The year 2021 was golden for new technology releases, with outstanding new products in categories from tablets to vacuum cleaners, smartwatches to smart rings. That doesn’t mean that everything has been top-notch, of course, so you still need to sort the good stuff from the dross.
Which is the point of this review of the year’s coolest tech, a guide to everything from phone chargers to gadgets that monitor your metabolism from your breath. Need to buy an ebook reader and want to know the best one? Is it time to change your electric toothbrush? And which is the slickest video doorbell? Before CES 2022 commences and makes us salivate for new arrivals, let’s take a moment to look back at 2021’s most inspiring gadgets.
Best Ebook Reader
Sure, there’s nothing that compares to a real book, but the convenience of the ebook reader is considerable. Whether that’s so you can carry more than a thousand books at a time and buy more in seconds, or the subtlety of the ebook reader’s front light which is much more restful on the eyes than reading on a tablet, and gentle enough to not disturb your significant other if you want to read while they gently snore.
Amazon’s Kindle range gets better and better, offering value and useful features—even the entry-level model has light now. The latest Paperwhite is so good it will make you think twice about buying the top-of-the-range Oasis. That’s because this slim, light device now has a bigger display (6.8 inches) and the light can be adjusted not just for brightness but the warmth of the light color, too. There’s 8GB of storage, enough for literally thousands of books, and it’s waterproof, so, yes, you can read in the bath. There are still benefits to the Oasis, mind, if you want to pay more: a bigger display, aluminum casing, free lifetime cellular connectivity and physical page turn buttons.
Best Health Wearable
The Oura smart ring is now up to its third-generation model and it has improved sensors to keep track of your heart rate—which it now does all day—as well as temperature and more. Every morning it gives you a readiness score based on how well you slept, even drilling down into the quality of your sleep and night-time heart rate. This is great for athletes who need to know whether they should push themselves in today’s exercise or take it a bit easier. But it’s just as useful for the rest of us, for anyone who wants to stay on top of how they’re doing. It’s so light (it’s made of titanium) and comfortable, it’s easier to wear 24 hours a day than most other wearables.
There are some metrics and insights which require Oura membership, which is free for the first six months, then $6.99 a month. Choose from four finishes: Silver and black which cost $299, and stealth (a matte black) and gold which are $100 extra.
Best Desktop PC
The new iMac was a real 2021 highlight for me. It came as a surprise when it was announced in the Spring, as many had expected it would arrive later. I had some slight trepidation when I decided it would become my main driver instead of the previous 27-inch iMac I had been using for some time. Would the smaller display be too cramped? Would it really be as fast? What would the new keyboard be like? And how about the colors—on a work machine?
It’s turned out to be brilliant, a real performer, and the cute yellow I opted for is a cheering, inviting start to each day. The slick, sleek design is also a treat. And I haven’t noticed the step down in size at all.
The Coolest Vacuum Cleaner
Dyson vacuum cleaners are powerful and effective. A few years back, the company announced it would stop developing vacuum cleaners that needed mains power, because its batteries were so advanced. The latest model has a cool extra: A laser.
No, it’s not to smite your enemies, but rather it lights up to show microscopic dust which the naked eye might otherwise miss. Dyson’s brilliance with vacuuming is not in doubt, with numerous brush heads and versions designed for pet owners, for instance. This model is the coolest, but there are also powerful cordless cleaners without lasers, which cost from $300.
Best electric bike with great design
Ampler Stout Electric Bike
Sometimes, as much as you like cycling, that unavoidable hill in your commute can put you off. So a pedal-assist bike can be enough to get you on to the saddle. The effortless start from standing and the easier glide uphill are the key benefits of an e-bike, but the hugely visible battery can be offputting. However, the Ampler Stout looks almost exactly like a regular bike because the capacious batteries are hidden in the thicker frame. It’s a brilliantly comfortable ride with decent range and reasonably quick recharge.
Best All-Around Smartwatch
There were rumors this year of a completely new Apple Watch design, with flat edges matching the iPhone and iPad Pro. There’s no smoke without fire, but these rumors proved unfounded. I’m glad about that. The gentler redesign with subtly different curves to the Watch looks great and is dominated by something that is really striking: A much bigger display. Even if you don’t use one of the new Watch faces which exploit the screen, it’s still really evident you’re looking at something bigger. And the original Watch straps still fit. Combine the new design with the sensors and capabilities from last year—such as ECG measurement and blood oxygen tracking—and you have a powerful, beautiful watch.
Best Health Accessory
Breathe into the Lumen and it’ll analyze your metabolism from your breath in a matter of seconds, which means it knows if you’re mostly burning fat or carbs. If you want to lose weight, then burning fat is good. Lumen has lots of insights to help you do this and it guides you to breathe into it at different times of day to provide more information. It means that if you are breathing before you exercise, it can recommend that you need fuel for your workout and will suggest specific foods. It can be daunting at first, but stick with it and the Lumen feels like a genuinely useful tool to make the most of your workouts and diet.
Best Afforable Tablet
So, you’d like a tablet but you don’t want to spend as much as an iPad costs? Amazon’s highly accomplished series of Fire tablets offer amazing value, not least because Amazon sells them at around cost price. The Fire HD 10 Plus has a screen comparable to an iPad (it’s 10.2 inches), which is high-enough resolution to look good whether you’re playing games, reading books or watching movies. Amazon has its own special version of Android and tests every app that’s compatible to make sure it works well—though this means the range of available apps is reduced.
There’s also a splendid laptop alternative bundle: A Bluetooth keyboard case and subscription to Microsoft 365 offer even better value and turn the tablet into a cool little productivity device.
Best Tracker For All Your Stuff
Apple’s newest product category is a superb tracker, designed to work by leveraging how many Apple products there are in the world. Put the AirTag in your luggage, say, and if you lose it, it will send out a silent call to every passing iPhone, iPad or other Apple device. That network will anonymously pass the message back to you to let you know where your property was last seen.
It’s a slick little device and very keenly priced for something with the Apple logo on it. There’s even better value if you buy a pack of four for $99.
Best AirTag Accessory
Nomad’s leather goods are exceptional quality. They are beautifully crafted and include superbly tactile leather, as here. Nomad’s Horween leather is amazingly soft to the touch, so you may find you can’t keep your hands off it. The clever adhesive connection means there’s almost no bulk added to the AirTag, but it’s safely cocooned in leather and can be attached to your keys easily. You can remove the battery from inside the AirTag without removing the holder. There are three colors to choose from: Rustic Brown, Black and Natural. All look great.
The Essential iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 Accessory
Anker 521 Magnetic Battery iPhone Charger
If you have an iPhone 12 or iPhone 13 series handset, then you’ll know you have a ring of magnets inside called MagSafe which ensure that if you are using a compatible wireless charging pad, it will snap into place effortlessly for a secure and effective connection.
That same ring of magnets is mirrored in this battery, which has wireless charging capabilities. So, when your iPhone 12, 12 mini, 12 Pro, 12 Pro Max, iPhone 13, 13 mini, 13 Pro or 13 Pro Max is in need of recharging, just place the battery on the back of the phone and it’ll click into place. There’s enough charge to recharge your iPhone fully, even through a case. When it’s done, slip the battery off and back into your bag.
Best Auto Accessory
Lanmodo Vast Pro Dash Cam
This dash cam is called Vast because of its roomy eight-inch display. It has a G-sensor to detect a collision and this part of the system can be used when the vehicle is parked while saving energy.
But the coolest thing is its night vision, which is bright and, get this, in full color. It means that if you’re driving at night on a dark road it can pick up details and make them much easier to see. Powered by the car’s charger, it can be mounted on your dashboard or windshield.
A Sensational Toothbrush
Philips Sonicare 9900 Prestige
A really good toothbrush, like this one, does its work so well that your gums and teeth stay healthy and look good. There are different brushing settings, including an excellent Gum Care which encourages you to brush longer and better, helped by a smartphone app which can show you where you’re doing well (or not so well).
The toothbrush is an elegant device and comes with a very cool case that charges the brush inside, making it a superior travel option. And back home, there’s a cute charging stand for the bathroom. The price is currently reduced by $50.
Best Home Security Gadget
The Nest Cam looks adorable, but don’t be fooled by the design or the choice of cute colors such as snow, linen, fog and sand: It’s a very capable camera. It can tell the difference between a vehicle and a pet and, with a subscription to Nest Aware, recognize familiar faces.
It’s smart enough to know when you’re at home and turn off the camera accordingly. You’ll know what it’s doing, because a green light shines when it’s recording. This works with the new Google Home app rather than the still-superior original Nest app, but this is an effective and highly useful package.
Best Video Doorbell
When it comes to simplicity, the Arlo doorbell is hard to beat. Unlike some Arlo devices, it doesn’t need its own hub; it connects wirelessly to your home Wi-Fi. The battery lasts for weeks or even months at a time and is faster than some other home security products because the second the doorbell is engaged, it calls you on your mobile. You choose whether an audio or video call is what you want. It captures video before the doorbell is pressed, which is handy. It has a decent field of view so you can see more of the person at your door and good night vision means it can work 24 hours a day.
The Best Portable Speaker
Finally, Sonos has made a small, lightweight portable speaker. It’s really little, so it can’t sound that big, right? Actually, it does, with plenty of oomph and lots of subtle, clear sound. It’s only the second Sonos speaker with Bluetooth and it still has wi-fi capabilities, so when you are near other Sonos speakers in your household, it’ll connect to them as well. It’s small enough to easily carry in your hand or in your bag, and plays for up to 10 hours between charges.
Best-Looking Running Shoes
Allbirds Wool Runner Fluffs
I’m going to say it: Allbirds are the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn. With each new version, extra features are added to these shoes which are designed with technology and sustainability to the fore, but they manage to seem like they’re the opposite of tech. In winter, these are the cosiest, warmest and fluffiest shoes from the company. These Allbirds are machine washable, too. The midsole is made from sugarcane, which molds to your foot and is just one part of the company’s determination to use sustainable materials.
The Fluffs are so called because they look as invitingly cuddly as a sheep (they have Merino wool inside and outside). The Fluffs are also high-tops for extra warmth, though there are plenty of other shoes in the range, including water-repellent models and slip-ons.