THE STRAITS TIMES TECH AWARDS

Samsung leads the way in ST Tech Awards 2018

The South Korean tech giant displaces Apple as the winner of the most ST Tech Awards

Samsung has knocked out perennial champion Apple as the biggest winner of The Straits Times Tech Awards 2018. It won five out of 36 awards, including the coveted Editor's Choice for Best Smartphone.

Like in previous years, The Straits Times editorial team picked the winners of the Editor's Choice awards for each category, while ST readers selected the Readers' Choice winners in an online poll held last month.

Apple was the biggest winner in the 2016 and 2017 editions of the awards, which celebrate the best tech gadgets, gizmos and games of the previous year.

But this year, the Cupertino tech giant was tied with Sony - at four awards each - for a close second to Samsung.

Sony's wins came from three categories - camera, smart TV and headphones. Apple won both the Editor's Choice and Readers' Choice awards for Best Smartwatch with its third-generation Apple Watch.

There were 99 gadgets and games nominated in 18 categories for this year's edition, spanning categories such as smartphones, laptops, cameras, wearables, headphones, home electronics and games. A new category - Most Innovative Product - has been added this year.

Here is the full list of the winners.


Smartphones

Editor's Choice: Samsung Galaxy Note8

Samsung knocks the ball out of the park with its flagship Galaxy Note8 smartphone, which beats strong competitors for the title of Best Smartphone in a year filled with exciting releases.

The Note8 has some of the best hardware and software among last year's flagships. Indeed, its 6.3-inch Super Amoled screen is still one of the best displays in the market today, with gorgeous colours and detail that stand out even under bright sunlight.

It also remains one of the most feature-packed phones currently.

The Note8 has it all - dual rear cameras, 6GB of RAM, wireless charging and headphone jack.

That makes it the best all-round phone, be it for smartphone photography, media consumption, playing games or daily use.

OTHER FINALISTS

• Google Pixel 2 XL

• LG V30+

• Huawei Mate 10 Pro

Readers' Choice: Apple iPhone X

45.2 per cent of valid votes

Editor's Choice: Samsung Galaxy Note8

The camera on the Galaxy Note8 is so good that it can almost fool people into thinking the photos taken on it were snapped by actual cameras. Even so, it was a close fight among the Note8 and competitors such as the Google Pixel 2 XL and Apple iPhone X.

The Note8 is able to deliver sharp, vivid photos across a variety of situations. Landscape shots are sharp and natural, with a great dynamic range that captures sunlight and shadows in equal amount.

Its two rear cameras let the phone take pleasing portrait shots. Tests that the ST Tech Team did showed that the Note8 was able to deliver smoother and brighter skin tones than other phones, giving it the edge over the competition.

OTHER FINALISTS

• Google Pixel 2 XL

• LG V30+

• Huawei Mate 10 Pro

Readers' Choice: Apple iPhone X

42.2 per cent of valid votes

Editor's Choice: Xiaomi Mi A1

The Mi A1 wins by outvaluing the other phones in the running in this category, while delivering a rock-solid smartphone experience.

The Mi A1 has specs that one expects from a phone double its price, such as an unibody aluminium body, two rear cameras and a respectable Snapdragon 625 processor with 4GB RAM.

Its biggest boon is that it runs on stock Android, giving users a smooth, bloatware-free experience.

Being an Android One phone, the Mi A1 gets the latest updates from Google as they are released, which means it will always be the most updated and secure phone.

OTHER FINALISTS

• Huawei nova 2i

• Motorola moto X4

• Sony Xperia XA1 Plus

Readers' Choice: Samsung Galaxy J7+

28.8 per cent of valid votes


Laptops

Editor's Choice: Aorus X9

Gaming laptops became even slimmer and quieter last year, thanks to Nvidia's Max-Q initiative that sacrificed a degree of performance for lower operating temperatures.

Two of the awards' top contenders, the Acer Predator Triton 700 and Asus ROG Zephyrus GX501 come with Max-Q graphics chips.

But The Straits Times' favourite gaming laptop is the Aorus X9, which goes all out with dual graphics chips that make it possible to run games on its 4K screen.

The icing on the cake is a tactile mechanical keyboard with individual RGB LED backlighting for each key, as well as an intricately designed chassis.

Yes, it does run noisy, but its unbridled, unapologetic power is just too tempting to turn down.

OTHER FINALISTS

• Acer Predator Triton 700

• Aftershock Prime 15

• MSI GE63VR 7RE Raider

Readers' Choice: Asus ROG Zephyrus GX501

32.5 per cent of valid votes

Editor's Choice: LG gram 14

LG is not a name one would associate with laptops, but the company has a winner with its gram series of ultra-lightweight notebooks.

Last year's iteration adds the finishing touches, such as a narrow bezel and a keyboard backlight, that elevate the gram 14 to the top of The Straits Times' ultrabook rankings. A striking feature is how light it appears, thanks to the use of magnesium alloy instead of aluminium for the chassis.

Based on what has been seen so far this year, PC makers are rolling out more magnesium-clad ultrabooks, so one can even argue the LG gram is a forerunner of a trend.

What seals the deal is the outstanding battery life of the LG ultrabook, which is rather unexpected, given its slim frame.

OTHER FINALISTS

• Dell XPS 13 (2017)

• HP Spectre 13 (2017)

• Razer Blade Stealth

Readers' Choice: Asus ZenBook 13 UX331

30.6 per cent of valid votes

Editor's Choice: HP Spectre x360

Hybrid laptops became thinner and less awkward to use - especially as a tablet - last year.

The accompanying stylus has become more responsive and comes closer to replicating the feel of actual pen and paper. Microsoft also helped by adding pen computing apps and features in its Windows 10 update.

However, the overall design of hybrids did not change last year, which saw a host of similar-looking models.

The HP Spectre x360 does offer a neat feature - an integrated privacy screen that turns the screen opaque when viewed from the sides. This, along with its classy build, competitive performance and excellent battery life, is enough to make it The Straits Times' pick for Best Hybrid.

OTHER FINALISTS

• Asus ZenBook Flip S

• Dell XPS 13 2-in-1

• Lenovo Yoga 720

Readers' Choice: Microsoft Surface Pro (2017)

37.9 per cent of valid votes


Gaming

Editor's Choice: Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo)

The Nintendo Switch proved naysayers wrong by delivering quality titles non-stop throughout last year, including two titles in a tight race for the Best Game accolade: Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild.

Super Mario Odyssey wins because it reminds gamers of the good, clean fun to be had with video games and is sure to put a smile on their faces as they run, hop and explore visually fantastic worlds as Nintendo's most famous plumber.

The 3D platformer is easy to pick up, but challenging - and rewarding - to master, and so appeals to any gamer, young or old, experienced or casual.

It is an exemplar of a finely tuned game, with mechanics, characters, world design and music all coming seamlessly together.

OTHER FINALISTS

• Forza Motorsport 7

• Horizon Zero Dawn

• Mass Effect: Andromeda

• Nier: Automata

• Persona 5

• PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds

• The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild

• Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

Readers' Choice: Destiny 2

16.9 per cent of valid votes

Editor's Choice: Cat Quest

(The GentleBros) It has quests, it has cats - what is there not to like?

Cat Quest developers, The GentleBros, have tapped the zeitgeist of casual gaming with an enjoyable role-playing romp, providing hours of solid gameplay and cat-related puns.

The real-time, hack-and-slash action harks back to classic games such as Final Fantasy and The Legend Of Zelda, which won players over with their simple charm and nostalgic gameplay.

The open world - filled with secrets and side quests - invites exploration even after the main quest ends.

The dialogue is clever and pun-filled, the cat art is adorable and it is a fun romp to sink a few hours into.

It helps that the game is available on a wide variety of platforms, from the PC to consoles such as PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch.

OTHER FINALISTS

• Holy Potatoes! What The Hell?!

• Sairento VR

• Stifled

Readers' Choice: Chef Wars

37.6 per cent of valid votes


Home

Editor's Choice: Sony Bravia A1 Oled TV

Last year, most major television makers launched their first 4K Oled TV models.

Although they sourced the Oled screens from LG Display, they have put their own stamp on the design and features to stand out from their rivals.

The best example is the Sony Bravia A1 Oled TV. It has an elegant design that uses its near-bezel-less display as the conduit for the audio.

The screen, literally, is vibrating to generate sound that seems to emanate from the middle of the television, not from the usual speaker grilles at the sides or bottom.

Couple this minimalist design with top-class picture quality and the end result is The Straits Times' favourite smart TV of the year.

OTHER FINALISTS

• LG Signature W7 Oled TV

• Panasonic TH-65EZ1000S Oled TV

• Philips 901F Oled TV

Readers' Choice: Samsung Q9F Qled TV

40.7 per cent of valid votes

Editor's Choice: Google Wifi

Google is known for many things, but wireless routers are probably near the end of the list.

However, the tech giant was one of the first to get into the mesh networking scene, which became the hottest thing in the consumer router market last year.

Simple yet effective, the Google Wifi mesh router is the perfect solution for mainstream home users who do not wish to fiddle with complicated settings. You can set it up within minutes using a smartphone app and then forget about it entirely.

The router automatically updates its firmware to ensure it is free from bugs or exploits. It probably does not have the breadth of features offered by other routers, but it surprisingly keeps pace with the top models in performance.

OTHER FINALISTS

•Linksys Velop

•Netgear Orbi mini

•Samsung Connect Home Pro

•TP-Link Deco M5

Readers' Choice: Google Wifi

58.4 per cent of valid votes

Editor’s Choice: Nintendo Switch

Each year sees new, ambitious technology and gadgets that promise more than they deliver. While all the contenders here, from the babel-fish-like Google Translate earbuds to Apple’s 3D face recognition, are impressive in their own right, The Straits Times was blown away by the Nintendo Switch.

While its hardware is anything but cutting-edge, the Switch takes the crown for being a hybrid device that works incredibly well as a handheld and as a home console.

It may be behind its rivals in graphics fidelity, but by freeing gamers from being tethered to the television, it has set new sales records aided by an excellent line-up of games. Strong support from third-party developers also bodes well for its longevity.

OTHER FINALISTS

• Apple Face ID

• Google Pixel Buds

• Logitech G PowerPlay

• Microsoft Windows Mixed Reality

Readers’ Choice: Nintendo Switch

34.8 per cent of valid votes


Wearables

Editor's Choice: Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro

Fitness buffs continue to support Fitbit by making the slim Alta HR their favourite - it garnered nearly 50 per cent of readers' votes.

However, it is the Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro that impressed The Straits Times the most. It packs plenty of features into a small wristband package and has a curved touchscreen Oled display that looks great and stays visible under sunlight.

It has built-in GPS to track the user's runs, so you do not need to take the smartphone with you.

The Fit2 Pro is also water-resistant to a depth of 50m and tracks swims, making it an all-round fitness tracker.

OTHER FINALISTS

• Garmin vivosmart 3

• Garmin vivosport

• Tomtom Touch Cardio

Readers' Choice: Fitbit Alta HR

45.8 per cent of valid votes

Editor's Choice: Apple Watch Series 3

Apple has been winning in the smartwatch category, with shipments of the Apple Watch Series 3 surpassing those of the entire Swiss watch industry in the last quarter of last year, according to research firm IDC. Other smartwatch makers can only sit and sigh.

More power efficient, faster and offering better Wi-Fi performance than its predecessors, the Series 3 builds on what is already a superb and intuitive smartwatch in the Series 2. It has built-in GPS to monitor the user's runs, is able to accurately track swim laps and supports Apple Pay.

Furthermore, with the cellular version available now, it provides more freedom away from the smartphone.

OTHER FINALISTS

• Casio Pro Trek Smart WSD-F20

• Garmin vivoactive 3

• Montblanc Summit

• Samsung Gear Sport

Readers' Choice: Apple Watch Series 3

59.2 per cent of valid votes


Cameras

Editor's Choice: Fujifilm X100F

With smartphone cameras phasing out cameras of this category in recent years, it is amazing to still see a strong line-up of finalists.

The two excellent Canon PowerShot cameras in the running show that the Japanese imaging giant is on the right track. The Casio TR mini, which looks like a cosmetic compact, is an innovative camera, while the Sony RX10 IV is a versatile travel compact camera.

The Fujifilm X100F might have a fixed 35mm f/2.0 lens and is not as compact as some of the other finalists. But its rangefinder-like styling, retro charm, great handling and superb image quality make it a winner.

OTHER FINALISTS

• Canon PowerShot G9X Mark II

• Casio TR mini

• Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 IV

Readers' Choice: Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III

34.3 per cent of total votes

Editor's Choice: Sony α7R III

You cannot go wrong with any of the finalists here. Each camera is fantastic in its own right.

The Fujifilm GFX 50s is a medium-format camera with a whopping 51.4-megapixel image sensor that produces eye-popping image quality. The Leica CL's rangefinder-like design will melt the hearts of traditionalists.

For videographers, the Panasonic GH5 is the one to pick, while sports and wildlife photographers will take to the Sony a9, with its amazing shooting speed.

But pound for pound, the Sony α7R III gives the best value for money in terms of image quality, shooting speed and operation. And the readers agree too.

OTHER FINALISTS

• Fujifilm GFX 50s

• Leica CL

• Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5

• Sony α9

Readers' Choice: Sony α7R III 2

5.8 per cent of total votes

Editor's Choice: Nikon D850

The Pentax KP managed to squeeze a DSLR camera into a mirrorless camera body, while the Canon EOS 77D offers shutterbugs an affordable upgrade from their compact cameras.

The readers' favourite, the Canon EOS 6D Mark II, offers full-frame image quality in a lightweight and affordable package, making it ideal for both amateurs and professionals.

Nikon released two superb DSLR cameras: the 45.7-megapixel full-frame D850 and 20.9-megapixel APS-C D7500. The D850 takes the crown with its sturdy build, pure handling joy and fantastic image quality.

OTHER FINALISTS

• Canon EOS 77D

• Pentax KP

• Nikon D7500

Readers' Choice: Canon EOS 6D Mark II

45.8 per cent of valid votes


Headphones

1More Quad Driver In-Ear earphones

1More's flagship earphones bring audiophile quality sound at consumer-friendly prices. From booming bass to crystalline highs, the four drivers in these earphones handle it all with ease.

They sound excellent plugged straight into an iPod or a smartphone, despite being relatively high-impedance earphones at 32ohms - which usually require more power to drive to the fullest extent.

But they scale well with better equipment too. For instance, partnering them with a portable headphone amplifier opens them up to greater detail and clarity.

The earphones have some of the best instrument separation and an expansive soundstage, giving them great versatility across different music genres.

These are $500 earphones for the price of $300. They offer excellent value for money.

OTHER FINALISTS

• Beyerdynamic Xelento Remote

• Fender CXA1

• Westone UM Pro 10

Readers' Choice: Audiofly AF100

24.5 per cent of valid votes

Sony WH-1000x M2

Sony's WH-1000x M2, probably the best all-round pair of headphones in the market today, will appeal to audiophile and regular music lovers alike.

These noise-cancelling headphones do not compromise on audio quality, even when used wirelessly through Bluetooth.

The audio quality is amazingly robust, with a clear, detailed and fun sound that has a warm bass oomph. If bass is not your thing, the headphones come with a connected app that lets you tweak the sound to your liking.

The WH-1000x M2 has arguably the best active noise-cancellation feature of any headphones in the market, keeping outside noise out and music where it belongs. All these make it a versatile winner for just about any user.

OTHER FINALISTS

• Beyerdynamic Aventho Wireless

• Bowers & Wilkins PX

• V-Moda Crossfade 2 Wireless

Readers' Choice: Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay H4

37.3 per cent of valid votes

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 21, 2018, with the headline 'Samsung leads the way'. Print Edition | Subscribe