It didn’t feel like it, what with a major pandemic and massive financial crisis, but 2020 was actually an incredible year for gadgets. For companies like Apple and Microsoft, this could have been a landmark year were it not for everything else going on. While the competition for our attention this year was steep, there are a few devices that we absolutely loved in 2020. These are the ones we keep coming back to over and over again, the devices we don’t hesitate to recommend. And if you have to embark on a lifestyle change just to have an excuse to use them…well, we’d recommend that, too.
These are the gadgets of 2020 that were the bright spots of an otherwise disastrous year.
There are distinct advantages to electronic paper technology, like excellent readability in bright light and amazing battery life, that have allowed devices like the Amazon Kindle to survive and thrive even with the popularity of LCD tablets. So far they’ve been black and white only, but the PocketBook Colour is the first ebook reader to utilise E Ink’s revolutionary new colour electronic paper display technology. Compared to a cheap tablet that can display over 16 million colours, E Ink’s Kaleido screen can muster just 4,096, but the experience is unlike anything your eyes have ever seen. Comic books on the PocketBook Colour look just like the real thing, except that you can fit thousands of them in a device no larger than a paperback book. — Andrew Liszewski
Prior to the release of the i3+ earlier this year, the best features of iRobot’s fantastic roving vacuums were limited to its most premium models — devices that could run you close to a grand for the vacuum alone, never mind the separate self-emptying docks that really justify a Roomba’s hefty price tag. With the i3+ model, iRobot introduced a Roomba that falls somewhere in between its more affordable options and its premium ones. It’s a middle-tier robot vacuum that includes powerful suction and a self-emptying dock — this is absolutely necessary unless you want to manually empty the vacuum yourself multiple times per cleaning — while also keeping the cost down, comparatively speaking. I never thought I’d meet a match for the dog hair that covered my rugs and hardwood floors prior to reviewing this vacuum, but it’s a legitimate miracle-worker. If you’ve been thinking about splurging on a Roomba and can live without zoning features of more expensive models, this is the one to buy. — Catie Keck
In a year full of excellent smartwatches, the Fitbit Sense stands out not only for its ambition, but also its inclusivity. FDA-cleared ECGs? Check. Body temperature sensor? You got it. SpO2 sensors? Duh. Fitbit was the first to include these sensors back in 2017. An electrodermal activity sensor that reads your stress levels from microsopic sweat on your skin? Hell yeah. Built-in GPS? Yup. Two voice assistants? Double yup. NFC payments? Mmhmm. Over a week of battery life on a single charge? Yessir. But while many other wearables makers try to force you into one single ecosystem (cough, Apple, cough, Samsung, cough), the Sense can be used regardless of which company made your phone. Android and iPhone users still get the same experience. Sure, you might not get cellular compatibility and the third-party app ecosystem isn’t the best. But in exchange you get basically everything else you want from a smartwatch — and at a much lower price than competitors. — Victoria Song
While the increasingly blurred lines between Oculus and its parent company Facebook are slightly concerning, this year the Oculus Quest 2 finally delivered on one of the big dreams of virtual reality: an affordable standalone (and wire-free) VR headset. Starting at just $US300 ($394), the Oculus Quest 2 comes with a huge library of content while offering optics not far off what you get from more expensive tethered VR headsets, and thanks to support for Oculus Link, you can connect the Quest 2 to a PC to play more demanding desktop VR games. With the Quest 2, Oculus has removed almost all of the barriers for getting into VR, and that’s an accomplishment worth celebrating. — Sam Rutherford
I know I’ll get roasted by my own damn co-workers for loving the HomePod Mini so much, but I can’t help it! This is the smart home hub Apple’s Homekit ecosystem has desperately needed. It looks slick, it sounds great for the price, and it just….works exactly like you want a smarthome speaker to work. If you’re not fully invested in the Apple ecosystem, or at least really in love with Airplay 2, then it isn’t for you. But as someone who uses Airplay 2 daily and runs her entire home on Homekit, this little speaker felt like a dream come true. — Alex Cranz
When I called in JBL’s latest Goliath Bluetooth speaker earlier this year, I’ll admit I was sceptical. Surely, I thought, there’s little need for PA-sized tower that features an on-unit lightshow and literally calls itself a PartyBox. It’s so large it has to be wheeled around like a suitcase, for god’s sake. But I have to admit, I adore this speaker enough to call it one of my favourite releases of the year. Is $US500 ($657) an absurd amount of money for a single rechargable Bluetooth solution? Absolutely. But between party-of-two quarantine dance parties and a rich, full sound that fills my home, I often opt for this speaker over virtually any other system in my home. It’s that good. — Catie Keck
For many of us working from home in 2020 (and presumably a good chunk of 2021) a solid pair of noise-cancelling headphones is as important a tool as a laptop and comfortable pyjamas. With its WH-1000XM4 wireless headphones, Sony still struggles with naming schemes but continues to lead the industry when it comes to noise cancelling. By the nature of their over the ear design the WH-1000XM4s do a great job at comfortably blocking out the world on their own, but five microphones help envelope you in silence so you can focus on the Zoom meeting you’d rather not be in. The latest version also pairs to two Bluetooth devices at once, automatically switching when one device needs your attention the most. — Andrew Liszewski
AMD Ryzen 3 3300X and 3100
AMD’s 3000-series Ryzen processors have the perfect combination of price and performance to make any budget PC builder happy — the $US120 ($158) Ryzen 3 3300X in particular. Not only is it capable of 90+ frames per second at 1080p ultra with games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Far Cry 5, but it can handle graphically demanding games like Metro Exodus with the same settings at more than 70 fps. All you need is the right GPU (which admittedly can be a problem). These are also AMD’s first 4-core/8-thread budget processors to feature Simultaneous Multi-threading (SMT), which splits a CPU’s cores into virtual cores to increase overall performance. AMD’s Ryzen 3 3300X and Ryzen 3 3100 chips are a massive improvement over their predecessors and at a price anyone can stomach. — Joanna Nelius
After years of dancing around the issue with Chromecast and Android TV, this year Google finally entered the market with a new, fully-formed streaming video dongle and platform. By integrating all your on-demand video subscriptions with over-the-top live TV services, Google TV can surface content you might actually want to watch regardless of what app it’s coming from — all from a simple and engaging UI. Meanwhile, the Chromecast with Google TV dongle itself comes with a handy remote that can sync with your TV and offers support for 4K HDR. And costing just $US50 ($66), the Chromecast with Google TV is a better value than a lot of competing devices from Roku, Apple, and others. — Sam Rutherford
Not only is the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 absolutely gorgeous, it fixes the accuracy issues we’ve had with previous Samsung smartwatches. It also offers Android users a wide range of features, including cellular connectivity, FDA-cleared ECGs, on-demand VO2 Max, and the ability to check your SpO2 levels. But that’s not all. You can also get video workouts that pair with the Galaxy Watch 3, in a suspiciously similar way to the recently released Fitness+, and advanced running metrics. The only downside is that some of the best features, like ECGs, are limited to Samsung phones. But even with that caveat, this is the Android alternative to the Apple Watch we’ve all been clamoring for. — Victoria Song
Zens Liberty Wireless Charger
In late 2017 Apple revealed its AirPower charger, which allowed three devices to wirelessly charge on a single pad no matter where they were positioned. It was a wireless charging innovation that seemed too good to be true, and it was, as Apple eventually abandoned the product. The idea itself wasn’t impossible, however, as Zens proved when it released its Liberty Wireless charger that uses 16 overlapping coils to charge multiple devices wherever you happen to plop them down. The $US240+ ($315)+ price tag is a bit of a bummer, as is the cooling fan that might keep you awake at night, but unlike Apple, Zens succeeded in delivering a real product. — Andrew Liszewski
Onyx Boox Note Air
Similar to the Remarkable 2, but significantly more capable, the Onyx Boox Air is a slick electronic paper tablet running Android 10. That means it handles all the apps you can download from the Play store, and lets you easily mark up PDFs, or fill out digital note pads. With the Note Air Onyx has introduced a new pen that feels far better than the cheap ones included with its other products, and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 processor and 3 GB of RAM are more than enough to keep this 10.3 inch tablet feeling fast. And unlike the Remarkable 2 the Note Air includes full backlight. Even better? It’s got style to spare. — Alex Cranz
Before 2020, I’d been a smartwatch sceptic for years. I didn’t track my macros, I wasn’t a huge fan of gym culture, and I failed to understand what fitness trackers could meaningfully add to my day-to-day routine. When I finally took the smartwatch leap this year with the Apple Watch Series 6, though, I realised how wrong I’d been. My watch has definitely helped me be more active and more goal-oriented than ever before. I find I’m reminded to be more mindful even when under stress, and I feel more connected to friends and colleagues with whom I share my fitness activity to help me stay motivated. There are plenty of very good smartwatches on this list — I defer to our smartwatch queen Victoria Song for other recommendations — but for me, ease of use across all of my gadgets justified the Apple tax. No regrets here, and I’m now a full-on smartwatch evangelist. — Catie Keck
At $US2,000 ($2,627), the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2 doesn’t make a lot of financial sense. But after I reviewed it back in the fall, I liked it so much I decided to put my money where my mouth is, so I went out and bought one for myself. And even though the Z Fold2 is big and kind of chunky, I love how the phone adapts to the way I want to use it. If I want to do something quick like respond to a text or check a notification, the exterior 6.2-inch Cover Screen is always within reach. And when I want a bigger display to read an ebook, play games, or watch a movie, I can just open it to reveal a huge 7.6-inch flexible OLED panel that’s larger and more immersive than what you get from any other phone on the market. The Z Fold2 is one of the best multitaskers available today, and while it might take a few more years for gadgets with bendy screens to become cheap enough to go mainstream, the Z Fold2 is a glimpse of the future that you can buy right now. — Sam Rutherford
Editor’s Note: Release dates within this article are based in the U.S., but will be updated with local Australian dates as soon as we know more.