2016 tech that lived up to the hype (and tech that didn't)

It's been a year of big promises and quiet achievers in tech, but what blew us all away and what just blew it?

Luke Lancaster
1 of 17 Josh Miller/CNET

HYPE: Virtual reality

2016 was the year of VR, with the release of the heavy-hitting Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR. And, across the board, the serious VR hardware made a splash, wowing CNET's reviewers and showing huge promise.

2 of 17 Oasis Games

NOT HYPE: Virtual reality (again)

The problem is that all the hardware in the world won't make up for lacking VR experiences. Hopefully 2017 will bring with it the kinds of watershed VR experiences that truly sell a mass audience on the nascent tech, rather than a couple of brief standout experiences.

3 of 17 Sarah Tew/CNET

HYPE: Nintendo goes mobile

The gaming giant made waves this year by finally moving into the phone space after years of reluctance. While Miitomo, its social platform launch title, raised eyebrows around the world, Mario Run is a certified hit for iOS. Plus, Niantic's Pokemon Go also deserves a mention (even though Nintendo wasn't involved in development).

4 of 17 Sarah Tew/CNET

NOT HYPE: New TV tech

Have we all forgotten about the stunning visual of LG's rollable OLED screen from CES? It might be unfair, but when screen upgrades in 2016 were more to the tune of UHD Blu-ray, it's hard not to feel a little disappointed.

5 of 17 Apple

HYPE: iPhone 7

It's a new iPhone (and not an S upgrade). That's practically synonymous with hype. While the absent 3.5 mm jack might not be as "courageous" as Apple suggested, the sterling camera, water resistance and battery life made the latest Apple handset worth the wait.

6 of 17 Sarah Tew/CNET

NOT HYPE: Samsung Galaxy Note 7

In our wrap of Most Anticipated Tech of 2016 we wrote that the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 was coming in hot. No, we really did. Little did we know how hot. The phone itself launched to widespread acclaim, but a disastrous manufacturing fault led to two product recalls, dozens of exploding batteries and a lot of egg on Samsung's face.

7 of 17 Josh Miller

HYPE: Pixel by Google

2016 marked the death of the Nexus, Google's phone brand. This year, the search giant, amid wild rumour and speculation, took a leaf out of Apple's book, ditched its co-branding with a partner manufacturer and designed its Pixel range from the ground up. And the Pixel and Pixel XL are really very good.

8 of 17 Google

NOT HYPE: Modular smartphones

Google also bid farewell to Project Ara, and the promise of add-ons on the fly for your phone went with it. While Motorola made some headway in the modular phone market with the Moto Z range, it wasn't enough to get the concept over the line.

9 of 17 Laura Martínez/CNET

HYPE: Microsoft's Surface

While the Surface range has won more than a few adherents, the 2016 unveiling of the Surface Studio and Surface Dial pointed to a level of innovation and design that few would have expected from Microsoft. The contextual haptic feedback and control provided by the dial and the bonkers resolution on the Studio turned heads, and with good reason.

10 of 17 Jason Cipriani/CNET

NOT HYPE: MacBook Pro

The Touch Bar -- love it or hate it -- is the standout feature on Apple's new top of the line notebook. And while the controversial new Touch Bar is winning praise for novelty and scorn for limited functionality, it's not the real problem -- that's the premium price attached to hardware that lacked the grunt you'd expect from the "Pro" branding.

11 of 17 Sarah Tew/CNET

HYPE: NES Classic

Nintendo's miniature box of retro gaming houses 30 classic games, and it costs under $60/£50/AU$100. Nintendo made the nostalgia play and it hit us where it hurt. Damn right we were hyped. The problem was actually getting your hands on one...

12 of 17 Mophie

NOT HYPE: Wireless charging

While there might have been some signs of (battery) life at CES 2016, wireless charging as a standard still felt more like a gimmick than a feature. While some products have teased it in the future, there's still been no massive uptake of no-strings-attached charging. And even though the technical realities are a big enough hurdle, we now also need to factor in legal stoushes and format wars.

13 of 17

HYPE: Tesla

Elon Musk continued his quest for world domination with the new models in the Tesla range. And while it's still a few years until you can get your hands on the keys, the most exciting one is the Model 3. The reason? At $35,000 it's the cheapest Tesla yet. This one is the game changer for Tesla, and for electric motors as a whole.

14 of 17 Wayne Cunningham/Roadshow

NOT HYPE: Self-driving cars

That said, you're still needed behind the wheel. Despite pilot (or is that autopilot?) programs from Uber and iterative improvements in collision detection and navigation, the tech just hasn't caught up with the promise of robo-chauffeurs. But as they say, there's always next year.

15 of 17

HYPE: Space travel

We may not have nuked Mars, but 2016 saw massive headway in reusable rockets, with nuked Mars private space companies Space X and Blue Origin taking giant leaps in the modern space race to Mars. On a more scientific front, we also got images of Juno and discovered gravitational waves. It's time to get excited about space again.

16 of 17 Microsoft

NOT HYPE: Machine learning

On one hand, we've got the horny, racist robot. On the other, we've got an AI that's really good at board games. While 2016 didn't spell the robot apocalypse, machine learning -- that is artificial intelligence that can learn independent of its programming -- never really impressed without an in-depth explanation of why it was impressive.

17 of 17

HYPE: Augmented reality

AR very nearly flamed out, but it's still so early that hype, tech demos and the promise of what it could be has me captivated. The Microsoft Hololens is the big name in AR, and it saw a very promising showing in 2016. Whether or not it leapfrogs VR in the coming year remains to be seen, but it's well poised to do so.

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