As each year comes to a close, I like to reflect on all the gadgets that hit the scene over the previous 12 months. While 2020 has been a weird year, to put it mildly, there have been some truly excellent gadgets hit the collective Review Geek desk this year. Let’s take a look at the best of the best.
What Makes a Gadget the “Best?”
Man, that’s the question, isn’t it? Sometimes the best product is the one with the most powerful specs. Sometimes it’s the one that fits a certain niche. Sometimes it’s the one that presents the best value. Honestly, it’s hard to pin down one description of “best,” so we use a few different metrics to decide this.
- Price to performance/quality: If something performs as good or better than the competition for less money, it’s a pretty great value. This is a big factor that comes into play when determining which products in a given category are the best for a given year.
- If it’s the benchmark: Some products may be a little more expensive than others, but if they become the standard by which all others are measured, then that makes that particular product a benchmark for a given category. It’s hard to beat that.
- If it’s truly innovative: Innovation matters. It’s what drives an entire category forward.
These different metrics work off of each other, which you’ll notice as you read through our award winners. The best value generally sets a precedent by which other devices in a given category are measured, for example.
So yeah, there you go. Now let’s talk about the best stuff out there this year.
Smartphone of the Year: Pixel 4a
Most years, picking the best smartphone is a challenge. But for 2020, it was actually pretty easy. The Google Pixel 4a presents an unprecedented value in smartphones, as it ticks nearly every box most users could want: great battery life, an excellent camera, a good display, solid performance … you get the idea.
And it does it all for $350. In my mind, there’s not a better smartphone out there for the money, which is why it easily earned our pick for Smartphone of the Year for 2020. The only other strong consideration we had this year was the Pixel 4a 5G, which is a little bigger and a little faster than the “regular” 4a. But at $500 I feel like it just missed the value mark presented by the Pixel 4a. (It’s an equally great phone, though).
Google Pixel 4a - New Unlocked Android Smartphone - 128 GB of Storage - Up to 24 Hour Battery - Just Black
Gadget of the Year: Lenovo IdeaPad Duet
Real talk: this was my favorite product of the entire year. The Lenovo IdeaPad Duet was the first perfect 10/10 review I’ve ever given, and more than half-a-year later, I still stand by that. For less than $300, you get a brilliant convertible design that is a tablet and a laptop all in one. Best of all, everything you need is included in the box—the tablet, the kickstand, and the keyboard are all part of the package.
In my eyes, this is the Chrome OS tablet perfected. It works exceptionally well as a laptop of this size, but when you need it to be a tablet, it’s also great. With Android apps thrown into the mix, it’s the only “Android tablet” worth buying. Like the Pixel 4a, there simply isn’t a better value today.
Lenovo Chromebook Duet
Available now from Best Buy. Starts at $299.
Laptop of the Year: Lenovo ThinkPad Extreme Gen 3
There are laptops, then there’s the Lenovo ThinkPad Extreme. This third-generation product is monstrous in pretty much every sense of the word—it’s fast, beautiful, and powerful. The beast mode innards play a big role here, after all, you don’t pack a laptop with a 10th gen Core i7 chip, 32GB of RAM, 1TB SSD, and discreet NVIDIA graphics card for nothing.
But the star of the show here is still the absolutely stunning 4K OLED panel. We’ve reviewed two versions of the Extreme now, and came away jaw-dropped because of that big, beautiful display. If you want brains, brawn, and beauty, this is the machine to buy. Of course, if you don’t have almost $3000 for a computer, you can skip the OLED and get it with an IPS … but you’d be missing out.
Lenovo ThinkPad Extreme Gen 3
Available now from Lenovo. Starts at $1400 for IPS. $2700 for OLED.
True Wireless Earbuds of the Year: Jabra Elite 85t
Until a few weeks ago, anyway. The Jabra Elite 85t are the new benchmark. Not only are these the best-sounding earbuds I’ve ever heard, but they’re incredibly comfortable, have excellent ANC and HearThrough, and get excellent battery life. This is the first set of earbuds that I feel are completely better than AirPods Pro in essentially every way.
Jabra Elite 85t True Wireless Bluetooth Earbuds, Titanium Black – Advanced Noise-Cancelling Earbuds with Charging Case for Calls & Music – Wireless Earbuds with Superior Sound & Premium Comfort
Smart Home Gadget of the Year: Wyze Cam v3
Wyze has long offered some of the best value in smart home gadgets, but the Cam v3 truly takes things up a level. It’s not only insanely affordable at just $20, but it’s weatherproof for outdoor use and has a starlight sensor for color night vision. There’s isn’t another camera on the market that comes close at this price point.
And those are just the bigger upgrades over the Cam’s predecessors. There are also smaller (but still meaningful) upgrades, like multiple mounting options, a wider field of view, smoother video, support for accessories, and a bunch of other stuff. With all the upgrades in the Cam v3, it was an easy get for Smart Home Gadget of the Year.
Wyze Cam v3
Available now at Wyze.com for $19.99.
Streaming Gadget of the Year: Chromecast with Google TV
Just when I thought streaming gadgets couldn’t really get better in a meaningful way, Google comes along with the new Chromecast. The updated Google TV interface is excellent and makes my “ugh what do I want to watch today” life easier.
Not only that, but it also fixes my biggest annoyance with YouTube TV’s live interface, so it’s a win-win. Plus it’s only $50. There’s literally no reason not to have one.
Chromecast w/ Google TV
Available now from the Google Store for $49.99.
Game of the Year: The Last of Us Part II
We don’t do a ton of game reviews here at RG (let me know if you’d like to see us do more!), but that doesn’t mean I can’t pay homage to not only the best game of the year but one of the best games of all time in The Last of Us Part II.
The first The Last of Us is my favorite game of all time (I’ve played it through 30+ times), but I still went into Part II with a healthy dose of skepticism. It’s a divisive title to be sure, but ultimately it’s just as powerful as the first game from a story standpoint. If you’re a fan of the original, you have to approach it with an open mind, but if you can do that, it’s an amazing game. The best, even.
Work From Home Accessory of the Year: Fluidstance Slope
2020 was the year that a bunch of people were unwilfully slung into the world of working from home. And while one would think there isn’t much innovation in “put a whiteboard in your office,” Fluidstance found a way to make the whiteboard more useful. Instead of a whiteboard stuck on the wall beside your desk, the Slope is a whiteboard that goes just below your monitor so it’s in your face all the time. It’s brilliant.
When I reviewed the Slope back in August, I said that it “reminded me that writing stuff down rocks”—and four months later, I still agree with me here. The Slop allows me to quickly jot down things I need to do, then erase them when I’m finished. No wasted paper and no missed tasks. Bam. Winner winner, chicken dinner. And also Work from Home Accessory of the Year.
Available now at Fluistance.com for $59.
Smartphone Accessory of the Year: Satechi Trio Wireless Charger
We tested a bunch of different wireless chargers this year, but none impressed as much as the Trio by Satechi. This three-in-one Qi charger is made to handle an Apple Watch, earbuds, and a phone all at once, and it does so exceptionally.
The thing with most pad-style chargers is that you have to get the gadget lined up just right in order to get it charge. I don’t know what kind of magic Satechi is using here, but you can darn near throw a phone within the vicinity of the charger and it’ll just work. It’s pricey at $120, but it works better than any other multi-device charger we tested this year, so it delivers.
Available now from Best Buy for $119.99.
Cereal of the Year: Peanut Butter Chex
This year, I started doing cereal reviews, mostly because I love cereal. In fact, MyFitnessPal tells me that 26 percent of my diet consists of cereal. I’m not sure what I’m going with the other 74 percent, but I should probably eat more cereal.
And while I started doing cereal reviews this year, I didn’t do as many as I wanted. Really, Peanut Butter Chex are to blame here, because it’s my new favorite. It’s basically the only cereal I’ve eaten since I reviewed it back in August. I’ve gone through like a box a week. Seriously. Best cereal ever … or at least this year.
Peanut Butter Chex
Available now from Walmart for $3.