ST Digital Awards: The best of 2015

Which gadgets and games were red-hot? Our editorial team and readers have voted. Here are the results

Apple has emerged as the biggest winner at The Straits Times Digital Awards 2016. The firm took home seven awards for its smartphones, tablet and smartwatch. Five of those were Readers' Choice awards that were decided by ST readers in an online poll last December.

The Straits Times Digital editorial team also gave the Editor's Choice award to the Apple iPad Pro and the Apple Watch.

Formerly known as Digital Life Awards, our annual tech awards recognise the best tech gadgets and games of the year. They were renamed The Straits Times Digital Awards this year to reflect the integration of the weekly supplement into the broadsheet section of The Straits Times.

A total of 105 products and games were nominated in 21 categories. Two new categories - Best Smartwatch and Best Fitness Tracker - were introduced this year to reflect their meteoric rise in popularity among consumers.

Here is the full list of winners.


Overall smartphone

EDITOR'S CHOICE: 

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 4G+

OTHER FINALISTS

  • BlackBerry Priv
  • Google Nexus 6P
  • LG G4

READERS' CHOICE:

Apple iPhone 6s

55.2% of total votes


Smartphone camera

EDITOR'S CHOICE:

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 4G+


PHOTO: SAMSUNG

Picking a winner in this category has not been easy for us. While Apple's iPhone series has always been known for its excellent imaging tools, many smartphone makers have made huge leaps and Samsung last year delivered a hit with the amazing shooter on the Galaxy Note 5 4G+.

This camera is responsive, offers great colours and details, and has a robust selection of manual mode features for seasoned shutterbugs. The fact that it is 16 megapixels compared with the 12 megapixels on the latest iPhones means this shooter delivers on the finer details too.

OTHER FINALISTS

  • Google Nexus 6P
  • LG G4
  • Sony Xperia Z5 Premium

READERS' CHOICE:

Apple iPhone 6s Plus

45.3% of total votes


Phablet

EDITOR'S CHOICE:

Google Nexus 6P


PHOTO: GOOGLE

While the Google Nexus range of devices has its legion of fans due to its use of native Android software, the hardware has taken some time to catch up with the market.

First-time Nexus device maker Huawei has pushed the bar for Nexus hardware higher, with the first all-metal Nexus 6P. The device blends a great mix of hardware and software, including an impressive 12.3MP camera, USB-C for charging and synching, and better security features in the form of Nexus Imprint in the biometric sensor.

OTHER FINALISTS

  • LG G4
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 5 4G+
  • Sony Xperia Z5 Premium

READERS' CHOICE:

Apple iPhone 6s Plus

44.1% of total votes


Tablet 

EDITOR'S CHOICE:

Apple iPad Pro


PHOTO: APPLE

Apple's iPad has defined the tablet experience and the iPad Pro is its largest tablet yet.

While other brands have come up with larger tablets with faster processors and removable keyboards, none has matched the iPad Pro in terms of usability, richness in apps and a smooth overall tablet/laptop hybrid experience.

Part of its success has to do with the Apple Pencil, a precision writing, drawing and design tool that faithfully recreates the pencil and paper experience in the digital arena.

OTHER FINALISTS

  • Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 Pro 10
  • Microsoft Surface Pro 4
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab S2
  • Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet

READERS' CHOICE:

Apple iPad Pro

46.8% of total votes


Most innovative product

EDITOR'S CHOICE:

Air+ Smart Mask


PHOTO: AIR+

It seems like such a simple idea - attaching a ventilator unit to a mask - but the Air+ Smart Mask by ST Engineering's subsidiary Innosparks was truly a game-changer during last year's haze season.

Where regular masks were humid, warm and stuffy, the Air+ Smart Mask kept users here cool even when the PSI was sky high.

It has a rechargeable, 4.5cm-by-4.5cm fan unit that can be attached to the side of the mask. It draws stale air out, so that fresh air can be filtered through the N95 standard mask.

The sets were so popular that they were perpetually sold out, and any new stock was quickly cleaned off the shelf.

OTHER FINALISTS

  • Apple 3D Touch
  • Casio Exilim EX-FR100
  • Ricoh Theta S
  • Samsung Gear S2

READERS' CHOICE:

Air+ Smart Mask

34.3% of the vote


Gaming laptop

EDITOR'S CHOICE:

Asus ROG G752


PHOTO: ASUS

Every PC maker wanted a piece of the growing gaming PC pie last year, with Acer, HP and Lenovo all launching new models. However, it was the Asus ROG G752 that impressed us the most. Its snappy design with orange highlights stood out from its rivals. More importantly, the G752 was very reasonably priced for a high-end machine.

It is this value proposition that nudged the Aftershock Titan 2016 to second spot in our vote, even though the Titan is the best performing laptop here with its powerful desktop-class graphics and fully deserved to win our readers' vote. The other contenders all produced excellent gaming laptops that, on another day, could have clinched our vote.

OTHER FINALISTS

  • Acer Predator 15
  • Aorus X5
  • MSI GS60 6QE Ghost Pro

READERS' CHOICE:

Aftershock Titan 2016

27.1% of total votes


Ultrabook 

EDITOR'S CHOICE:

Dell XPS 13 (2015)


PHOTO: DELL

Reducing the bezel of the display on a laptop seems like a small tweak, but its impact on the aesthetics can be huge. It transformed the appearance of the Dell XPS 13 and was decisive in its win for Best Ultrabook.

The Dell XPS 13's ultra-thin bezel was arguably the biggest innovation in this category. Its competitors mostly played it safe: Acer, Asus and HP all produced competent ultrabooks that were not too different from the previous year's. Lenovo even went back to basics after the previous model's keyboard redesign backfired among its users.

Our readers chose the Asus ZenBook as their favourite likely because of its excellent value, which is probably matched only by the HP Envy 13.

OTHER FINALISTS

  • Acer Aspire S7 (2015)
  • HP Envy 13
  • Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2015)

READERS' CHOICE:

Asus ZenBook UX305

27.8% of total votes


Hybrid laptop

EDITOR'S CHOICE:

Lenovo Yoga 900


PHOTO: LENOVO

Three of the five Best Hybrid Laptop finalists use a 360-degree hinge design, popularised by the Lenovo Yoga, to switch between laptop and tablet usage modes.

This year's Lenovo Yoga 900 improves on the luxurious watchband hinge introduced in the previous version. It also comes with a more powerful Intel Core i7 chip. While its battery life remains lacklustre, it is the best-looking hybrid and snagged both awards.

The silver HP Spectre is attractive, too, but it is heavier than the Yoga. The Asus Transformer's detachable keyboard makes its tablet form lightweight, but as a laptop, it is top-heavy. Finally, the Acer adds a twist to the hybrid design with two extra usage modes, but we were not convinced that they gave it an extra edge.

OTHER FINALISTS

  • Acer Aspire R13
  • Asus Transformer Book T300 Chi
  • Dell Inspiron 13 7000 Series 2-in-1
  • HP Spectre x360

READERS' CHOICE:

Lenovo Yoga 900

27% of total votes


Business laptop

EDITOR'S CHOICE:

HP EliteBook Folio 1020 G1 Special Edition


PHOTO: HP

The latest business laptops are not just boxy machines that you would be too embarrassed to be seen with at Starbucks next to the Apple MacBooks.

Take our pick for the Best Business Laptop, the HP EliteBook Folio 1020 G1 Special Edition, which has a svelte magnesium- lithium alloy chassis and weighs just over 1kg. The Toshiba Portege is another sleek model that has outstanding battery life to boot.

Even the Lenovo ThinkPad X250, AsusPro Advanced and Dell Latitude - three traditional-looking business laptops that are festooned with ports and connectors - are relatively slim. Lenovo's reputation and a solid performance likely helped the X250 win the Readers' Choice award.

OTHER FINALISTS

  • AsusPro Advanced BU201LA
  • Dell Latitude 14 7000 Series
  • Toshiba Portege Z20t

READERS' CHOICE:

Lenovo ThinkPad X250

28.1% of total votes


Overall camera

EDITOR'S CHOICE:

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8


PHOTO: PANASONIC

We have never struggled so much over deciding on a winner.

The Canon EOS 5DS is the one to get if you want a high-resolution DSLR, but the Sony a7R II is, without a doubt, the best full-frame mirrorless camera. We love the Leica Q and Sony RX1R II full-frame compact cameras as they let users take high-resolution pictures. But both are priced at $5,000.

We felt not everyone needs an expensive, full-frame camera. For most, the Panasonic DMC-GX8 is enough. It looks gorgeous, handles superbly and its image quality is more than enough to print photos. It will also not break your bank .

OTHER FINALISTS

  • Leica Q (Typ 116)
  • Sony a7R II
  • Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R II

READERS' CHOICE:

Canon EOS 5DS

46.7% of total votes


ILC* (Micro Four Thirds and below)
*Interchangeable lens camera  

EDITOR'S CHOICE:

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8

Last year, there were a slew of Micro Four Thirds (MFT) cameras from Olympus and Panasonic.

And Nikon continued to bet on the 1-inch sensor for its 1 series.

Our readers appear to love it and have voted the Nikon 1 J5 as their favourite in this category.

However, our pick is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8, which offers a bigger MFT image sensor, adjustable built-in EVF, great handling, weather-proof magnesium-alloy retro-like rangefinder body, and an image quality that is close to an APS-C DSLR camera.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX8 was given a run for its money by the Mark II versions of Olympus' MFT OM-D E-M5 and E-M10, which are superb cameras with built-in EVF, in-body five-axis image stabilisation technology and quick autofocusing.

OTHER FINALISTS

  • Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II
  • Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II
  • Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF7

READERS' CHOICE:

Nikon 1 J5

23.5% of total votes


ILC (APS-C) 

EDITOR'S CHOICE:

Nikon D7200


PHOTO: NIKON

There are only two DSLR finalists - both Nikons - in this category, which used to be dominated by DSLR cameras.

The mirrorless Samsung NX500 and Fujifilm X-T10 are capable cameras for the budget-conscious. The NX500 even has 4K (4,096 x 2,160 pixels) and UHD (3,840 x 2,160 pixels) video-recording capabilities. The X-T10 is like an affordable version of Fujifilm's X-T1.

But these mirrorless cameras are no match for the equally affordable D7200 mid-range DSLR camera. The D7200 is quick, offers better auto-focusing in low light, and can shoot up to six frames a second. Its image quality is the best we have seen in an APS-C camera.

OTHER FINALISTS

  • Fujifilm X-T10
  • Nikon D5500
  • Samsung NX500

READERS' CHOICE:

Canon EOS M10

29.2% of total votes


ILC (Full-frame)

EDITOR'S CHOICE:

Sonya7R II


PHOTO: SONY

This category has been won by Sony's 7 camera series for two years running. This year, there are two of them - the high-resolution 42.4 megapixel Sony a7R II and the video-focused 12.2-megapixel 7S II.

Leica's full-frame DSLR-like SL delivered a surprise last year with its great handling, while the Leica M Monochrom (Typ 246) is a fantastic black-and-white camera.

The 50.6 megapixel Canon EOS 5DS delivers high resolution image quality that gets close to those shot by medium-format cameras.

However, overall, we felt that the a7R II is the complete package, with its superb image quality and fast autofocusing performance in a compact magnesium-alloy body.

OTHER FINALISTS

  • Leica M Monochrom (Typ 246)
  • Leica SL (Type 601)
  • Sony a7S II

READERS' CHOICE:

Canon EOS 5DS

42.5% of total votes


Prosumer compact

EDITOR'S CHOICE: 

Leica Q (Typ 116)


PHOTO: LEICA

In the past, the finalists in this category usually have only 1-inch image sensors. This year, we have the Ricoh GR II with an APS-C image sensor, and two finalists with full-frame image sensors.

It came down to a showdown between the two full-frame compacts, the Leica Q (Typ 116) and Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R II.

The Leica Q uses a 24 megapixel image sensor with a faster 28mm f/1.7 lens, while the Sony RX1R II packs a 42.4 megapixel image sensor with a 35mm f/2.0 lens.

The Leica Q ($5,990), despite costing about $1,000 more than the Sony, was our pick. It's classic rangefinder design and affordable pricing - by Leica's standard - won us over.

OTHER FINALISTS

  • Ricoh GR II
  • Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 IV
  • Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1R II

READERS' CHOICE:

Canon PowerShot G5 X

36.2% of total votes


Fitness tracker

EDITOR'S CHOICE:

Fitbit Charge HR


PHOTO: FITBIT

There are many fitness trackers in the market and these five have impressed us the most - although each comes with some trade-offs.

The Garmin Vivofit 2 lacks a heart rate sensor but impresses with a one-year battery life. The Striiv is almost the complete package, but its touchscreen display can be unresponsive at times.

The Withings Activite Pop doubles up as a classy analog watch, but its activity tracking accuracy can sometimes be off. The pricey Jawbone Up3 is undoubtedly the best-looking fitness tracker among the finalists.

Ultimately, affordability, a good balance of features and accuracy will beat beauty, which is why we have given the nod to the Fitbit Charge HR.

OTHER FINALISTS

  • Garmin Vivofit 2
  • Jawbone Up3
  • Striiv Fusion Bio
  • Withings Activite Pop

READERS' CHOICE:

Fitbit Charge HR

42.2% of total votes


Smartwatch

EDITOR'S CHOICE:

Apple Watch


PHOTO: APPLE WATCH

The fledgling smartwatch genre has seen many models from start-ups and tech giants alike.

Asus ZenWatch 2 is an ultra-affordable Android Wear smartwatch that is surprisingly capable. Motorola also has a great Android Wear smartwatch with the second-generation Moto 360, a more refined version of the original.

The Pebble Time Steel goes for simplicity and long battery life instead of its competitors' bells and whistles.

But no smartwatch has shaken up the genre like the Apple Watch. It single-handedly introduced the world to what the smartwatch is about, even for non-techies.

It also helps that the Apple Watch is exquisitely crafted, with sleek design, intuitive interface and great usability.

OTHER FINALISTS

  • Asus ZenWatch 2
  • Motorola Moto 360 (2nd Gen)
  • Pebble Time Steel
  • Samsung Gear S2 Classic

READERS' CHOICE:

Apple Watch

50.8% of total votes


Overall game

EDITOR'S CHOICE:

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt


PHOTO: CD PROJEKT RED

The Best Overall Game field was a strong one this year. Any of the five nominated games would have been a deserving winner.

For instance, Hideo Kojima's last Metal Gear was a farewell love letter to fans, while the long-awaited Fallout 4 was one of the biggest releases of the year. Batman: Arkham Knight ended the Rocksteady Studios trilogy on a high.

Our readers chose Assassin's Creed Syndicate - a wise choice, given that Syndicate is definitely one of the hits in Assassin's Creed's line-up of hits and misses.

But we chose The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.

What clinched it for us was the unsurpassed amount of total content available in the game, and the diversity that the game packed.

The Witcher may not have the stylistic pizzazz of Assassin's Creed or the quirkiness of Metal Gear, but what it does offer is a solid, well-rounded and in-depth universe where players can live out their Witcher fantasies.

OTHER FINALISTS

  • Batman: Arkham Knight
  • Fallout 4
  • Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

READERS' CHOICE:

Assassin's Creed Syndicate

21.8% of total votes


Role-playing game

EDITOR'S CHOICE:

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

It was a toss up between The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Readers' Choice winner Fallout 4 for us. Both are gloriously sprawling, intricately detailed open-world games with plenty of compelling side quests and complex story arcs.

But what gives the Witcher's protagonist Geralt of Rivia an edge over Fallout 4's Sole Survivor is the sheer variety of gameplay that the world offers. Whereas Fallout 4's side quests tend to boil down to retrieving an item or clearing a location, The Witcher 3 keeps it fresh. Side quests for Geralt include hunting dogs, escorting criminals, and even helping an old lady get her frying pan back.

OTHER FINALISTS

  • Bloodborne
  • Pillars of Eternity
  • Tales of Zestiria

READERS' CHOICE:

Fallout 4

25.7% of total votes


Shooter game 

EDITOR'S CHOICE:

Call of Duty: Black Ops III


PHOTO: ACTIVISION

Everyone is in agreement here: Call of Duty: Black Ops III takes the Best Shooter title.

The stalwart franchise is over a decade old, yet its last few titles continue to strike a balance between being familiar enough for ardent fans, yet up-to-date enough to draw in new players.

We like the game's new momentum-based movement system which allows players to wall-run, slide, vault and shoot at the same time, paving the way for more creativity and a higher level of skill on the battlefield.

We also gave it bonus points for the set-in-Singapore levels, where players can run around the Singapore Flyer and through Gardens by the Bay.

OTHER FINALISTS

  • Evolve
  • Star Wars Battlefront
  • Halo 5: Guardians
  • Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege

READERS' CHOICE:

Call of Duty: Black Ops III

29.7% of total votes


Action adventure game

EDITOR'S CHOICE:

Batman: Arkham Knight


PHOTO: WARNER BROS INTERACTIVE ENTERTAINMENT

Batman: Arkham Knight is a fitting conclusion to Rocksteady Studios' epic Batman: Arkham trilogy.

From the start, the series has been a seamless blend of puzzle-solving, exploration, battlefield tactics and manoeuvring around a gritty, maniacal Gotham City.

Arkham Knight takes this winning formula and pushes it to the limit with better graphics, more variety in gameplay and a twisty plot that ends on a cliffhanger.

The whole series boasts stellar voice work, with Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill voicing Batman and the Joker respectively.

John Noble (Dr Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow) and Ashley Greene (Batgirl/Barbara Gordon) also make appearances.

OTHER FINALISTS

  • Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider
  • Until Dawn

READERS' CHOICE:

Assassin's Creed Syndicate

25.8% of total votes


Sports/Racing Game 

EDITOR'S CHOICE:

Forza Motorsport 6


PHOTO: MICROSOFT STUDIOS

While the usual suspects Fifa 16 and NBA2K 16 are fantastic games, they are still just upgrades of previous versions. PES 2016 offers something different from its predecessors, but lacks the wow factor without licensed teams, while the rebooted Need for Speed gives you an open world to explore, but is limited in terms of depth.

Forza Motorsport 6 is different. Gamers can set the difficulty level to their experience, there are many game modes, tracks and cars to choose from, and it is by far the best, yet most accessible, driving simulator to date.

An easy choice for us to make in the end.

OTHER FINALISTS

  • NBA 2K16
  • Need for Speed
  • Pro Evolution Soccer 2016

READERS' CHOICE:

FIFA 16

38.7% of total votes

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2016, with the headline 'The best of 2015'. Print Edition | Subscribe