Each year, the colossal Messe Berlin complex is taken over by the world’s technology companies, revealing their visions of the future, plus new releases ready for Christmas and for heading into next year.
The halls are flooded with everything from new 4K and 8K TV designs, to the latest true wireless headphones competitors, to smart home upgrades, to robotic companions, to home appliances, to electric vehicles, and so much more.
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As always, T3 is there to scour the stands and find the gadgets you should hear about. We’re looking for clever new ideas, but we’re also looking for thoughtful and polished execution.
After our legs finally gave out from visiting everything imaginable, we got together and decided which were the impressive products we saw overall, and we gave them our coveted Best of IFA 2019 awards – here are the winners.
Best in Show: Sonos Move
Sonos has been dominant in multi-room audio for so long, there was nowhere left for it to go but outside. The Sonos Move is a battery powered portable speaker with Bluetooth streaming and waterproofing against rain or splashes – so far, so normal.
But, of course, it’s also totally compatible with Sonos’ system, so if you have it anywhere in the house, it’s available in the app. But you’ll find that it also works even when you’re moving away from the heart of your network – 4×4 MIMO Wi-Fi tech gives it a giant wireless range with high capacity, so it should still be able to stream over Wi-Fi even down the end of the garden, without stuttering.
It’s also the first Sonos speaker with Dynamic TruePlay, meaning that it tunes its sound automatically depending on wherever you’ve placed it, compensating for issues such as wall positioning.
Most importantly, it sounds excellent too – as good as we’ve ever heard from a ruggedised speaker that’s made to withstand the odd accidental visit to the floor.
It takes our Best in Show award thanks to its combination of high-end features, clever new ideas to make those features work better than ever, and sheer versatility – this is about to become an essential for music lovers.
Innovation Award: Walabot Home
This could save someone’s life, and it does it by combining old and new tech, plus a focus on privacy – it’s not just innovative, it’s ingenious.
The Walabot Home is a wall-mounted fall detector, made for older or more vulnerable people. When it notices that someone has fallen, it uses its Wi-Fi connection to call the next of kin, then acts as a speakerphone so that whoever it calls can check whether everything is okay or not.
The clever part is that it doesn’t require anyone to wear anything – there’s no pendant or wrist tracker to remember to put on in the morning. The Walabot Home panel has good ol’-fashioned radar built into it, and it scans the room it’s in passively, all the time.
This is also where its privacy focus comes in: instead of using a camera that can be hacked (or will just make people uncomfortable), all its radar sees is a cloud of dots. When the cloud of dots moves in a way that it recognises as a fall, it leaps into action.
There’s nothing to remember, nothing to press, and no intrusiveness – the box looks like a slightly larger thermostat.
Best TV: Philips OLED+984
Philips’ combinations of its image tech and Bowers & Wilkins audio is producing results that are stunning in every conceivable way – evidenced in the OLED+984.
The 4K OLED TV bit has Philip’s new generation of picture processing, which was already fantastic. Here, noise reduction and detail enhancement have been improved, and a lot of work has gone into improving what you can see in darker HDR areas, making the most of the contrast that OLED brings, even in dynamic Dolby Vision content.
Then there’s the soundbar, which draws more of its design and technology from B&W’s renowned loudspeakers than ever, right down to the fact that the tweeter sits separately, above the main box that has the bigger drivers in.
Together, the whole thing gives a huge, spacious sound that doesn’t feel like anything you’d expect from speakers attached to a TV. It makes the sound surround you brilliantly, and doesn’t feel like you’re hearing sound blasting from a small box near the TV – it’s big and engrossing.
Best Phone: Sony Xperia 5
While Sony is maybe pushing it by calling this 6.1-inch phone ‘compact’ (it is smaller than its older sibling, the Sony Xperia 1, though), we can’t say that bothers us, because Sony’s new phones are all about the screen. And what a screen.
The 21:9 display is truly cinematic, and Sony’s OLED expertise makes it a showcase for detail and HDR’s rich colours. It’s brilliant for games, and for web browsing – you can see a lot at once on a screen that tall.
Sony has kept the powerful specs from the higher-priced Xperia 1, but this model will like arrive at around the £750 mark. It’s also pleasingly lightweight at just 164g.
Sony has leaned hard on its strength for the Xperia 5, and we love the result – a phone that’s focused on making movie and games as beautiful as possible, but that doesn’t skimp on speed or usability, is going to be absolutely perfect for so many people.
Best Fitness Tech: Garmin Vivomove
The latest range of Vivomove smart watches has a few different models, but the core is the same: a gorgeous mechanical watch, with fitness and sports tracking inside, and two screens that appear from nowhere when you need them.
Compared to previous models, Garmin has added full sport tracking (not just lighter activity tracking), along with a bunch of other health features, including sleep tracking and hydration tracking.
The two screens (one at the top of the watch face, one at the bottom) can show messages, heart rate, fitness goals, and more.
Most importantly, you’ll really want to wear these all the time – especially the more expensive Vivomove Style and Vivomove Luxe variants. There are some truly desirable colour options and faces available, and you’ll be getting major admiration for them even before the screens appear like magic. These two versions also have Garmin Pay built in, for contactless payments.
The models of the new Vivomove range look like they could be the best hybrid watches we’ve ever seen, really making the most of both sides of their design.
Best Audio: Anker Nebula Soundbar
When is a soundbar not a soundbar? When it’s also an Amazon 4K Fire TV box. This is maybe the ultimate one-cable upgrade for an older TV: plug it in and you not only get drastically improved sound thanks to its speaker and subwoofer combination, but you also a full-on Fire TV, complete with Ultra HD streaming.
It comes with a a Fire TV remote, which includes a microphone, so you can use full Alexa voice control – ask it for whatever you want to watch, use it to control your smart home, or ask it more general questions.
It’s covered in a stylish felt finish, with a hidden display for useful information that you can only see when it’s on.
It’s such a useful combination, and Anker’s sound quality always impresses for the price – and at a price of $229 (UK price TBC), it’s a hell of a bargain for a 2-in-1.
Best Small Appliance: Miele TriFlex
With a hefty £699 price tag, the TriFlex is gunning right for the cordless vacuum cleaner crown… but if anyone can justify that cost, its Miele.
The TriFlex name refers to the ergonomics of the cleaner: you can use it in three modes. Like other cordless vacs, you can have the main sucky bit (technical term) up at the handle, with a long tube reaching the floor. But you can actually slide the sucky bit down the handle, until it’s just above the cleaning head. This totally changes the weight distribution, making it much more like an upright vacuum – if you find current cordless vac designs tiring to hold, this could change everything for you. The third option is to take the long tube off completely, of course, and attach a number of alternative accessories.
It’s got swappable batteries, so you can vacuum for longer if you get multiples, just popping one out and one in if it dies before you’ve finished cleaning.
Cordless vacuum cleaners are well established now, but Miele has solved the last problem they had with the design here – despite it being the company’s first cordless. That’s a hell of a debut.
Best Large Appliance: Samsung AirDresser
This is, seriously, the first revolution in cleaning clothes at home since the tumble dryer. The AirDresser is a dry cleaner that can fit alongside your wardrobe. You hang clothes in it, which it then blasts with air to dislodge dirt and debris, then fires steam through them to sanitise and clear stains, then it uses a heat pump to dry them out, ready for wearing (there also a de-odorising filter to maker sure they’re extra fresh).
It has different intensities of cleaning modes, of course, so you be careful with your more delicate garments. You can get different sizes of AirDresser too – a slim, single-door unit for smaller home, or a double-door unit if you really get through stuff.
The ability to freshen up high-maintenance suits, jumpers and dresses at home, with no hassle, is a true game-changer, and it can be installed discreetly, behind the mirror finish on its door.
Congratulations to all our winners! We can’t wait to see these products in even more detail after their full releases.