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These are great! But be patient, 'cause they need a bit more time to be fully baked.
Worth the wait: Technology marches ever onward, becoming smaller, more powerful, and more revolutionary by the day. It’s all too easy to succumb to the madness drowning in the flood of daily tech news. Octa-deca-mega core processors! Cutting-edge displays you have to see to believe! Tech that makes everything from your coffee pot to your doorbell smart!
Relax. Take a breath. Think.
Yes, there’s amazing gear out there that will blow your mind if money is no object. But the cutting edge requires compromise, be it in the form of high sticker prices, bugs galore, or other issues. With that in mind, here’s a list of technology that absolutely rocks—but you probably shouldn’t buy.
Virtual reality headsets: Ignore all the headlines about how awe-inspiring and revolutionary VR headsets are—even though they’re all true. Being stalked by the legendary Alien or traversing the galaxy in VR will completely change the way you look at games, and VR has breathtaking potential outside of gaming, too.
It’s just not ready yet. Sure, you can buy Samsung’s Gear VR headset today if you own a recently released Galaxy phone—for a total investment of $900 or so—or plunk down $350 for a second-gen Oculus Rift developer kit if you’d like. And there are numerous b-tier VR and AR (augmented reality) headsets already available. But both the Oculus Rift consumer release and HTC’s SteamVR-powered Vive headset promise a massive leap in experience and visual fidelity, and they won’t hit the streets until around the New Year. Be patient.
NVMe SSDs: Oh wow. Non-Volatile Memory express (NVMe) SSDs like Intel’s recently released 750 series are scintillatingly fast. So fast, in fact, that most people’s PCs can’t possibly keep up. Yes, SSDs are becoming faster than the interfaces they use to talk with your computer.
To take full advantage of NVMe drives you need a similarly potent processor, like Intel’s octa-core Core i7-5960X—an enthusiast-class chip that’ll set you back a cool grand itself. On top of that, you’ll need an enthusiast-class motherboard that supports booting to an NVMe drive, or you’ll have to use all that speed for secondary storage alone. And considering that the 750 series SSD turbocharges file transfer speeds but fails to noticeably speed up boot times or application launch times, everybody but the most demanding media professionals should wait for NVMe tech both to mature and to drop in price.
Intel's enthusiast-class processors: Speaking of the Core i7-5960X, Intel’s flagship desktop processor—its first with eight CPU cores—is an absolute behemoth. It powers PCWorld’s graphics card benchmarking rig to utterly eradicate any chance the CPU will be a bottleneck and affect our tests. It’ll chew through anything you throw at it.
But you don’t need one.
Intel’s beast packs far more firepower than regular PC users require. Unless you’re doing hardcore graphics or video editing, you’ll virtually never push all those cores to their full potential. The same goes for desktop Core i7 processors in general, being honest: Even intense games work just fine with a four-core Core i5 chip, a few CPU-bound edge cases aside. DirectX 12 may change that, and investing in a Core i7 CPU can be worthwhile in a gaming laptop, but most people will be A-OK skipping the high end and saving their cash.
Smartwatches: I’ve been pining for what’ve become known as smartwatches ever since I was a kid. (Thanks, Dick Tracy!) But the first generation of smartwatches leaves a lot to be desired.
The vast majority of smartwatches—including Android Wear watches and the Apple Watch—need to be tethered for Internet connectivity, so you’ll still need to lug your phone around in your pocket. Alternative watches with their own cellular connections are bulky and come with their own phone number. What’s more, current watches have to be charged nightly—unless you’re using one with a subpar display—and at this point, they’re essentially there solely to serve you notifications you’re already getting on the phone in your pocket. Plus, at $200-plus for most models, and $350 for an Apple Watch, smartwatches cost more than a new subsidized flagship phone.
Eventually smartwatches may evolve into a must-have. But for now they’re purely a luxury.
4K television sets: Prices are plummeting for 4K TVs (and monitors!), with Vizio’s new M-series 4K TVs starting at a mere $600 for a 43-inch set. That’s a drastic difference from the original multi-thousand-dollar cost of 4K TVs, but still a several-hundred-dollar price premium over many 43-inch 1080p sets.
Cost aside, there still simply isn’t much content available at 4K resolution, though both Amazon and Netflix are toeing the waters and Ultra HD Blu-rays should be on their way soon. The bandwidth needs for streaming what little existing 4K content exists is oppressive in today’s Internet environment, too. Plus, the jump from 1080p to 4K isn’t as stark a difference as the jump from SD to HD sets was. Give this tech more time in the oven unless you find an especially sweet deal.
FreeSync/G-Sync monitors: But forget 4K monitors. Forget curved displays. Forget super-high-end graphics cards. The variable refresh rate technology—which matches the refresh rate of your monitor with your graphics card to eliminate stuttering and screen tearing—inside Nvidia’s G-Sync and AMD’s FreeSync monitors is the real hotness. Once you’ve used one in all its buttery-smooth gaming glory, you won’t want to ever use a standard display again. These rock.
But FreeSync and G-Sync use different underlying technologies, and each only works with GPUs from their respective makers. You can’t get G-Sync’s benefits with an AMD Radeon card, or vice versa. And since most people buy monitors for the long haul, buying an expensive G-Sync or FreeSync display today also means locking yourself into that brand’s graphics cards for the next 5 to 10 years. Ugh. Hopefully both sides adopt a standard soon.
Passive calorie-counting wearables: A fitness band that passively measures your calorie intake, with no action needed from you, would be the wearable Holy Grail. And like the Holy Grail, experts say the technology will probably remain a mere legend for the foreseeable future.
Two calorie-tracking wearables inspired hopes and made bank in crowdfunding campaigns recently. One, the Airo, wound up refunding people’s money after it determined its AIRO wristband lacks the accuracy to deliver consistent results. Healbe’s GoBe, on the other hand, started shipping to backers earlier in 2015, and Engadget’s review says its calorie-counting function provides drastically erroneous results.
That seems to corroborate what Medici Technologies CEO Ries Robinson told us about the GoBe’s passive calore-counting last year: “The physical reality is, this is just ridiculous. It doesn’t work at a medical level. It doesn’t work at a practical level.”
That cool new thing on Kickstarter: Speaking of crowdfunding, you know that super cool, insanely radical hardware you saw on Kickstarter or Indiegogo? Don’t back the project unless you’re willing to potentially lose that money and get nothing in return.
Remember: Kickstarter isn’t a store. While physical hardware may be a reward for backers on certain projects, your donation isn’t a preorder or downpayment. It’s the backing of an idea. You’re funding hope. You’re saying “This concept is cool and I want to help it hopefully become reality.” Even successfully funded projects fail frequently, however. If you’re just interested in a cool new gadget, wait to see if the project pans out and simply buy the object of your Kickstarter desire when (if) it hits retail.
Touchscreen laptops: Touchscreens make a lot of sense on phones, tablets, and hybrid laptop-tablet convertibles. But the cons outweigh the pros on traditional laptops—Windows 8’s contortions to foist finger-friendliness on PC users be damned.
Merely witnessing Windows 10’s startling pro-PC reversal is enough proof of that. But beyond the fact that touch capabilities are as useful as a trap door on a lifeboat when it comes to laptops, consider the more tangible drawbacks. Touchscreens add weight (and cost) to your notebook, often chew through battery life, and don’t commonly come with matte finishes, so they’re glare-tastic. And that’s not even mentioning all the fingerprint smudges on your screen.
More natural computing interfaces will likely become the norm in the future. But you don’t need touchscreen laptops today. And speaking of natural computing interfaces…
Gesture control accessories: The idea of waving your hands around to control your PC Minority Report-style sounds awesome in theory, but here in reality, there’s still work to be done—though slapping the Leap Motion on the front of VR headsets is a potential killer use case for gesture control technology, if it works well. But, as I said to kick this off, VR headsets aren't quite ready for prime time either.