2015 Boomie Awards – Best Tech for 50+

March 17, 2016  
Filed under Business

By Gary M. Kaye, Chief Content Officer, Tech50+ (www.tech50plus.com)

While there were many great products that came to market in 2015, there were only a handful of really new breakthrough technologies. Many of the best products of the year represented improvements on already existing products or form factors. Regardless of whether they were intentionally designed with the 50+ market in mind or not, many have turned out to be well suited to us. To pick the best in each category we looked at a variety of factors:

Is it 50+ Friendly? – Does it have features that make it easy for those of us over 50 to use?

Quality – Is the product built to last? Is it solid, well-built, and reliable? Is it easy to setup? Is the manual readable and understandable? Does it do what it’s supposed to do?

Value – our product choices are not always the most or least expensive in each category, but we aim for those products that offer the best bang for the buck.

Here now, our picks:

Best Smartphone

Google/Huawei Nexus 6P with Project Fi – This is the first time Google has partnered with Chinese electronics maker Huawei to create a flagship Nexus phone. The Nexus 5X and 6P are the first phones to use the latest Android 6.0 operating system, Marshmallow. They can also take advantage of Google’s Project Fi, which provides low cost service by trying to do as much of its calling as possible over wi-fi, and if there’s no wi-fi available, it then uses either T-Mobile or Sprint. The Nexus 6P is compatible with all major U.S. carriers including Verizon. It features a big bright 5.7” AMOLED screen, two loud front facing stereo speakers, and a sleek machined aluminum case. It has a 12.3-megapixel rear facing camera and an 8 MP front facing camera. The Nexus 6P does not have wireless charging capability but is one of the first phones on the market to use the quick charging Type C reversible plug which substantially speeds recharging. Price for an unlocked 32GB version is $499. Price for 128GB is $649. Project Fi plans are as low as $20/month, a plan with 3GB of data is $50/mo.

Honorable mention –Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge + This is the slickest design that Samsung has yet produced. It has a great screen, fast wireless charging, an impressive 16MP rear camera with an f1.9 lens opening. The Edge display offers easy to access information along the phone’s edges. Price for the unlocked 32GB version is just about $650.

Best Desktop Computer

Hewlett Packard 34” Curved Envy All-In-One – You may want to get a bigger desk. HP claims this is the widest all-in-one computer on the market. And we haven’t seen any reason to challenge that. It’s all about the design. It is a clean chassis that looks good not just on an office desk, but also on your living room coffee table. Ports are tucked out of the way. And that screen. Watching movies on this machine may mean you’ll never get much work done. Not only does it provide a great visual experience, but it comes with six front firing Bang & Olufsen speakers. But if you do decide to work, the screen is large enough so you can put two full sized documents side by side and work on both rather than switching between them. Think tax time and working on tax forms and bank statements simultaneously. Models begin with an Intel Core i5 processor upgradable to Core i7. It starts with 12GB of internal memory and 1TB of hard drive storage. The screen is 34” curved diagonal widescreen WQHD LED-backlit (3440 x 1440). Pricing begins at about $1750.

Best Portable Computer

The Lenovo Yoga 900 – This past year has seen an acceleration in the blending of technologies in portable computers. Laptops, convertibles, hybrids, and two-in-ones all have their attractions, but even with a scorecard it’s tough to tell which is which. So we’re lumping them all together. Lenovo has made big bets on its Yoga format, and they’ve paid off. Last year’s Boomie winner, the Yoga 3 Pro has been upgraded to the Yoga 900, with improvements that we think merit this year’s Boomie. It uses an innovative watchband style hinge to connect the keyboard with the tablet display. The 13.3” diagonal display is 3200 by 1800 pixel is bright and crisp. It provides up to nine hours of battery life. We couldn’t sum it up better than Laptop Magazine did: “Lenovo’s flagship 2-in-1 is the total package when it comes to hybrids, featuring a stunning design, solid performance and a supersharp display.” Models begin with an Intel Core i5 processor and 512GB of hard disk storage. The machine has a full sized SD card slot, and comes with one USB 2.0 port that doubles as the DC power input, two USB 3.0 ports, and one of those new-fangled USB reversible Type C ports. It weighs in at about 2.8 lbs, less than the MacBook Air. Pricing begins at about $1200. 

Best Tablet Computer

Apple iPad Pro – Yes, for the 50+ audience size very much matters. The iPad Pro takes everything we’ve always liked about the iPad and upped it a notch. But Apple hasn’t just made a big tablet, though with it’s 12.9” Retina display, this certainly is bigger. But the iPad Pro fundamentally changes the device from consumption to creation. There’s an available $99 Apple Pencil, that lets you be wonderfully creative with drawings, or photo editing. But it is also about productivity. With its clever keyboard cover this looks suspiciously like the Microsoft Surface pro, or its imitators from Lenovo and HP. Instead of using Bluetooth to connect the keyboard, this device has a magnetic lock that powers the keyboard directly from the iPad Pro. Lots of people talk about the “immersive experience”. But with its size and four built-in speakers, watching a movie on the Pro comes very close to being immersive. It’s more money than you may have spent on a tablet in the past, but it’s the first iPad that can truly serve as a laptop replacement, with less weight. iPad Pro also enhances the multi-touch experience, so, if you’re partial to letting your fingers do the walking this may actually be a better experience than the MacBook Air. But be prepared to pay for this flexibility. The base model with 32GB and wi-fi is $799. The smart keyboard cover is another $169, and the pencil will tack on another $99 for a total of $1067. Of course adding memory or 3G capability will raise the price. 

Best Smartwatch 

Samsung Galaxy Gear s2 3G version – We’ve seen a huge wave of smartwatches hit the market this year. We picked the Samsung primarily for one reason. You can leave your phone behind and still make and receive calls with it. Just about every other smartwatch we’ve seen requires you to be tethered to the smartphone. Most of the major carriers are carrying the Gear S2 3G version, but there are some differences. Some require you to get a separate phone number, while others, such as AT&T will basically let you use your Gear S2 like a phone clone. Beyond the phone functionality, there are a number of other factors that set the Gear S2 apart. One is it’s rotating bezel that makes it easy to move among apps and functions. We like the watch’s ability to use nice large, legible font without having to jump through hoops. Fitness functions are easy to use, and the watch is waterproof so it won’t get damaged during a workout, or even if you shower afterwards. AT&T sells the Gear S2 for $300 with no contract, or $100 with a two-year contract. 

Best Big Screen Television

LG 65” Curved OLED 4K Television – 2015 was the year in which many of the major television makers refined their UHD 4K technology and in which prices dropped substantially. Yes, now you can get some big 4K sets for about $1000 but we found some major differences that might make you consider going upscale. There are still only a limited number of sources for native 4K content, though that is slowly changing, especially with agreement on a new Blu Ray 4K disc format. But if you do need to upgrade your television, it makes sense to move up to 4K. But which one? This was a tough decision, with some really great big screen 4K sets from both Samsung and Sony, but in the final analysis we concluded that the big LG with OLED technology is the best in breed. While some people are not thrilled with the curved sets, we really enjoyed this one. Admittedly if you have a big crowd, not everyone will get the best viewing angle. But if it’s just you and your significant other, this is an immersive experience. The LG OLED technology provides the blackest blacks we’ve seen, as well as the sharpest, brightest colors. There’s no better way to experience it than to walk into your local retailer and see the sets side by side. We think you’ll notice. We’ve seen it priced at just under $5000.

Best Camera 

Sony A7R Mark II – The latest iteration of Sony’s full frame Alpha flagship digital Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera does it all, and does it all extremely well. Both stills and video. Not that previous versions were shabby, but Sony added some significant upgrades to make this a prosumer’s dream. At the top of the list is a very impressive new 42.4-megapixel back-illuminated Exmor R full-frame CMOS sensor. This brand new sensor makes it possible to have a camera that not only provides very high-resolution stills and 4K video, but also provides a high performance and speedy experience that’s typically seen with lower-resolution cameras. The newest version promises better compatibility with third party lenses. It also has speedier autofocus. Sony also says the camera has a new shutter system that reduces shutter vibration by 50%, and that should give you even sharper images at high resolution. Price is $3200.

Best Assistive Technology Device

Orcam MyEye – For all too many of us impediments that were once annoyances turn into truly challenging disabilities as we age. MyEye is targeted to those who are legally blind or suffer from extremely low vision. Created by the Israeli firm, Orcam, MyEye uses a combination of machine vision, facial recognition, and artificial intelligence. It looks like Google Glass, but that’s where the similarity ends. A small camera clips onto your eyeglasses and uses a bone conduction earpiece so you can hear what it has to say. A wire connects to a pocket sized computing device which can be clipped to a belt or put in a pocket. I had an opportunity to try it out and found it pretty simple to use. You turn your head in the general direction of what it is you wish to read, be it a newspaper, a sign, a menu, cereal box, whatever. You then use your finger and actually point to what you want to read and MyEye begins reading in your ear. It uses a combination of technologies including computer vision, optical character recognition and facial recognition. It can store hundreds of objects that you teach it to recognize, for example your favorite brand of cereal, or a household item like hand soap. When you run across someone you interact with, you can “teach” the Orcam MyEey to recognize the face.

It does not require any kind of broadband, wi-fi, or Bluetooth connection in order to operate. OrCam’s MyEye is being sold directly by the company. It has already been rolled out in a score of U.S. markets. The purchase price of $3500 includes hands on training by an Orcam team member.

Best Driver Assist Device

Garmin NuviCam – This is a feature packed device that merits space on your windshield as your smartest and safest traveling companion. Garmin started with the best features of its PND (personal navigation device) line, including a six-inch touch screen display, voice command, lifetime maps, real time traffic alerts, and a huge number of searchable points of interest. It has added a dash camera to record any untoward incidents on the road, and an alert system that will warn you of an impending frontal collision or if you’re drifting out of your lane. It’s put all of that into a sleek metal case with a secure magnetic mount that makes it easy to put on and take off with a minimum of fumbling. For those of us with less than perfect vision, or night vision issues, using a dedicated PND has some significant advantages over asking your smartphone to do double duty. For starters, the display is specifically configured for navigation. With voice command you don’t have to take your hands off the wheel to interact with the unit. You can simply ask it to find an address or a point of interest. Unlike a smartphone, you’re not going to be distracted by incoming text messages, or looking to have it play music through your connected car. The NuviCam’s dash camera will even display a street view as your approach your destination so you won’t miss that driveway. Price $400. 

Best Home Security Device 

Ring Doorbell – After looking at dozens of security cameras and alarm systems, we concluded that the Ring Video Doorbell was simply the most useful of the whole lot and very easy to install. The idea is simple. Someone comes to your door and you want to know who it is, whether you’re at home and worried about your own safety. The visitor pushes the Ring Video Doorbell and instantly you’re alerted on your smartphone. You can see the visitor then decide what to do. Is it a package delivery? Do you want them to leave it someplace else on your property? Just tell them via the two-way link. Or is it a potential threat, or just a solicitation you want to ignore. In any event, the Ring gives you options. It’s easy to install, simple to operate, and just makes a lot of sense. Price is $199. 

Best Connected Home Device 

Amazon Echo – This is the first easy to use voice command device that truly opens up the promise of the connected home. It’s a cylindrical device that can sit on a kitchen counter, an end table in the family room, or pretty much anywhere else as long as a plug is within reach. You talk, it listens and responds. Somewhat like Apple’s Siri, but different in that it works without needing a phone nearby. Echo connects to your home network via WiFi, and is listening all of the time for its name. By default, that name is Alexa. You can ask Echo to add items to your shopping list, to-do list, ask it if it is going to rain, if your favorite sports team is winning. Want to hear the news? Just ask. A traffic report? Ditto. And the responses are remarkably fast. When you ask a question, you don’t have to pause after saying “Alexa” either. Just say something like, “Alexa, is it going to rain tomorrow?” And within a second or maybe two, you’ll be hearing the forecast in a voice that is every bit as pleasant sounding as Siri’s. And Echo can hear you from across the room, even with the music playing. 

Sure, it can act like a Bluetooth speaker playing your favorite music, but it’s real power lies in the burgeoning ecosystem that’s being developed around Echo. Amazon has put out a Software Developer’s Kit (SDK) so other companies can connect. At the recently concluded CES we saw dozens of companies that are working with Echo to turn on or off your lights, lock your doors, adjust your thermostat, find and play your favorite music and much more. We think the number of companies and devices that will connect with Echo will continue to expand dramatically in the coming years. Price is $180 at, of course, Amazon. 

Best Audio Player

The Aura Note V2 All-In-One Music Center – The Aura was first introduced in 2005 and picked up an avid following. The second version was eight years in the making and is quite impressive. From a design perspective, this is a very attractive unit with a stainless body, a bright red LED display, and a CD tray with an innovative clear sliding cover. Iif you have powered speakers, a power amp, or a sub-woofer, you can tap from the Aura’s pre-amp section. For traditional speakers, the Aura pumps out 125 Watts-per-channel. It can play your music from almost any source. It has a top loading CD player. There’s an FM tuner with 20 presets. There are two auxiliary inputs for external analog devices, an optical digital input (handling up to 24bit/192kHz), and a primary USB port for use with portable music players like MP3 players or USB memory devices (FLAC 96/24, WAV 44.1/16, MP3, WMA) and a secondary USB port for use with personal computers. We’ve coupled the Aura Note with a variety of Hi-Res and traditional inputs, as well as a number of powered and unpowered speaker sets and headphones. In each case, the music reproduction was excellent. And the fact that it comes in a small, sleek chassis makes it easy on the eyes as well as the ears. Available at Amazon for $2749.

Best e-bike 

Stromer ST-2 – This is a new category for this year’s Boomies, but we think that e-bikes are just wonderful for the 50+ crowd. And we think the Stomer ST-2 is the state of the art, though admittedly we’ve also seem some new bikes due out this year that could be even better. But the Swiss-built Stromer delivers great technology, great performance, and comfort, though at a price, almost $7000. We tried the low step version and found it had enough power to take the worst hills Vermont’s back roads challenged us with, and enough juice to do 40 miles, with plenty left. It primarily relies on a pedelec system (you need to pedal to get the motor to kick in) but it also has a throttle to get you started on a hill, or starting from a red light. It is connected, with a variety of built-in measurements including power, speed, distance, and GPS. And yes, there’s an app for the Stromer that will let you know if the bike’s been moved, and also let you record your ride. This is a solidly built machine, comfortable to ride for a whole day, with an easy to shift gearing system, lights, and lots of bells and whistles.

Best Tech Luggage 

Pelican Elite Carry-On EL22 – This carry-on bag is about as indestructible as anything we’ve seen. It has an “O” ring seal to keep out moisture, and is waterproof for up to 30 minutes in 1 meter of water. It has a hard double wall plastic construction with recessed handles and two tough ball bearing wheels. For extra safety it has a pressure relief valve that helps keep it waterproof. My favorite feature is that instead of using zippers that can fail, it uses two tough recessed latches. It meets airline carry-on measurements. And if you do decide to check it, there’s built-in TSA compliant lock. Even though Pelican calls this lightweight, at 9 pounds, it’s not exactly light. But if you’re concerned that everything you pack will stay safe and sound, well, this is the bag. Price is $545.

Best Travel Gadget

Zolt Charger – If you are a serious tech traveler or road warrior, you know that keeping your devices charged on the road while keeping down the weight is an ongoing challenge. We looked at prototypes of this innovative charger for a year, and now it’s finally in production. The Zolt can fit into your pocket and can charge three devices simultaneously, including most laptops. It has folding prongs and the barrel swivels to help if you have limited space on an outlet strip. Price is just about $100.


Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!

You must be logged in to post a comment.