware Future of Technology”.
I wanted to pick my 10 favorite items that matched this future. Most of them I own! Many of them you may not even realize exist, or realize their potential, but the future is evident in all of them. Here are my picks for 2015, all released (in some form) this year – let’s make this a new tradition! Click the links on each to find out where you can buy them:
- Sprout by HP With 3D Scanning Platform – $1978.88
I was privileged, among all my reviews, for the HP Sprout to be the only one on my 2015 list to receive for free from the manufacturer. Bias aside (I was not paid to include it in this list), this is one of my favorite gadgets of 2015, the year they also released their 3D scanning platform.
The Sprout by HP has a built in projector, as well as scanner that hovers above a mat below, allowing you to scan things in both 3D and 2D. The projector projects a second screen onto the desk allowing you, with the scanner, to use your desk as a touch screen for additional capabilities.
This year HP also released a platform for 3D scanning that allows scanning of almost an entire 3D object in very good detail. When combined with a 3D printer you can take things from scan, to edit, all the way to real life! Click here to see my article on how we figured out how to scan things with this 3D scanner and put them in Minecraft!
So why did I choose this in my list? My kids are always on it! My toddler daughter loves coloring with the built in Crayola coloring app, which you can use your finger on the desk to color in a virtual coloring book, being rewarded with new sounds and songs as you finish the drawing. She can also very easily just touch the screen to open her favorite PBS Kids or Disney Junior websites. It’s so much easier than figuring out how to use a mouse!
Add to that my teenagers wanting to scan things, edit them, and print them out, it is one of my favorite gadgets of 2015. This is truly a playground for my kids, a gadget I see them on most.
- Viewmaster VR Viewer – $20.93
Being 2015 I had to have some sort of VR device on my list. The truth is there are several I could have chosen. Google makes one you can cut out of cardboard and slip in your phone. Samsung makes one that only works with the Galaxy S series. Facebook has Oculus Rift, which is an amazing experience I’ve tried, but can’t be purchased yet by the general public.
The most versatile of all the products I found was one by the same company that made the first “virtual image experiences” when we were kids – the Viewmaster. If we were to see one of those in “Back to the Future”, I think this is what it would look like in 2015. Heck, it even looks like Doc’s glasses in the future!
Viewmaster has reinvented itself as an entire, multimedia, virtual reality experience. You slip in your phone, almost any smartphone (they even provide adapters you can add to allow smaller phones to work), and it immediately works with a whole variety of virtual reality apps you can download from your favorite app store.
If you download one of Viewmaster’s 3 branded apps, unlike the Galaxy Gear VR or Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard, you can use a provided circular disc that looks like one of the old Viewmaster discs you’d put in the device when we were young, and an augmented reality experience appears around the disc. So Viewmaster not only supports virtual reality, but augmented reality as well! With the AR experience, you can then choose the experience you want to start with and it takes you to a completely virtual world in 3D 360 view you, or your kids (if they can get it away from you) can learn from. I was really impressed with this $30 device!
- Sphero’s BB8 – $149.95
It wouldn’t be 2015 without Star Wars! Sphero, the makers of a ball you can control and move around with your phone, shone, bringing us to the light side in this space. When Star Wars was being made, Sphero was approached to make the technology behind the lovable little droid named BB8 who stole the show in the series (which I’ve now seen 4 times). One of the first Star Wars toys you could buy was a mini BB8 you could control with your phone.
Why is this cool? The coolest thing about this device is that, despite being able to control a ball that rolls around the floor in the shape of your favorite Star Wars character, it also has a head that through either “the Force” or magnets manages to stay on the top of the droid the entire time you control it. It also has a mode where it will “patrol” for you just like your very own droid!
- The Hoverboard – $360.17
“Back to the Future” and Hoverboards go together like Fred Flinstone and Barney Rubble. I kept hearing complaints this year that people didn’t get their hoverboard. Well, if that’s true I don’t know why people keep calling the self-moving device you can stand on without any handles a “hoverboard”. Yes, it does have wheels, but this is the hoverboard of our future (there is actually another non-wheeled version that is still far from production, but I’ll save that for one of my future lists).
The Hoverboard has dominated Christmas headlines as not only one of the most popular and most in-demand items of 2015, but also one of the most dangerous. Videos have swarmed Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter of people falling and even injuring themselves on this device. Then there are the supposed “exploding batteries”. So this gadget is not one to take lightly! So wear your helmet and put on some shoes! (Oh, and please don’t do a handstand on it like this girl!)
- Tesla Model S – $69,900 (before incentives)
You may think that Teslas are for the rich and famous, but with incentives, and new versions (including the X just announced this year) coming out regularly, there is a very good chance you will be able to afford one in your lifetime. Add to that leasing options, competition, and other ways to force the price down and this will actually, very soon become very affordable to the average consumer.
So why did I choose such an expensive “gadget” for my 2015 list? It was this year that Tesla, with a single software update, released a “self-driving” option for every one of their cars in production, making them the first car currently sold to consumers that allows them to drive without touching the gas, brakes, or steering wheel. Self-driving cars people!
But that’s just the start of it all. Tesla is owned by Elon Musk, who just single-handedly (well sorta) launched a rocket and landed it on the same rockets used to launch. Through his company SpaceX they have already launched missions with NASA. Add to that the potential of Musk’s “Hyperloop” technology, as well as a battery that powers your entire home and gets swapped out with 0 net energy cost, Tesla and Elon Musk’s other inventions are essentially space-age technology!
Now you won’t wonder why I’m so passionate about getting a Tesla dealership in Utah – Tesla is about so much more than cars! In fact I’m so passionate about this one that I’ve vowed that, assuming my own business is in shape by the time, when Utah gets a Tesla dealership and passes laws to allow it (yes, it’s illegal currently in Utah), I will buy one.
- The Apple Watch – $296
As a former Google Glass owner, I totally understand the value of a wearable device that can provide notifications and easy access to information without needing to take your phone out of your pocket. I like the Apple Watch because it is not so obvious, much less a distraction, but still gives me those “heads up” notifications I got from Google Glass. That said, it did make me “turn back time” a little bit by buying a watch for the first time since I owned a cell phone.
To be honest, most of the other smart watches should also fit in this category. If you own an Android watch you should consider one of the Android Wear devices, which are also very solid devices. I currently own the Apple Watch though, and it was Apple’s big debut for 2015 (Android Wear was released in 2014), so it gets to be on my list for this year!
- Owlet Baby Monitor – $249.99
I had the privilege to be one of the first owners of the Owlet Baby Monitor, which released later this year. The Owlet Baby Monitor attaches as a “sock” to your baby’s foot, and tracks vitals such as heart rate, respiration and breathing. The sock communicates with a base station you can put next to your bed to receive comfort in knowing your baby is sleeping and breathing safely all night long. When the baby stops breathing an alarm goes off so you can go check on your baby.
We were able to use ours upon the birth of our child with a cleft lip and cleft palate. Coming home from the NICU this peace of mind did help us sleep a little better and feel a little more at comfort. Fortunately we had no real alarms go off to worry about, but already 2 families have saved their childrens’ lives as a result of this device. That makes this device a “must buy” for families with newborns in my book!
- Amazon Echo – $179.99
While your TV may be the screen of your home, and your phone may be the interface for your home, Amazon Echo is the ears of your home. With a simple call to “Alexa”, the default name for each Amazon Echo, this device allows you to ask it just about anything and it will respond.
Alexa integrates with all your favorite every day apps and gives you a voice control for them. “Alexa, play music” plays music. “Alexa, set an appointment with Bob for Friday at 12pm” will add an appointment to your calendar. The Echo even integrates with smart hubs like the Samsung Smart Hub, allowing me to control things around my house with my voice. “Alexa, turn on the lights” will turn on the lights. I even have it integrated with my fireplace through a Z-Wave relay I hooked up to work with my smart hub – “Alexa, turn on the fireplace” turns on the fireplace!
I especially like this device because the entire family uses it. One of our favorite things to do is have it play music for us while we play board games as a family. “Who Shot the Sheriff?” is a popular song while we play the popular card game, “Bang”. Whatever it is, you’ll grow to love this device the more you use it and play with it.
- DJI Inspire – $2619
Besides the Tesla, this is one of the few on my list that I don’t own, but DO have on my wishlist for 2016! Drones have been one of the major highlights of 2015, and I’d do a disservice if I didn’t have a drone on this list. They were in fact so popular that the US Government has required all drone owners to register or get fined.
The DJI Inspire is the Mercedes of the branded drones. With legs that retract above the camera, 4K video, and a gimbal that allows full, stabilized and unrestricted view of the entire landscape, this is an aerial photographer’s dream. As a photographer myself, this is something I definitely want to own some day to get some of those tough shots from above.
- Samsung Smart Hub – $99
In 2015 Samsung released its version 2.0 of its popular “Smart Hub” device which allows you to have full control of your home. The device connects over Wifi and Z-wave (and a few other wireless codecs) allowing you to tie all those devices together.
For instance, in my home when I come within proximity of my home, my phone lets the Smart Hub know over the internet, and the Smart Hub then notifies, over z-wave, my garage door opener to open for me. Then when I leave that proximity it closes again, automatically. I never have to push a button!
Another scenario is it can turn on certain lights in the morning when I wake up, or set my Nest thermostat to a certain temperature. It also notifies me when certain people come home, or when people are traveling through the house. With the Samsung Smart Hub I have full control over everything that happens in my house, and I don’t ever have to be there!