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My favorite tech products of 2015

These 8 products are among my favorites from this year, ranging from smarthome devices to 2-in-1 tablets and triple-network phone service.
By Kevin Tofel, Contributor
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1 of 8 -- CNet

Chromebook Pixel 2

I bought the first Chromebook Pixel in 2013 -- an LTE model for $1,449 -- and used the heck out of it. The high-end Chromebook offered speed, security and simplicity like no other laptop I'd ever used, even if it was somewhat limited to web apps, Google services and a few Android software titles. But I never cared for the roughly five hours of battery life, which isn't enough to use on the go for a full day.

2015 brought an updated Chromebook Pixel that addressed the battery problem while also coming in at a lower price-point with a starting cost of $999.

Google carried over all of the good things from the original but added more memory and a faster processor. No, the new Pixel isn't going to meet the needs of those required or who want to use traditional desktop apps. For the rest of us, however, the best Chromebook experience still comes from Google's own hardware shop.

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2 of 8 Kevin Tofel/ZDNET

Google Nexus 5X

If there's a better Google Android phone that can be had for under $400, I'm not sure what it is. One could argue in favor of the Nexus 6P which costs just a bit more but not everyone -- including me -- wants a larger phone.

Besides, much of the Nexus 6P experience is found in the smaller Nexus 5X. It has the same 12.3 megapixel camera, which takes outstanding images and video, for example. You also get monthly security updates direct from Google as well as the latest Android software as soon as Google publishes it. And the Snapdragon 808 chip inside is nearly as fast as the Snapdragon 810 found in the larger edition.

Nexus phones often have a hardware feature or two that lag behind non-Nexus devices and the 5X is no exception. You can get "more" from the latest flagships designed by Samsung, LG, Huawei and others but I'll take the pure Android experience and direct software updates over those any day of the year.

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3 of 8 Kevin Tofel/ZDNET

Google Project Fi

Google's long-rumored entry into telecom service market became a reality in 2015 and it's brilliant although it would better if it worked with more handsets in 2016.

Instead of relying on a single carrier's network, Project Fi works with both that of T-Mobile and Sprint. Plus, it leans heavily on Wi-Fi networks to save money and bring high-quality voice calls. That triple-network redundancy comes in handy when visiting areas with sketch cellular service. And you only pay for what you use: $20 includes unlimited calls and texts while each 1 GB of mobile broadband costs $10 monthly. Eating up 500 MB in a given month turns into a $5 billing credit.

It doesn't hurt that Google also includes some nice goodies in the Project Fi welcome kit. Along with a Fi SIM card, you get a 6,000 mAh portable battery with two USB ports -- one is for higher 2.1 A output -- and a pair of in-ear headphones with a splitter to share music with a friend.

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4 of 8 Kevin Tofel/ZDNET

Amazon Echo

Late last year, I passed on buying an Amazon Echo because it really didn't do much. What a difference a year makes.

In 2015, Amazon added many more functions, which is made easier since it can do so on the back-end via cloud services.

I bought and now use an Echo many times a day for information, for controlling my smarthome devices, streaming music, setting the temperature on my Nest thermostat and more. Indeed, the Amazon Echo has quietly become the brains of many a smarthome thanks to new features and its ease of use.

Hottest tech gifts roundup of 2015 ZDNet
5 of 8 Apple

iPad Pro

I moved my full-time computing to an iPad Pro back in November and haven't looked back. No, it won't replace a laptop or desktop for everyone, but for those who live on the web and in mobile apps, the iPad Pro is excellent.

Besides running for more than 10 hours on a charge, I find the iPad Pro to be very stable and fast, thanks to Apple's latest A9x chip and 4 GB of memory. Surprisingly, the Apple Smart Keyboard is my favorite way to type on the tablet because it doesn't require a charge and it's among the lightest keyboard solutions available for the iPad Pro.

I'd probably feel otherwise if Apple's big tablet was running iOS 8. The newer version of iOS brings split-screen and true multitasking to Apple's tablet, making it easy to work in two apps simultaneously. Despite its limitations, I can do everything I need to on the tablet for work purposes and then relax with a big-screen content consumption or light gaming experience later in the day.

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6 of 8 Kevin Tofel/ZDNET

Wink hub

As much as I like the Amazon Echo that works with it, I couldn't control lights, cameras and other devices in my house without my Wink hub.

Although there are many competing products on the market, I prefer the low-cost of the Wink -- I paid $50 -- and the simplicity of the software. In my testing, Wink has also been more stable and consistent than other products from Samsung, Philips and others. Even better, the Wink hub doesn't have to be hard-wired to your home's router because it supports a Wi-Fi connection. That means you can put the Wink in a central location for better network coverage.

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7 of 8 Kevin Tofel/ZDNET

Apple TV (4th generation)

Late in 2015, I bought a fourth-generation Apple TV and it's fantastic. I've also owned and used the Amazon Fire TV as well as Google's Chromecast, which are both solid and have some advantages, but Apple TV supports more of the content I prefer to watch.

The picture quality is outstanding as well, both on my 1080p and 4K TV sets. I can't say the same about television content on my Xbox One where streaming television shows and movies through apps doesn't look as good and is often jumpy due to lower frame rates, even though I'm using the same 150 Mbps FiOS connection for all the devices.

There's already no lack of compelling apps -- and I'm not even talking about games -- on the Apple TV, which supports most of the biggies such as Netflix, various TV broadcasters, Hulu and more. The only missing app for us is Amazon Video, but we make up for that since it's built in to our televisions already.

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8 of 8 Kevin Tofel/ZDNET

Surface Pro 4

While the iPad Pro is my device of choice each day, I did buy -- and then return -- a Microsoft Surface Pro 4. I'd be remiss, however, to overlook it in my favorite tech products for the year.

Those that want one device for two purposes and require Windows apps only have to look to the Surface Pro 4 to get what they want. And Microsoft has done and outstanding job in creating the product.

The new Type Cover with bigger trackpad is a big improvement over prior accessories while there's plenty of horsepower under the hood for most people's tasks. The higher resolution screen is gorgeous as well, and the continued inclusion of the variable angle kickstand is very attractive.

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