2021 Esquire Gadget Awards, According to Our Tech Experts
Allow us to be the first to wish you and yours a happy gizmo and gadget season. We hope you will be showered with plentiful RAM and Wifi 6 in this, the most wonderful time of the year.
We, the tech experts at Esquire, have had a busy year ourselves, searching far and wide to bring the best and brightest tech to our readers for the 2021 Esquire Gadget Awards. How’d we narrow the search down? As long as a gadget was released or received a massive update after the 2020 Esquire Gadget Awards, we viewed it as a candidate. Then, we considered the gadget’s other features, including but not limited to technical prowess, cost, accessibility, moxy, and that secret *it* factor as determined by a series of mystery judges (just us after a few drinks). Basically, we tested it, and if we thought it was cool and worked really well, we slapped it with a fitting award.
So, from label makers to cocktail crafters, smartphones to home workout machines, these are hands-down the hottest gadgets your silver can buy you this holiday season.
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Best Smartphone All-Around
Google Pixel 6 Pro
The Pixel 6 Pro and the slightly less fancy Pixel 6 are the first all-Google phones from top to bottom, and, well, it shows. These are two of the most aesthetically stunning smartphones I’ve ever held in my hand. And Google is so cohesively embedded into the operating system, saving many a trip back and forth between apps, which quite literally changes how you use a phone in your day-to-day life. For example, with Google Lens, you can focus the camera on anything in front of you, and the phone will run a Google search on it. When a shirt I wanted was sold out in the store, I put it under the camera lens, and Google immediately was able to dig up the exact same shirt and its availability online. There’s also built-in Google Translate, which captions foreign-language videos in real time and automatically converts texts sent in a different language, say from Spanish to English. Beyond that, the Android 12 interface makes use of a design system called “Material You” that adjusts font and accent colors in apps to match your home screen wallpaper. Speaking of the home screen, it’s highly customizable when you want to change things up. Now, both Pixels are great, but this is Esquire’s best phone of the year, so we’re going all out with the Pro. (The main differences are its 4K front camera, 12GB RAM, and some amazing telephoto features on the main camera.) Trust me when I say that if you’ve been thinking about dropping the iPhone, you should drop the iPhone. —C.S.
Most Innovative Smartphone
Samsung Z Fold3 5G
The Samsung Fold has been on an underdog journey, and one that’s been exceptionally fun to follow. When the first Z Fold released, I distinctly remember thinking that it was interesting, whatever, but far too clunky and expensive, so almost also a not-funny joke. Then the second model blew the first model out of the water, and the third is now near perfect. A foldable phone like this absolutely is not for everyone. Actually, I’m running out of reasons why it shouldn’t be for everyone. The Z Fold3 is remarkably thin, its screen is vibrant, and its folding mechanism was masterfully designed. These are the kinds of massive and mind-boggling improvements that make the phone I onced bullied a phone I now love. —C.S.
Best Affordable Smartphone
OnePlus 9 5G
You are going to have to spend over $500 on a smartphone for what you need. No way around it. What makes the OnePlus 9 “affordable” though is the high-end features it boasts at a lower price point (it’s constantly on sale for $650 or less). Besides 5G and dual SIM capabilities, this phone has 12GB of RAM, meaning it runs faster than a lot of laptops out there. The screen quality is dynamite. The camera works absolute wonders, capturing a level of color I haven’t been able to achieve with most other smartphones. The phone itself easily sits in your hand, which, as wild as that is to bring up, a lot of phones do not fit in your hand anymore. All things considered, the OnePlus 9’s RAM and software-forward design make it a breeze to game on, or design on, or just work on. It’s hard to believe this is the base model, not the Pro. —C.S.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+
I’ve had a hard time finding any use for a tablet. Whenever I get an iPad, I end up selling it off because, between my iPhone and my MacBook, I don’t end up using it at all. And I’m tired of the Apple ecosystem! The Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+, however, got me back into the tablet world. Having an Android-powered tablet is a gamechanger. Heavy emphasis on game there. Freed from the heavily vetted Apple App Store, Google Play apps can feel like the Wild West. But there’s just so much more to do. We can’t encourage illegal video game emulation, but this thing can easily be turned into the incredible retro game library of your 8-year-old self’s dreams. The screen is absurdly crisp—12.4-inch Super AMOLED with a whopping 120Hz refresh rate. It’s a powerhouse for movies and TV, and it is just about as good as reading comic books on the page. And since the S-Pen stylus rocks, you can finally ditch your Moleskine. Journaling in the cloud is much more fun. —D.N.
BOOX Nova Air
The Kindle is dead! Long live the Kindle! Actually, it’s very much not. But did you know there are other e-readers out there, some of them with features that rival and even surpass Amazon’s Holy Grail of e-ink tablets? The BOOX Nova Air caught my eye initially because of its stylus; how many times have you wanted to highlight something on a Kindle, only to accidentally spread your thumb across the entire page and lose your place in the book? As someone who pages through movie scripts quite often, I loved the idea of being able to write in the margins right on the tablet screen. Not only that, but the Nova Air is also larger than most Kindles, with a crisp, 7.8-inch display. It’s Android-powered, meaning you have a whole lot more personalization options than what Amazon has to offer for Kindle. If there’s any e-reader that can make me give up Amazon for good, it’s this one from BOOX. —D.N.
Best 4K TV
Sony Bravia XR X90J
8K might be the future of TV, but 4K is still very much the present. And 4K TVs like the Bravia XR X90J get the job done, and they look good, too. Damn good. This Google-powered TV may not have as wide a resolution as its flashier 8K siblings, but, especially for PS5 games, you’ll probably not be able to tell the difference. The screen is a Full Array LED with Sony’s XR Contrast Booster 5. That might just sound like gibberish to you, but what it means is, the moment you look at the X90J, you’re struck by the blackness of the blacks and the brightness of the brights. It’s a gorgeous display, capable of running 4K content at 120fps (which is, again, awesome for the PS5), and since it taps into Google, you can control the TV with your voice, or on the Google Home app on a smartphone. Have I mentioned that the PS5 looks amazing on this TV? —D.N.
Best Affordable TV
Hisense U6G Series
TVs are expensive. And now, with 8K in the mix, you could run yourself well over $3K for one. But Hisense decided to throw down a rescue rope to the more budget conscious among us. Hisense U6G features Quantum ULED 4K picture and Google TV, a masterful integration that starts for under $500. Everything about this TV is solid: It’s great for streaming, great for gaming, and great to look at, with a slim design that’s subtle enough to blend into a living room. If you’re looking to upgrade to a smart TV, or 4K, or anything nicer on a budget, this is the total package as far as TVs in 2021 go. —C.S.
Best Laptop All-Around
Microsoft Surface Laptop 4
Microsoft’s Surface laptops are my go-to rec for students. For professionals who need a solid but affordable laptop, too. They’re more than capable for streaming, writing, basic photo editing and coding, and even some gaming, without the overkill power needed for animators or video editors. The Surface Laptop 4 feels comparable to laptops double the price. Its design is also gorgeous and ergonomic, giving it that luxury feel that Apple used to monopolize. So I’ll continue to recommend this laptop to almost anyone incessantly, like a tech bro talking about NFTs. Trust me, it lives up to the (read: my) hype. —C.S.
Most Innovative Laptop
Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio
The Surface Laptop Studio feels like a laptop the gods got together and cooked up. It is the laptop of my prayers. It furthers the previous, and also legendary, Surface Book 3, fixing almost every gripe I had with that model (like its bulky nature and top-heavy design). The Surface Laptop Studio is an absolute powerhouse for both creatives and gamers, featuring an expertly designed tablet screen with strength and flexibility. The laptop itself is surprisingly lightweight and thin, with that beautiful, 14.4-inch screen striking a balance between the previous 13- and 15-inch models. And it can sit in three different positions: as a standard laptop screen, a flat table screen, and my personal favorite, an angled screen that covers up the keyboard, which works wonders for pen access and dual monitor display. (When I use the Microsoft Slim Pen 2, it rivals even Wacom drawing tablets.) The Surface Laptop Studio is everything you’d want in a laptop. And a drawing pad. And a tablet. It’s an honest-to-god three-in-one device without compromise. —C.S.
Best Affordable Laptop
ASUS Chromebook Detachable CM3
Never underestimate the convenience of a solid Chromebook. The ASUS CM3, which has a detachable touchscreen display, splits the difference between a laptop and a tablet so well that I sometimes could go days without using either of those aforementioned devices. At 10.5 inches, it’s a convenient little guy, and unlike some of the flimsier Chromebooks in this price range, it’s rugged, too. With a rough, textured fabric exterior, this is the kind of tag-a-long notebook you can shove in your bag and plop right out on your thighs for long writing (or stylus drawing!) sessions on the train. It’s tiny enough that you can light it up under the covers without waking your partner from sleep. And since many Android apps run perfectly on Chrome-powered devices now, this can be your pal on a “working vacation.” The best part is, the CM3 is just $370. That’s like, less than half the price of the latest iPhone. —D.N.
Jabra Elite 85h
I’m a grumpy, old 25 years of age. I hate loud music, the hustle and bustle of city life, and the laughter of children. Luckily, Jabra’s new wireless headphones allow me to listen to my old man music and podcasts in peace, saving those around me from my grump wrath. The Jabra Elite 85h is lightweight while still feeling up to roughing it, and the noise cancellation is stellar. The design is subtle and stylish, too—just bold enough to say “don’t bother me,” but not too rock n’ roll. Plus, there’s an inline mic, and it runs up to 36 hours on a charge, so travel all you like. I can’t thank these headphones enough for the inner peace. —C.S.
Raycon The Fitness Earbuds
Believe it or not, there is more than one kind of wireless earbud out there. Sorry Apple, but your damn AirPods don’t stay put in my ears! I love Raycon’s Fitness Earbuds. First off, they’re only $120, which puts them on the (very) low end of the pricing food chain (Sony’s latest premium offering can cost you about double the price), and their wing-shaped fit guarantees they’ll never fly away during a workout. Making headlines recently for breaking $100 million in sales, Raycon earbud mogul Ray J is crushing the game. And unlike all the boring startup chimes out there, the Fitness Earbuds yell “Rayconnnnn” at you, pleasantly bringing to mind the opening logo of ’90s-era SEGA games. As the Lord intended. —D.N.
Best Gaming Headset
You could go down the gaming headset rabbithole with the millions, if not trillions, of options on the market right now. (You can trust that tally; I counted every headset.) Instead, we looked for a headset that balances affordability with quality and, of course, design. EPOS makes that headset, which sounds as good as it looks, and won’t have your friends yelling at you to get your gamer breath, or my personal favorite, soup mouth, away from the mic. The H6PRO is comfortable without getting too hot during long sessions, and it’s durable. If you’re looking to avoid soup mouth or gamer sweats, or you just want to pick up a slick new headset, choose this one. That sweet, sweet Fortnite victory royale never sounded better. —C.S.
Best Bluetooth Speaker
When Sonos does something, you’re all but guaranteed it’s going to be done right. And while Sonos was definitely late to the portable Bluetooth speaker party, that’s no matter, as the Sonos Roam is easily the best portable Bluetooth speaker I used this year. It is a fantastic sounding, durable, and attractive speaker. It also fully interacts with the Sonos home system, so if you have a dead spot in your Sonos-powered soundscape that makes itself known when you’re hosting or powering through chores, you can plop this little beam anywhere you need. It’s far lighter and much tinier than the Sonos Move, too, meaning it is the first Sonos gadget you can confidently carry outside your home. —C.S.
Roku Streambar Pro
With the right TV, a soundbar feels like a useless purchase. It takes up space on the mantle and can sometimes be a total pain to get running seamlessly. But the Roku Streambar Pro is so much more than just a soundbar. It’s, well, a Roku. And not only that, it’s one part of a home theater system so easy to set up that you might, like me, become addicted to upgrading it. The Streambar Pro is a terrific piece of audio equipment in its own right (you’ll notice the deep bass-y-ness of it immediately). But with Roku’s add-on subwoofer and speakers (which can be arranged into a whole-ass 5.1 surround sound system), the Streambar takes your amateur TV setup and turns it Pro. Everything syncs up wirelessly, and if your TV is dumb, the Roku will make it smart. Just don’t tell your neighbors that I recommended it. —D.N.
Best Wearable Tech
HTC Vive Flow
Why is this filed in the Style & Grooming section, you ask? To which I say, where did you want to put it, under Eat & Drink? C’mon, how stupid can you get? You’re telling me if you saw someone walking down the street in these cool Willy Wonka goggles, you wouldn’t assume they were some kind of fashion icon? It’s okay, kid, you’ll get there. Vive Flow is HTC’s response to the Oculus Quest, taking VR down from a bulky headset to a fairly lightweight, maneuverable pair of goggles. Vive Flow veers lifestyle-centric. It’s built for watching, meditating, and other experiential stuff, as opposed to the very gaming- and fitness-oriented Quest. Vive Flow also uses your smartphone as a remote, making it even easier to literally move about. When HTC first announced Vive Flow, I figured it’d be in direct competition with the Quest, and while in theory it is, it’s designed for a completely different use case and demographic. Bringing a new form of VR to a new audience is a risk, but one that certainly furthers VR as a whole. —C.S.
Philips Norelco Shaver 9000 Prestige
My beard has never looked better. You can ask anyone that. No really, ask anyone. The Shaver 9000 Prestige is the culprit. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “A shaver for a man with a beard? What the hell is he doing?” I’ll tell you what: I don’t really know. But I’ve always had a hard time shaving my neck, mostly due to sheer incompetence. The Shaver 9000 Prestige shaves my neck like not even a straight blade is able to, and leaves the option for just the right amount of stubble. Plus, rarely do I have to retrace my steps, as it almost always nabs everything on the first go. I can only imagine what this shaver could do if I had more confidence in my jawline. —C.S.
Best Electric Toothbrush
Philips Sonicare Prestige
Philips’s smart toothbrushes have done so much for me, from teaching me how to not tear my gums out of my mouth to training my instincts to gauge how long I need to brush (I used to need a Smash Mouth Tooth Tunes to help with that!). This new, elite Philips is the quintessential smart toothbrush, complete with a much slimmer design, a smaller charging case, and myriad features on the brush and in the app that make for the most supportive, and most existentially satisfying, brushing experience I’m sure you’ve never even dreamed of having. —C.S.
Garmin Venu 2
While the Apple Watch slowly gets rounder and rounder, Garmin decided to go full circle. You know, like a watch. Garmin’s very round smartwatches are some of the few true challengers to Apple’s smartwatch chokehold, or the Galaxy Watch’s popularity among Samsung folks. And a watch to circumvent the brand loyalists altogether? That’s Garmin’s Venu 2. Besides its attractive design, the Venu 2 just genuinely works great. It controls your music, weather, and texts. It shows time (of course) and tracks fitness. That fitness tracking is where Garmin comes to life: calorie tracking, activity tracking, pulse and blood oxygen level tracking, hydration tracking, respiration tracking, stress and energy level tracking… and that’s all just scratching the surface. Garmin knows things about me I didn’t even know. As in, I wore it straight through some stressful, jam-packed days, and well, Garmin knew I wasn’t doing too hot. If you’re worried about your phone’s connectivity, don’t be. The Venu 2 is compatible with smartphones using Bluetooth technology; it’s probably safe to say that your phone does use Bluetooth and is borderline smart. —C.S.
Best Smart Appliance
June Oven 3
Smart ovens have been popping up everywhere lately, so you’d be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed when having to choose. I’ll help. The June was one of the earliest smart ovens to really catch fire, figuratively, largely due to its ability to work as far more than an oven. Every time I think June is out of tricks, it comes up with more. The third version of the June Oven, released this year, refines all of the previous features, like fast heating elements, and a camera and sensors to monitor cooking, but also adds impressive features, like a rotisserie setting and a grill plate, really making this a jack-of-all-trades smart appliance. That is, until June Oven 4 comes out and has a built-in sous chef or something. —C.S.
Blenders aren’t supposed to be pretty, but the Beast never got that memo. I’ll get to the blendy-blendy part in a bit, but first let me reiterate: This thing looks so dang pretty on my counter. It’s like, I do blending in style, and I can’t thank Beast enough. It’s got the skills to back those good looks, too, blending smoother smoothies and less chunky purees. The design is thoughtful as well. For instance, the blending capsule can be removed, outfitted with a little cap and handle, and taken to-go. There’s only one button that times out how long your concoction needs to undergo the wrath of the blades, so you don’t have to worry about 45 different blending modes. It’s also relatively quiet, which I’m sure my neighbors appreciate. I never thought I’d grow up to review a blender, and so passionately at that, but here we are. —C.S.
Best Air Fryer
Air frying is all the rage these days, due to it being healthier or something like that; I’m not a doctor, do what you want. But the CRUXGG ZONE nine-quart air fryer is genuinely the best air-frying experience I’ve ever had. It’s designed in a way that fits one large meal or fries two different foods at once. It makes everything fantastically crispy, compared to the sometimes hard, or too floppy, air-fried foods that I’ve previously tried to choke down. I cooked up fried green tomatoes and fried cauliflower in this bad boy to ease myself back into some very loose semblance of health after a week-long booze and Burger King bender, and it absolutely crushed the meal. I will continue to cook my veggies in this thing until I inevitably am told by a dietitian that air-frying is still frying. But it’s not just functionality. Appliances need to look good. The smokey matte gray CRUXGG crushes that, too. —C.S.
Best Hot Coffee Machine
Philips 3200 Series Espresso Machine with LatteGo
As a former barista, I should scoff at the concept of a fully automatic espresso machine. Where’s the craftsmanship? Okay, but for real, who has the energy to do it themselves? The Philips 3200 Espresso Machine makes everything too easy, from brewing a cup of coffee to pulling espresso shots to steaming milk for a latte. You just tap a screen and it walks you through every step. It’s as foolproof as foolproof gets, and the results are remarkable. The 3200 also lets you get weird with customization, if you want to balance pH levels, or play with coffee strength or bean grind. (You can worry about that if you’re a coffee nerd.) This thing is joy-inducing, taking the tedium out of espresso, even if your a-hole coffee friend reams you for not patting and pulling yourself. Huff my shorts, Jasper, no one cares. —C.S.
Best Cold Coffee Machine
VacOne Air Brewer
Iced coffee sucks when it’s made on a whim. It’s bitter or too watery or garbage. But cold brew takes 12 to 24 hours to steep, and while I could make an iced americano, that’s not what I want, so shut up. The VacOne solved this conundrum for me. It solved a lot of my hot coffee concerns, too. A few years ago, air brewers were all the rage, but I never jumped on that train. They seemed weird and complicated, as opposed to my coffee syphon, which was never weird or complicated [laugh track plays here]. But the VacOne showed me I was being a big coffee baby. The cold brew this thing brews in a matter of minutes is super smooth and extremely tasty, and the hot coffee follows suit. I also love the batch quantities I can make. Needless to say, this air brewer is now part of my morning routine, since I can choose between good, fast hot coffee and good, fast cold brew on a whim. In fact, as I type this, I’m enjoying a cup, actually my third cup, which is making this very difficult to type. —C.S.
Best Cocktail Machine
Drinkworks Home Bar Classic
Everyone needs a bartender friend. Oftentimes that friend is unavailable due to their extreme popularity. I am not that friend. My bartending method is normal: Pour too much spirit into a glass and top it with a little club soda or orange juice. That’s where the Drinkworks machine comes in. Like a Keurig, the Drinkworks does everything for you. The company sells cocktail pods, the machine combines them with iced water or something carbonated, and bam, you’ve got a delicious cocktail. The cocktails actually taste great—particularly the Rum Punch or anything in the Jack Daniels collaboration pack. Because there’s a limit on the number of cocktail recipes I can remember and the amount of time in the evening I can dedicate to mixing cocktails, the Drinkworks Home Bar Classic is a smart way to serve myself as well as my guests, so I can earn the title “bartender friend.” —C.S.
Best Water Pitcher
LARQ Pitcher PureVis
Larq is mostly known for its self-cleaning, purifying water bottles, so it only makes sense it’d move into the purifying pitcher space. The Larq Pitcher has got to be one of, if not the, most all-encompassing water pitchers out there. To make the water taste much cleaner, it has a dual-filtration system—the standard filter you’ll see in other pitchers but dressed to the gunk-capturing nines, and a UV light filtration system—plus an app. The app is arguably the game-changing part, as it will give you suggestions on how to filter your water better, as well as tell you exactly what’s being filtered out of your water (gross). Perhaps most crucially, the Larq filters quickly, making it far less of a headache when your asshole roommate doesn’t fill it back up. —C.S.
Best Smart Garden
Click & Grow The Smart Garden 9 PRO
I have always been suspicious of hydroponic plant devices. Especially the kind that (allegedly) feed goldfish with plant poop. Or is it the other way around? The Smart Garden 9 Pro, though, destroyed my doubts within less than a week, which is when I started finding little sprouts of basil, tomatoes, and green leaf lettuce in the tiny dirt pods. You barely have to do anything other than maintain the water level after you set it all up, and the whole system is Bluetooth-capable, meaning you can track everything from your phone. The app even gives your plants funny names, so you can get that personal connection to your babies. Yes, I might talk to Jack the Curly Parsley and Bethany the Mini Tomato from time to time… people say it helps them grow! —D.N.
Best Smart Assistant
Google is my rock. Meaning, Google devices could destroy me if it wasn’t for their power cords. Google Assistant is the one and only smart assistant I blindly trust, for better or worse. She helps me figure out what the weather is, and what that weather feels like, and what I, a human, am supposed to wear in that weather, or how much cumin is too much cumin, or how to fix a blown fuse. She is my security supervisor, too. With the Nest camera, she knows what’s going on and protects all my things. There are a lot of smart assistants out there (*cough* Alexa, Siri) but none that challenge my unmitigated, Her-esque love for Google. She almost always can understand me, and is so well integrated into the Google family and knowledge base that there’s not much she can’t accomplish. And with the Pixel 6, she shows off her translation abilities and lens tricks. Once you try Google’s robo-assistant for yourself, you’ll understand why I’m head over heels. —C.S.
There’s one thing we all strive for on this plane of existence, and that’s to one day own a Dyson cordless vacuum. Those of us who are ready to find total inner peace might even experience the Omni-glide. There’s a reason everyone knows Dyson—the company makes a stellar vacuum—and the Omni-glide showcases its skillset in a smaller, more manageable, and most importantly, more affordable form. While it is still a $400 vacuum, the Dyson Experience™ used to be hidden behind a much higher pay wall. And because it’s a smaller model, the Omni-glide is easy to store, easy to hide, and easy to maneuver. It’s a must for apartment or small-space living. Or just general living. —C.S.
Best Air Purifier
Blueair Pure Fan Auto
Who has the room for an air purifier and a fan? No one, except the rich, and believe me when I tell you we are not that. So what do we do? We make do. Thankfully, Blueair decided to help out by releasing a smart, two-in-one fan and air purifier with attitude. You can cool and purify at the same time. Beyond that, it just looks, for lack of a better word, cool. It has this sort of retro, refined, mixed material design that’s reminiscent of old Hollywood. Don’t know what I mean? There’s a picture right there so you can make up your own mind. In its auto mode, it can sense gunky things in the air like dog dander or hairspray, which causes it to kick into overdrive in a quest to save your fragile little lungs. Allergies be damned, the Pure Fan Auto is going to protect you (and cool you) in style. —C.S.
Screw Big Cartridge. There, I said it. Cartridge ink providers have had it too good for too long, and someone’s got to stand up to them. (If you can’t find me shortly after this list is published, call for help.) This Brother tank printer, when you factor in the money you’ll save on ink, is an actually affordable, alternative way to experience the luxury of having one’s own printer. For those who are unfamiliar, tank printers use ink tanks, which have a much higher ink capacity and also cut down on the waste that comes from traditional cartridges. If you print a lot, tanks can last anywhere between six and eight months. If, like me, you use your printer almost exclusively for shipping labels and pranks, a tank could last a year and change. Low waste, low cost, low maintenance printing does exist, and Brother does it best. —C.S.
Netgear Nighthawk Tri-band AX3600 Wifi 6 Mesh System
I am the champion of mesh networks, and while the mantle is heavy, I accept it with honor. Every time someone says, “My internet sucks,” bam, I’m there the next day with a mesh network to fix it. (If that doesn’t work, it’s their fault.) I’m also a gamer. Big gamer, like really good and really pro, clapping noobs in Fortnite with my gamers every night. Netgear, which is also a champion of mesh networks, started a whole network line made for cool gamers just like me called Nighthawk. Originally, it relegated itself to routers, but now Nighthawk has moved into the mesh network world. The Nighthawk Mesh is a sturdy mesh system that not only spreads strong Wifi connection but integrates with Netgear’s software so you can easily control and customize your network’s VPN, priority devices, guest networks, and other security features. This all at a price that drastically undercuts the also incredible, also Netgear Orbi mesh line. Mesh networks aren’t cheap, but three access points with Wifi 6 and Tri-band for under 400 bucks qualifies Nighthawk as the most affordable and powerful of them all. —C.S.
Best Home Security
Google Nest Camera
I’m going to level with you here: I don’t live in a house, I live in a large apartment building. The people out there trying to find me, and there are many, could never get into this building, let alone figure out which apartment I live in. (Internet trolls, that’s not a challenge. Do not try to find me. I am a ghost.) But that doesn’t stop me from loving these Nest battery-powered cameras and how they integrate into the Google home ecosystem. Quite the contrary. I put one up on my front door and in the living room when I’m away. The videos they capture when I stumble back after a night on the town are as gruesome as they are hilarious. Google also has a knack for making everything look fun, and these security cameras are no different, coming in several different color schemes so that you can match your security to your drapes. The Nest half of the partnership does its part to guarantee a slew of software improvements so your security system remains infallible. Protect your home, or record your most embarrassing moments, but definitely check these out. —C.S.
Best Home Decor
Nanoleaf has long been associated with gamers like me. Every streamer has these dynamic light shapes in their streaming room. But like all things gamer, they’re merging into the mainstream. Specifically, with these elegant, wood panel light shapes. The coolest thing about Nanoleaf lights is that they are far more than just customizable lighting panels. I mean, yeah, you can go full bespoke with the colors and the panel placement pattern. But the Elements also give you a surreal amount of control over your home environment, enough that you feel like you stepped into Total Recall. Namely, they feature surface controls that let you dim or shuffle, along with a rhythm feature where you can customize lights to react to music or sounds—all with a tap or through your smartphone. The best part about the Elements design in particular is that when the panels are off, no one would be any the wiser that you had a smart lighting panel integrated into your home. They just look like geometric, nature-inspired art. —C.S.
Find My iPhone is a godsend for those times when you leave your phone at a friend’s place, or at home, or at a bar. Always being able to see its location really soothes high levels of anxiety. Apple’s AirTag trackers spread that blanket of security over anything you want them to. I have these bad boys attached to my keys, backpack, wallet, and even my car so I can find my parking spot. They collaborate with Find My Friends and general Apple iOS, and will even notify your friends when they have your belongings. May you never again lose your wallet under your buddy’s passenger-side seat for three months. While GPS trackers are plentiful, few are so expertly integrated into an ecosystem like Apple’s. —C.S.
Courant CATCH:2 ESSENTIALS
Stop reading and really look at the picture of the Catch:2. Did you look? You didn’t stop and look. Okay, fine. That thing charges your phone. What a cool world we live in. Courant started with a leather-wrapped wireless charger and has now opened up to linen, so there’s no chance one won’t fit into your interior design scheme. The Catch:2 can quickly and wirelessly charge any device, or two of them at the same time. You’d also be hard-pressed to find a dead zone on this guy, what with Courant’s overlapping coil system, which covers all charging surface area. Beyond all else, it just plain looks like decor. —C.S.
Best Standing Desk
FlexiSpot Kana Bamboo Standing Desk
I swore I’d stop talking about the pandemic and allow myself to enjoy whatever new phase of life we are in today, but… remember how hard it was to get a desk during the early days of lockdown? Everything was grossly overpriced or sold out. And getting a desk that allowed you to get off your butt once in a while seemed impossible. This FlexiSpot desk, which has an electric motor for boosting it upwards, is like a pipedream after the months I spent stacking textbooks on my kitchen table beneath my MacBook. The bamboo tabletop (eco-friendly and made from natural materials!) is sturdy as hell, and delightfully shiny, too. If you go for the base model, it’s $410, but the fun part about FlexiSpot is, it lets you customize the heck out of its products, with handy add-ons like a keyboard tray (I’ve tried it, it’s great), monitor hookups, and even an under-desk bike, if you’re into that kind of thing. —D.N.
Why get an alarm clock? Our phones are alarm clocks! Well, phones are also the devil in disguise, sheeple. At least in terms of sleep, they are. I can’t even imagine the amount of slumber I’ve lost to my phone, which is right there on my nightstand, vibrating, so I check the notification, and then three hours later I’m still scrolling Instagram. It’s disgusting. Loftie is the solution. It’s an alarm clock (with mesmerizing wake-up tones), a white noise (or brown noise, or campfire noise, or cicada noise) machine, a meditation and breathwork guide, a music player, and more, wrapped up in a charming, minimalist package. The point of the Loftie is to replace your phone near your bed when it comes time to wind down, and with all its sleep-focused features, it really does prevent you from relying on your phone, with all its blue light and distracting apps. But at its core, it’s an alarm clock—one whose clock screen can be put in sleep mode for total blackout conditions—with a calming amber night light, which of course can also be turned off, and a literal snooze button, which I really didn’t think I had missed as much as I did. —C.S.
Logitech G Pro X Superlight
I always thought I liked a heavy mouse, one with reassuring heft. But this mouse changed that for me. Logitech built a mouse that’s light while also feeling high-end, with Bluetooth response time like I’ve never seen. It’s a beautifully simple design—you’ve got your right click, left click, scroll, and two thumb buttons for quick commands, which is really all you need. The G Pro X Superlight mouse also charges remarkably fast, not that you’ll need to charge often as it has a remarkable battery life. I use it every day for work, and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had to plug it in. It’s a smooth and comfortable ride, in a device that just happens to be mind-blowingly lightweight. —C.S.
Logitech G915 TKL
Every good mouse needs a complementing keyboard—a Logitech keyboard. This TKL keyboard’s subtle RGB backlighting really sold it for me. My lighting scheme is currently customized to look like waves crashing on a shore, so whenever I get angry, I’m reminded to make a Mai Tai and play steel drum music so I feel like I’m far away from this workday hell. But enough about my need for a vacation. The keyboard itself is wonderful. With lightning-fast Bluetooth response time, floating keys, and a smaller design (inherent to the tenkeyless keyboard), it’s a form and function masterstroke. The switches feel just clicky enough, and Logitech added some hot keys for play/pause, mutes, and brightness controls. There’s even a brilliant volume control slide. —C.S.
Best Label Maker
Brother P-Touch Pro
Welcome to label zone, the zone where I talk about my love for all things labels. I’ll tell you what: I never thought I’d review a blender, but I really never saw myself reviewing a label maker. But I love label makers. Is it because I like being organized? Definitely, but also because label makers are prankster machines. With the P-Touch Pro, I label jars, I label charging cords, I label soaps, and I label my brother’s forehead. Don’t test me. A certain someone once did, so they got a “dipshit” label stuck all nicely to their face. I’m not screwing around. But really, get a label maker not just for storage, but to keep your cord forests organized, or to keep your Wifi password accessible. The opportunities for usefulness and also pranks are endless. —C.S.
Best Home Gym
I was never a big weight guy. I found the act of weight-lifting boring and hard to do right. That is, until Tonal convinced me to become the most powerful human being on the earth. Tonal made weightlifting easy, interesting, and exciting—who knew it was possible—by employing a resistance training system along with sophisticated AI. Together, they support you with achievement updates and tips, track your progress (for when you need an ego boost), and amp up the weight as you get stronger. Tonal’s main thing is traditional pulleys, but the system also includes a bench, a rope accessory, and a barbell accessory. Counterintuitively, it saves space, because it sticks everything to your wall. Tonal even allows you to connect your phone via Bluetooth to play your workout tracks, which is a huge boon compared to many of the other home workout systems out there. When my power becomes uncontrollable, Tonal will be to blame. —C.S.
Best Massage Gun
Hyperice Hypervolt 2 Pro
It seems every store I step foot in has aisles upon aisles of massage guns. They’re so hip. But it’s Hyperice that walks the line between luxury and affordability with its massive lineup of massage guns, the best of which is the new Hypervolt Pro 2. The Pro 2 has tons of features that best the rest—better settings, softer heads, more customization in accessories and speed, a more maneuverable design. There’s a head and speed I prefer for my back, and one for my legs, and so on and so forth. Hyperice didn’t reinvent the wheel, it did all but perfect it. —C.S.
Best Cardio Machine
Water rowers are making a comeback, baby, and I’m all in. It’s like an amusement park ride, only not a ride but actually a workout, which makes it kind of perfect. If I had a dollar every time I’ve been asked to stop shouting WEEEE on water rowers… The Hydrow puts the row back in the rower. No, seriously. It screens fun videos that make it feel like you’re actually rowing atop the water, and the rowing motion itself feels extremely smooth. Plus, it takes space into account with a far less bulky, steely design, so you can sneak it into your home gym. —C.S.
If you’ve ever seen a GoCycle whiz by you on the street, you might’ve wondered if you’d traveled forward in time. The folding e-bike, which was engineered by a designer from the supercar brand McLaren, looks kind of like a two-wheel Batmobile. It’s different for a reason, though: The bike folds down in seconds, shrinking to about the size of a rolling suitcase. From its steady handling to powerful motor and lightweight, sleek design, it’s hard to imagine having a better time on a bicycle. Any bike, not just the folding or electric kind. At four grand, it’s a hefty price tag. But if you want filet mignon, you cough up. —D.N.
Polaroid Now+ i-Type Instant Camera
I love Polaroid cameras—the way they print, the way they make physical memories, all that old-fashioned jazz. And Polaroid Now+ marks the pinnacle of the company’s resurgence. The Now+, in addition to being a fully functioning Polaroid camera, has an in-depth companion app that lets those who are more photography-inclined really get creative with their captures—like playing around with customizable exposure and focus modes, or remotely taking photos. It’s like a smartphone camera, only in printable form and way cooler. Case in point, the Polaroid Now+ is responsible for some of the best photos I’ve taken, ever, like a photo I snapped of the asshole crow who throws stuff on my balcony, and you know, also the one of my grandparents that I cherish. And I get that immediate gratification from hanging them on my wall. —C.S.
Best Board Game
Infinity Game Table
My friends always cheat on game night. Everyone whips out their own home-brewed rules, especially when they’re losing, and it’s infuriating. They’re snakes and bastards, the lot of them. But luckily, the Infinity Game Table fixed that for me. This gadget has a ton of board games, like Monopoly or Settlers of Catan, that you can download and bring up right there on its tabletop screen. In addition to keeping players in check, it also drastically saves time on setup and cleanup. No pieces to lose, rules right on hand, a fun touch screen, and the added benefit of cool animations—the Infinity Game Table gracefully walks the line between a video game and a board game . —C.S.
Best Mobile Gaming Accessory
I never thought I could get obsessed with a mobile phone accessory. But here I am, telling everyone I know to get the Backbone One, an iOS-friendly peripheral that turns your phone into a video game console. It’s a simple little device, strapping in around the shoulders of your phone to create a snug little iPhone Game Boy. It’s so well-designed that it’s a wonder Apple, with all its billions, hasn’t bought this company yet. The Backbone app, available in the App Store, is compatible with all the major game streaming services, with a focus on Xbox Cloud Gaming. In fact, if you pick one up now, you get three months of Xbox Game Pass for free, meaning you can play all your favorite Xbox games—including the fantastic new Forza Horizon Dawn racing game—right on your phone, from anywhere… so long as you have internet connection. —D.N.
Best Gaming Console
Are the console wars still happening? I can’t really tell anymore because, well, the PlayStation 5 is such a monster right now. And not just because it’s about the size of an air conditioner. There really is no competition for the PS5, and I guess there never was. Between Sony’s terrific first-party games, the total knockout of the DualSense controller, and the troves of backwards-compatible PS4 games that are still industry highlights, the Xbox Series S|X never really stood a chance. Yeah, the PS5 is every bit as good as they say. —D.N.
Best Gaming Service
Xbox Cloud Gaming
Project xCloud, Xbox Cloud Gaming, whatever you want to call it—Xbox’s new service that allows you to stream entire video games directly from Xbox’s servers right onto your smart device or internet browser is the future of the gaming industry. I said it! Not just because it frees gaming from the console era. But because, if you have an Xbox Game Pass subscription, you can play all the latest Triple A games (even the biggest ones, like the upcoming Halo Infinite), on your smart device, without even owning a TV. Everyone knows this is where the industry is headed. Google and Amazon are trying their best to keep up, but with Microsoft’s gigantic (and devoted!) library of gaming history, Xbox is several steps ahead of the game. And since most Game Pass deals involve getting the service for free for a period of months, downloading it to your phone is a no-brainer. Especially if you have the Backbone One controller for iOS! Also on this list! —D.N.
Best Arcade Game
Arcade 1Up Pinball
Arcade 1Up has almost single-handedly brought back the home arcade, with compilation cabinets at three-quarters the normal size that also happen to be far lighter and far cheaper than their coin-guzzling counterparts. This year, Arcade 1Up ventured into the world of digital pinball, and it’s a blast. While it may not ding and shake like an analog pinball machine, Arcade 1Up and Zen (which you probably recognize from the free pinball games installed on new computers) worked together to create a machine that feels as close to real pinball as possible. This line has branding ranging from Star Wars to a cool, retro Mars Attacks theme, and each machine includes several different playable boards. For example, the Star Wars model has boards based on A New Hope, The Rise of Skywalker, and even The Mandalorian. It’s really the only way to bring pinball into your home without the space commitment or the racket. —C.S.