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The best new tech of 2018

With so much consumer tech released throughout the year, it can be difficult to spot the hardware products that offer creatives in particular something to get excited about.

Thankfully, more technology companies than ever are eager to please designers, illustrators and digital artists of all types with their inspirational wares.

So whether you're just looking to upgrade your workstation with a useful bit of kit, or fancy taking your creativity in a new direction entirely, keep reading to find out what's currently got our attention on the market.

01. Apple iPad (2018)

Apple's sixth and most affordable iPad

Specifications
Models: Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi + Cellular
Display: 9.7-inch Retina with IPS
Capacity: 32GB-128GB
Size: 240mm (h), 169.5mm (w), 7.5mm (d)
Weight: 469-478g
Reasons to buy
+Powerful for price+Apple Pencil support
Reasons to avoid
-Apple Pencil not included

Apple's latest 9.7-inch iPad may not be the company's thinnest or fastest ever tablet, but at £319 it's surely the most affordable. The sixth-generation iPad has the same 9.7-inch Retina display as last year's model, but its higher-resolution touch sensor presents a significant bonus – it now supports the Apple Pencil, just like the £619 iPad Pro. Digital illustration on an iOS device just got a whole lot cheaper.

Also read: The best iPad deals

02. OWC ThunderBlade v4 SSD

Arguably the fastest external drive available

Specifications
Transfer speed: Read - up to 2800MB/s, write - up to 2450MB/s
Capacity: 1-8TB
Software requirements: macOS 10.13 or later, Windows 10 or later
Size: 29.0mm (h), 192mm (l), 124mm (w)
Reasons to buy
+Blazingly fast read/write speed+Rugged, finless design
Reasons to avoid
-Pricey

The higher-res your creative assets, the longer your file transfers take, which is why OWC have released this super-fast, silent-running external storage solution. The company reckons its new ThunderBlade SSD is the fastest external drive on the market, thanks to reported 2,800MB/s read and 2,450MB/s write speeds. Two thunderbolt ports at the rear mean up to six of the drives can be daisy-chained when plugged into the mains. They're currently not cheap though, starting at $1,200 for the 1TB model.

Also read: 8 best external hard drives and SSDs for Mac and PC users

03. Logitech CRAFT Wireless keyboard

Brilliant for designers and creatives

Specifications
Compatible: Mac OS 10.11 (and above) and Windows 7 (and above)
Connection: Logitech Unifying 2.4GHz wireless tech, Bluetooth low energy tech
Size: (h)32mm x (w)430mm x (d)149mm
Weight: 960g
Reasons to buy
+Great typing experience+Major applications supported
Reasons to avoid
-No height adjustment

Taking cues from Microsoft's Surface Studio, Logitech's advanced wireless CRAFT keyboard incorporates a creative input dial into its layout for controlling configurable, app-specific functions. 

The Crown, as it's called, is touch sensitive, so you can tap or turn it to adjust various settings depending on the application you're using. With custom profiles for all Adobe's Creative Cloud apps – including Photoshop CC, Illustrator, Premiere Pro, and InDesign, it's ready to go out of the box.

The CRAFT can pair with up to three devices over Bluetooth, and also features backlighting that detects hand movement and automatically adjusts illumination based on lighting conditions.

Also read: The best keyboards for creatives

04. iMac Pro

Apple's fastest and most powerful product ever

Specifications
Display: 27-inch 5K Retina
Processor: 8-, 10 or 18-Core
Turbo Boost: up to 4.5GHz
Memory: 32GB
Storage: 1TB
Graphics: Vega GPU
Size: : (h) 51.6cm x (w) 65.0cm
Weight: 9.7 kg
Connections: 10Gb Ethernet, four Thunderbolt 3 (USB‑C) ports, four USB 3 ports, SDXC card slot
Reasons to buy
+Incredibly powerful +Superior graphics
Reasons to avoid
-Eye-wateringly expensive

In response to criticism that it was failing to cater to creative professionals, Apple launched perhaps the fastest Mac ever in December with the slick-looking space grey iMac Pro

The iMac Pro can be configured with a mammoth 18-core Intel Xeon processor. To put that power in perspective, consider that a 10-core iMac Pro is almost twice as fast as a high-end 5K iMac and up to 45 percent faster than a 'trash can' 2013 Mac Pro. 

Hidden behind that beautiful 5K display is up to 4TB of SSD storage, up to 128GB of ECC RAM, and 16GB AMD Radeon Pro Vega 64 graphics. With four Thunderbolt 3 ports, the iMac Pro can power two external 5K displays or four 4K displays at 60Hz simultaneously. There's also a 10 Gigabit Ethernet port, an SD card slot, four USB-A 3.0 ports, and a 3.5mm headphone jack lined up on the rear. 

Also read: The best computers for designers 2018

05. StarTech Thunderbolt 3 Mini Docking Stations

Create a dual-monitor workstation

Specifications
Ports: x2 Thunderbolt 3, x1 Display Port, x3 SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports, x1 Gigabit Ethernet, x1 headphone output, x1 Microphone input
Reasons to buy
+Small and completely bus-powered+Gigabit Ethernet included
Reasons to avoid
-Legacy USB ports may be a turnoff

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. 

06. Microsoft Surface Dial (for Surface Pro 4)

SP4 support for Microsoft's creative puck

Specifications
Compatibility: Surface Pro, Surface Pro 4, Surface Book and Surface Studio
Weight: 145g with batteries
Power: Two AAA alkaline batteries (included)
Reasons to buy
+Supports Photoshop and Illustrator+Reduced price since launch
Reasons to avoid
-Some apps only support basic functions

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.

07. Dell Precision 5520

A quality mobile workstation with solid components and a fine screen

Specifications
Processor: up to Intel Core Xeon E3
Memory: up to 32GB DDR4 2400MHz
Storage: up to 1TB SSD
Graphics: NVIDIA Quadro M1200
Display: 15.6-inch UltraSharp FHD IPS or 15.6-inch UltraSharp™ PremierColor UHD IGZO
Ports: 1 x Thunderbolt 3, 2 x USB 3.0 with PowerShare and more
Reasons to buy
+Superb physical design+Epic battery life+Dedicated Nvidia Quadro graphics
Reasons to avoid
-Some rivals are more powerful

Typical mobile workstations focus on offering powerful internal components capable of running demanding creative applications, but that all too often leads to an inelegant exterior. Not so with Dell's Precision 5520, which manages to pack the power of a workstation-class machine into a sleek space-age chassis with a luxurious feel.

Apart from its solid-looking Full HD 15.6-inch display, the 5520 is powered by an Intel Xeon processor and includes two USB 3.0 ports, a single USB-C port with Thunderbolt 3, an SD card reader, and an HDMI connection around the side.

08. Wacom Intuos Pro

A fantastic update to Wacom’s range of leading graphics tablets

Specifications
Size: Medium - 338 x 219 x 8mm; Large - 430 x 287 x 8mm
Resolution: 5080lpi
Stylus: Wacom Pro Pen 2
ExpressKeys: 8 customizable
Reasons to buy
+Great display+Customisable express keys+Excellent stylus
Reasons to avoid
-Pricey

Wacom refreshed its Intuos tablet line in 2017 with an updated version of the Intuos Pro, available in two highly portable medium and large sizes. Both tablet sizes feature eight customisable ExpressKeys and offer over 8,000 levels of pressure, 5,080 lines of resolution, 60 levels of pen tilt, 200 points per second reporting, USB and Bluetooth connectivity, and a multi-function touch ring. 

Wacom has also reworked the pen to make it more comfortable to use. It now sports a slightly less tapered design and side buttons that sit flush with the body.

Also read: The best graphics tablets

09. LG UltraFine 5K monitor

A gorgeous display that delivers breathtaking visuals

Specifications
Display: 5K (5120 x 2880) IPS
Resolution: 5120x2880
Brightness: 500 cd/m²
Colour Gamut: P3 wide colour
Ports: x1 Thunderbolt 3, x3 USB-C
Built-in: camera, stereo speaker and power supply
Reasons to buy
+Crystal clear images+Amazing depth+DCI-P3 wide color gamut
Reasons to avoid
-Price

Apple's Cinema Display didn't get a look in last year and instead Apple surprised users by partnering with LG to come up with this UltraFine 5K monitor. While the first units unfortunately had a glitch, LG has since fixed the issue, allowing this display to sneak into our 2018 recommended list.

USB-C Thunderbolt 3 provides performance connectivity, while the display outshines even Apple's Retina MacBook screens, thanks to its native 5,120 x 2,880 resolution (don't worry – it downscales just fine). Fonts and icons look pristine on its exceedingly wide aspect, making this UltraFine display a multitasker's dream.

10. Scribit

The internet-connected writing robot

Reasons to buy
+Hassle-free wall art application+"Reversible" ink markers
Reasons to avoid
-Basic concept isn't new

Upload your digital artwork to this reversible-ink pen-wielding robot and it will reproduce it on a vertical surface in minutes. Now, robot-powered art isn't new, but Scribit is designed with ease of use in mind. It requires just two nails and a power outlet, and its suspending cables can be installed in under five minutes, while the integrated motors allow the device to move, draw, erase, and re-draw content on pretty much any flat surface, whether it's made of glass, plaster, or whiteboard.

Scribit's crowd-funding campaign will start on 5 June.

11. 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar

A stunning Retina display and impressive CPU in an impossibly slim design

Specifications
Processor: up to 3.1GHz quad-core Intel Core i7
Memory: 16GB of 2133MHz LPDDR3 onboard memory
Storage: up to 2TB SSD
Graphics: up to Radeon Pro 560 with 4GB of GDDR5 memory
Display: 15.4-inch Retina
Ports: 4 x Thunderbolt 3
Reasons to buy
+Fast performance+Gorgeous Retina display+Impressive design
Reasons to avoid
-Lack of ports 

As well as the high price, Apple's 2017 refresh of its flagship notebook retained the same remarkably slim chassis and controversial Touch Bar, but brought in much-anticipated seventh-generation Kaby Lake processors and improved graphics under the hood.

The 2880 x 1800 resolution Retina display looks as impressive as we've come to expect from Apple, which also decided to bump the speed of the onboard memory to 2,133MHz, up from 1,866MHz last year (although it still tops out at 16GB RAM). Add to that a new Radeon Pro 560 GPU with 4GB of GDDR5 memory and integrated Intel HD Graphics 630, and creative pros should be good to go.

12. Wacom Bamboo Ink

A must-have for Microsoft Surface devices

Specifications
Pressure support: Up to 4,096 pressure levels
Dimensions: (h)147mm x (w)10mm x (d)10mm
Compatibility: Windows 10 pen-enabled devices
Reasons to buy
+Ergonomic design+Supports up to 4,096 pressure levels+Interchangeable nibs
Reasons to avoid
-Doesn’t work with Surface Pro or Surface Pro 2

Early in 2017, Wacom and Microsoft put their heads together and came up with the Bamboo Ink, a smart stylus for Windows Ink Workspace that lets idea-makers capture notes, sketch ideas or mark documents across most Windows 10 platforms.

Designed to provide a customised, natural writing and sketching experience, the Bamboo Ink comes with three nibs – soft, medium and firm – allowing sketchers and scribblers to switch up the feel. The pen can also be used to navigate windows in Edge browser, write in text boxes, and plenty more besides.

13. Microsoft Surface Book 2

The pinnacle of 2-in-1 laptop design

Reasons to buy
+Incredibly powerful+Fantastic battery+Lightweight
Reasons to avoid
-No native color profiles for Enhanced or sRGB with 13-inch

The impressive two-in-one Surface Book 2 sits at the top of Microsoft’s hardware line up. Two models are available: 13-inch and 15-inch, although the 15-inch likely won’t be available in the UK or Australia until 2018.

With Core i7 and i5 processors, both models are more powerful, thinner and lighter versions of the original Surface Book – our laptop of 2017. The smaller 13.5-inch PixelSense LCD touch display is stunning, with bright, accurate colours – and its compromise on power means it can have a fanless design, so it runs practically silently.

Both models boast brilliant battery life and the docking mechanism is significantly more stable, too. An updated stylus with quadruple the pressure sensitivity of the last pen is also available, just be aware it's $100 extra.

Need a recap? Here's all the best tech for 2018 – and the best prices...

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Tim Hardwick

Tim is a freelance writer, and has been since 2015. Formerly a magazine journalist for Future, his work has appeared in over 30 newsstand print publications and online brands covering a range of topics, from the latest trends in technology to the mysteries of ancient history.