10 innovations that will make your life easier

Read about the other Best Of What’s New winners.

HAL for your Home

Amazon Echo

For a long time, artificial intelli­gence existed only in science fiction. Then it started to creep into industrial computers and even phones. Now, it’s coming to your home—and it’s coming in the form of a speaker. The Amazon Echo acts as an intelligent hub for the house, linking together other smart appliances with a voice interface. Once set up, it listens passively at all times. When someone says the wake word—Alexa—it snaps into action. For now, those actions are limited to simple operations, like reciting your calendar events, queuing up your favorite playlist, relaying weather or sports scores and, of course, ordering household items from Amazon. But those tasks won’t remain simple for long. In June, Amazon released the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK), opening the platform to dozens of third-party services, devices, and apps, including WeMo, Philips Hue, Pandora, and Wink. Hal 9000, eat your heart out. $180

A Headset That Creates Holograms

Microsoft HoloLens

Google Glass may have pioneered augmented reality, but Microsoft HoloLens could well perfect it. The headset overlays digital images onto the user’s real-world view. You can turn your living room into a gaming studio or draw on physical objects. NASA astronauts on board the ISS are working with Microsoft to use HoloLens for research and repairs. The first developer kit ships in early 2016. $3,000

Earbuds For Cord Cutters

HearNotes WireFree

There’s nothing more annoying than having to untangle headphone cables, so HearNotes cut the cords. Its WireFree Earbuds work with a transmitter that plugs into a standard headphone jack and have a range of 50 feet. And you don’t have to worry about distortion. HearNotes uses Kleer Technology, which was built specifically to deliver lossless, uncompressed hi-fi stereo audio. $350

World’s Cheapest PC

Raspberry Pi 2

Three years ago, when the first Raspberry Pi hit shelves, it was the perfect tool for learning to code, but not much else. Its meager 700 MHz processor and 512 MB of RAM were too weak to run meaningful programs. The Raspberry Pi 2 is six times faster than its predecessor and packs double the memory into the same credit-card size. In August, Microsoft released a Pi-friendly version of Windows 10, enabling more people to program, hack, and tinker. Best of all, the price is still right. $35

A Robot At Your Beck And Call

Buddy The Robot

If you’ve ever dreamed of having a robot minion a la Luke Skywalker or George Jetson, good news: Now there’s Buddy. The 2-foot-tall robot can serve as a rolling home-security system, remote control for your gadgets, and personal assistant. It sees, hears, and speaks through an 8-inch tablet that serves as its face and brain. Buddy’s software was built on Unity, a popular gaming engine, so it’s easy for developers to build custom apps and features. $750

The Ultimate Drone For Filmmakers

DJI Inspire 1

Drone footage can be spectacular, but it’s notoriously difficult to film well. The DJI Inspire 1 makes it a whole lot easier. The 4K video camera—a first for a consumer drone—sits in a proprietary gimbal system and can be modified with custom lenses. Also, the craft’s landing gears rise in flight for unobstructed 360-degree views. But perhaps its best feature is that two users can operate it simultaneously: One can fly while the other controls the camera, making it easier to get the perfect shot. $3,400

A Thermal Camera For Your Phone

Seek CompactXR

The Seek XR Thermal Imaging Camera turns a traditionally expensive and clunky device into an affordable, pocket-size iPhone or Android accessory. The small infrared camera is not as detailed as the thermal cameras used by handymen, but it more than gets the job done, whether that is detecting insulation leaks, frozen pipes, or taking some really far-out selfies. $300

Longest-Lasting Smartwatch

Pebble Time Steel

For all the bluster around smartwatches this year, most come with an Achilles heel: They need to be charged once or even twice a day. The Pebble Time lasts for 10 days on a single charge. The secret is the watch’s highly efficient color e-paper display, the first one in a consumer gadget. Bonus: It’s easier to read the display under varied light conditions. $250

The Next USB Port

USB Type-C

After twenty years on the market, the often overlooked USB port received an epic overhaul this year. USB Type-C supports double the data-transfer speeds, cuts charging time by a factor of four, and is (finally!) reversible, so you don’t have to figure out which side is up. Apple and Google are already using it in their newest flagship laptops, and many other smartphone- and laptop-makers are expected to adopt it. Prepare to see this port everywhere.

3D At Your Fingertips

iPhone 6S

The first iPhone in 2007 introduced consumers to pinch-to-zoom, swipe-to-scroll, and pull-to-refresh—gestures that have become nearly universal. The iPhone 6S adds another with 3D Touch. The feature uses a sensor to detect the amount of pressure applied by a user’s finger. Message previews, status updates, and other shortcuts pop out of apps when the screen is pressed firmly. For now, only a handful of the most popular apps use 3D Touch, but it’s only a matter of time before it too becomes part of our everyday lexicon. From $650