And so here we are coming to the close of another year, and it's once again leaving me feeling like I can't grasp where the time has gone. It feels like just yesterday I was packing up and heading to CES in January, and here we are now in December. It's been another big year for Android, mobile and the tech world at large, and there has been a lot of awesomeness coming from all corners. It also saw trips to a couple of shows I'd not been to before, seeing new things and cities not usually on the rotation.
On a personal note, it's also the end of my first full year being a dad. Having someone to be responsible for has changed a ton of things in my life, and it's certainly helped take a different perspective on some things.
But now, onto the list. It was pretty tough to nail down but here's a little round up of some of my favorite things and indeed places from the last 12 months.
1. The HTC Vive
I could easily have grouped this up as a best "WTF" moment, too — and that's in a good way — because that is absolutely the reaction that escaped from my mouth the moment I strapped the headset on. I'm nowhere near as into the virtual world as our resident Mr. Russell "VR" Holly, but I have this year sampled two of the big dogs: Oculus and the Vive with Steam VR. I tried the Oculus for the first time at Computex and will happily admit it changed my opinions on something I was previously super skeptical about.
But at Gamescom out in Cologne, Germany, I got to try the Vive. And ever since I've been encouraging friends, co-workers, whomever it may be to check it out if there's a chance. The immersion is pretty insane, and the field of view mind-blowing, especially compared to the Oculus. And the fact you can move around the room, I honestly had to keep telling myself it wasn't real. How it'll fare as a consumer product only time will tell. But as a piece of engineering it's magnificent.
And because I went solo, there's no goofy picture of me with it strapped to my head. Sorry, folks.
2. A Nexus phone I actually properly like
For a while now I've been the resident Huawei "fan" on the AC team, and I genuinely like what the Chinese manufacturer has been doing. If the software experience were better, I'd happily recommend the likes of the Mate S to anyone. So then, enter the Nexus 6P. Everything good about Huawei built hardware, software from Google, perfect match. Oh, and the camera's good, too.
While I expected the Nexus 6P to be good, I didn't expect to actually like it as much as I do. I'll openly admit to not being much of a Nexus guy. I dabble with them, of course, but I do miss some of the cool features that get added on top of Android and there's always something about a Nexus that puts me off. Poor camera, not great battery life, low internal storage (looking at you Nexus 4.) The 6P doesn't suffer any of those. The battery life is fantastic, the camera is superb and the base line is 32GB of internal storage. Roll that in with great build, a nice display, front facing speakers and a pretty kick ass fingerprint scanner and there's not much to dislike.
The fact that Google hasn't built in a reboot feature into the power button menu is probably the worst thing I can say about it. And we're pretty unanimous in agreeing across the team it is the best Android phone you can buy right now.
3. I like the BlackBerry Priv more
I'm a BlackBerry guy of old. Before I used Android I used BlackBerry. Even for a while alongside Android I used a BlackBerry. I just loved that keyboard and I loved getting things done on it. It's no surprise that my first Android phone was the Motorola Milestone (or the Droid, for you Americans out there) because it had a physical keyboard. But it wasn't great. So when I first heard about the Priv I wanted it to be good. And I was still a little surprised at how good it actually was. It's my favorite phone this year.
Sure, it's not perfect, we've seen a couple of quality control issues and some of the software out of the box is laggy as all hell. But it's finally a BlackBerry that doesn't compromise. By putting Android on the phone instead of BB10 you immediately delete the app gap, harnessing instead the power of the Google Play ecosystem.
And BlackBerry has been smart about how it made the Priv, too. It didn't cut corners and it put stuff on there to impress people. Decent camera, microSD card slot, 32GB internal storage and a gorgeous, curved QHD display. And of course, the keyboard. What I hope now is that it does well enough for BlackBerry that the company keeps on making kick ass Android phones for years to come.
4. Using tech with my kid
As a Dad for the first time it's been quite exciting watching my son throughout his first year on Earth begin to grow and change and react more to the world around him. He's very definitely my boy, because his eyes light up at all things technology. From being fascinated with the light and beep combination of turning on Daddy's Xbox One, through imitation by grabbing an old keyboard of mine and typing like I do for most of the day and now, to starting to enjoy a variety of kids TV shows.
I'm amazed at how much I've been able to use and interact with him with though. We use Hue lamps in some areas of the house, one of which is dedicated as a nightlight. Then there's YouTube Kids, dedicated child-friendly YouTube videos and of course, Netflix and Amazon Prime, where my recommendations are now notably less action, more cutesy. And not forgetting the quality of the camera on the phones I've used this year. I've taken thousands of photos of my son and most of the time I've been pretty happy with the results.
5. Computex Taipei
There are two trade shows that I hit for the first time this year, and the highlight was very much Computex. The annual tech show held in Taipei is mostly for PCs (the show was covered by myself and Alex Dobie for both AC and Windows Central) and several things made it one of the most memorable work trips I've ever been on. The first is the setting. Taipei is a fantastic city full of friendly people, history, great food and insane technology shopping. From the top of the Taipei 101 tower to the bustling Guanghua tech markets, a visit to the famous Shilin Night Market and the infamous Din Tai Fung, Computex week is one that will live in the memory for some time.
But the show sold itself to me, too. I'm not going to say it was quiet, because it was far from it. Alex and I did some major hustling across a city we'd never been to in heat and humidity unlike anything we'd experienced. But there was something about it that set it apart from a CES or an MWC. Maybe people there are more polite, I couldn't put my finger on it. But a day on the show floor there didn't feel as tiring as a comparable day in Vegas or Barcelona.
If Taipei is somewhere you ever gave even half a thought to visiting, go there. I can't wait to go back.
6. The Dell XPS 13
This year I made a major shift from using Mac, going back to Windows. The Dell XPS 13, first launched at CES, was a major part of that. Replacing a 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, the XPS 13 has been my go-to laptop since February and I haven't looked back. I never really used any Mac-exclusive software, so the transition wasn't particularly painful. I had to find a Windows equivalent of TextExpander and a new video editor, but otherwise everything else was already a mostly cross-platform affair.
The XPS 13 is like my perfect travel notebook. Thanks to the almost bezel-free Infinity display, it packs a 13-incher into the form factor of something closer to Apple's 11-inch MacBook Air, while still having an Intel Core i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD drive and a ridiculous QHD+ 3200x1800 resolution touch display. I don't care whether it's overkill or not, the display is gorgeous.
It's powerful enough to do everything I need it to do for work, it's small and light enough to throw in a bag and it doesn't have terrible battery life. A winner all 'round in my book.
7. Microsoft Band
Other than the original Pebble, I haven't yet found myself wearing a smartwatch for any great length of time. I also never really got into fitness bands. So a product like the Microsoft Band shouldn't have appealed to me at all. It's kind of between both categories with a lean towards the fitness band. But I'm surprised how much I like it and how much I've actually used it.
As a new dad, I've been able to determine the sleep tracking is pretty accurate, it gets a couple of days battery life and shows me the most important things I need to see during my day. As well as being able to pay for my Starbucks. The icing on the cake is that it supports Android, iOS and Windows Phone, so I can use it with literally every phone on my desk.
I've not yet jumped in and upgraded to Band 2. The only major attraction to me is the improved aesthetics and the new music controls. But for now, I'll cope just fine without sinking £200 on one.
8. Amazon Prime and Netflix Originals
I'm a firm believer that the best new shows on television right now are coming from Amazon and Netflix. Case in point: The Man in the High Castle. This show had me hooked immediately and while I haven't finished it at the time of writing (no spoilers, please) it's one of the best shows I've seen this year. House of Cards is a famous example from Netflix, of course, now throwing out the likes of Jessica Jones.
Amazon also has the crown jewel of British TV on its books for 2016. The old Top Gear crew will be delivering its new show exclusively to Prime Video subscribers, and I already know a bunch of people who will be signing up just to watch it.
By contrast I'm watching less and less "traditional" TV. I've been skeptical about the idea of cord cutting, but as 2015 has progressed I'm seeing more and more benefit to it. I'll be interested to see where I stand on that 12 months from now.