I was all set to write my annual “hits and misses” column about the best and worst tech of the year. Then I realized that I haven’t seen many dead-awful gadgets or programs in 2015. In truth, I’ve avoided them; I only get so much space in the paper, so why waste it on rubbish? Here, then, is the good stuff: my favorite tech of 2015.
Product of the year
Apple Inc.’s iPhone 6s
Starting at $649
Not long ago, this was a close call. Android handsets from HTC Corp. and Samsung Corp. were nearly as good as the iPhone 5 series. Then last year’s iPhone 6, with its slender form, kinetic performance, and astounding battery life, leapfrogged the lot of them.
This year’s 6s is better yet. The new 3D Touch feature, which activates various functions depending on how hard you press the screen, is delicious. The “selfie flash” feature uses the phone’s own screen to illuminate your self-portraits. And the battery is as reliable as ever. Shopping for a smartphone? Why? Just grab an iPhone.
Surprise of the year
Included with most new smartphones
At last, cellphone calls sound good. It’s all about using the digital bandwidth of today’s LTE networks to carry a broader range of audio frequencies. All the major carriers began rolling it out in 2015. At present, HD Voice only works with the newest smartphones, only between callers on the same network, and only in regions where the new service has been turned on. So if I use my iPhone 6 to call another iPhone 6 owner in Boston, and we’re both on the AT&T network, it sounds spectacular. It will get better for everybody else too, as the service expands.
Favorite new mobile service
The Park Boston
This one’s essential for frequent parkers. Just register with the service by putting in a credit card and a photo of your car’s license plate. When you pull up to a parking meter, enter its three-digit ID code into the app, tell it how long you plan to park, and you’re done.
Meter readers are electronically notified that you’re on the clock. No more fumbling for spare change; no more shamefaced panhandling for quarters. Genius.
The year’s best value
Amazon Fire seven-inch tablet computer
It’s got a grainy-looking screen, a low-resolution camera, and a mono speaker instead of the usual stereo. So what makes the Fire the first choice in second-class tablets? The $50 price.
For that, you get a quad-core processor, eight gigabytes of data storage, and a slot for adding still more, so you can stuff the Fire with games, books, and videos for your next road trip.
And a solid suite of parental controls let you customize it for up to four of your children. Or just buy half a dozen, for about the same price as one Apple iPad.
The year’s best valet
Amazon Echo personal assistant
It’s no match for Mr. Bates of “Downton Abbey.” But this tall black cylindrical speaker has an endearing way of delivering the latest news and weather, or your favorite music, in response to your verbal commands. The Echo is always on, but promises not to pay attention to your voice until you speak the keyword “Alexa.” Then it lights up and waits for orders. You can tell it to wake you at 7 a.m., tune in your favorite radio station, pipe in the hourly headlines from NPR or the BBC, or play music stored in Amazon’s vast library of digital tunes. Amazon hopes to someday add the same software to other consumer devices, allowing us to give verbal orders to everything in our homes, from the thermostat to the TV set.
Game-changer of the year
$20 a month
In 2015, “cord-cutting” got real. Cable companies lost nearly a million subscribers in the first nine months of the year, according to the research firm MoffattNathanson.
One reason for the decline is SlingTV, a service from satellite TV company Dish Network LLC that uses a consumer’s broadband video connection to deliver about two dozen popular channels, including ESPN, CNN, AMC, and Lifetime, for just $20 a month.
Sling TV’s video quality doesn’t quite measure up to standard cable, but it’s decent enough. Throw in a set of rabbit-ears for over-the-air broadcasts, and there’s 90 percent of the shows most people want, at a much lower price. So far, about 400,000 people have signed on for Sling TV, and Sony Corp. has launched a similar service. And suddenly, life without cable TV is looking pretty good.