CNET Editors’ Choice: Our Experts Pick the Best AI, Smart Home and Future Tech

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Welcome to the best of the future, today. In this edition of CNET’s Editors’ Choice Awards, you’ll see our picks for the kinds of devices and services that were inconceivable a few years ago. We’re talking about artificial intelligence chatbots and image generators, virtual and augmented reality headsets, and smart devices from speakers to locks to doorbells that can make your home feel like a technology palace.

As always, our expert editors have tested and compared everything on this list hands-on to arrive at our top recommendations. Only the best of the best earn the Editors’ Choice, and we’ll explain exactly why we love this stuff — and why you will too. 


The best AI tools, reviewed by humans

As part of our comprehensive AI Atlas, we test chatbots, image generators and more to figure out which ones work best and which ones hallucinate (make stuff up). As always, our testing is based on hands-on experience by expert human editors. With that prompt, here’s what we found.

James Martin/CNET

Who is it best for?

Anthropic’s Claude is a great tool for anyone who wants a conversational and easy-to-use chatbot for answering basic queries or digging deep on more complex topics. It doesn’t hedge its answers as much as other AI chatbots and is willing to give more definitive answers. When conversing with it, Claude engages more than other chatbots and is willing to explore different ideas. It doesn’t have a direct connection to the internet, however, meaning if you’re looking to research more current topics, it’s best to look at other AI chatbots. 

Our favorite thing

Claude presents information in clear, easy to understand and human-like language. It doesn’t feel as robotic as other AI chatbots. As a broader research tool, it synthesizes different bits of information from a variety of sources and brings up the more salient points.  

Why we love it

The free version of Anthropic’s Claude felt like the most conversational of all the AI chatbots we’ve tested so far. It went out of its way to ask for our opinions on topics and engaged in a back-and-forth. Not only that, its answers, generally, felt well thought out. And in our testing it was less prone to hallucinate, or make stuff up. It should be noted, however, that these AI chatbots are being updated constantly so Claude’s competitors like ChatGPT and Google’s Gemini are trying to up their games too. 

— Imad Khan, Senior Writer

Read our full review.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Who is it best for?

Dall-E 3 is a great tool for both amateur and professional designers who want to create images and illustrations from written descriptions. It encourages you to enter long, story-like prompts, and it handles more complicated instructions well. Dall-E is available only to those with the premium version of ChatGPT for $20 per month.

Our favorite thing

Dall-E 3 creates vivid, attention-grabbing images. They may not always be perfect, but they are consistently engaging. Dall-E is conversational, meaning you can send follow-up messages asking it to adjust certain elements so you can refine and fine-tune your images. You can make your images to be widescreen, portrait and landscape, which is a nice customization tool.

Why we love it

Dall-E consistently outperformed its rivals. It can handle complex and longer prompts so you can get the image you want. It does have a bit of trouble generating photorealistic images and can take longer than other programs, but the images are worth the wait. (The potato king that Stephen Shankland generated for his review is particularly fun.) Despite the cost, Dall-E 3 is the best AI image generator we’ve tested so far.

— Katelyn Chedraoui, Associate Writer

Read our full review.

Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Who is it best for?

Otter is great for people who are regularly in meetings, conducting interviews or need a handy recording device. Depending on how many hours of recording time you need, you may want to invest in a paid plan.

Our favorite thing

Otter AI Chat is my favorite Otter feature and a major time-saver. You can message the genAI chatbot to get the information you need without needing to read the whole transcript. Otter AI Chat doesn’t regurgitate the jargon in your transcript; rather it breaks the information down into easily understandable language.

Why we love it

Otter AI is a fantastic meeting assistant. Whether you’re on a free personal plan or your company’s enterprise plan, Otter has helpful features that will make it easier to keep track of your team’s priorities and action items. It’s been my go-to transcription service for years, and it’s only getting better.

— Katelyn Chedraoui, Associate Writer

Read our full review.

AR, VR and future tech we love

The future of today is about more than just AI. It’s augmented and virtual reality headsets and the best apps and games that use them. It’s also stuff like 3D printers and battery-powered projectors that manifest your virtual creations and put huge streaming TV images anywhere.

CNET

Who is it best for?

If you’ve ever wanted to play VR games without any PC at all, or want to explore the future of mixed reality, Meta’s $500 headset offers a great display, improved color cameras, and hundreds of apps to explore at a fraction of the price of Apple’s Vision Pro. It also works as an excellent PC VR headset too. 

Our favorite thing

Mixed reality may seem like a gimmick now, but the Quest 3 can blend virtual experiences on top of the real world in ways that will likely expand in the next few years. The headset’s display resolution looks great too, and optimized Quest games are starting to show off console-level graphics.

Why we love it

Fitness, games, and even work apps are just some of the many things the Quest 3 can be good for. While VR isn’t necessary for most people, and we still think the Quest 2 is a great all-around choice for many, this is the best hardware for its price you can find right now. It’s our favorite VR headset right now for that reason: call it the Vision Pro Lite, for a fraction of Apple’s $3,500 price.

— Scott Stein, Senior Editor

Read our full review.

Meta/CNET

Who is it best for?

At $200, the Quest 2 is an absurdly good deal for a self-contained VR headset, making it a great fit for anyone who wants to try games or fitness apps without spending a ton on hardware. Sure, it’s four years old, but it’s still a favorite pick for older kids and teens. 

Our favorite thing

The affordable price is what makes the Quest 2 great right now. The Quest 3 has better lenses, graphics, display resolution and passthrough cameras, but also costs $300 more. If you’re OK with that, get a Quest 3. But the $200 Quest 2 price makes it an amazing budget pick.

Why we love it

It’s hard to think of any great products that cost $200 anymore. While the Quest 2 might get replaced in Meta’s lineup later this year, this headset can still run hundreds of games and experiences well, at a cost that’s less than a Nintendo Switch.

— Scott Stein, Senior Editor

Read our full review.

Mighty Cononut

Who is it best for?

If you’ve ever wanted to play a great social VR game with friends at a comfortable, casual pace, Walkabout offers up lush and surreal mini golf courses that are perfect to explore with others. It’s great for mini golf lovers or those who want fun Disney-like VR experiences at home.

Our favorite thing

Walkabout’s whimsical course designs often feel like theme park attractions. The Meow Wolf course is a perfect example of this, introducing mind-bending holes and hypnotic art into a whole world you can wander through that just happens to also be a mini golf course. The extra hidden item hunts in each course are great too.

Why we love it

Not only is Walkabout a great mini golf simulator for home, it’s constantly full of new courses that explore magical locations. You can play with friends and chat and hang out in these worlds, making it my favorite casual place to play in VR with friends.

— Scott Stein, Senior Editor

Read our full review.

Within

Who is it best for?

Supernatural is perfect for anyone who wants to get more physically fit using a VR headset or any VR headset owner who’s been trying to motivate to get more exercise. The subscription service feels like a VR game mixed with Peloton-style virtual training.

Our favorite thing

The beautiful 3D locations and personality-filled holographic VR trainers (real people, who appear as 3D video during workouts) do a great job of immersing us into workouts and feeling emotionally connected. The continuously updated music sets, ranging from Florence and the Machine to Disney, are excellent too.

Why we love it

I’ve been using Supernatural for over half a year, and it’s motivated me to be physically active in ways I’ve never been before. I’ve felt a difference, and the leaderboards, social connection with friends and addictive gameplay work magic on me. It’s a subscription that costs $10 per month or $100 per year, but that’s well worth it.

— Scott Stein, Senior Editor

Read our full review.

James Bricknell / CNET

Who is it best for?

Those just starting out in 3D printing and people who want to try color 3D printing for the first time. It’s also a good choice for those who want to sell their prints.

Our favorite thing

From getting the package at my door to starting the first 3D print, the entire setup process took less than 10 minutes. There was no fuss, just quality printing immediately.

Why we love it

The Bambu Lab A1 is a joy to use. Unlike some other 3D printers we rate highly, it isn’t just a tool that does a job, it’s a tool that makes that job more fun. The ease at which you can set it up and use it makes it feel more like a kitchen appliance than an engineering machine. I know, “kitchen appliance” and “fun” don’t normally go hand in hand, but the A1 manages it.

Color 3D printing has always been an area that took considerable time, money and effort to get right. Bambu Lab has managed to make it (almost) seamless at a price that would have been impossible just five years ago. For $559, the 3D printer and the AMS that controls the color printing is a bargain.

It’s not a perfect machine. The color system can be tricky to get right, and the waste that color 3D printing creates can be troublesome, but the quality experience far outweighs the negatives. The A1 is a new generation of 3D printers that “just work” in the way you expect modern products to.

— James Bricknell, Senior Editor

Read our full review.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Who is it best for?

Anyone looking for a small battery-powered projector to create a big image just about anywhere.

Our favorite thing

Unlike many portable projectors, the Mars 3 Air uses the full version of Google TV for its streaming and overall interface. This means it has all the services you’d expect, like Netflix, Disney Plus, Max and so on. More importantly, and again unlike many portables, it has the real, full versions of these apps, so they work as you’d expect. 

Why we love it

Most portable projectors are compromised in a lot of ways, but the Mars 3 Air manages to do just about everything right. It creates a reasonably bright, colorful, contrasty image. The streaming interface works just like what’s found in more expensive projectors and many TVs. It sounds better than you’d expect, too, being able to double as a decent Bluetooth speaker. If you want to connect a game console, there’s an HDMI input on the back. The battery is rated for 2.5 hours, though if you run it at max brightness it’s a lot less. If you’re not on the go, you can plug it in and use it like a regular projector. 

While a traditional home projector will outperform the Mars 3 Air in every way, they don’t have its battery and ultra-portableness. We wish the price was a little lower, but given how much better it is than the competition, it’s worth the premium.

— Geoffrey Morrison, Contributor

Read our full review.

Our favorite smart home and security tech

Smart tech has found its way into every nook and cranny of the home, but not all of it is worth the investment. Home security cams with remarkable object recognition, speakers with brilliant sound that connect effortlessly and truly smart smart assistants comprise the best smart home tech in 2024. 

Ty Pendlebury/CNET

Who is it best for?

If your TV setup has more than a TV and streaming device then you could really benefit from a universal remote like the U2. The days of juggling three-plus remotes are over.

Our favorite thing

The remote connects to the iOS and Android app over Bluetooth, so there are no complicated setup routines or cables required. The app uses a straightforward product search, and we’ve found that most home theater was covered. You can also program in your devices if you need to, and programming is a lot easier than cheaper remotes that rely on codes.

Why we love it

Universal remotes, like the excellent Sofabaton U2, let you replace all of your remotes with one. The Sofabaton is easy to use and set up and is also ultra-affordable.

 –Ty Pendlebury, Editor

Read our full review.

Ty Pendlebury/CNET

Who is it best for?

For some people, it’s hard to imagine a world without smart assistants. If you’re looking for an easier way to automate tedious tasks or for simply checking the weather, the Echo Dot offers an exceptional value.

Our favorite thing

The Amazon Echo Dot shows off a lot of utility from playing music, to answering questions and automating smart home features. The fact that it fits in the palm of your hand means it will easily sit wherever you want it. And the price is affordable enough for just about any budget.

Why we love it

For its size, the Dot is a good-sounding speaker with sensitive microphones. It’s easy to set up and, since Alexa is the most popular virtual assistant, it has support from thousands of different brands. 

— Ty Pendlebury, Editor

Read our full review.

Who is it best for?

Sonos has been around a long time, and if you’re interested in music in every room it’s likely you already have at least one of its products. The Snos Era 100 improves on the previous Sonos One with better sound, including stereo, and enhanced usability.

Our favorite thing

The Sonos system has the widest streaming compatibility of any product on the market, and the 100 capitalizes on this by also sounding better than any other smart speaker. The 100 is relatively affordable and able to fit in spaces large tabletop speakers cannot.

Why we love it

The Sonos Era 100 is great because it sounds huge for the money, and it lets you play music and ask questions using the Alexa voice assistant.

— Ty Pendlebury, Editor

Read our full review.

Ty Pendlebury/CNET

Who is it best for?

If you have an older hi-fi or large desktop speaker which you want to stream music to, the WiiM Pro offers the best streaming and connectivity of any device on the market.

Our favorite thing

A lot of us have existing music systems and speakers that sound perfectly good, yet aren’t equipped with Bluetooth or some other way to play back streaming music. The WiiM Pro connects to those devices’ analog or digital inputs and makes streaming simple. It boasts an easy-to-use app so you can control everything with your phone and compatibility with every major streaming platform including Spotify, Apple AirPlay and Chromecast built-in.

Why we love it

The WiiM Pro is compact, user-friendly and costs less than a record player. It’s a great way to  play anything you want on your favorite stereo.

— Ty Pendlebury, Editor

Read our full review.

Google

Who is it best for?

Everyone who has a front door, especially homeowners or renters first starting out with home security.

Our favorite thing

AI object recognition that’s more accurate than any other doorbell we’ve tested — and it’s free where many brands charge extra.

Why we love it

Nest’s object recognition has been around since before Google’s big AI push, but the company’s work at training AI models is very evident in this super-accurate doorbell. No other doorbell I’ve tested can so deftly alert users when a person is carrying a package and when they leave it behind (or when the package disappears).

The doorbell’s recognition features also let it ignore passing cars and other visual noise while focusing on what matters via Activity Zones and other settings. If you pay a subscription for Nest Aware, you also get the ability to add familiar face profiles so the doorbell can recognize friends and family. That’s a more controversial feature, but it’s undeniable Nest is on the cutting edge of smart motion detection.

Nest is also one of the only brands offering free cloud video storage. You get three hours to decide what to do with footage, including downloading or sharing it. That bonus usually requires a subscription fee in other devices. 

— Tyler Lacoma, Home Security Editor

Read our full review.

CNET/Tyler Lacoma

Who is it best for?

Those looking for a full deadbolt replacement replete with every unlocking option you could want.

Our favorite thing

The sleek, highly responsive keypad looks and feels great to use, whether you’re swiping your Apple Watch or using your thumbprint.

Why we love it

Apple fans feast with the Aqara U100, one of the few home security devices that works with Apple Home/HomeKit right out of the box. The extra-sturdy deadbolt replacement simply feels good, with a powerful and responsive keypad that also serves as a fingerprint reader and Bluetooth sensor for digital keys. This is exactly what people think of when they dream about a smart lock upgrade.

The Aqara app allows you to play with all kinds of rules and restrictions on when the door auto-locks or opens. You can set up home access exactly how you want it, from temporary guest passes and geofencing to reviewing the day’s door activities.

What about non-Apple users? Platform compatibility is a bit limited until you add an Aqara Zigbee hub, which enables support for Alexa and Google Assistant, as well as Wi-Fi connections for away-from-home control. I advise bundling the two together for the complete lock setup.

— Tyler Lacoma, Home Security Editor

Read our full review.

Google

Who is it best for?

People looking for an even-smarter security cam they can mount anywhere and pop off immediately for recharging.

Our favorite thing

Google’s object recognition is back in this snappy Nest cam, but the best feature is the free 3 hours of cloud video storage so you have time to download footage.

Why we love it

This cam comes with all the Nest Doorbell’s detection smarts plus a design that lets you mount it nearly anywhere. The magnetic base is a particularly great fit for this battery cam, a sturdy connection that’s easy to angle but can pop off at a moment’s notice for recharging.

The versatility of the Nest Cam continues to impress with both Google Assistant and Alexa/Echo support thanks to a round of compatibility updates a few years ago. Plus, like the Nest Doorbell, 3 hours of free video storage are included every time the Nest Cam picks up an important event through object recognition and starts recording. Features like these make this a great starter model for a security camera, and I’m just waiting to see how Nest will develop in the future.

— Tyler Lacoma, Home Security Editor

Read our full review.

Methodology, or how we made this list

The CNET Editors’ Choice badge represents the strongest recommendation of a product or service evaluated by CNET experts. The award distinguishes the products and services that have made a lasting impression on CNET’s editorial team.

To earn an Editors’ Choice distinction, a product or service must be a top pick in its category, score a minimum benchmark when rated, or be selected by a CNET expert based on hands-on testing of the product and its competition. Awarded by our experienced editors, enhanced by lab testing in dedicated facilities, and more selective than a Best List inclusion or a positive review, readers can know that Editors’ Choice Award recipients are the best of the best.


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