TechCrunch’s Favorite Things of 2016

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TechCrunch’s Favorite Things of 2016

We made it! 2016, the year that might go down in history books as “The one where the simulation glitched out a little” is… just about over.

We see a lot of stuff at TechCrunch. Lots and lots of stuff. Gadgets. Apps. Stuff that has inexplicably been made “smart”. Stuff that solves huge problems — and stuff that solves problems literally no one on earth really has. We obsess over it all; it’s basically a job requirement.

It also means we end up with a pretty high bar for the stuff we truly like.

Each year, we compile a list of the things that we — from our writers, to our editors, to our video and social teams — really, really liked across the last 12 months. The stuff we keep around, and that we’re excited about. The stuff that has made our year better in some way. This is our list for 2016. Enjoy!

(Click the arrow to the right to proceed — or, if you’re on mobile, just scroll!)


Matthew Panzarino (Editor-in-Chief): Sphero's Forceband

We were prepared to write the Sphero Force Band off as a cash grab accessory to its successful (and very cool) BB8 toy. But the well-themed plastic accessory features a better-than-expected onboard voice assistant that leads kids through audio-driven augmented reality games and is very well executed.

The main point of the band is to simulate ‘using the force’ to control BB8 by pushing, pulling and steering with your hand. That part works so well it’s enough to convince your smaller kids that they really are there-is-no-trying their way to becoming a Jedi.

(And if they grow bored of it, you can hack it up to do all kinds of funny stuff)


Matthew Panzarino (Editor-in-Chief): Apple AirPods

Apple’s AirPods sparked a lot of skepticism at their announcement, which was well deserved given the historically crappy performance of Bluetooth headphones.

After a few weeks with our pre-production and then production pair, however, it’s clear that this is one of the best gadgets Apple has ever produced — a real testament to the company’s methods of integrating hardware and software closely. They’re not perfect — the sound quality is good not great and we have had some minor skipping issues — but in comparison to a standard pair of wireless headphones these things are a work of art.


Greg Kumparak (Editor): Pokemon Go

It may seem a bit cliché because Pokemon GO was the biggest hype monster in all of 2016 — but it really was one of my favorite things from this year.

After its launch issues, it was a truly new and magical gaming experience. I saw parts of my city I didn’t know existed.  I landed in new cities and made friends with locals immediately. I walked hundreds and hundreds of miles filling my Pokedex. I ran a mile in the dark with a bunch of friends because something rare spawned at the bar someone was at.

The game will probably never see the same level of hype it saw for its first few weeks, and thats fine and unavoidable. I just hope the company has any idea why people actually want to play this game, as opposed to why the company wants people to play. It’s not just about getting people to walk around aimlessly— it’s about a feeling of serendipity, discovery, and camaraderie. They’ve moved away from that in recent weeks with things like their new tracker and introducing new Pokemon exclusively through the via mostly-random egg system, but I hope they find their way in 2017.


Greg Kumparak (Editor): The return of Doug Aamoth

This may seem like a shameless plug, but there’s more to it. There’s backstory here.

Doug Aamoth wrote for us back when TechCrunch was a wee thing — back when we had a bunch of sites, like CrunchGear and MobileCrunch and TechCrunch UK. From time to time, he’d make videos about whatever gadgets he was checking out… and they were outstanding — funny, creative, and way different than what anyone else in the gadget world was doing at the time.

Then he left and got, as he calls it, a “big boy job”.  I’ve been at TechCrunch a long, long time, and, as with any job, people come and go. I missed Doug being here.

At the end of last year we convinced him to come back part-time (he still has said big boy job) and make videos for us, and they’re consistently some of my favorite stuff on the site — and easily some of my favorite things of this year. Check them out here.


Anthony Ha (Writer): Trunk Club

This year, I finally decided that it was time to dress like an adult. Granted, I still mostly wear funny T-shirts and jeans, but at least Nordstrom-owned Trunk Club helped me take a few baby steps in a new direction.

Even though it’s best-known mailing you regular “trunks” of new clothes and other fashionable accessories, I found that the best way to get started was by visiting their New York City clubhouse (they have locations in other major cities, too) and meeting face-to-face with their personal stylists, who happily talked me through all my dumb questions and concerns.


Devin Coldewey (Writer): This ridiculous button pressing game

I bought this after reading about the feats of old-school arcade gamers, specifically Takahashi Meijin, who earned the name 16-Shot for his ability to press a controller button 16 times a second.

All you do in this game is press the button as fast as you can — and yet, it’s massively addicting. I brought it to Disrupt and half the TC staff were around a table competing for hours. We improvised “leagues” of varying difficulty as we shredded our hands trying to beat our previous scores. It’s a reminder of how simple and fun gaming can be. The pictured model is called the “Super Shooting Watch” for some reason.

The catch: its tough to get. eBay might be your only bet.


Devin Coldewey (Writer): NES Classic

The must-have, yet impossible-to-find gadget of the season. Nintendo tapped into a rich vein of nostalgia with this diminutive console, and while it’s far from perfect (the cords are too short; the reasoning for some of the included games is puzzling) it’s clearly a love letter from the game company to its oldest fans. We’re all looking forward to the Switch, sure, but we’re all secretly hoping for more of these.


Brian Heater (Hardware Editor): Microsoft's Surface Studio and Surface Dial

Time was no one wanted to launch products the same week as Apple. These days, the company’s not nearly as invincible as it once was.

The same week the long-awaited MacBook Pro was released, Microsoft made a big play for creatives with the announcement of Windows 10 Creators Update and the surprise unveiling of the Surface Studio. The highly specked all-in-one offered a unique take on content creation with a giant touchscreen canvas and the innovative Surface Dial input device. It’s enough to make Mac enthusiasts second guess their corporate allegiances.


Travis Bernard (Director of Audience Development): Stance Socks

There’s nothing like a fresh pair of socks, and Stance makes the best in the business. I personally like the reserve and dress sock collections the best.

My second pick is Jerk N Pickle’s Hot Teriyaki artisan beef jerky. I first discovered this jerky at Triple Voodoo Brewery in Dogpatch, SF, and I’ve been in love with it ever since. Every flavor will knock your socks off. If you like spicy, go with the fresh and spicy sampler pack.


Haje Jan Kamps (Writer): Pocket Tripod

As a photo-dweeb, I’m perennially churning through new gear. It’s exceedingly rarely that something makes its way into my camera bag.

Come to think of it, neither did this little gem. It did one better: I always carry it with me. Geometrical’s Pocket Tripod has rapidly become my most-used photo gadget. Paired with my iPhone 7+, it’s the same size as a credit card. After some origami magic, it turns into a tripod for whenever I take photos, videos, shoot timelapses and (when I’m feeling boring) take teleconference calls.


Sarah Buhr (Writer): Plantronics Backbeats

Perfect for wireless listening and great for those with the iPhone 7, but they fit over your ears so you don’t fear losing them while you walk or run. They’re also waterproof and have a long battery life. It will tell you how many hours of listening you have left when you turn them on so you don’t start running only to find your headphone go dead mid-workout.


Felicia Williams (Producer): MekaMon's fighting robots

One of the coolest robotic toys I’ve seen in 2016. MekaMon merges AR games with a physical ‘fighting’ robot. Unlike other robots that are meant more as a companion, this one is menacing and feels futuristic. The hardware breaks apart like legos and you can customize your bot or easily replace wonky pieces without buying a new one.


Felicia Williams (Producer): These unofficial Apple Watch Bands on Amazon

I couldn’t find a matching metal band for my gold Sport on Apple, which lead me to Amazon. There’s a huge variety of metal and leather bands compatible with pretty much any Apple Watch. Prices range $20-$50 for the nicer ones, but I was able to snap up a perfectly matching ‘Milanese’-style band for $15. I get compliments on it all the time.


Much of the staff: DJI's Mavic Pro Drone

Editor’s note: A bunch of people on staff all picked the Mavic Pro as one of their favorite things. Here’s what CrunchReport host Tito Hamze had to say about it:

The DJI Mavic is the first drone that I went out and bought after seeing how well it works. It shoots up to 4k, is solidly built and easily controllable, but best of all takes up a small amount of space making it awesome for travel and quick use. This thing is a f@$cking beast and my new favorite toy.


John Biggs (Writer): LIFX Light Bulbs

LIFX has gotten better and better over the years, culminating in light bulbs that are uncannily bright, very usable, and fun. They’re basically the Sonos of lighting – whole home control without the fuss – and they’re starting to work well with home automation products like Alexa and Siri. It’s great to tell your Amazon Echo to turn on all the lights and the whole house turns on like magic.


Romain Dillet (Writer): Ulysses

This Mac and iOS app has literally changed the way I work this year.

It’s a powerful text editor that lets you write notes, articles or books on your Mac, iPhone or iPad. I often start a TechCrunch post on my iPhone and finish it on my Mac. Everything stays in sync and you can even export your work to WordPress or Medium. I’d recommend giving it a try for every blogger and writer out there.


Romain Dillet (Writer): Libratone Zipp Speakers

I switched to the latest Zipp speakers this year and I’ve been recommending them since. There are a ton of wireless speakers, but these ones are my favorite because they’re quite versatile. You can stream your music using Bluetooth, AirPlay and Spotify Connect. I like being able to seamlessly switch from one speaker to another from the Spotify app. You can also group them to stream the same music in all your rooms.


(For the curious: the zipper lets you change the color of the cover)


Romain Dillet (Writer): Kindle Oasis

I debated buying the new Kindle Oasis for a while because this thing is quite expensive. But I don’t regret upgrading from my first-gen Kindle Paperwhite. The improved screen resolution makes a big difference and this device is incredibly light. If ebooks are still your thing, I highly recommend this reader.


Katie Roof (Writer/Video Host): All the clothes rental startups

I love the startups for renting clothing and accessories. Between, Le Tote, Rent the Runway Unlimited and Rocksbox, I get to try out all the latest styles without buying everything.


Lora Kolodny (Emerging Tech Editor) Kinsa's Smart Thermometer

Ever tried to take a kid’s temperature when they feel horrible and want nothing to do with a cold metal object under their tongue or… elsewhere? It’s not a great bonding experience.

With a lot of colds around my house this year, the $60 Sesame Street Ear Thermometer by Kinsa made life easier. The thermometer looks like Elmo, takes a toddler’s temperature in a few seconds, and transmits data to a corresponding mobile app for health-tracking purposes.


John Mannes (Writer): Karmic Koben S

I bought my Karmic Koben e-bike back when the company still had a lower priced entry model, but even with the lower specs, it was still one of my best purchases of 2016.

With the price tag of a premium computer, it’s certainly an investment. But if you live in a city like San Francisco, it will probably save you hundreds of dollars on Uber every month. And besides, riding the Koben around the city is not only faster than riding in a car (beat a friend’s Uber from FiDi to Ocean Beach by almost 10 minutes), but a hell of a lot more fun. Depending on how you ride, you’ll be able to get 20-30 miles out of it on a charge and hit speeds of 30mph.


Fitz Tepper (Writer): Amazon's Echo Dot

The Amazon Echo Dot is the company’s newest device featuring its AI Assistant, Alexa.

When Alexa launched as part of the regular Echo a few years ago I was skeptical – Apple’s Siri was so damn bad and I just couldn’t believe anyone had a better AI alternative. I finally caved when the Dot launched, as it brought the cost of entry down to $49.. and it changed my life. I check the weather, turn on and off my lights, and even shop – all with my voice!

Plus they’re cheap enough you can put one in each room of your house.


Matt Burns (Senior Editor): Captain Fantastic

If you’re reading this, you’re probably like me and addicted to screens, and, if you’re like me, you have kids that are definitely addicted to screens.

My 2016 has been fighting the lure of technology and Captain Fantastic offers a fictional glimpse into a world where a family has a completely different challenge. It’s the best movie I’ve seen in a long time. Watch it.


Darrell Etherington (Writer): Erato Apollo 7

Like AirPods but with a fit that’s better suited to a wider variety of ears, with on-bud physical controls on both the right and left plug for easy volume, skip and play/pause control. Plus decent microphone quality for calls AND a charging carrying case that makes up for the skimpier 3 hour battery rating.


Doug Aamoth (Videos): The Black And Decker Power Scrubber

I’ve reviewed hundreds of gadgets — including plenty of “real” gadgets like computers and phones — but the Black & Decker Power Scrubber was a huge surprise. It’s basically a spinning electric sponge that you use to clean your dishes.

I get a kick out of imagining the birth of the Power Scrubber being an overworked, tired, beanpole of an engineer at home one night fighting with a greasy pan and just thinking, “Okay, f@$k this” before grabbing a power drill and duct-taping a sponge to the end of it, laughing manically like a mad scientist as crusted mac and cheese suddenly started exploding off the pan like a tornado whipping its way through an above-ground pool.

I shot from the hip in this video here in order to capture my true first-use reaction, and if you watch it, you’ll see that I was pretty much blown away. In the past decade or so of reviewing stuff, I don’t believe I’ve ever universally recommended a product, but this is something everyone should own. If you have a kitchen sink, there should be a Power Scrubber nearby.