Another unusual year is almost at an end. Our New York City–based testing lab remained mostly closed in 2021 because of the pandemic, with our analysts and editors making the occasional brave foray into the city to use our specialized testing equipment. But for the most part, we’ve hunkered down at home, testing laptops, phones, graphics cards, cameras, and dozens of other kinds of products.
Now it’s time for our toughest job. The problem with reviewing so many products—over 2,000 each year—is trying to choose the absolute best. This year, after much deliberation, we whittled down the list to 101 top products and services across 15 categories.
You’ll find a few new subcategories in growing areas. For one, we expanded last year’s new category of smart home gym equipment to include smart treadmills, smart stationary bikes, and smart rowing machines. We eliminated others because they’re dying breeds (so long, compact cameras). But the categories are primarily the same ones you’ve read about here every year since 2013.
This list takes into consideration every product we reviewed from November 1, 2020, through the first week of November 2021. Across the 101 products, five earned a perfect rating of five, and 88 earned our Editors’ Choice award. The rest earned ratings of at least four— excellent.
One final note: Remember to shop early this season. The chip shortage and shipping backlog are going to make holiday shopping even more stressful than usual. To reduce some angst, keep this story close by as you shop, whether online or in brick-and-mortar stores. It’s the perfect way to find an amazing tech gift for your loved ones—or yourself.
DELL XPS 13 OLED (9310) $1,699.99
Some things never change, but the XPS 13 does! Dell isn’t content to let this perennial favorite ultraportable laptop rest on its laurels. New this year: a breathtaking 3.5K OLED screen with a sky-high 100,000:1 contrast ratio. It’ll make anything you’re doing feel a bit more cinematic, with inky blacks and colors that pop. Computing power is excellent too, with your choice of 11th-generation Intel “Tiger Lake” processors.
2 DESKTOP REPLACEMENT
DELL INSPIRON 16 PLUS (7610) STARTS AT $1,399.99; $2,939.99 AS TESTED
Complete with a gorgeous 16-inch display and excellent graphics and computing performance, the compact Inspiron 16 Plus is a worthy desktop replacement. It’s capable of handling everything from simple productivity tasks to today’s most graphically intensive games. Wrap all of that up in a package that costs less than $1,000, and you’ve got yourself a value unlike any other.
3 BUDGET LAPTOP
MSI MODERN 14 $449.99
Who says a budget laptop has to feel cheap? The MSI Modern 14 bucks the trend of underwhelming low-cost systems by delivering one of the most impressive inexpensive 14-inch machines of this year or any year. Sporting a lightweight chassis, a classy design, and plenty of ports, the MSI Modern 14 is easy on your wallet but feels significantly more premium than its competitors.
ACER CHROMEBOOK SPIN 514 $599.99
Many of the best laptops are expensive, but sometimes all you need is a reliable workhorse to get schoolwork done or browse the web. Enter the Acer Chromebook Spin 514: a versatile, affordable 2-in-1 convertible notebook that runs Google’s Chrome OS. Its AMD Ryzen processor gives it an edge over other Chromebooks, turning it into a peppy, attractive, and useful addition to your tech collection.
5 GAMING LAPTOP
ACER PREDATOR TRITON 300 SE $1,399.99
We review quite a few gaming laptops each year at very different price levels, so picking the absolute best is difficult. The Acer Predator Triton 300 SE earns that crown this year thanks to achieving a sweet spot on price, power, and portability. Its Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 GPU and 14-inch 144Hz display are packed into a slim 3.75-pound chassis, delivering on the concept of real gaming on the go without breaking the bank. Entry-level and high-end options are out there, but this is one of the best values for the mainstream gamer.
6 BUSINESS LAPTOP
LENOVO THINKPAD X1 CARBON GEN 9 $2,197.00
As the world has shifted work from our offices into our homes, the business laptop has become more important than ever. And for our money, the cream of the crop is the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9. Lightweight and flawlessly engineered with exceptional battery life and a world-class keyboard, this is one of the best laptops on the market, period—and easily the best business laptop of 2021.
7 APPLE LAPTOP
APPLE MACBOOK PRO 14-INCH $1,999.00
This new 14-inch laptop is the MacBook Pro creative professionals have been waiting for. If you’re upgrading from a 2015 MacBook Pro or earlier, you’re in for a treat: This is a seriously powerful computer, thanks to its Apple M1 Pro processor. It doesn’t skimp on ports, either, with a full-size HDMI connector and an SD card reader to choose from. Package that into a compact, good-looking chassis, and you’ve got the best MacBook Pro yet.
8 CONVERTIBLE 2-IN-1
HP SPECTRE X360 14 $1,699.99 EDITORS’ CHOICE
When Rob Base said, “It takes two,” he probably wasn’t talking about a two-in-one convertible laptop. But one look at the HP Spectre X360 14 would definitely prove his point. This part laptop, part tablet earned an Editors’ Choice award thanks to its gorgeous OLED touch screen, elegant eye-catching design, and lively performance. Couple that with a handy rechargeable pen and a carrying sleeve, and you have the best premium convertible laptop on the market.
9 DETACHABLE 2-IN-1
MICROSOFT SURFACE PRO 8 $1,099.99
When the best gets better, it almost picks itself. Microsoft’s Surface line has inspired other Windows 2-in-1 tablets, but the latest version of the original is still best in class. The new Surface Pro 8 boasts a sleeker design with a larger screen, updated components, a sharp 1080p webcam, and other enhancements that make it both a good tablet and an extra-portable laptop. The keyboard is still sold separately, and the entry price isn’t as sweet as it was before, but the Surface still leads the way for detachable 2-in-1s.
APPLE IPAD (2021) $329.99
Apple’s tablet line has long been plagued by one “problem”—the base-model iPad is very, very good, so it can be hard to justify the more expensive iPad Air and Pro units. The 2021 iPad has a far better front-facing camera than previous models, reflecting our new Zoom-centric world. Otherwise, it’s a bit faster, with a little more storage and a slightly better display. That’s more than enough to keep it ahead of the competition in its $329 price range.
11 EBOOK READER
AMAZON KINDLE PAPERWHITE (2021) $139.99
Amazon’s newest Paperwhite is bigger, better, and faster than the previous model. It’s a great value for a waterproof, flat-front ebook reader using a supersharp 7-inch E Ink panel. It’s still well balanced and doesn’t feel too big for onehanded reading. Its Carta 1200 screen, with its color-changing front light, is easier on the eyes than ever. For this Paperwhite, Amazon brought the right technologies together at the ideal price.
12 ANDROID PHONE
GOOGLE PIXEL 6 PRO STARTS AT $899.00
Google’s first Pixel phone with its own Tensor chipset, the Pixel 6 Pro delivers ultra-premium performance at a price that’s $200 lower than its major competitors from Samsung and Apple. The 6 Pro has nearly endless battery life and spectacular cameras, and as a Google phone, it’s always on the cutting edge of Android versions and Google’s AI-powered software experiences. With the Pixel 6 Pro, you get more for less, and that makes it a winner.
13 iOS PHONE
APPLE IPHONE 13 $799.99
Of the eight iOS phones on the market this year, the iPhone 13 gives the most people what they want: much better battery life than the iPhone 12 at a reasonable size and price. The advantages of the more expensive “Pro” iPhones this year appeal more to serious smartphone photographers, making the iPhone 13 the “everyone phone.”
14 BUDGET PHONE
SAMSUNG GALAXY A32 5G $279.99
The Samsung Galaxy S32 5G sets a new standard for what to expect in smartphones priced at less than $300. Its MediaTek Dimensity 720 chipset gives the A32 sprightly performance and 5G support that will work with new networks for years to come, and the camera quality is surprisingly good for a phone in this price range.
15 VOICE PHONE
SUNBEAM F1 $195.00
The Sunbeam F1 has the most thought-through software of any voice phone we’ve seen recently. A small Midwestern startup, Sunbeam puts privacy first, knows group texting is important to voice-phone users, and includes useful features such as speech-to-text and an on-screen keyboard option in a flip phone. Sunbeam really pushes things forward while stopping short of making an awkwardly shaped smartphone.
NETGEAR NIGHTHAWK M5 $699.00
The Netgear Nighthawk M5 is the vanguard of the next generation of 5G, known as C-band. By the middle of 2022, this device will work on all three major US carriers at speeds in the hundreds of megabits per second—no other hotspot can claim that. With an Ethernet port and external antenna ports, it’s poised to capture the best signal and distribute it by any means necessary. Its high price is its only drawback, but carriers will probably sell it for less.
17 CELLULAR NETWORK
T-Mobile won its first Fastest Mobile Network award in 12 years for its amazing mid-band 5G network. Now available to 185 million Americans, this is the first widespread 5G network with a distinct difference from 4G. A 5G connection on T-Mobile will likely have double or triple the speeds of a 4G link. Although Verizon’s millimeter-wave is faster, it’s still available to only a tiny number of people. T-Mobile is poised to expand mid-band further in 2022, putting Verizon and AT&T on notice.
APPLE WATCH SERIES 7 $399.99
The Series 7 is Apple’s most attractive and durable wearable yet. It offers all the health, safety, and lifestyle features of its predecessor but with a larger display that’s easier to read, improved dust protection and crack resistance, and a redesigned charging system that takes less time to juice up. Though a minor update from the Series 6, the seventh generation’s refinements make an already outstanding smartwatch more practical for everyday tasks such as reading and responding to texts, checking the time when your wrist is down, tracking your outdoor activities, and monitoring your sleep.
19 FITNESS TRACKER
FITBIT CHARGE 5 $179.95
The Fitbit Charge 5 offers more bang for your buck than any other fitness tracker we’ve tested. In addition to the excellent workout and sleep-tracking features of its predecessor, this version boasts an electrodermal activity (EDA) sensor that measures small electrical changes in your skin’s sweat level to track your body’s response to stress, along with an electrocardiogram (ECG) app that checks for signs of atrial fibrillation (AFib), an irregular heart rhythm that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure, and other serious complications. The Charge 5 sports an AMOLED color touch screen and a metal case, design upgrades that make it a wearable you actually want to wear.
20 SMART TREADMILL
PELOTON TREAD $2,495.00
With a compact yet roomy design, an attractive and responsive touch screen, outstanding software, and new safety features, the Peloton Tread is the best smart treadmill, especially for small spaces. Given its massive library of well produced, entertaining classes featuring top-notch trainers, popular music, and fun social features, there’s virtually no risk of the Tread turning into a glorified clothing rack. What with climbing the leaderboard, monitoring your metrics, swapping high fives with other users, saving tracks to your music-streaming account, and listening to your instructor’s stories and words of encouragement, the workouts fly by and leave you excited to get going again, day after day. If you’re in search of that elusive runner’s high, the Peloton Tread delivers.
21 SMART STATIONARY BIKE
SOULCYCLE AT-HOME BIKE $2,500.00
Featuring a sleek and sturdy steel frame with a 21.5-inch touch screen, the SoulCycle At-Home Bike’s heart-pumping, inspirational classes will have you sweating as you work to master choreography moves while simultaneously spinning the pedals beneath your feet to the beat of the music. Whereas the Peloton Bike+ motivates you through metrics and competition, SoulCycle offers a more meditative, dance-focused experience. Both bikes give you access to a range of floor-based workouts to supplement your cycling sessions, but as an added bonus, the SoulCycle At-Home Bike also supports Disney+ and Netflix.
22 ROWING MACHINE
AVIRON ROWER $2,199.00
Are you looking for a full-body workout that won’t bore you? Check out the Aviron Rower. Featuring a 22-inch display offering arcade-style games, competitions, and YouTube, this smart rowing machine successfully combats workout boredom. You’ll probably row longer than planned as you break down walls of bricks, run from zombies, race Olympians, and compete against other members of the community. The Aviron offers a smooth and comfortable ride, with a higher seat than most of the competition, so you can easily get on and off, and the dual-resistance system can adjust itself. For those motivated by gaming and racing, the Aviron is one of the most engaging smart home gym machines you can buy.
23 SMART PLUG
WYZE PLUG $14.99
Coming from a company that consistently churns out affordable yet excellent smart home products, it’s no surprise the Wyze Plug is one of our favorite smart plugs. It’s easy to install and lets you control whatever you plug into it with your phone and voice. The Wyze plug has a built-in Wi-Fi radio, supports Alexa and Google voice commands, and works with other Wyze products and loads of third-party smart devices using IFTTT applets. When you want to add connectivity to a basic device—a lamp, space heater, humidifier, or even a Christmas tree—the Wyze Plug is a smart bet.
24 SMART LIGHTING
WYZE BULB COLOR $34.99
Another winner from Wyze, the Wyze Bulb Color is the most affordable smart color bulb we’ve tested. You can control it from your phone without a hub or with your voice via Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. It offers ample smart features for the price, including support for custom scenes, device-triggered automations, scheduling, and sleep routines that help you gradually wind down at night and wake up in the morning. You simply won’t find a better smart color light bulb for a lower price.
25 ROBOT VACUUM
SHARK IQ ROBOT SELF-EMPTY XL R101AE $599.00
The whole point of using a robot vacuum is to cut down on your housework, but most need to be emptied and cleaned often, adding at least one chore to your list. A lower-maintenance option, the Shark IQ Robot Self-Empty XL R101AE works quickly and efficiently, rarely gets stuck, and has a large dustbin in its base station that needs to be emptied only about once a month. You can control the robot from your phone or with your voice and set up cleaning schedules so it goes to work when you want. The vacuum maps your home as it cleans, so you can send it to specific rooms and create virtual no-go zones, features you don’t get with similarly priced competitors. It’s also a compelling option for pet owners thanks to a self-cleaning brush roll and enough power to suck fur from carpeting.
26 SECURITY SYSTEMADTEC COMMAND
STARTS AT $59.99 PER MONTH
If you’re looking for a professionally monitored smart home security system that offers virtually everything you need for maximum protection, ADT Command is worth its premium price. What sets this system apart is not just that everything works—you’re also getting an unparalleled level of customer service, with multiple ways to contact human support, no matter what your problem is, and near-immediate response times. Its hardware options are plentiful, software tools are sophisticated, and white-glove Gold service is the best in the business.
27 SMART SECURITY CAMERA
ARLO PRO 4 SPOTLIGHT CAMERA $199.99
The wireless Arlo Pro 4 Spotlight Camera is a high-resolution, weather-resistant security camera that not only captures motion-triggered video but also casts a bright light on whatever is moving around on your property. It delivers detailed 2K video with color night vision and provides accurate and intelligent motion detection. Perhaps best of all, it installs in minutes and doesn’t require a hub and wiring. The Pro 4 provides a safe way to see what’s going on outside of your home without having to leave the comfort of your couch.
28 VIDEO DOORBELL
EZVIZ DB1C WI-FI VIDEO DOORBELL $99.99
Any video doorbell worth its salt lets you see who’s at the door before you open it, but you usually have to pay a premium for extra features such as intelligent alerts, third-party integrations, and a high-resolution camera. That isn’t the case with the Ezviz DB1C, a smart doorbell that offers Ultra HD video, dual-band Wi-Fi, cloud and local video storage, voice control, and lots of third-party support for just $99. It performed flawlessly in testing, delivering bright, colorful video during the day, crisp black-and-white video at night, and accurate alerts.
29 SMART AIR PURIFIER
DYSON PURIFIER COOL TP07 $549.99
Poor indoor air quality can cause or exacerbate a host of issues, from headaches to asthma. The Dyson Purifier Cool TP07 can help. It excels as both an air purifier and a fan while taking up minimal floor space. And it features Wi-Fi connectivity, so you can remotely control it from your phone or with your voice. You’ll be amazed by the Cool TP07’s ability to detect the slightest hint of smoke or odor and turn on automatically, even from across the house.
30 SMART AIR CONDITIONER
HISENSE 350-SQ. FT. WINDOW AIR CONDITIONER $279.00
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