Well as I sit here and write this we still have about a day and a half left in 2015 but by the time you read this we will all begin the yearly struggle to remember to write the correct year down when writing down the date. Every year before finishing things up I like to sit down and look back through the years work and revisit all of the products that I gave the Editor’s Choice award too. The Editor’s Choice award is an interesting one because it only goes to products that really stand out and are most likely to make it into daily use in the office or with my LAN rig. They aren’t always perfect but typically they see long term use, for example in 2014 I awarded 12 products and even today 9 of them see near daily use. So this year we published 92 reviews, down from the 100 last year, I’ve been slacking a little I guess. Of those I awarded 10 with an Editor’s Choice award, so let’s revisit them and find out how I feel about them now.
Late in January I took a look at a portable DAC and headphone amplifier from Sound Blaster called the E5. I loved it so much that I actually started using it all of the time on my desktop. In addition to that when Creative Labs sponsored our LANs this year I also suggested it as a prize. So am I still using it? Well I would be but they sent the Sound Blaster X7 later in the year that is a dedicated DAC for desktop use. You will find it down further as it also won an Editor’s Choice.
The Asus GTX 980 Stix is an interesting one. Typically, it ends up being the reference card that gets the award simply because of the jump in performance at launch but the Strix really caught my eye. For starters at the time it was the cheapest GTX 980 that you could pick up. In addition to that I was impressed with its performance, cooling performance, and all metal design that even included a backplate. It really stood out from the other GTX 980’s, something that is very hard to do. So almost 11 months later is it still getting use? Actually originally this went into my LAN rig but I later moved it into my main PC along with two other GTX 980’s when I added a 4k monitor in addition to my three other 1440p monitors. It has been in use from then on day and night and I don’t see that changing any time soon.
If I had to pick any one product introduced all year that blew me away it would have to be the Intel 750 Series. Seriously I can’t remember the last time I saw such a huge gap in performance between a product and everything that came before it. In fact, I had to split up our SSD graphs just to keep the 750 out of SATA based drive reviews simply because it skewed the results so far that it made the SATA graphs hard to read. So am I still using it? I wanted to use it as an OS drive in my main PC but the SR-X never got the update to NVMe so I have been using it to install programs I use day to day like Photoshop and League of Legends. I also use it as a scrap drive when moving files around on the network because it is faster than anything else in the office. I still want to build a new PC around it and I might just do that soon.
The Asus ROG GR8 got my attention simply because of its size. It was smaller than any of our LunchBox builds and had enough power to play just about anything. At the time we took it to a few different LAN events and it literally fit in the front pocket of my wife’s LAN bag. It wasn’t as easy as taking a gaming laptop but it wasn’t very far off. It wasn’t perfect, namely the hard drive was ungodly slow, prompting me to install an SSD in the expansion slot during the time we had the GR8. Sadly, I had to send this one back to Asus, if not for that I have no doubt that we would still be using it from event to event. That said it is a bit dated, Asus has already introduced the GR6 to replace it with an updated video card.
Funny enough when the GTX 980 Ti was introduced I gave it the Editor’s Choice over the Titan X because of its much lower price point but in the time from then on I have actually used the Titan X a lot more. That’s not really a huge surprise though, when you have both available you might as well go for the faster model right? Because of that I would still give the GTX 980 Ti the nod because its performance was still amazing and while expensive it is much more in reach than the Titan X will ever be. It just happens to be a bit of an oddball here being an Editor’s Choice winner that isn’t really seeing day to day use.
So a lot of us use wrist rests, the Noko Leatherworks TKL wrist rest didn’t really innovate anything there. Where it did stand out though was its overall quality. This specific model impressed me enough that I actually invested in a full sized keyboard model as well as a matching mouse rest as well. I had Noko carve the LanOC logo into it as well. The TKL model wasn’t cheap and the full set I picked up cost enough to make some people think I was crazy. Am I still using them? Well I have had a hard time adjusting to using a mouse rest but I do still use the full sized model day to day. The LanOC carving came out good but we did have a few issues with the shading and tinting that Noko resolved mostly. Would I still recommend them? I would, but being custom made it looks like Noko has taken a break for a little while. Hopefully she comes back and everyone has the chance to get a high quality wrist rest.
Over the past year and a half my interest in small and interesting keyboards has grown and frankly gotten completely out of control. The Keycool Hero 84 though was one of the few small keyboards that I thought might be the perfect solution for people who want the smallest footprint possible at LANs without losing things like a direction pad. I wasn’t wrong, the Hero 84 was a great keyboard. In the time past my review though I am sad to report it never really made it back into my LAN bag. I loved the layout and the keyboard did everything I needed it to do but I love my Poker 2 to much to change. Looking back knowing that it most likely wouldn’t have gotten the award still but I do think it is still the best option for non-enthusiasts to get something small without as much of a transition.
So as I said up near the top of this article, I really enjoyed the Sound Blaster E5. So much so that Sound Blaster sent over the X7 and a set of speakers for me to try out. The X7 really impressed me with its versatility just as much as it did with its audio quality. It immediately replaced the speaker setup I had on my desk and beyond the review it hasn’t moved one bit. I still use it every day. I have recently been shopping around for a small powered sub to go with it as I do miss the low lows but I don’t see thee X7 going anywhere anytime soon, unless of course I get my hands on the higher powered X7 Limited Edition model.
The Razer Mamba was the only mouse who won one this year, partially because I really didn’t get in as many mice this year as normal, but also because I really liked what Razer has going with it. It wasn’t perfect, in fact I really wish it had a different sensor. But with the shape of the Deathadder, a charging base, great, software, and adjustable tension triggers it had a lot good going for it. It’s only been a few weeks so it’s really hard to look back and find out if I’m going to put it to good use in the next year but I do have it setup on a second PC in the office right now as I test a monitor so it’s looking good so far.
Wow so three different Sound Blaster products made it on the list this year, that’s crazy. The Roar 2 was something I went in expecting to not really care. In the end I found a few really good uses for it and I was blown away by its audio quality. Again it’s far too soon to know if it will see use well past the review. The Roar 2 did surprise me with its versatility, I’m sure that will help it find ways to keep getting used going into 2016.
In past years I just looked back at what products got the award and that is it. This time around I thought maybe I should take a look back and see if there was anything that I regretted not giving the award. The first one that came to mind was the Titan X. Frankly while the GTX 980 Ti won and Titan X didn’t the Titan has been what I’ve been running in my LAN rig most of the year. For that reason alone, it most likely should have gotten it. The other I think should have gotten the award but didn’t was the Sony Xperia Z3v. I’ve tested a LOT of phones but I have never had more fun with one. Not only was it quick and extremely high quality but I had a blast with it being waterproof. I took it into the pool at a hotel while getting crazy looks and later took photos in my tub that ended up being so clear that I had to go back and add soap just so people could see the phone and tablet were actually running in the water.