Looking back at my tech highlights of 2016

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It’s that time of year for look back at the last 12 months so I thought I would look back at some of the tech I have used and reviewed this year and some of the changes I have made during the year. 2016 has seen in my option Windows 10 to continue to go from strength to strength but in other areas I have moved away from some Microsoft products.

It’s been a great year for Windows 10 PCs. I have reviewed a lot of Windows 10 PCs ranging from the budget £150 Linx 1010B going up to the top of the range Dell XPS 15 and HP Spectra. An interesting trend in 2016 is that Windows devices OEMS have stepped up in quality and design of their offerings probably prompted by the success of Microsoft’s Surface range, no longer do Microsoft have the high ground with design as OEMS like ASUS, Dell and HP are producing high quality devices.

Dell XPS 15

One of the devices that stood out for me is the Dell XPS 15, I reviewed the 6th generation Intel version and Dell has now updated that to the latest 7th gen processors. The first thing I noticed about the XPS 15 is the 15.6 inch display running at 3840 x 2160 (4K UHD). It is incredibly sharp and bright and with the tiny 5.7mm bezel it looks amazing and is a real pleasure to use. Despite having a 15.6 inch display the laptop is about the size of most 14 inch devices. It has a premium build and a quad core i7 processor with an Nvidia GTX 960 graphics chip paired with 16GB of RAM and 512 GB solid state drive. As you can imagine from the specs the machine flies and I have been using it for my music recording and podcast production.

Here is my video review and you can read my full review here.

HP Spectre Pro 13 G1 Ultrabook

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Another high end devices I really liked was the HP Spectre Pro 13 G1 Ultrabook, at £1500 it is certainly a premium device and has a very elegant look. The great thing about the Spectre is its 10.4mm thick which makes my Surface Pro 4 feel positively chunky! The HP ditches the old HDMI and USB ports in favour of USB Type C / Thunderbolt 3 ports which means it has plenty of expansion potential. Inside the Spectre 13 is an Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB RAM and 512GB SSD drive. An impressive machine and one to consider if you want a high end notebook.

Here is my video review and you can find my full review here

Lenovo Yoga Book

One OEM that created something different in 2016 was Lenovo with the Yoga Book. The Yogo Book is a 2-in1 tablet like nothing else I have used before. This device doesn’t have a traditional keyboard; it has a fully digital keyboard that is also a Wacom digitiser for use with real pen. You can use it to take notes on real paper which get digitised real time. Getting rid of the traditional keyboard means it’s thin, closed it is 9.6mm thin and with a solid feel and curved edge. It makes a great Windows 10 tablet with the option of the pen and the Halo keyboard. While the specs are a little on the basic side; 10.1-inch screen, Atom processor x5-Z8550, 64GB storage and 4GB RAM it is actually a really nice device and my favourite device for catching up on Twitter, Facebook and browsing the web.

Here is my video review and you can find my full review here.

Surface Pro 4

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My main device and the device that I have just about written every article on TDL in 2016 is my Surface Pro 4. This to me has the best compromise of portably and power. The Type Cover keyboard has a large trackpad supporting gestures and well-spaced keys, I have done a lot of typing on the keyboard and find it very combatable to type on. I can certainly type on the keyboard as fast as I can on a full sized laptop keyboard. The 12.3 inch screen is great for editing photos, the high resolution display is sharp, bright and clear with excellent colour reproduction. I edit my videos and podcast on it and you use it in tablet mode while sitting on the sofa. So this is my favourite devices I have used in 2016.

From Lumia 950 XL to Google Nexus 6P

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I started the year with a Lumia 950 XL which I purchased in October 2015. The hardware is nice, its fast and Windows 10 Mobile progressed well throughout the year. Even with the phone on the Windows Insiders Fast Ring I didn’t have many stability issues and gained plenty of features. Having said that I switched to a Nexus 6P running Android for the simple reason of apps. Many of the apps I want to use are not available on Windows 10 Mobile: Smart home apps, Tile, Android Pay, Drone flight app, banking app, the list goes on. Microsoft make switching easy by offering Office, Groove, Outlook, Onenote and all its most popular apps on Android and iOS. As much as I love Windows 10 Mobile the apps situation made it impossible to continue. I have used Android before and switching was easy especially with Outlook being used for my main email. The Nexus 6P is a good phone, it has a finger print reader on the back which I found works better than the camera based Windows Hello. It is a more natural action to be put your finger on the back of the phone to sign it than it is to bring the phone up to face height and let it scan your face. During the year the Nexus 6P got the Android 7.0 and 7.1 updates and Android is now a very smooth and elegant operating system, while I prefer Windows 10 Mobile Android is good enough to an alternative. Overall I found the switch to Android painless and simple, it’s a shame I had to switch but at this stage sticking with Windows 10 Mobile is not an option for me.

From Microsoft Band 2 to Moto 360 Sports

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For the last couple of years I have been using a Microsoft Band, first the original generation one band which I had three (due to each one splitting) and then I got Band 2 which I am on my 2nd (again due to the band splitting) and while I like the Microsoft Band my 2nd Band 2 has started to split and I wanted to try Android Wear so I picked up a Motor 360 Sport which runs Android Wear 1.5. Having initially been excited by the proposition of having apps on my watch in the end all I have found I use for it is notifications which is all I used the Band for so despite it having lots of features I haven’t gained a lot.

Smarting up the home

One thing I have started to do in 2016 is smarten up my home. I started with D-Link Smart Plugs which have schedules, energy monitoring and IFTTT support. I have been using them to control my Christmas lights via Amazon Alexa. This is where I can see my continuing in 2017 by adding more devices that can be controlled by Amazon Alexa.

When I first got an Amazon Dot I was a little disappointed which what I could do with it but since my original purchase Amazon added IFTTT support so you can trigger IFTTT applets. If you have a supported device like the TP-Link plugs you can control them directly from Alexa but my D-Link plugs are not supported so I setup IFTTT applets so I can say to Alexa “Trigger Tree Lights On” and it will turn on my Christmas Tree lights. I am going to see if I can get Alexa to control my Sonos which would make it useful for me. While I am not getting to much out of Alexa yet I can see it being the interface to the smart home and Microsoft have a lot of work to be done if they can catch up.

So for me 2016 has been a good year for Windows 10 and the devices available on the market. It has been a bad year Windows 10 Mobile and a good year for Android. I have to say I pretty much ignored iOS, I have an iPad Mini but I very rarely used it, my wife got a new iPhone 7 and while works well for her I find it a little boring. Let’s see what 2017 brings!

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About the author Ian Dixon:
Ian Dixon is a Microsoft MVP (Most Valuable Professional), founder of TheDigitalLifestyle.com tech site and producer of the weekly The Digital Lifestyle Show podcast. Ian has been writing and talking about Windows for over 10 years and has over 20 years in IT as an IT Manager. Ian has thousands of followers on Twitter and Facebook and over 4 million views on his YouTube channel.
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