OK, let's be honest: A lot of people won't have fond memories of 2018. Even from a technology perspective, this year was dominated by, to name just two of the more ignominious issues of the past 12 months. But in terms of the actual consumer products that were released, 2018 was actually a pretty great year.
Yes, it was more about small refinements of existing categories and technology rather than big breakthroughs, but from a consumer perspective, that's actually a pretty good deal. And while the trend towards-- and pricier -- continued unabated at the high end, that same amount of money got you a gorgeous too. A bargain.
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Best phones of 2018
We may have reached "peak smartphone" in terms of sales, but the quality and overall excellence of phones has never been better. To that end, here are our favorite phones of 2018, as compiled by Jessica Dolcourt:
The best iPhone to get this year is also the cheapest. At $750, the iPhone XR lacks some of the extras of the iPhone XS and XS Max, but the most important features are the same on all three phones. That includes an excellent camera, vibrant screen, speedy performance and even longer battery life than the two step-up models. Face ID means that you'll be able to unlock your phone with a glance, securely pay for things and make Memoji avatars.
Google's Pixel 3 doesn't have three rear cameras or come in purple, but it's the phone recommendation we keep coming back to. The Pixel 3 takes the best photos -- including low-light pictures -- of any phone out right now. Period. And that's with one lone camera lens on the back. It's also water-resistant, can screen spam calls and can take wide angle group selfies. If you need more persuading, a Pixel phone puts you first in line for Android updates, and gives you free, unlimited photo storage on Google Photos.
The two most exciting things about the Note 9: Its huge battery that lasted over 19 hours in our in-house battery tests, and the fact that its minimum amount of storage is 128GB. If that doesn't tell you this phone was made for power users, then perhaps its massive 6.4-inch screen, robust Snapdragon 845 processor will convey. It came out of the gates at a whopping $1,000, but it's the best Samsung phone of the year. (But that Galaxy S10 is just around the corner...)
Speed, power and an awesome camera for about half the price of the iPhone XS or Galaxy Note 9. That's the appeal of the OnePlus 6T, which is our favorite midprice buy of the year. This handset is a brilliant all-rounder that includes perks like an in-screen fingerprint reader. Its lack of water resistance, however, is one slight drawback for the splash-prone.
If you're looking for a budget phone, this is the one. At $250, the Moto G6 is a rare beast, a cheap phone that's actually really good. Motorola has followed some of the most important trends of 2018, giving the Moto G6 dual rear cameras with portrait mode, and slimmer bezels than before. Some extra Moto software tricks add pizazz and a really nice way to navigate the phone one-handed.
Best TVs of 2018
David Katzmaier reviewed some of the best-ever TVs in 2018. These were his favorites.
It's definitely not cheap, but the B8 is still the least expensive 2018 TV to deliver the jaw-dropping picture quality of OLED. It has perfect black levels, accurate color, superb high dynamic range pop and looks great from any seat in your living room. Excellent LCD sets might cost less than half as much, but if you want the best a 55- or 65-inch picture you can get, it's OLED or bust. And the slightly more expensive C8 isn't worth the extra money.
You may not have heard of TCL, but the Chinese brand's 6 series upset this year's Vizio as our favorite TV for the money. Its full-array local dimming screen produces excellent image quality with plenty of contrast for the latest 4K HDR TV shows and movies, matching or surpassing any TV we've tested at the price. Its crowning extra is the dead-simple Roku TV operating system, our favorite take on the Smart TV.
Do you want a superb picture but can't afford that LG OLED TV? Vizio's Quantum is the next-best thing to OLED, blasting out a searingly bright picture with quantum dot color and 192 zones of full-array local dimming -- the LCD trifecta. Compared to high-end Samsung and Sony LCDs that cost a lot more, it definitely holds its own and handily outperforms any other Vizios and TCLs. Unfortunately it only comes in one size: 65 inches.
The non-Quantum Vizio P is an excellent midrange choice in its own right. It costs a bit more than our top midrange TV pick, the TCL 6 series, and isn't worth the extra money for most viewers at 55 and 65 inches. But unlike the TCL it comes in a 75-inch size too, and it's our top picture quality pick for the money of 2018 if you're in the market for that gigantic size.
If you don't want a Vizio or a TCL for some reason, this Sony also serves up an excellent picture and costs less than competing Samsung QLED sets (namely the Q8 and Q9). It's the storied brand's cheapest 2018 model to include full-array local dimming and while it's both more expensive and a slightly worse performer than the TCL 6 series and Vizio P series, it's still a great all-around TV. And it's available in sizes all the way up to 85 inches.
Best laptops and tablets of 2018
More versatile two-in-ones, a wider variety of Chromebooks, upgraded gaming laptops and a bevy of affordable tablets. Dan Ackerman and Josh Goldman pick the top products across the board.
Companies make product design changes all the time, but there's a difference between changing for the sake of change and actually using change to improve the product. Lenovo does the latter with the C930, making its ultraportable two-in-one better by turning its 360-degree hinge into a speaker soundbar, adding a privacy shutter to its web cam and giving it a garage to hold and charge the included active pen. Add to that excellent everyday performance and battery life and you've got a two-in-one that's tough to beat.
Regardless of where you stand on Chromebooks on the whole, the X2 is undeniably a terrific laptop with a great display, a comfortable keyboard and performance that'll make you happy you spent the extra money for this premium model. It's a fabulous tablet, too, and it comes with its stylus and keyboard.
There's really only tablet brand that really matters anymore, and it's Apple's iPad. While all the fancy Pro models are certainly impressive, the one you should actually buy is the classic non-Pro 9.7 model. It's reasonably priced, gets regular component and OS updates, and the latest version works with Apple's Pencil stylus, previously reserved for the pricey Pro models. Honorable tablet mention goes to Amazon's low-cost Fire HD models, especially the tricked out Kids Edition versions.
There are more powerful gaming laptops. There are less expensive gaming laptops. There are gaming laptops with more bells and whistles. But there's no other gaming laptop that so perfectly balanced power, design, portability and features than the revamped 2018 version of the Razer Blade. This minimalist matte black box jumps to a bigger 15-inch screen and a faster graphics chip, all in the same size body as last year's 14-inch model.
The laptop that declared war on big screen borders (or bezels, in tech-speak) had its best year ever in 2018, with the latest model tightening up the design, adding new components and getting even thinner and lighter. It's one of my main go-to picks as a 13-inch Windows alternative to Apple's 13-inch MacBook Air or Pro, held back only by some unfortunate webcam placement.
A laptop that's just 9mm thick doesn't have any right to be as full-featured as the Acer Swift 7 is. There's room for a 14-inch touchscreen, backlit keyboard, big touchpad and even a fingerprint reader. The 14-inch display is bigger than you'd expect, and the fan-free design (where would you even put a fan?) makes it a silent operator, as befitting its stealthy profile.
The best Windows laptop-tablet hybrid somehow just keeps getting better. The latest version makes a big jump in processing power to a new generation of quad-core CPUs (trust me, it's fast), while adding a mod-looking matte black option and keeping the industry's best two-in-one kickstand and keyboard design. It's the closest you can get fulfilling the tablet-as-full-time-PC promise, and our only gripe is that the clip-on keyboard and the stylus are both sold separately.
Apple gave us pretty much everything on the wish list for a long-awaited new version of the classic MacBook Air. New up-to-date processors, much better display, bigger touchpad, smaller screen borders, and a thinner, lighter body. Yes, there were some tradeoffs, including a super-flat keyboard, only USB-C ports and a significantly higher starting price, but it's still the king of super portable laptops.
Best smart home and appliances of 2018
CNET has an entire office -- and a standalone home! -- in Louisville, Kentucky where we evaluate the latest and greatest appliances and smart home gear in real-world environments. Rich Brown, who runs that operation, chooses the best products of the year that his team evaluated.
This washing machine was an Editor's Choice winner for the simple fact that it cleaned clothes better than any washing machine we've tested before or since. Part of the reason, we suspect, has to do with its detergent pod dispenser that premixes the water and the detergent, allowing the cleaning solution to start working from the moment it hits your clothes. Bonus: If you cohabitate with a stupid teenager who's enamored with a dated internet pseudo-trend, loading your pods in this washing machine leaves fewer pods available in the wild for them to consume.
DIY home security kits, usually comprised of a collection of sensors and a central control hub, are one of the best examples of smart home tech disrupting an existing market -- in this case, contract-based security systems that demand an expensive monthly fee.
SimpliSafe has long been our go-to pick for its competitive, contract-free pricing and comprehensive set of sensors. This year, the company gave its system a much-needed design-refresh, along with the ability to accept over-the-air firmware updates. The new system aced our tests, it syncs up with the August Smart Lock, and it works with Alexa and the Google Assistant for voice controls. If you want the most well-rounded DIY option that offers professional live monitoring, SimpliSafe gets the nod.
We liked the Nest Hello video doorbell when it came out earlier this year because it was the first on the market to offer face recognition. We like it even better now, because Google has seemingly demonstrated that it has a conscience regarding the use of its facial recognition tech. Google CEO Sundar Pichai said that the company will not license out its facial recognition technology to other companies until it has determined a rigorous set of policies to ensure the technology won't be abused. Counter that with Amazon-owned Ring's patent regarding automatically sending doorbell generated facial recognition data to law enforcement. If it comes down to siding with Big Brother versus (hopefully) not, we'll advocate for the latter every time.
Choosing one $50 Wi-Fi speaker over another one shouldn't be so fraught, but all of a sudden that decision now means you're potentially buying into an entire ecosystem of services and devices. If you're openminded and otherwise uncommitted enough from your phone and any smart home products that they won't factor into your decision making, we like the third-generation Amazon Echo Dot better than the second-gen Google Home Mini by virtue of the Echo Dot's slight edge in audio quality. Google Assistant is probably a better voice assistant than Alexa right now, but you really need to be a power user to tell the difference, especially if you're only interacting with it via speaker.
On the other hand, the Google Home Hub is a more useful smart display than Amazon's Echo Show. The Home Hub does a better job displaying your photos thanks to its adaptive brightness and image warmth features. It has a more intuitive smart home control screen than the Show, and thanks to its YouTube integration (which the Show lacks) the Home Hub is easier to use as a kitchen assistant. The lack of a camera on the Home Hub might be a negative, depending on how much you value privacy versus using a static countertop device for video chats. If you want a camera, we recommend the Lenovo Smart Display that uses the same software as the Home Hub.
Best home audio of 2018
Sure, smart speakers and Bluetooth audio dominates the mass market. But there's a whole next level of home audio that awaits once you're ready to enter the component world. That said, we have plenty of great sound bar options here, too -- all chosen by resident audio guru Ty Pendlebury.
AV receivers may not be drool-worthy tech these days but if you want to step up from a sound bar then they are a necessary evil. The Onkyo TX-NR585 is a thoroughly modern update on the classic design with a plethora of connectivity including plenty of HDR-compatible HDMI inputs and comprehensive Wi-Fi streaming. Nothing is future-proof but the Onkyo comes close, and it sounds great too.
This Vizio sound bar demonstrates that it's possible to elevate your TV sound for only a hundred bucks. It doesn't look cheap though, and it's flexible for a budget bar. Pair it with a smaller Vizio or Roku TV and you have a killer system for a second room.
Voice assistants are still a relative newcomer, but speakers like the excellent Polk Command Bar should help bring these digital helpers into the most used space in any home, the living room. The Polk is cheaper than the Sonos Beam and it sounds better thanks to the wireless sub.
This has been a great year for affordable loudspeakers with models like the Q Acoustics 3050i towers and the Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2. For $300 the Debuts offer tremendous insight and a glorious stereo image. Being an audiophile has never been so affordable.
Best headphones of 2018
In a world where headphone jacks are becoming ever more scarce, the inevitable trend is towards wireless headphones. And headphone expert extraordinaire David Carnoy has identified these three models as his top choices for 2018.
Sony's been trying to overtake Bose for the best noise-canceling headphone -- and it's finally done it with the WH-1000XM3. Its predecessor sounded a little better than the Bose and matched its noise cancelling capabilities, but with this new model, Sony engineers changed the shape of the headband, made the padding on the ear cups slightly softer and shaved off 20 grams of weight. The end result is a headphone that's clearly more comfortable and offers superior overall performance.
We like Apple's popular AirPods but Jabra's Elite 65t and Elite Active 65t true wireless earphones sound better and will fit some people's ears more securely than the AirPods. The Elite Active 65t has some small upgrades over the standard Elite 65t, and while they don't make a huge difference, they do serve to make an already excellent set of truly wireless headphones slightly better -- and that's why we awarded the Active Elite 65t an Editors' Choice over its less expensive sibling.
The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless earphones came along right at the end of the year and really impressed us. If you can absorb their $300 price tag and hour less of battery life (compared to the AirPods and Jabras), they're the best sounding truly wireless headphones you can currently buy.
Best wearables of 2018
Your smartwatch is in my fitness tracker! Your fitness tracker is in my smartwatch! Which is to say: Hard and fast definitions in the wearables category continues to blur, but these wrist-based products are delivering an increasingly amazing assortment of fitness and health data -- oh, and they can tell you the time, too. Scott Stein picks a duo of 2018 standouts.
There isn't a better-performing smartwatch at the moment than Apple's revamped, even faster, bigger-screened watch, even if its battery life could be better. The addition of an onboard electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) crosses over into FDA-cleared health territory, and points the way for where fitness trackers are headed next.
Fitbit's more-affordable-than-Apple-Watch wearable turned out to be a great blend of always-on tracking, notifications and plenty of weird watch faces to choose from. It's nearly the rebirth of the Pebble watch in fitness form.
Other notable 2018 products
Sure, it costs a little more than its predecessor and doesn't look much different, but the new Kindle Paperwhite (2018) is more durable, fully waterproof (it can be submerged underwater), and slightly lighter. Oh, and it adds Bluetooth audio for listening to Audible audiobooks. In short, it's now got all the features of the high-end Oasis (except the larger 7-inch screen) for a lot less money. -- David Carnoy
The Mavic Air received a CNET Editors' Choice award all the way back in February, giving DJI's competition a lot of time to release a drone to snatch its title. That never happened. Parrot came close with its Anafi, but it just doesn't have the smarts or camera quality of the Air. Plus, its fold-up compact design makes it one of the best options for anyone who wants to travel with drone. -- Josh Goldman
It's hard to recommend living in Facebook's world right now. But the Oculus Go turned out to be a well-made and affordable phone-free VR headset. It's easy to use, has a great display and in-headset audio, and is perfectly mobile for viewing 360 degree videos and short VR novelty apps. Hopefully other VR headset makers will take note. -- Scott Stein
Originally published Dec. 20, 10 a.m. PT.
Update, 2 p.m. Updated to correctly reflect SimpliSafe's integration with third-party voice services.