USA TODAY’s Jefferson Graham counts down his top 5 tech innovations for 2015, highlighted by a must have app from Google on #TalkingTech.

MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. — What was your favorite tech innovation of 2015?

Virtual reality? The iPhone upgrade? Sharper-than-ever digital cameras?

For me, I’m going old school, with an app, followed by a red-hot camera, endless music I love for the phone, a great way to enjoy TV and online video watching and more.

Here’s my top 10:

GOOGLE PHOTOS (Free.) If you take lots of pictures and want to keep track of them, this is the app you need. It makes automatic backups of everything you shoot, and thus is a great tool for sharing photos and especially videos, since there are no storage limits. (Alert–Google lowers the resolution of photos and videos slightly, but I haven’t had an issue. I’ve been able to order prints as large as 20×30.)

The app has greatly improved since the initial launch in May. Searches for photos not taken on smartphones were sketchy at the beginning. Now they’re much more accurate. But an additional tip: be sure to tag as many photos as you can, and make albums for them for even better search results.


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SONY RX10II and A7SII ($1,300 and $2,999) What are memories of a great year without a fantastic camera?

Sony’s RX10II is the ultimate travel camera, with a light body, a built-in 24mm to 200mm lens, full manual controls and 4K video shooting. It has a one-inch image sensor, ten times the size of a point and shoot, but slightly smaller than a DSLR. The A7SII is a full-bodied, while still compact, camera with droolworthy features, and is the sequel to what was my favorite camera from 2014.

The A7SII still shoots in the lowest of light, but now you get even better results in even darker situations, and it has the most impressive 4K ultra-high-definition video I’ve ever seen in a camera.

4k video, 5-axis image stabilization and insane low-light capabilities are some of the highlights of this full-frame mirrorless camera.

APPLE TV (Starts at $149.) While Apple didn’t innovate much in digital streaming with 2015’s Apple Music, it did move the living room needle forward with Apple TV. The revamped version of the streaming media box brings apps to the TV, with a great remote with voice-activated Siri search. The choices are so many, Apple TV comes to the closest I’ve seen to being able to cut the cord and never miss broadcast and cable TV. This is by far my favorite streaming media box, besting Roku, Amazon and Google Chromecast, thanks to the remote and interface.

YOUTUBE MUSIC (Ad-free subscription $9.99 monthly.) The music lover’s dream, and the video network’s answer to Facebook, Spotify and Apple Music. YouTube has the widest, most diverse collection of music online, with music videos, late night TV and live performances, documentary footage and more. The app is available for free or $9.99 monthly for the ad-free version, and brought innovation to streaming music by creating an endless music mix based on your tastes. (Subscribers also get access to YouTube Red, the premium service that will begin offering original programming from YouTubers and others in January, as well as Google Play Music, a streaming music service  similar to Spotify.)

NEXUS 5X: ($375.) If the new features on the iPhone didn’t wow you this year, or if the $650 entry-level price threw you off, take a good look at Google’s state-of-the-art and rather affordable Nexus 5X. The Nexus rivals the iPhone feature for feature, with a beautiful 5.2 inch screen, compared to the 4.7 inch iPhone 6S. And it sells for $375 without a contract, a bargain in techland.

HBO NOW ($15 monthly.) This was the year HBO bypassed cable operators and let us pay for HBO directly, for viewing on home-streaming units like Apple TV and Roku. Imagine that for $15 monthly, you could watch an entire channel’s roster of shows and movies, whenever you want. And on top of that, you also have access to every single title in the HBO library, every episode of the Sopranos or Curb Your Enthusiasm, for instance. Very simply, forget Netflix, Hulu and the rest — HBO Now is simply the greatest TV app ever.

Ricoh Theta 360 ($350.) We played with a lot of cool cameras this year, but the 360 was the only one we saw with two lenses–one on the front and one on the back. The Theta gives you a wild, 360 degree, spherical view of the world, at an affordable price, and is way more compact and less pricey than larger, similar rigs, like the new 16-camera GoPro set-up for $15,000. The 360 is a conversation piece that will really wow people when you show them your spherical view of the world.

Jefferson Graham takes out the new Richoh Theta S camera for wild 360 spherical views of the Manhattan Beach pier and shows how to use it.
Sean Fujiwara

Yamaha Silent Guitar (around $449.) Cool! A true, travel guitar that fits in an overhead compartment on an airplane, and has battery power (2 AAs) to plug in headphones and rock out from the hotel room — or wherever. Even with just your headphones on, the guitar is amplified and sounds like you’re rocking through a great Fender amp. So you can groove in style without bothering the neighbors. However, if you do want to plug in and play for the crowd, you can go directly into an amp as well.

-RING ($199.) One of the niftier new gadgets of the year is the video doorbell, which links to your smartphone to let you know who’s at the door, without having to get up out of your chair to find out. The unit is pricey, at $199, but when you’re standing at a waterfall near Portland, Oregon and get a ring, like I did, and can actually communicate with the FedEx driver back home to leave a package across the street, well, how novel is that?

IOS9 (Free.) For years, consumers have been complaining about Apple’s upgrades of the IOS mobile operating system, saying it played havoc with their phones, sometimes to the point of making their devices inoperable. The software each year got bigger and bigger, but this year, Apple took the refreshing step of going the opposite route, with a smaller version that fixed a lot of bugs and made iPhones more operable. My favorite feature–low-power mode. Once the battery starts running down, IOS9 closes down apps and Siri and dims the lights, to give you one extra hour of juice. And if that doesn’t make the upgrade worth it, what does?

What’s on your list? Let’s chat about it on Twitter, where I’m @jeffersongraham.

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