Australian technology news, reviews, and guides to help you
Australian technology news, reviews, and guides to help you

Pickr’s Best Picks: The best tech of 2022

It’s the end of 2022 as we know it, and we’re counting down the best tech we’ve seen all year. Which gadgets made the list?

Well 2022 has certainly been a year, but with a new one literally on the horizon and just about to kick in, it’s time we talk about the best technology we’ve seen. And there has been a lot.

We’ve seen gadgets of all sorts, from big eReaders to little ones, to portable gaming experiences, work from home accessories and peripherals, and stacks of headphones. Our reviews desk may never be the same.

But there still needs to be a best of for the year, and that’s where Pickr’s Best Picks come in. Which gadgets deserve a coveted Pickr Best Pick in 2022?

Best headphones: Sony WH-1000XM5 and Focal Bathys

It’s not always easy to make a decision, and between all the headphones we’ve tried this year, we have two clear favourites, though they differ based on feature set.

On the one hand, there’s the Sony WH-1000XM5, which follows on from the excellence we’ve seen from the WH-1000XM4 before them, and the XM3, XM2, and the original MDR-1000X. They’re more expensive this year and they don’t fold up, but they’re still one of the benchmarks in active noise cancelling headphones.

We’re also still in love with the Apple AirPods Max, but there’s more competition in the luxury headphone space this year, with French audio specialists Focal delivering a winner in the Focal Bathys.

These are not your every day noise cancelling headphones, coming with a sleek style, support for wireless, and a degree of active noise cancellation. That last part isn’t the best in the business, not like what you can get on the Sony XM5.

However, Focal goes an extra step in the Bathys and includes a built-in digital-to-analogue converter — a DAC — so you can plug them straight into a media player or phone using a Type C cable, and get the best audio out directly through the headphones. They’re so good at this, you won’t need a spare external DAC, which is something we’ve been using from one of the many options out there, such as the Astell & Kern DAC or the THX Onyx DAC.

Focal’s Bathys are just that little bit extra special, and while they’re not the best ANC headphones, they’re a taste of luxury and audiophile made for a wireless world.

Best earphones: Apple AirPods Pro and Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II

Much like the two great choices in headphones this year, there are two great choices in earphones if you’re looking for the best in-ear experience on any platform.

Apple’s second-gen AirPods Pro nail it over on the iPhone, with improvements to sound, comfort, and spatial audio with head-tracking, while Bose’s Quiet Comfort EarBuds II deliver an all-round uniform level of excellence on both iOS and Android.

Bose may well have the best noise cancellation of any truly wireless earphone this year, and it’s a technology that runs well regardless of your phone operating system, iOS or Android. Meanwhile, the AirPods Pro are almost as strong, but they also have spatial audio on the iPhone, a feature we love but is missing in action on the Bose model.

That makes both of them winners as far as we’re concerned, and either model will give you an excellent experience this year.

Best fitness earphones: Beats Fit Pro

One of our favourite pairs for the year popped up early into it, and if Apple hadn’t updated the AirPods Pro, they very likely would have still been our daily drivers. For quite a few months this year, they were definitely that.

We’re talking about the Beats Fit Pro, what are essentially the first-gen AirPods Pro built into a more comfortable design that holds onto the folds of the ear better than the original made by Apple.

You won’t get wireless charging in the case with this pair, but you will get solid noise cancellation, great sound, and support for spatial audio with head tracking if you have an iPhone, though Android users will get an app, something we wish Apple made for the AirPods Pro.

Best value earphones: Jabra Elite 5 and Soundcore Space A40

Not keen to spend more than $300 on a pair of truly wireless in-ears with active noise cancellation? We hear you, and this year was your year.

There. Were. Just. So. Many. Choices.

We had a hard time deciding on just one, so like in the other categories, we chose two. Specifically, we chose Jabra’s Elite 5 and Soundcore’s Space A40, because both represented value in a genuinely excellent way.

The Jabra Elite 5 delivered solid sound with acceptable noise cancellation in a great compact size with wireless charging and an app, and the same was true with the Space A40 from Anker’s portable sound brand, Soundcore.

It’s actually quite surprising how solid both were. While they are better options in ANC earphones — evident from the best earphones all year above — these two are fantastic value overall.

Best headphones for kids: JBL JR310BT

Kids tech didn’t have quite the year we yearned for this year, and while we saw some, we think a model from last year needs to keep its award this year. In fact, we’re changing our regular “best kids” tech award this year, because most of the kids tech we saw in 2022 was for kids headphones, and one stood out, even if it was from last year.

That model is JBL’s JR310BT, a pair of wireless headphones that is quite hard to beat for kids, so much that no other pair really has yet.

Best speaker: Sonos Ray

Next up is best speaker, and there have been some great choices here, too. One of the surprising models this year came from Sonos, and it’s a must-have for folks who are still using the tired and mediocre sound their TV puts out.

If you’ve never thought of upgrading your sound — or you have, but turned back because the price of an audio upgrade isn’t typically wallet-friendly — the Sonos Ray was a surprising shift from Sonos, which managed to shrink down the excellent tech from the previous Playbar into a pint-sized package.

While the Ray lacks the virtual spatial audio of last year’s Beam Gen 2, and certainly isn’t packing the upward speakers of the Sonos Arc, it delivers a great stereo sound for a great price that could be upgraded over time if you brought more Sonos speakers to the package, or maybe even a subwoofer. Sonos had a new one of those this year, as well.

Best smart speaker/display: Amazon Echo Dot with Clock

While there have been quite a few speakers this year, there haven’t been many smart speakers. Google has largely dropped the ball on releases there, and even on its smart displays, and Amazon has been left to pick up the pieces.

So this year’s best speaker you can talk to is a slightly updated Echo Dot with Clock, and the reason we think it’s the one to consider is for two reasons primarily: price and capability.

At under $100 in Australia, the price makes a lot of sense, particularly since you’re being given a slightly updated sound.

But the clock on the Echo Dot with Clock is now just that little bit extra handy, because it can tell you the weather and even what song is playing. Or you can even turn it off completely.

Best computer: Apple MacBook Air M2 and Dell XPS 15 OLED

Phones didn’t have the most exciting year, but computers became a little better this year, and in one particularly interesting area: the screen.

It’s an area we’ve complained about for years, often to the companies that make them. For so long, consumers would see screens not worth the price of the purchase, but 2022 appears to have changed that, at least with two very interesting machines.

In the 2022 MacBook Air, consumers were given a fantastically big and lovely 13.6 inch screen, plus a new chip, laptop design, and support for the MagSafe magnetic charger. Over on the PC side of things, Dell’s 15 inch XPS OLED offered up a delightful 15 inch OLED panel that shined, and delivered some excellent design and performance, too.

Best tablet: Apple iPad Air (M1)

Apple may well have had a new inexpensive take on the basic iPad, and of course a new quite expensive take on the iPad Pro, but the one that we fell for wasn’t either of these. Both are good, but taking on a more Goldilocks approach of “just right” is the M1 iPad Air, released earlier in the year.

This model gives you the same high-end chip from the previous iPad Pro, but skips out on the faster screen and Face ID, which is a compromise we’re actually happy with, and one we think most people will be cool with, as well. You save money compared to the iPad Pro, but the performance is very much the same, and that makes the iPad Air practically a bargain in the world of Apple tablets.

Best wearable: Apple Watch Ultra

Also a winner in the world of Apple this year is the Apple Watch Ultra, what is easily Apple’s most expensive wearable, but also one that finds value in the most surprising of places.

You might look at the $1299 price of the Watch Ultra and think it’s crazy, but compare it to the price of the Apple Watch Series 8, and it makes a lot more sense. Not only is it bigger and more durable, but the Ultra packs in a little more in the sensor department, plus also includes better battery life.

Yes, it’s expensive, but in a weird twist, Apple’s most expensive smartwatch is actually kind of worth the price. Confusing, we know.

Best home tech: Philips Hue HDMI Sync Box

Visual entertainment at home typically consists of a TV — often a big TV — but it doesn’t have to be just that TV.

One gadget that makes the experience that much better is something for the home, coming in the Philips Hue HDMI Sync Box, a special gadget that interprets the signals from a media source such as a game console or streaming TV box, and sends the colours of the edges of the screen to light sources around your room.

If that sounds like jargon, think of the Philips Hue HDMI Sync Box as a handy way to convert the edges of a video into colourful lights in your home, and just about the coolest way to impress the kids the next time they want to watch a bright and colourful Disney movie, or even anything else.

Best accessory: Belkin Boost Charge Pro 3-in-1 with MagSafe 15W

If you’re living in the world of Apple phones (not just Apple tablets or watches), you may want to check out our favourite accessory and peripheral for 2022: the updated version of the Belkin Boost Charge Pro phone and watch charger.

Sporting a MagSafe connector for iPhone models 12 and higher — including this year’s best iPhone models — plus a fast Apple Watch charger and an extra charge pad at the bottom for supported wireless earphones, Belkin’s Boost Charge Pro 3-in-1 is an instant winner if you live in the Apple world and want your gadgets charged, and charged fast.

Best surprise: Backbone One PlayStation Edition

One of the most surprising review gadgets this year was one we fell for hard, and it has changed the way we see our phones.

If you’re a gamer, you probably already look at your phone as a place to kick back and play, and you might be comfortable with the touchscreen controls. But if you’re not, getting used to mobile gaming isn’t always as easy as holding a proper controller, not like the sort on a real console.

The Backbone One blends the difference, offering a game controller that snaps into a phone and turns that big mobile of yours into a proper portable gaming system. It’s one of the few gadgets that totally surprised us, and one we now can’t live without.

Best music service: Apple Music

We all have access to a music service in some form these days, but in 2022, most didn’t evolve all that much. We’re still waiting on Spotify to join the lossless club, though it did add audiobooks this year, so that’s something.

Apple Music, however, remains the one to beat. While the support for lossless and spatial was added last year, Apple saw live music and live DJ sets get a more realistic sense of space with spatial support added this year, as well. Classical hasn’t quite seen the dramatic shift from Apple’s purchase of Primephonic yet, but we suspect that’ll come next year, and there’s even the inclusion of a karaoke mode in recent devices this year, too.

Frankly, Apple Music is giving more reasons to keep a subscription to it this year, and is leaving the other players for dust.

Best video service: Disney+

TV and movie services seemed to improve this year, too. Amazon delivered some impressive shows, and Apple TV offered great programming, as well. Netflix has a new plan with ads, a change we’re not sure we like, but it did add games to the list of features for premium subscribers, and Stan now has sports and some regularly added original Australian programming.

But we think Disney+ still might have the best selection in town. Somewhere between the inclusion of Disney, Marvel, Star Wars, National Geographic, and everything Fox, not to mention the occasional big concert and early release from the cinemas, Disney+ is one of those must-have services we can’t live without.

Best gaming service: Xbox Game Pass Ultimate

Another year ends for gaming services, and while Sony offered an updated PlayStation Plus program, it still has nothing on Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, at least locally.

Overseas, Sony lets gamers play its games remotely and on phones, which would have seen its service properly competitive against Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. Here in Australia? Not so much.

Xbox lets you do just that, and if you have a phone, laptop, tablet, or even a recent Samsung TV and a game controller, plus the Xbox subscription, you can get your game on without the Xbox console. Throw in that Backbone One controller we loved so much, and the whole thing is just magic.

New Samsung TVs now support Xbox Cloud Gaming without needing to own an Xbox console. You’ll need a game controller, sure, but provided you have an Xbox subscription, you can game on your TV without owning the console.
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