Innovation is hard. It takes a keen understanding of the industry and what is going to help customers the most. It requires insight into technology trends and what is possible. And it means pushing an envelope at the risk of confusing customers.
Over the last year, I’ve tested several products that offered brand new and innovative features. These are my top picks.
1. Tempur-pedic Tempur-breeze Mattress ($4,499)
Tempur-pedic Tempur-breeze Mattress
The unusual feature on this high-tech mattress and base is that it stays cool all night, which helps you sleep better. You can use the remote to increase the coolness level as well, and then the mattress also absorbs your body heat. It’s like a cradle of softness.
2. iRobot Roomba S9 Robotic Vacuum ($1,400)
The main innovation with the new S9 is that it runs forever. Not really, but the vacbot can go back to its base and empty its own contents. You can select a specific area to clean using an app, and the AI learns your room coordinates and improves cleaning over time. My favorite feature? You can use Amazon Alexa to tell the robot to turn off.
3. Oculus Quest VR Headset ($399)
A standalone virtual reality headset — meaning, it doesn’t require a PC or a phone — the Oculus Quest is a marvel of engineering. I played the game “Vader Immortal” and thought I was in the same room as the Sith Lord. The audio is also pleasingly loud and realistic. Another surprise is that a new experimental feature can read hand movements — no controllers needed.
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Sometimes “weird” and “innovative” go hand in hand. This sleep robot helps you relax as you adjust your own breathing to the robot’s breathing rhythm. It’s designed to reduce stress but when I tested it, there’s a relaxing feeling of synchronicity — even for short naps.
5. Samsung Space Monitor ($370)
I’m all for any product that helps me work faster and more efficiently. The Samsung Space Monitor folds back out of the way when not in use so you can reclaim your desk space. When you need to do work, it folds down and stays put in any position. The brilliant part? In my tests, I started using my open desk for reading, journaling, and other tasks.
This is no ordinary task lamp. The Dyson Lightcycle automatically adjusts for the time of day, adjusting the color temperature and brightness as it tracks the sun. You can adjust the lamp with a light touch of your finger in any direction. An app helps you tune the light to the task at hand.
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7. Ember Temperature Control Travel Mug 2 ($180)
My favorite gadget of the year and not just because it’s coffee-related, the Travel Mug 2 keeps your coffee (or any liquid such as tea or cocoa) hot for up to three hours — longer if you use the charging coaster at your desk. Bonus that it’s also a nice-looking travel mug.
8. Fender Acoustasonic Telecaster Guitar ($2,000)
No other musical instrument I’ve tested quite matches the “wow” factor of the Fender Acoustasonic. With the flip of a switch (and a knob), you can emulate the sound of a large-body mahogany guitar or a small body made of spruce. The secret is a new pick-up that faithfully mimics the tonal quality of those woods — plus a classic Fender Telecaster.
9. IKEA Symfonisk Table Lamp ($179)
Combining a lamp and a speaker is a neat idea, but the IKEA Symfonisk goes a step further — it’s one of the best-sounding speakers you’ll find with rich, deep tones. And, it’s a bright and stylish lamp at the same time. Setup is painless using the Sonos app.
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10. Polk Legend L800 Speakers ($2,999)
I’m continually amazed at how audio technology has advanced. These high-end speakers use a technology called PRO-SDA to make your music come alive — they mix the stereo in a way that sounds more realistic and distinct, as though the music was playing live in the room.