Gadget of the year
SONY PLAYSTATION 5
The PlayStation 5 is just incredible. Probably the most anticipated launch of the past year, and still (thanks to stock sniping, retailer issues and a worldwide semiconductor shortage) a highly anticipated console for the millions that haven’t yet been able to get their hands on one. It didn’t win this award simply for its properly futuristic design language, or its brilliant upgraded controller. Nor is it here just for its games, a mixture of remastered classics, multi-platform favourites and (at least thus far) only a few high-end exclusives. And it’s not our Gadget of the Year only for its power, which drops true high-end gaming to a price point well below the second-mortgage PC market, or for its backwards compatibility, which effectively upgrades games from previous PlayStation generations to make them crisper and slicker.
It’s the impact of the PS5 elsewhere that gives it real Gadget of the Year credibility. It – and, to some extent, the marginally less popular Xbox Series X – has ushered in the acceleration of TV tech, pushing features like VRR, 120Hz refresh rates and automatic low latency to even the mid-range TV market. This isn’t just a console; it’s a benchmark, a statement, a kick in the pants to the entire industry. That’s exactly what next-generation hardware is supposed to be. From £360, playstation.com
Best gadget under £100
FITBIT ACE 3
Since we gave Fitbit Ace 3 trackers to our kids, we’ve barely seen them: dinners are rushed so they can run around the garden to get more steps, our mornings are quieter as they try to increase their sleep score and our smartphone app shows ever-increasing amounts of activity. Fitbit’s kids’ fitness tracker is perfectly pitched for its target audience: it looks good, it’s comfortable to wear, it lasts for a week between charges and it has lots of fun watch faces. The app tracks steps, sleep and activity without encouraging calorie counting, and it’s easy to set and track activity goals. We’ve also found that the strap doesn’t irritate sensitive skin like some kids’ watch straps do.
MicroLED is the future of television, and Samsung is leading the way in making that future happen. Its panels use thousands of tiny LEDs to deliver per-pixel illumination for exceptional image quality, Bcontrast and responsiveness, and unlike OLED it doesn’t suffer from screen burn or the ageing that reduces OLED’s colour fidelity over the life of a display. According to Samsung, its MicroLED displays will run for over 100,000 hours with no significant loss of performance. It isn’t exactly affordable right now – Samsung’s first consumer MicroLED TV is a 110-inch, 4K display that will set you back around £114,000 – but MicroLEDs will get smaller and more affordable fast, just as
LED TVs and OLED TVs did before them. samsung.com
Brand of the year
2021 is already an extraordinary year for Apple. The move from Intel processors to Apple silicon has given the Mac range a new lease of life and a new playfulness too: the new coloured iMacs may be a homage to the candy-coloured iMacs of the late 1990s, but they’re a very modern proposition thanks to their superbly quick M1 processors and the Big Sur operating system. Even more devices are coming: improved iPads, more Macs and, of course, the iPhone 13. But Apple’s legacy may not just be measured in terms of its devices, as wonderful as they are. It also uses its considerable power to promote and demonstrate diversity in tech and to advocate for user privacy. apple.com
Retailer of the year
What other company has seen us through the past year-and-a-bit like Amazon has? Realistically, what other company possibly could? Amazon’s infrastructure is unparalleled, its already massive network ramping up significantly in the past 12 months. If you live close enough to a distribution centre, there’s nothing quite like placing an order for just about anything at 10am and having that product land on your doorstep at 6pm – and Amazon’s range of distribution options, from Amazon Hub points to its ubiquitous locker system, makes getting what you ordered an absolute cinch. Let’s not ignore Amazon’s own (excellent) product range, or the huge fringe benefits (including one of the best streaming services around) attached to Prime membership; everything’s coming up Amazon. amazon.co.uk
Many large companies have pledged to become climate neutral in the coming decade, but Ikea goes further: it has vowed to be not just climate neutral but climate positive by 2030, leaving the planet in better shape than it found it. To do that it’s working on multiple fronts ranging from the introduction of meat-free, plant-based alternatives such as Huvudroll meatballs in its restaurants; making spare parts easier to obtain to prolong the life of furniture; introducing buy-back schemes; and investing heavily in environmental initiatives and sustainable forestry. Ikea now operates what it calls “circular design”, with consideration of every stage of over 9,500 products from the materials they’re made of to how they will be recycled. ikea.com
This is the most advanced LCD TV on the market, full stop. While its price is likely to be pretty eye-watering for most, Samsung’s Neo QLED tech will give those poor peepers a real treat. It mixes QLED tech (something Samsung is already very adept at) with a new mini-LED backlighting system, one which essentially deshells LEDS to make them 40% smaller, allowing the QN900A to get both very thin and (by compacting more LED dimming zones onto the backlight) very, very black where it counts. Ten edge-mounted speakers offer up effective directional sound, Samsung’s One Connect box keeps your cables tucked away and makes wall-mounting a breeze, and its Infinity Screen makes the bezels on three sizes basically invisible. From £5,999, samsung.com
Best 8K TV
Competition is hotting up in the 8K space – or at least it was until Samsung’s superb best-in-class Neo QLED TV came along to wipe the floor with every other competitor. The TV itself is a thing of beauty, and there’s a long list of reasons we’ve awarded it our coveted Best TV Award; here, it also manages to bag the Best 8K TV prize by virtue of its outstanding AI Neo Quantum Processor 8K, complemented beautifully by the advanced backlighting on board. Given that we’re still mostly waiting for compatible content, today’s 8K TVs should really be the best 4K TVs you can buy, an ideal the QN900A absolutely lives up to – and it’s absolutely ready to ride the true 8K wave when it reaches us. From £5,999, samsung.com
Best OLED TV
LG leads the OLED game – and indeed its subsidiary, LG Display, is the only company actually making panels, selling them to other manufacturers for their own OLED TVs. But the OLED evo panel inside the G1 really steps things up, offering better brightness (previously OLED’s big downside) and more accurate colour reproduction while hanging on to the per-pixel lighting control that makes OLED really shine. In the G1 you get a TV that, for its premium price, looks stupendous whether it’s switched on or off – but especially when it’s switched on, thanks to the new colour substrates and the fourth generation of Alpha 9 processor dragging the absolute best possible picture out of them. Pure class.
From £1,999, lg.com
Best mid-range TV
Squeaking in just under the £1,000 mark if you opt for the 55-inch edition, the LG BX series offers a masterful take on OLED for the masses, a hugely contrasty and great-looking TV platform that doesn’t cut any significant corners. It has gaming perks like HDMI 2.1, LG’s excellent webOS interface, and superb 4K reproduction and upscaling chops.
From £949, lg.com
Best gaming TV
It’s the best OLED out there, and the best TV for gaming too. All four main inputs of the LG G1 support every feature any aspiring gamer needs, from HDMI 2.1 to variable refresh rate to automatic low latency, as well as full 4K 120Hz support. Hit the boost mode and you can drag input lag as low as a nigh undetectable 9.4ms. Slick. From £1,999, lg.com
Best gaming headset
ASUS ROG DELTA S
The Delta S is a gaming powerhouse with enhanced quad DAC processing, hi-res audio support and powerful, clear performance. It’s easily the equal of headsets that cost considerably more, and of course you can customise the RGB lighting to make it look as good as it sounds. It’s comfortable, convincing and as good for music as it is for games. £189.99, asus.com
Best gaming monitor
LG ULTRAGEAR 34GN850
The LG UltraGear 34GN850 ticks all the boxes: its curved, ultra-wide display is incredibly immersive, it has a 1ms response time and 160Hz refresh rate for silky-smooth gaming and that huge display area is as good for spreadsheets as it is for shooting. If your rig is powerful enough to push all its pixels, you’ll enjoy the LG immensely. £799, lg.com
SAMSUNG GALAXY S21 ULTRA
This award saw a closely fought battle for dominance, because this has been one heck of a year for phones. In the end, Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra was unassailable. It’s the best phone Samsung has ever made, which puts it above some seriously strong company: the 120Hz WQHD+ HDR10+display is remarkable, the battery huge, and the camera absolutely titanic, with a superhigh resolution 108MP sensor on the back and a very generous 40MP snapper upfront. It even ports over support for a digital stylus from the Note series, and carries Samsung’s fancy desktopaping DeX system – all while packing more processing muscle and RAM inside than many actual laptops. This is the everything phone, and it does everything incredibly well. From £1,149, samsung.com
Best value phone ONEPLUS NORD
The Nord looks at those specs which are most critical to the Android phone experience, chops down those that don’t matter, and shaves a whole chunk off the price of a phone that feels like it should cost a lot more. A great 90Hz screen, super-solid build quality, a snappy OS and a perfectly good camera combo? It’s all you need. £379, oneplus.com
Best video streaming service
Little did we know, when Disney+ first launched, that it would become even more than a repository for Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars and, yes Disney et al; the inclusion of Fox content, the launch of the Star sub platform, some immense first-run content plus every extra and function you could ever want have made it the best streaming service around. From £7.99/month, disneyplus.com
LG GRAM 17 (2021)
LG’s anti-gravity department has been hard at work, shaving off every possible – yes – gram to make this one of the most remarkably portable laptops we’ve ever seen, particularly at this size.
With a generous and absolutely wonderful 16:10 ratio 17-inch panel, an 11th-gen Intel Core i7 processor and enough beef in every department to handle any task aside from heavyweight gaming, we’re totally taken by the largest of the Gram range – particularly because it has the expansion potential offered by a Thunderbolt 4/USB4 Type-C port. Great for work or web browsing, perfectly suited to creative tasks, and a master of entertainment, this is a huge upgrade from the previous Gram and the best general-purpose laptop you can buy today. £1,599, lg.com
Best gaming laptop
GIGABYTE AORUS 15G
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