A year can feel like a lifetime in the world of tech. In 2018 alone, traditional desktop PCs saw their dominance tested by the superlative power of tablet computers, while second-generation input devices took interaction with digital canvases to a new level. Monitors reached connectivity and resolution heights to accommodate surges in graphics power, and innovations in the AR and VR space opened up novel yet CPU-intensive avenues for creativity.
But with all this going on, what has been the standout tech for creative professionals in the last 12 months? Whether you want to upgrade your set-up with a game-changing accessory, or aim to take your creativity in a new direction entirely with a new workstation, keep reading to find out what got our attention on the market in 2018.
01. Apple iPad Pro (2018)
Apple's most complete tablet to date
Apple's latest 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro models have adopted the signature slim-bezel design of the company's flagship smartphones, with stunning results. Both tablets feature crisp edge-to-edge displays twinned with an integrated TrueDepth camera, enabling Face ID authentication in lieu of a home button (plus there's no notch).
But that's not all. Thanks to Apple's A12X Bionic processor, these models are also stunningly fast, able to reach speeds that would leave many PCs behind. Additionally, Apple has had the foresight to replace the Lightning Port with USB-C, which opens the device to a world of creative connectivity, including 4K/5K displays, cameras, and more.
- Also read: The best cheap iPad deals in 2018
02. OWC 14-Port Thunderbolt 3 Dock
Make more connections
If Thunderbolt 3 is the future of connectivity, OWC has ensured that its new dock for Windows and Mac won't be beaten when it comes to the sheer number of connections a single cable can carry.
The slim box weighs only 1.2 pounds, but somehow OWC has packed in 2x Thunderbolt 3 ports, 5x USB-A ports (2x faster charging), 1x USB-C Gen 2 port, a microSD card slot, an SD card slot, digital audio output, 1x Mini DisplayPort, S/PDIF output, 3.5mm audio ports, and Gigabit Ethernet.
It's capable of connecting up to five additional Thunderbolt devices, including two 4K displays or one 5K display, and with 85 watts of output, it can even power a 15-inch MacBook Pro.
03. Samsung C34J791 Curved LCD Monitor
A viewing experience that envelopes you
Curved TVs have a dubious rationale, but curved monitors like this one from Samsung are a different matter entirely, in the way they envelop the viewer in their workspace. Samsung's C34J791 is also the first curved monitor to include Thunderbolt 3 connectivity alongside the usual USB 3.0, DisplayPort and HDMI inputs, so you can plug just about anything into it.
The monitor's 3440 x 1440 resolution and 16:9 aspect is a boon for productivity and creative tasks that require several windows open at the same time, while the 3,000:1 contrast ratio and 300 cd/m² brightness rating ensure crisp consistency across the Vertical Alignment (VA) panel. Combine that with a 100Hz refresh rate and a 4ms response time, and it's also ready for demanding motion graphics applications.
04. Apple Pencil 2
The perfect companion to an iPad Pro
Apple's latest stylus is smaller and lighter than the original Apple Pencil, but not without new features. The redesign is partly thanks to the decision to drop the Lightning connector in favour a magnetic function that allows the Pencil to snap smartly onto the top of new the iPad Pro models for pairing, charging, and storage.
Another advantage of the new snap-on function is that the Pencil now has a flat side where it connects, so the stylus is less likely to roll off the table. Lastly, new gestures have also been added – for example, users can now switch between app tools with a quick double tap.
05. Microsoft Surface Studio 2
Create a dual-monitor workstation
The original Surface Studio raised the eyebrows of many Mac-using creative professionals in 2016, and Microsoft looks bent on converting as many Apple fans as it can with this follow-up model of its all-in-one creative PC.
It looks the same on the outside, but updated internal components and a brighter, higher contrast 28-inch display make for a much better overall experience. The Studio 2 can be configured to include up to GeForce GTX 1070 graphics with 8GB GDDR5 memory, up to 32GB of DDR4 RAM, and as much as 2TB of solid-state storage. The only disappointment is the slightly underwhelming seventh-generation Intel Core i7 mobile processor.
06. Wacom Cintiq Pro 32
Wacom's biggest screen yet
Wacom has super-sized its popular Cintiq Pro for creatives looking for the largest possible high-definition pen display. This new 32-inch version recently received the prestigious Red Dot Award for product design, and with the scale of the workspace on offer, it's easy to see why.
The display's 4K resolution boasts 98 percent Adobe RGB colour accuracy and support for a billion colours to deliver a true-to-life experience, while the etched glass surface – combined with new Pro Pen 2 technology – ensures the pen-on-screen experience has also been improved.
- Also read: The best drawing tablets right now
07. Blackmagic eGPU Pro
Accelerate your Mac's graphics
With the introduction of Thunderbolt 3, Apple opened up the Mac to a new world of connectivity, including the ability to accelerate graphics performance with powerful external GPUs. Designed in collaboration with Apple, this second-generation Blackmagic eGPU unit promises to provide the extra oomph needed to boost pro creative software like DaVinci Resolve and VR editing apps.
The case houses an AMD Radeon RX Vega 56 graphics card offering 22 times the graphics performance of a 13-inch MacBook Pro, and is well protected by a unique thermal cooling system that's designed to perfectly balance the airflow and dissipate heat efficiently. It also boasts its own veritable hub of outputs, including 2x TB3 ports, 1x HDMI 2.0 port, 1x DisplayPort with support for 5K displays, and four USB 3.1 connections.
08. HTC Vive Pro
Premium VR headset
While creative tools like Gravity Sketch are helping to open up the world of virtual reality to designers, VR headsets like the Vive Pro are allowing them to access their creations in even richer detail. The premium Vive not only has built-in headphones and outputs a better picture than the standard model, its motion-tracking base station sensors have a wider field of vision, letting users create up to a 20-by-20 foot VR space in which to experience their projects.
09. LG 34-inch 5K2K UltraWide Thunderbolt 3 Display
Upping the resolution
This Thunderbolt 3 display may not be a true 5K display (it only has 5K resolution on the horizontal x-axis), but coming from a 4K or lesser resolution display, it's still a fantastic upgrade.
The LG 34WK95U boasts a crystal clear nano IPS panel and a wide 21:9 aspect ratio with a native resolution of 5120 by 2160. It also features enhanced wide colour support, thanks to 98 percent coverage of the DCI-P3 colour space, and a maximum brightness of 450 nits.
10. Microsoft Surface Pro 6
The best two-in-one PC yet
Microsoft has built on its dominance of the two-in-one PC market with this sixth-generation Surface, which features a slick black finish and a big boost in battery life over the previous model to ensure it can handle a full day's work.
The Intel 8th-gen quad-core processor inside provides plenty of horsepower for demanding design work, and its vivid 12.3-inch 2,736 x 1,824 resolution display make colours look great. It might not be a revolutionary update, but the Surface Pro 6 is still the best 2-in-1 PC you can buy.
11. Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K
Extreme high quality video
Blackmagic specialises in portable cinema cameras, and while you'd struggle to get this one in your pocket, it's still an extremely compact unit, being no bigger than a standard SLR. It's capable of shooting both RAW and ProRes HQ in 4K DCI 60P, and the body features several useful connections including headphone and 3.5mm audio jacks, USB-C for an SSD, a HDMI 1.4 port, and a Mini XLR with Phantom power.
The camera doesn't have a viewfinder, but there's a five-inch 1080p touchscreen on the back for sizing up your video, which can be captured at up to an impressive 120 frames per second. You also get the full version of DaVinci Resolve Studio 15 included in the price.
12. Logitech MX Vertical
Turning the mouse on its head
If repetitive strain injury has blighted your creative projects, Logitech's latest mouse could be the solution. It sits at a 57-degree angle off the desk for an almost vertical mouse orientation.
The ergonomic design of the MX Vertical is meant to reduce muscular activity and strain by up to 10 percent compared to a typical mouse, while its sensor supports up to 4,000 DPI, making small movements more accurate. A button on top of the MX Vertical lets you adjust DPI on the fly, and the mouse also supports Logitech’s Flow software, making it simple to use it with multiple devices.
13. Lenovo ThinkPad P1
A capable MacBook alternative
Creatives looking for a well-designed workstation-class laptop will find lots to appreciate in the P1, Lenovo's thinnest-and-lightest ever ThinkPad. The sleek dark oil-resistant chassis houses Thunderbolt 3 ports, a large glass trackpad and a 4K touchscreen display with 10-bit colour and 100 percent Adobe RGB output.
The internals are just as impressive, with options including Intel Xeon quad- and six-core processors and up to 64GB of RAM. Despite that power under the hood, the P1 runs at a quiet 40dB, so you should be able to hear the built-in Alexa voice assistant just fine.
14. Microsoft Surface Dial (for Surface Pro 4)
SP4 support for Microsoft's creative puck
The Surface Pro 4 was introduced back in October 2015 and has been superseded by the Surface Pro, which offers support for the Surface Dial right out of the box. Microsoft has long promised the earlier tablet PC would eventually support the Surface Dial. That was almost a year ago, so this update is definitely worth shouting about. For £76, now SP4 owners can finally dial into the onscreen creative action, controlling radial menus and selecting functions more intuitively.
15. StarTech Thunderbolt 3 Mini Docking Stations
Create a dual-monitor workstation
Looking to marry a monitor or two to a brand new Apple Mac? Then consider one of StarTech's freshly launched bus-powered Thunderbolt 3 Mini Docking Stations with additional Ethernet and USB connectivity.
The dual HDMI dock supports two HDMI monitors running in 4K resolution, whereas the DisplayPort version can power two 4K DisplayPort monitors or one 5K monitor. Best of all, there's no need for a separate power cord because the included Thunderbolt 3 cable supplies all the charge your monitors need.
16. HP Chromebook x2
Chrome OS gets the tablet treatment
HP has announced the highest spec tablet PC on the market to run Google's Chrome OS, which now supports Android versions of several Adobe creative apps. For $600, the Chromebook x2 comes with a 12.3-inch 2400x1600 display and a bundled keyboard cover and pen stylus. That pits it squarely against Apple's iPad Pro, but at a price point that's more forgiving on the wallet.
The Chromebook x2 offers 10.5 hours of battery life, sports a Kaby Lake Core m3 processor, 4GB of RAM (upgradeable to 8GB), 32GB of storage, stereo speakers and both front and rear cameras. There's also two USB-C ports, a headphone jack, and a microSD slot thrown in.
17. Wacom Intuos Pen tablet
Entry-level offerings get new upgraded models
Another entry for Wacom, after it refreshed its Intuos Pen tablet range, intended for beginners pursuing digital illustration before they move on to the company's more expensive Intuos Pro and Cintiq models (see above).
The new small- ($99) and medium-sized ($199) Wacom tablets are lighter to carry and feature a smaller footprint than their predecessors, but the active tablet area hasn't changed, measuring 6 by 3.7 inches and 8.5 by 5.3 inches, respectively.
The pressure sensitivity also boasts an improved 4,096 levels when used with the new Wacom Pen 4K stylus, which is said to have a more ergonomic design, a slightly increased weight and a better grip than the earlier model.