The Technology Excellence Awards 2018: The top brands and best products of the year

Which brands should you buy? Which ones should you avoid? Thanks to the 5,000 participants in this year’s survey, we have the answer across 13 different categories – plus our pick of the products of the year.

The Technology Excellence Awards 2018: The top brands and best products of the year

How are the Technology Excellence Awards decided?

In short, they’re decided by you. Each year, thousands of readers across Alphr, PC Pro, IT Pro and Expert Reviews take part in a comprehensive three-month survey. We ask how satisfied you are with the quality of prints, reliability of your broadband, battery life of your laptop – and collate the figures to create the percentage scores you see in the tables.

The maximum score a company can receive is 100%, where a reader declares themselves “very satisfied” with, say, customer support for their desktop PC. If they merely select satisfied, that’s 80%. And so on, until they reach “very dissatisfied”, which is 0%. So a score of 90% could be 30 people saying very satisfied (100%) and 30 satisfied (80%). Previously, we’ve only published scores where we have feedback from at least 50 buyers of a brand. However, this year we have included scores where between 25 and 50 people have responded. The scores are still representative, but – from a statistical point of view – we can’t have the same level of confidence in the results.

We also use methods to protect against “stuffing” – that is, where a manufacturer may try to bias results by encouraging only positive feedback. As a result, we believe the scores you see are ones you can trust.

We’ve also selected our products of the year. Chosen by our editors, and those of sister brands Expert Reviews, PC Pro and IT Pro, these are the stand-out products from the hundreds we’ve tested over the 12 months.

To see our personal Product of the Year picks, you can jump over to the list on the next page

Technology Excellence Awards 2018

BEST PC BRAND: Chillblast

RECOMMENDED: Acer, PC Specialist 

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We’ve said it many times before, but if you have a good idea of what PC specification you want then it makes sense to buy British. Or to put it another way: “[This is the] second PC I’ve bought from Chillblast, and I’m still using the first one,” wrote Graham Moore. “When I rang for help in ordering the right spec, they put me on to the guy who actually designed the system. You couldn’t do that in PC World!” No surprise, then, that 19 out of 20 Chillblast customers
would buy from the company again.

BEST LAPTOP BRAND: Asus

RECOMMENDED: Apple, Microsoft 

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Is Asus set to become as strong a brand for laptops as it is for motherboards? Signs are certainly promising. This is the second year in a row it’s won our Best Laptop Brand award, showing that last year’s breakthrough result was no fluke. “ZenBooks have been great machines for many years and this UX330UA with an 8th generation Intel CPU is just superb,” wrote William Dow.

Apple retains its runner-up medal from last year, but Microsoft has a bigger reason to be cheerful with its first such award. Its gamble on the Surface range appears to be paying off, with stronger scores for performance than any other manufacturer – and it’s only a fraction behind Apple for reliability too. “I absolutely love my Surface Pro,” said John Clarke. “Everything just works!”

BEST TABLET BRAND: Apple

RECOMMENDED: Huawei, Microsoft, Samsung 

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Just as Apple retains its stranglehold as our top choice for tablets, so it does among our readers. “I bought an iPad Pro and it is brilliant,” said Sue Bayliss. “Not normally an Apple fan but this is good.”

Apple doesn’t have things all its own way. Huawei wins a Recommended award in this category for the first time, Samsung continues its fine form, and Microsoft notably gained a better score than Apple for its choice of accessories (81% to 78%). “Fastest tablet I have ever owned,” wrote John Edwards of his Surface tablet, “and probably the fastest computer I have owned.”

BEST NAS BRAND: Synology

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NAS boxes used to be just that: a place to cram in hard disks, with a basic operating system offering basic functions. It’s a sign of the technology’s maturity that Synology’s software, DSM 6.2, also wins our Business Software of the Year award. Forget Mastercard: this is your flexible friend.

“I seem to buy nothing but Synology NAS drives now and with good reason,” said PC Pro subscriber Stuart Ellis. “They are well-featured and fast and I can manage all of my customers’ units from anywhere. Great devices.”

BEST ROUTER BRAND: DrayTek

RECOMMENDED: Asus, TP-Link 

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DrayTek, just like Zen Internet, is one of the perennial winners in the PC Pro Excellence Awards. So why are our readers such fans? “Expensive,” wrote Peter Ward, “but fantastic features, especially its VPN abilities.”

Asus is another former winner of our this award, and its strong showing for speed and reliability helped it win a Recommended gong this year. “It’s fast and stable,” said Anthony du Toit. “What more could you want?”

BEST MONITOR BOARD: Asus, Samsung

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The standard of monitors out there is high – almost everyone who took part in our survey was pleased with the quality of their monitor and would buy from the same brand again.

As such, it took something a little special to lift Asus and Samsung above the rest. For Asus, it was a mix of image quality and brand loyalty: “Expensive, but the best monitor I have ever owned,” wrote Matthew Farr.

Samsung customers were equally buoyant. “This is the second Samsung monitor I’ve had and I’ve been really impressed,” said Michael Tott. “[I] won’t be buying a monitor from another company.” Now that’s loyalty.

BEST PRINTER BRAND: Brother

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Brother sees its fifth successive year at the summit of the printer world, scoring highly in every single category – indeed, compare it to any other brand on these pages and it would be a contender. Its print quality and reliability set the bar high for the rest of the manufacturers, with 96% of its customers happy to buy this brand again. David Jones typified our readers’ feelings: “Excellent printer,” he wrote, “never lets me down.”

Across the board, only Brother customers appear to be fully satisfied with value for money, which includes running costs.

BEST ONLINE RETAILER: Scan

RECOMMENDED: Amazon, John Lewis, Novatech, PC Specialist

Safe to say that Scan has some loyal customers. “Full marks to Scan, they have never let me down in all the years that I have been dealing with them,” wrote Stephen Tansley. “Based on past experiences, I will always order from Scan, even if there is a slightly cheaper option,” pitched in loyal customer Ross D Armstrong. “They never disappoint and I wholeheartedly recommend them to anyone who will listen.”

Amazon might have done even better but for one issue: “Its packaging of hard drives is a disgrace,” wrote David Armstrong. “It delivered one drive with just the address label directly on the electrostatic bag.”

That’s not a practice we’d expect to see from our more specialist award winners, namely Novatech and PC Specialist. “Novatech’s customer support is excellent,” wrote Nigel Marchant, adding that it includes live technical advice. “[It’s an] excellent local company providing top class service.” This sentiment was echoed from PC Specialist customer Eileen Wallis. “Outstanding customer service,” she said. “[They’re] always available by phone or email, and very competent and helpful.”

BEST WEB HOST: 1&1 Internet UK

RECOMMENDED: Fasthosts 

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This has been a phenomenal year for 1&1 Internet UK. We can only assume that it’s been working hard on its customer service, because last year’s 67% satisfaction rate has jumped to 78%, and it’s also seen big improvements for reliability and speed. That means, for the first time, 1&1 takes the top prize.

“I have used [1&1] for many years and found them professional and reliable,” said PC Pro subscriber Michael Chappell. “Even when I managed to delete a whole database they were quick in getting it restored.” Not everyone was so glowing in their description of customer support (“Support is not great but then again I haven’t needed much,” wrote Paul Crossley), but notably 1&1 topped the charts here.

BEST CLOUD STORAGE: Google Drive

RECOMMENDED: Dropbox 

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Bearing in mind that cloud storage is one of those things you only notice if things go wrong, kudos to both Google Drive and Dropbox for their consistently high scores.

Last year, they shared top honours, but 2018’s survey saw Google edge ahead by the tiniest of margins. What pushed it over the line? It wasn’t speed – Amazon S3 takes top spot here – but the large number of people who would recommend the service. Most of us use more than one cloud storage service, so we asked which of the services you use that you’d most recommend; just look at the contrast between Google Drive and Dropbox at the top, and the likes of Amazon Cloud Drive and iDrive towards the bottom.

BEST MOBILE DATA PROVIDER: Giffgaff

RECOMMENDED: Tesco Mobile 

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When it comes to mobile data coverage, as with last year, it’s the “virtual” networks that win. Despite piggybacking on O2’s network – in fact, it’s owned by O2 – Giffgaff outscores the “real” network in every key area. Likewise Tesco Mobile, which also uses the O2 network. Why the difference? Because we ask how satisfied people are; the fact they’re paying less for Giffgaff than O2 may well influence their views.

BEST PHONE BRAND: Google

RECOMMENDED: OnePlus 

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Since dropping the Nexus brand phones and switching to the high-end Pixel, Google has gone from strength to strength in our polls. While the exceptional camera quality score in the table below is noteworthy, we couldn’t even squeeze in its best result: 100% of Pixel owners would buy the same brand again.

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