Like much of America, the staff of PCMag has been working from home since March, when COVID-19 hit our country hard. Our testing lab and photo-and video studio, which was housed in a tall office building on lower Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, is now dispersed across various apartment living rooms and home offices in the five NYC boroughs and beyond. Laptops, CPUs, and graphics cards are benchmark-tested on coffee tables in Staten Island and Brooklyn, and phones and tablets are photographed against city skylines on the roofs of Queens apartment buildings. Despite the worst pandemic our country has seen in more than 100 years, the very important business of product testing and reviewing—to help you determine the right technology to buy and how to use it—marches on.
Once again this year, we battled, albeit virtually, to whittle down the list of almost 2,000 products we’ve tested to the 100 in this story, which represents the pinnacle of all that we’ve seen this year.
If you remember last year’s collection, you’ll see some familiar winners for 2020. After all, the best product lines, such as Dell XPS and Samsung Galaxy, pump out several new products each year, and they often get better with each iteration. And because we’re continually reviewing important products as their features, performance, and pricing change, you’ll see some old favorites, including Netflix and Spotify. That’s not to say it’s all predictable: Watch for some not-so-obvious choices and some new categories, too—the Best Smart Home Gym Machine, for example.
This list was compiled after considering every product we reviewed between November 1, 2019, through the first week of November 2020. Of the final 100 products we chose, seven received a perfect 5-star rating, 90 earned our top accolade—the PCMag Editors’ Choice award, and all were selected by writers and editors who are experts in the product categories they cover. Our favorite products of the year just happen to serve very well as your ultimate holiday shopping list.
1 BEST ULTRAPORTABLED
ELL XPS 13 (9310)
STARTS AT $999; $1,649 AS TESTED
The XPS 13 is the best high-end, clamshell-style ultraportable you can buy, and the clear choice for Windows users who want to make a statement. It looks equally at home in your living room and (eventually, once the pandemic ends) in a coffee shop or conference room. With the latest 9310 model, equipped with Intel’s 11th Generation “Tiger Lake” processors and Intel Iris Xe graphics, it’s as powerful as it is sleek.
2 BEST DESKTOP REPLACEMENT LAPTOP
DELL XPS 17 (9700)
STARTS AT $1,399.99; $2,939.99 AS TESTED
Simply put, this laptop takes the time-tested design of the beloved 13-inch XPS 13 and brings it to a much larger screen and chassis. The result is an excellent all-around laptop with a top-notch screen (4K option included), great audio and inputs, and a wide array of ports. It packs a punch, too, with options for up to Intel Core i9 processors and an Nvidia RTX 2060 GPU. It’s sleek, high-quality, and fully capable of replacing a home desktop.
3 BEST BUDGET LAPTOP
ASUS VIVOBOOK S15 (S533)
STARTS AT $699.99; $699.99 AS TESTED
The budget-laptop category includes plenty of cheap Windows machines, but a Chromebook won out for best value this year. For a low price, the C523 delivers a sleek, partially metal design; a large 1080p panel (it’s a 15.6-incher, unusual among the Chromebook set); and a comfortable keyboard and touchpad. It’s not perfect, but it’s hard to argue with the cost and feature set.
4 BEST CHROMEBOOK
ACER CHROMEBOOK SPIN 713
$629 AS TESTED
At just $629, the Acer Chromebook Spin 713 is a bargain, but it’s no stripped-down economy model: It’s clad in aluminum instead of plastic, with an antimicrobial Gorilla Glass screen and a touchpad, and it has a speedy Intel Core i5 with 8GB of RAM. The 13.5-inch display has a more square 3:2 aspect ratio rather than the familiar 16:9, giving you a taller view for text and web scrolling.
5 BEST BUSINESS LAPTOP
LENOVO THINKPAD X1 CARBON GEN 8 (2020)
STARTS AT $1,331; $1,888 AS TESTED
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is one of our perennial favorites, and we reviewed the 2020 edition just in time for the holidays. This ultraportable business laptop is a dream to work on at home or on the road; although your business travel was likely curtailed in 2020, you’ll enjoy using it anywhere. It is super-lightweight, features one of the best keyboards and displays around, and has all the connectivity a professional user could want.
6 BEST MOBILE WORKSTATION
DELL PRECISION 7540
STARTS AT $1,339; $5,227 AS TESTED
When it comes to 15.6-inch laptops, mobile workstations make gaming rigs look like wimps— and the new king of the hill is Dell’s costly but colossal Precision 7540, which we tested in a maxed-out Xeon/Quadro RTX configuration. By a narrow margin, it’s the fastest mobile workstation we’ve tested. This stupendous performance combined with a handsome 4K screen makes it the best mobile workstation you can buy.
7 BEST GAMING LAPTOP
ASUS ROG ZEPHYRUS G14
STARTS AT $1,049.99; $1,449.99 AS TESTED
The Zephyrus G14 is arguably the best value in gaming this year. Our midrange test configuration outpaces more expensive machines thanks to its Ryzen 9 processor, and its RTX 2060 is plenty capable as a high-refresh 1080p gaming GPU. It helps that these are tied together in a slick, super-portable chassis with long battery life and a 120Hz screen at an unusual-for-gaming 14 inches. In a world of expensive gaming laptops, it’s an unmatched combination of power, portability, and price.
8 BEST CONVERTIBLE 2-IN-1 LAPTOP
HP SPECTRE X360 15 (2020)
STARTS AT $1,399; $1,849 AS TESTED
HP’s oversize Spectre x360 15 has a big screen—but it’s a convertible, so you can transform it into a tablet and use its stylus to sketch, draft, and create. The signature luxury design of the Spectre elevates the experience, and our review model had a beautiful AMOLED 4K touch display that artists (especially anyone sensitive to color accuracy) will go gaga over. You won’t need to configure it much, as this is a full package that can work as a high-end mobile studio.
9 BEST APPLE LAPTOP
APPLE MACBOOK AIR
The new MacBook Air, now based on Apple’s M1 processor, is much faster than it’s ever been. Thanks to this home-grown chip, the ultraportable catapults into the same speed tier as the 13-inch MacBook Pro, rather than sticking to its role as the slowpoke sibling. It achieves this feat while maintaining the super-thin fanless design, lux metal build, and insanely long battery life, all at an attractive $999 starting price.
10 BEST TABLET
APPLE iPAD AIR (2020)
Apple iPads have much better creative, gaming, and productivity software options than Android tablets, while they’re far simpler to use than Windows slates. The company’s latest iPad Air brings you pro power at a more down-to-earth price. The tablet has a super-fast processor, excellent cameras, and better Apple Pencil support than the previous Air and lower-cost iPad models. For many, it’s an even better buy than the pricier iPad Pro.
11 BEST EBOOK READER
ONYX BOOX NOTE AIR
Our new work-from-home, school-from-home lives demand a new generation of reading devices. The Onyx Boox Note Air runs full Android 10, so it can use any reader or document management software. And it gives you a 10.3-inch screen, so you can comfortably read 8.5by-11 documents and still hold it in one hand. An included stylus lets you easily take notes or annotate PDFs.
12 BEST US CELLULAR NETWORK
For our annual Fastest Mobile Networks tests this year, we drove around 26 US cities, testing 4G and 5G networks against each other (our first 5G test). We found that while Verizon’s “ultra wideband” 5G network doesn’t have much coverage, it was the only 5G that made a real, generational difference. Verizon’s small amount of UWB 5G is backed up by a high-performing, nationwide 4G network that delivers all the speed most people need. Though Verizon’s 5G pushed it ahead of AT&T, its 4G kept the carrier head and shoulders above T-Mobile in our tests.
13 BEST ANDROID PHONE
SAMSUNG GALAXY NOTE 20 ULTRA
It took Samsung a few months to recover from the misfire that was the Galaxy S20 Ultra, but when it came back, it came back roaring. A massive powerhouse, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra packs in more technology than any other Android device in the US this year. The phone has a gorgeous 120Hz screen, a powerful processor, a 5x optical-zoom camera, and excellent stylus support, and it handles every form of 5G available in the US right now. As you can surmise from the size, battery life is excellent.
14 BEST iPHONE
APPLE iPHONE 12 MINI
We’ve been asking for a smaller premium iPhone for a long time. Apple finally delivered. The iPhone 12 mini isn’t a second-class citizen in the iPhone world—it has all the speed, camera prowess, and 5G capabilities of its bigger sibling, in a one-handed form factor, for less money. When we start to leave our houses on a regular basis again, we’re going to want to carry bags, hold childrens’ hands, and fit things into the annoyingly small pockets of tight pants. The iPhone 12 mini is an affordable, powerful phone for the world we’re hoping 2021 will be.
15 BEST BUDGET PHONE
MOTOROLA MOTO G POWER
The Moto G Power hits all the basics, the way a good budget phone should. It has excellent battery life, reliable reception and call quality, and a big screen that’s usable in sunlight. Motorola always uses a light hand with its Android software, not loading it down with bloatware, and it has a better track record with updates and support than many other budget phone makers do. We’ve recommended many phones in the Moto G series, because we know that when you get one, you don’t have to worry. The G Power continues this solid legacy.
16 BEST HOTSPOT
VERIZON MIFI M2100 5G UW
The first real hotspot for Verizon’s super-high-speed 5G network is the first hotspot that can give you a taste of what 5G is supposed to be—provided you can find network coverage. The M2100 can use Wi-Fi 6 to split Verizon’s gigabit wireless connection across up to 30 devices, letting you quickly set up an outdoor office or workgroup. It’s held back by Verizon’s network, which primarily works only outdoors, in relatively small parts of major cities. But at least Verizon is showing what we can do with true wireless, high-speed access when it becomes more widespread.
17 BEST SMARTWATCH
APPLE WATCH SERIES 6
Outperforming Google Wear OS–based models and offering a much more fully realized smartwatch experience than Fitbit’s health-centric alternatives, the Apple Watch is once again our top pick. This year’s flagship Series 6 model offers two key features that can help keep you safe amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic: an SpO2 sensor that lets you monitor your blood oxygen saturation level and a countdown timer that keeps you honest when washing your hands. The Series 6 further impresses thanks to a faster processor, a brighter display, and an always-on altimeter, all of which help make the best smartwatch you can buy a smarter choice than ever.
18 BEST FITNESS TRACKER
FITBIT CHARGE 4
Featuring a GPS to map your exercise route without a phone, Spotify controls, and Fitbit Pay, the Charge 4 gives you the most bang for your buck of any fitness tracker. The latest addition to the high-rated Charge line also offers a motivating new metric called Active Zone Minutes and more robust sleep-tracking tools, which together can help encourage you to get moving and improve your shut-eye. It also stands out thanks to its sleek, water-resistant design and weeklong battery life.
19 BEST HEART RATE MONITOR
For the most accurate heart rate readings, use a chest strap over a wrist-worn device. And for the best basic chest strap, go with the Polar H9. With a comfortable and swim-safe design, ANT+ and Bluetooth support for easy pairing with fitness equipment, an excellent companion app that puts your metrics into context, and training programs to help improve your fitness level, the H9 offers tremendous value at a competitive price.
20 BEST SMART HOME GYM MACHINE
With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, there’s never been a better time to invest in a smart home fitness device. The Peloton Bike+ is one of the best you can buy. It builds on the original model with a new Auto Follow feature for automatic resistance adjustments, an upgraded sound system, a rotating touch screen that allows for a better viewing angle when doing floor-based workouts, and support for one-tap Apple Watch pairing. With these upgrades, plus a vast and varied on-demand workout library and a regular schedule of live classes, it leaves other indoor cycling bikes in the dust.
21 BEST SMART SCALE
With its first smart scale, Wyze upholds its reputation for delivering quality products that undercut the competition. The Wyze Scale offers unbeatable value with the ability to measure and track 12 metrics, including your BMI, body-fat percentage, body-water percentage, heart rate, and more—for just $20. It also offers a safe mode for pregnant women and people who wear pacemakers, and it keeps your data private while offering auto-recognition and syncing for eight users, addressing the main limitations of similarly priced and even some more expensive competitors.
22 BEST SMART SPEAKER
AMAZON ECHO (4TH GENERATION)
The newest Amazon Echo speaker is much more spherical than the cylinders of the past, and inside, it packs some of the best hardware yet. With surprisingly strong bass for its small size and a built-in smart home hub that supports Zigbee, BLE, and Amazon Sidewalk, this simple orb can easily become the anchor of your smart home.
23 BEST SMART DISPLAY
AMAZON ECHO SHOW 8
The Amazon Echo Show 8 hits an ideal middle ground among size, power, and price. Its 8-inch screen can show plenty of useful information, play video content from Prime Video and Hulu, and even make video calls. The Show 8’s stereo speakers put out surprisingly strong sound. Considering the larger Echo Show 10 is nearly twice the price, this is an excellent value for those who want touch-screen Alexa access at home.
24 BEST SECURITY SYSTEM
BLUE BY ADT HOME SECURITY SYSTEM
Although SimpliSafe remains our top pick overall, the Blue by ADT Home Security System is the best new system we tested in 2020. It’s reasonably priced and versatile, so you can start small and add components (such as door and window sensors, motion detectors, and flood sensors) as you need them, and you can opt to monitor your home yourself via the companion app or pay $20 per month for 24/7 professional monitoring. The system works with lots of third-party devices, supports Alexa and Google voice commands, and most important, performed flawlessly in testing.
25 BEST SECURITY CAMERA
WYZE CAM OUTDOOR
If you’re looking for an affordable outdoor security camera, the Wyze Cam Outdoor is the best sub-$50 model money can buy. It’s wireless, easy to install, and offers sharp 1080p video for much less money than most of the competition—plus free cloud and local storage. The Cam Outdoor has everything you need to monitor activity outside your home, as well as Travel Mode, which lets you take the camera anywhere, connect to it using your phone, and record motion and time-lapse video without the need for an internet connection. Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and IFTTT support are icing on the cake.
26 BEST SMART DOOR LOCK
AUGUST WI-FI SMART LOCK
With the addition of embedded Wi-Fi that lets you connect it to your home network without a bridge, the August Wi-Fi Smart Lock is the company’s smartest model to date. It’s also the smallest, featuring an attractive matte-black or silver design with a textured grip. It’s easy to install and use, and it offers plenty of features, including integration with voice assistants, support for Apple HomeKit and IFTTT applets, and seamless integration with a variety of home automation and home security platforms.
27 BEST VIDEO DOORBELL
ARLO VIDEO DOORBELL
Arlo’s first video doorbell is a winner, offering stunning high-res HDR video that lets you see who’s at your door right from your phone or on an Alexa-based smart display. It alerts you with a live video stream when the bell has been pressed or when someone approaches, and lets you speak with whomever is out there. And it’s easy to install, stylishly designed, and doesn’t require a hub.
28 BEST SMART LIGHTING
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Boston Dynamics' Spot Robodog Finds Work on a BP Oil Rig
Boston Dynamics’ four-legged canine-inspired Spot is by no means an old dog, but that doesn’t mean it can’t learn new tricks. The 55-pound robot, unveiled in 2016, has boarded BP’s Mad Dog oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, where it will master tasks including reading gauges, finding corrosion, mapping the facility, and sniffing out methane, according to Reuters.
CAN THIS AI HELP SMOKERS QUIT?
While COVID-19 remains an occupying force in our world, and a viable vaccine is still out of reach, dealing with the pandemic comes down to mitigating health risks while coping with stress. If you’re a smoker, that’s going to be tough on both accounts. This isn’t the Mad Men era; everyone knows the risks of tobacco use, but cessation of addictive substances isn’t easy.
Assassin's Creed Valhalla (for PC): Another Winner
The Assassin’s Creed series has taken us to numerous historical settings since its 2007 debut, including Ancient Greece, Renaissance Italy, and Revolutionary War-era America. The newest installment, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, details the Viking invasion of 9th Century England from the perspective of history’s most notorious raiders. Though Valhalla doesn’t introduce anything wholly new to the series, it’s an excellent PC game that follows in the footsteps of its equally exceptional predecessors, Origins and Odyssey.
Microsoft Xbox Series X: An Impressive Console
The newest Xboxes are here, packing plenty of power into boxier frames than ever. Microsoft’s entries into the latest console generation are the Xbox Series X, reviewed here, and the Xbox Series S ($299).
2020's Most Common Passwords Are Laughably Insecure
Chances are that if a password is easy for you to remember, a hacker can easily crack it. And despite years (and years) of tech companies warning consumers to use hard-to-crack passwords, plus two-factor authentication, people are still using laughably insecure codes.
THE BEST PRODUCTS OF 2020
It’s been a weird year.
Virtual Movie Night: How to Watch Netflix With Friends Using Teleparty
Many of us are facing a long winter indoors, thanks to the ongoing pandemic. And though we have video streaming to distract us, watching shows and movies is more fun with friends. You could get everyone on Zoom and press play at the same time, but there’s an easier way: Teleparty (formerly known as Netflix Party).
Apple Mac mini (M1, Late 2020): Most Polished, Potent Tiny Desktop
The Mac mini doesn’t get upgraded often, but when it does, it makes an impact well out of proportion to its trim dimensions. The 2018 Mac mini was a PCMag Editors’ Choice pick for its pep, connectivity, build quality, and limited upgradability. A slight variation on the same sheet music, played with little fanfare earlier this year, pumped up the two base models’ SSD capacity. The real update of this iconic little desktop is this one, and it’s a big-band extravaganza. Apple’s own highly integrated system-on-a-chip (SoC), the M1 brings the Mac mini to new performance highs, and while a few fundamentals have changed, the peppy performance, the reasonable mix of connectivity, and a new lower $699 starting price combine to make it one of the best values in compact computers, period. It easily earns our Editors’ Choice nod.
Optoma HD39HDR: Bright, Low-Lag Projector
Designed for gaming and for watching movies and TV, the Optoma HD39HDR is one of a growing number of 1080p home projectors that can accept a 4K UHD (3,840-by-2,160-pixel) HDR signal and downconvert the resolution to 1080p. Some projectors in this category accept the input without really offering any of the benefits that high dynamic range promises for a wider color gamut or range of brightness levels. Others, including the Optoma, make good use of HDR. In my tests, the HD39HDR delivered more-vibrant color and far better shadow detail when I played the 4K HDR versions of movies on my Blu-ray player than when playing the 1080p SDR versions of the same titles.
Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G Review: Perfect Balance of Power and Price
The Samsung Galaxy S20 FE is everything you need and nothing else. Samsung pared down its flagship S20 series to a more palatable price, and the result is a value-minded standard-bearer to properly face up against the forthcoming iPhone 12 line. With fast performance, solid cameras, and often substantial discounts at major wireless providers, the S20 FE 5G becomes our default Android phone recommendation for 2020 as well as our Editors’ Choice.
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INTEL REPLACES ITS CHIEF EXECUTIVE AFTER A ROCKY STRETCH
Intel is replacing its CEO after only two years in what had been a rough stretch for the chipmaker.
APPLE ANNOUNCES NEW PROJECTS AS PART OF ITS RACIAL EQUITY AND JUSTICE INITIATIVE (REJI)
IT’S ALL PART OF THE COMPANY’S $100 MILLION PLEDGE