15 best new pieces of tech for designers in 2016

The last 12 months have been host to a wealth of new hardware launches and a veritable parade of impressive tech, and happily plenty of it has been designed with creative professionals in mind. 

From innovative takes on traditional desktop and notebook computing, to revolutionary new input devices fine-tuned for digital artists, it's been an exciting annum of inspirational gadgetry indeed. 

Whether you're a budding graphic designer working from home or a veteran visual effects wizard, there's sure to be something that will pique your interest in our standout technology picks from the last year. Keep reading to find out impressed us the most in 2016.

01. MS Surface Studio

The Surface Studio and Dial was made for creating

Microsoft turned creative heads this year with its innovative all-in-one desktop PC design. Not only is the ultra-thin 28-inch LCD monitor a TrueColor display, its 'zero gravity hinge' allows it to be folded down and used as a touchscreen, too.

What's more, in this mode artists can make use of the Surface Dial – a new kind of input device that when placed on the screen, offers up intuitive tools and buttons in creative apps like Photoshop.

02. Apple iPad Pro 9.7-inch

The smaller 9.7-inch iPad Pro packs the same screen tech as Apple's largest tablet

Apple added the less expensive 9.7-inch variant to its iPad Pro family in March, making the creative benefits of the beefier tablet available to a wider audience.

The tablet's 2048x1536 touchscreen uses technology from the 5K Retina iMac to achieve the best possible contrast ratio, uniform colour and exceptional brightness. It's also powered by the same 64-bit A9X processor as the 12.9-inch iPad model, for desktop-class performance. 

03. Wacom Cintiq Pro

The larger Cintiq Pro 16 is due in February

Wacom's pen displays have stood the test of time, so it makes sense that the company followed up that success with standalone tablets, and another one is on the way this December. 

The Cintiq Pro 13 has a 1920x1080 resolution screen and covers 87% of Adobe's RGB gamut. Touch-friendly and with convenient pop-out legs, the Mac and PC compatible device also comes with Wacom's new Pro Pen 2.

04. MobileStudio Pro

Wacom pulled out all the stops with the MobileStudio Pro, an Intel-powered mobile computer with everything creatives need to run fully featured 2D, 3D and CAD apps on the go. 

Available in a range of processor, memory and storage configurations, the etched glass display surface can also be had in up to 4K resolution, ensuring you'll see every pica, pixel or polygon of your work in perfect detail.

05. MacBook Pro with Touch Bar

It's expensive, but the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is the most unashamedly forward-looking laptop
  • Price: From $1,499/£1,499
  • Available from: Apple

Apple raised eyebrows when it decided to do away with the keyboard function keys in favor of an OLED strip, but with staple creative software like Adobe CC now supporting the contextually dynamic Touch Bar, the new MacBook Pros are already beginning to show their promise.

The exclusive use of USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 ports also makes this the most future-proof notebook for creatives currently available.

06. LG UltraFine 4K 21.5-inch Monitor

The LG UltraFine monitor might not have an Apple logo on it, nevertheless Cupertino approves

Apple got out of the display business this year, but fortunately LG stepped in to fill the gap with this Apple-approved 4K monitor for new MacBook Pros with Thunderbolt 3 ports.

The 4096x2304 screen boasts a P3 wide colour gamut, while the back of the display has three USB-C ports built in for connecting and charging other devices. 

07. Dell XPS 15

With a slim 2cm width, the XPS 15 slides comfortably into any backpack

This year, Dell proved that laptop near-perfection doesn't begin and end with Apple, thanks to its acclaimed XPS 15. 

The sleek, robust notebook isn't exactly short of connectivity options, while the Intel Core i5 and dedicated Nvidia graphics make it capable of heavy lifting for creative professionals on the road. Despite the impressive specs, it only weighs 1.78kg, making it reasonably light, too.

08. Apple Pencil

The Apple Pencil works with the high-end iPad Pro

Steve Jobs famously pooh-poohed the stylus as an input device, but it's hard to imagine he wouldn't have fallen in love with Apple's illustrator-friendly Pencil for the iPad Pro.

The Apple Pencil has the same great responsiveness as the Surface Pen, but it's easier to control than Microsoft's offering and more amenable to writing small type. It packs smarter palm rejection, too.

09. Angelbird SSD2Go PKT

The SSD2GO drive keeps your files safe wherever creativity may take you

Designing for data integrity doesn't get more compact than the PKT solid-state drive for creatives on the go. Weighing just 50 grams and about the size of a car key, this backwards compatible USB-C drive is blazingly fast, too.

Despite its minuscule dimensions, it keeps your files safe in the face of almost any outside threat, from impacts, dust and water splashes, to high temperature electrical shocks, X-rays and magnetic fields.

10. BenQ BL2711U 27-inch 4K Monitor

The BL2711U has standard VESA mounting points at the back for hanging on a wall

This 10-bit IPS panel from BenQ is a solid all-rounder for content creators, coming with 100% sRGB and REC 709 colour spaces, specific preset modes fine-tuned for CAD/CAM and animation, and a fast 4ms response rate that should serve video editors well, too.

The stand is particularly flexible – it can be raised up to 140mm, offers 20 degrees of vertical tilt and 45 degrees' rotation in both directions – allowing you to get the best possible view.

11. Adonit Pixel

Pixel: the best alternative to the Apple Pencil

This year, Adonit replaced its top-of-the-line iPad stylus (the Jot Touch) with the Pixel, which sports a 1.9mm tip that recreates a paper-like drag, sports 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity, two shortcut buttons and Bluetooth connectivity. 

The Pixel improves upon the Jot Touch in other ways too, including better offset correction and palm rejection as well as compatibility with a range of iPad models and drawing/sketching apps.

12. Razer Blade Pro

The Razer Blade Pro is shipping this December
  • Price: $4,330/£3,499
  • Available from: Razor

Creatives with road warrior instincts won't have missed the release of Razer's new Blade Pro laptop, which sports a sixth generation Intel Core-i7 processor, desktop-class GeForce GTX 1080 graphics, 32GB of DDR4 dual-channel RAM, Thunderbolt 3 connectivity, and a stunning 17-inch 4K IGZO G-SYNC display that's also 100% Adobe RGB capable. Did we mention it's VR-ready too?

13. Scan 3XS Resolve Grading 4K Plus

When fine-tuned components come together, a Scan VFX workstation is born
  • Price: From $8,660/£7000
  • Available from: Scan

British-based system integrator stalwarts Scan put together this top-of-the-range workstation specifically with DaVinci Resolve video editing software in mind, resulting in an absurdly powerful machine that will have VFX artists drooling the world over.

The 3XS pairs two outrageously fast Nvidia Titan X graphics cards with the option of a third internal GPU, ensuring the system makes light work of uncompressed 4K footage and even higher, while dual 10-core Intel Xeon CPUs and 64GB of RAM put paid to bottleneck worries for good.

14. HP Z1 G3

HP's space-optimised all-in-one has a wallet-friendly price tag

Apple chose not to upgrade its iMac range this year, so thank goodness HP was available to step in and fulfill a pressing need for cutting edge workstation performance. 

The company's great-looking Z1 G3 AiO all-in-one PC packs a 24-inch 4K display powered by an Nvidia Quadro M1000M and an enterprise-grade desktop Intel Xeon CPU. It also comes with a bevy of Thunderbolt ports, not to mention HP's Remote Graphics Software, and all for just £1,650.

15. Palette Controller

Make quick adjustments in your creative projects without ever reaching for the mouse

This UX award-winning palette controller is the perfect accompaniment to any creative workstation and one that's sure to speed up the workflow of just about anyone familiar with Adobe CC. 

Simply plug in the OLED core via USB, snap a few control modules together, and you're already halfway to making faster adjustments: assign buttons, dials and sliders using the custom profile creator, and make tedious cursor-controlled edits a thing of the past. 

Related articles: