Apple iPad mini, Fitbit Sense to Sonos Beam: Best gadgets of 2021
This was the second year of the pandemic and technology continued to be the saviour, helping millions of people across the world work from home and stay safe even as they stayed entertained and connected. With companies getting time to bring in features that reflected the needs of the pandemic, over the past year many practical gadgets were announced. Some even came with a human touch and fell back on simplicity as a core offering, even as others pushed the boundaries on what can be done. Here is our list of the best gadgets of 2021, based on our hands-on experiences.
Smartphones: Power, smartness and innovation
iPhone 13 Pro Max
The iPhone 13 Pro Max is a masterclass in how to improve a product that is already so good. It’s not radically different from its predecessor but it still works, thanks to features like an upgraded high-refresh-rate screen, more battery, and improved camera setup. The A15 Bionic chip powering the iPhone 13 Pro Max makes it the most powerful smartphone on the market. But after having pretty much killed the compact camera over the years, with the iPhone 13 Pro Max Apple seems to be warning high-end video camera makers. The iPhone 13 Pr Max can in fact record cinematic video, which can afterwards be edited on the phone itself. Read our review of the iPhone 13 Pro Max.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Flip 3
2021 will go down as the year in which Samsung perfected the fold form factor. The Galaxy Z Fold 3 is unlike any other smartphone in the market offering users extra screen space that promises more productivity. The Z Fold 3 was always destined to become the benchmark in foldable smartphones but no one knew the device would become so refined this year. However, the bigger surprise was clearly the Galaxy Z Flip 3 aimed at those who preferred that phone that was smaller when not in use. But what really worked in favour of the Flip 3 was its pricing making this forward-looking phone a little more accessible to consumers. Read our reviews of the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3.
The iPhone 13 delivers on both performance and value, a rare combination hard to achieve. On paper, it looks like an incremental upgrade to last year’s iPhone 12, but the iPhone 13 is more polished than any typical high-end smartphone. It’s a no-nonsense phone with better cameras and improvements in battery life and without the bells and whistles of the Pro series that would have cost a bomb to people who will never use those features. Read our review of the iPhone 13.
Samsung Galaxy A52
At a time when mid-range phones started to look mundane and predictable, the Galaxy A52 added some spark. With the Galaxy A52, Samsung came with a phone that tried to create a balance between price, features and design. Although not a true flagship, the A52 offered everything a consumer expects from an excellent premium mid-range phone. Its specifications and features sound amazing: a 120Hz high-refresh display, solid camera setup, IP67 water- and dust-proofing certification, a capable processor, and good battery life. The A52 brought back the fun in mid-range phones. Read our review of the Galaxy A52.
Redmi Note 10 Pro Max
Each year, the Redmi Note series sets a new standard in the under Rs 20,000 range, and 2021 was no different. With the Redmi Note 10 Pro Max, the company introduced a 108MP camera and a macro camera, both of which performed exceptionally well given the price bracket in which this phone operates. More importantly, the Redmi Note 10 Pro Max got a 120 Hz AMOLED, which gave it another advantage over the competition. Overall, it remained the dependable phone to consider in the under Rs 20,000 segment. Read our review of the Redmi Note 10 Pro Max.
OnePlus Nord 2
OnePlus had many offerings this year, but none were as popular as the Nord 2, the second budget offering from the brand. The Nord 2 was a no-nonsense phone expected to reel in newer and younger customers for OnePlus which has been going more into the premium segment with its top-of-line offerings. The Nord 2 was a good successor to the segment, offering everything one could expect at that mid-segment price point. Read our review of the OnePlus Nord 2.
PCs: Back in relevance
The new Apple iMac is an all-in-one desktop computer that takes cues from the original iMac of the late 90s but is still the most forward-looking device for your workspace. The iMac combines a surprisingly good 24-inch screen with more than capable performance (all thanks to the M1 processor) and has a 1080p webcam that makes it more than relevant in the pandemic year. Read our review of the iMac M1.
Apple 16-inch MacBook Pro
The 16-inch MacBook Pro is the most powerful laptop Apple has ever created. If you are willing to pay the price, you will not be disappointed. Not only is the 16-inch MacBook powerful enough for heavy computing tasks, but it also fixes all the issues the creator community had with the previous generation model. Configurable with either the M1 Pro or M1 Max, the 16-inch MacBook Pro becomes a poster boy of Apple’s latest silicon. The new MacBook Pro promises plenty of ports, a great keyboard, and a bright and colourful Liquid Retina XDR display that can reach 1,000 nits when playing HDR content.
Dell XPS 13
Dell’s XPS 13 has consistently been ranked high among premium laptops. The bezel-free 16:10 display is gorgeous, the design is top-notch, performance is unmatched, and keyboard and battery are its strengths. This can cope with everything from web browsing to light video editing and everything in between. Although the XPS 13 is the benchmark in the high-end Windows laptop segment, its port selection is a bit disappointing and the 720p webcam is meh. The 2021 XPS 13 is a sign of Dell making things right. Read our review of the Dell XPS 13.
HP Pavilion Aero 13
The Pavilion Aero 13 is one of the best ultrathin-and-light Windows laptops on the market, finding a perfect balance between business and fun if you are still working remotely. Although the Pavilion lineup is largely limited to value-for-money notebooks, the Aero 13 gets a lot of premium features including magnesium-aluminum chassis, long battery life, the performance from the AMD Ryzen 5 5600U is impressive, and bright and colourful display. It makes us wonder how HP packed in so many features in a notebook that weighs in at just 970 grams. In a way, HP has made a MacBook Air rival and it succeeds to some extent. Read our review of the HP Pavilion Aero 13.
Audio: Noise cancelling and beyond
Nothing Ear (1)
Although there are better options available on the market, it is hard to deny the existence of the Nothing Ear 1 which pretty much covers the basics. Nothing, the much-hyped startup by the OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei, has made a pair of truly wireless earbuds that look radically different from the competition with a clever, semi-transparent design language. They are extremely light and comfortable, sound good, and have good active noise cancellation. While they lack the charm of the AirPods Pro, they fare well in most critical areas that matter to end consumers. They offer terrific value for money under Rs 10,000. Read our review of the Nothing Ear (1).
Sonos seems to have suddenly found India to be an interesting market, especially for future growth. And as more Indians appear apprehensive about watching movies in the theatre, the Sonos Beam will literally bring the big screen experience home to go along with their larger TVs and projectors. The Sonos Beam stands out for its unique sound profile that is sharp and precise as well as the ability to be loud when needed. Sonos also uses the WiFi for beaming music so your experience is not interpreted if a call comes in. Read our review of the Sonos Beam Gen.
The AIWA SB-X350J might not be a bit speaker, but that does not prevent it from offering the kind of music you would associate with large professionally tuned speakers. The best sounding speaker we tested in 2021, the SB-X350J does not cost a bomb. Audiophiles finally have something they can carry in their backpack. Read our review of the Aiwa SB-X350J.
Tablets: Power in your hands
The iPad mini is for many the most distinct product Apple has launched in years. With the iPad mini, Apple tried to create a new lifestyle device that is a cross between an iPhone and a traditional iPad. Even though the iPad mini is an iPad at heart, it feels like an entirely different product. It’s compact and small but not a replacement for your iPhone. The iPad mini shines when it comes to taking notes (thanks to second-generation Apple Pencil support), playing games, or as an e-reader, becoming a companion device that always stays with you. The iPad mini looks fresh, but continues to have a niche appeal.
Apple iPad (9th generation)
Time and again, Apple proves that it is hard to beat the iPad no matter which model you choose. The entry-level iPad isn’t the best Apple has to offer but it does make a splash for the features it comes with including a front-facing camera that is actually good and increased storage capacity. Not to forget, it has a faster A13 Bionic processor, while the 12-megapixel front camera supports Center Stage that dynamically keeps you in the frame. While it is still a minor upgrade, the 9th generation iPad promises a lot more for the price. Students or casual users are primarily customers who would want to buy Apple’s budget tablet with a sizable display and just the right power to accomplish any task.
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2021)
The new Kindle Paperwhite is a step-up from its predecessor but isn’t a huge upgrade and that’s ok. It has upgraded features that may seem minor to some but improve the already great e-Book reader. A larger 6.8-inch display with an upgraded lighting scheme, USB-C charging, improved battery life, and fully waterproof are the biggest boons to the latest Kindle Paperwhite.
Fitness bands and watches: The right time
Mi Band 6
The Mi Band 6 came with a big upgrade over the previous version thanks to the bigger and brighter AMOLED display, along with blood oxygen monitoring— a necessary feature for any fitness device launching in 2021. But what impressed us the most was the steady performance, the accuracy in fitness and steps, and the number of features this packs. It remains one of the most accurate fitness bands under Rs 3,500. Read our review of Mi Band 6.
Samsung Galaxy Watch 4
Samsung battled hard with Apple in the premium smartwatch segment with the Galaxy Watch 4 this year. The Galaxy Watch 4 is the first smartwatch to run on the new Google Wear platform co-designed by Google and Samsung. Available in two options including the classier version which has a rotating bezel, the Galaxy Watch 4 has a redesigned interface, access to third-party apps, supports Google services, and a round design. The bevy of new sensors pushes you to step out of home and sweat it out. Till Google launches its own Pixel Watch, the Galaxy Watch 4 is perhaps the smartwatch for Android users that combines the best of Google services and Samsung’s tried-and-tested hardware. Read our review of the Galaxy Watch 4.
Very few smartwatches make as much sense as Fitbit Sense. This new smartwatch does everything one expects from a device like this. In fact, there are times when you wonder if it does a bit too much and users will forget about some features over time. But in pandemic times, a smartwatch that keeps an eye on health indicators like ECG and Blood Oxygen level along with even factors like stress has to be something easy to recommend, especially when it is almost half the price of the new Apple Watch Series 7. Read our review of Fitbit Sense.
Sony BRAVIA 55X90J
Sony has moved itself to the luxury space across segments and in the television space, it clearly wants to bridge the 70mm gap created in our lives by the pandemic. The Bravia 55X90J has one of the best displays on the market with software that knows how users think and expect their content to flow. The TV can also go up to 120Hz in 4K for those planning to pair it with a gaming console. Read our review of the Bravia 55X90J.
Nintendo Switch (OLED)
Nintendo’s flagship console got a mid-cycle upgrade this year with the new Switch OLED model. It’s still the Switch we all like, but the new version offers a seven-inch OLED screen in handheld mode, along with 64 GB of storage—double that of the original Nintendo Switch and an improved kickstand. The catalogue of games the Switch is getting keeps getting better – and there is no match to Nintendo exclusives like Breath of the Wild, Animal Crossing, and Super Mario Odyssey. The big selling point of Switch continues to be its ability to transform from a handheld console to a home console.
Dell 4K UltraSharp Webcam
Dell’s 4K UltraSharp Webcam may seem overkill for average users, but if you are a streamer or content creator, this device does make a huge difference. Its aesthetically pleasing with its retro-inspired design, clever mounting options, and magnetic lens cap for privacy. The webcam has an 8.3-megapixel image sensor and is capable of 4K at up to 30 fps or 1080p at up to 60 fps. The inclusion of AI auto framing is impressive and the webcam’s low-light performance is commendable. Although not the first 4K webcam, Dell’s version is impressive. The omission of a mic makes no sense but it’s hard to ignore this 4K webcam despite its high price. It’s a well-thought-out product that reflects the times we live in. Read our review of the Dell 4K UltraSharp Webcam.