The 20 best gadgets of 2021 – The Guardian

From smartphones to folding skis, the year’s top gizmos selected by tech experts from the Guardian, iNews, TechRadar and Wired
Cutting-edge tech is often super-expensive, difficult to use and less than slick. Not so for Samsung’s latest folding screen phones. The Z Fold 3 tablet-phone hybrid and Z Flip 3 flip-phone reinventions are smooth, slick and even water-resistant, packing big screens in compact bodies. The Fold might be super-expensive still, but the Flip 3 costs about the same as a regular top smartphone, but is far, far more interesting. Samuel Gibbs
Cutting-edge in a different way, the Fairphone 4 is proof that a good phone can be ethically made, built to last and be repaired at home with just a small screwdriver. This Android handset is a bit chunkier than an iPhone or Samsung, but has its own standout design, with user-replaceable battery and pop-in modules for things such as the screen and camera. It even has 5G now. SG
Unlike the first iteration, it wasn’t pulled out of a manila envelope on stage, but ditching Intel for Apple’s first custom-designed M1 chip in the MacBook Air was no less game-changing. It turned the original “ultrabook” into a thin, light and silent powerhouse with battery life practically double everything else. The best consumer laptop by a country mile. SG
Sonos’s first truly portable speaker showed that Bluetooth speakers don’t have to suck. The good-looking Roam has Bluetooth, wifi for when at home, a mic for Alexa or Google Assistant, a 10-hour battery, supports practically every music service under the sun and has plenty of party tricks. The best bit is the sound, blowing away anything of this size or weight, so it won’t end up collecting dust in a drawer. SG
They still have a terrible name, but Sony nailed it with its fourth-generation true wireless earbuds. They tick almost every box: top-class noise-cancelling, sparkling sound, long battery life, rock-solid Bluetooth, a much more compact case and, finally, a smaller, genuinely comfortable-to-wear design. Like most earbuds they’re sadly not repairable and you can’t replace the batteries, so some work left to do. SG
If you’ve been weighing up buying a pair of true wireless earbuds but can’t quite stomach the price of Apple’s AirPods Pro (£239), the Nothing ear (1) might just fit the bill. At £99, they’re at the more affordable end of the spectrum, complete with advanced noise-cancelling technology and a comfortable fit. Their transparent design also sets them apart from the crowd of generic headphones. Rhiannon Williams
Apple’s latest iPad mini takes the best parts of the high-end iPad Pro and squishes them down into a more compact 8.3-inch design, including a faster A15 chip, Apple Pencil compatibility and a more powerful front-facing camera. Small enough to slip into a coat pocket, it also sports better-rounded audio, thanks to its repositioned speakers, plus a sharper, brighter screen. RW
Provided you can get your hands on one, Nintendo’s Switch OLED is guaranteed to delight fans who’ve been hoping for an upgrade to the popular video game console. The new model features a larger 7-inch screen (compared with the previous version’s 6.2-inch display) and a vastly improved protective kickstand that allows you to tilt it backwards to play at an angle. RW
If you fancy a smartphone that’s a bit different from Apple and Samsung’s standard fare, Google is making extremely competent and well-priced handsets at a fraction of the price of its rivals. The Pixel 6 is an excellent all-rounder phone that showcases the best of its Android operating system, a slick design and, most importantly, an outstanding camera for the price. RW
This magnetic attachment to Dyson’s enormously popular Supersonic hairdryer promises the sleek, mirror-like shine that’s traditionally difficult to achieve at home without professional help. The device’s hooked end harnesses the hairdryer’s powerful airflow to smooth errant flyaway hairs without having to resort to higher temperatures that are more likely to damage them and also doubles up as a styling tool. RW
Fitness trackers are great, nudging you to take the stairs rather than the lift, go to bed a little earlier and even forgo that extra helping of dessert, but they’re often sinfully ugly. The Luxe is attractive enough that wearing it doesn’t feel like a chore, even when it does nag you to hit 10,000 steps before bed. Cat Ellis
Like the idea of running, but always find yourself plodding along the same route and not actually getting any faster? The Forerunner 55 is the watch for you. It not only tracks your runs and measures your pace, it also tells you how long to rest between sessions and suggests different workouts to help mix up your training so you don’t get stuck in a rut. CE
Resembling a glowing alien parasite, the Incus Nova is a little device that sits on your back and tracks your form when you’re running and swimming. Unlike a watch, it can monitor the movement of your entire body and give you advice on how to adapt your technique so you move more efficiently and don’t hurt yourself. It’ll soon be able to monitor cycling as well, making it ideal for triathletes. CE
These tiny earplugs are specially designed to wear at night and will play a variety of soothing sounds to help you off to sleep. Options include pattering rain, crooning whales, crashing waves and even snoring kittens. Once you’ve nodded off, they’ll track your heart rate and movement and present you with a detailed sleep report in the morning. CE
Does your toothbrush really need Bluetooth? Well, no, but it doesn’t hurt. The iO Series 6 connects to the Oral-B app on your smartphone and gives you real-time guidance as you brush to make sure you never miss a spot. The brush also gives you feedback in the form of an emoji on the handle, which is surprisingly motivating. Nobody wants to be ticked off by their toothbrush. CE
The Millo is a 500W (12,800rpm) sci-fi super-chopper that uses a magnetic power system similar to the one in your electric toothbrush. Not only is this thing twice as efficient as a standard blender, it is four times quieter. What’s more, the companion app has presets for smoothies and the like and once the wireless base is charged up, you can blitz away, moving the cable-free Millo around your house or garden willy-nilly. Jeremy White
This 18.9kg aluminium-framed e-bike has an excellent 43 miles of assisted power, but what really sells the Cowboy 4 is its simplicity: no unnecessarily complicated frills, just pedals and power. Even the lights are already integrated and your phone docks to the handlebars for help with directions and happily charges there while you ride. JW
Picking a television is hard – there are just so many variables. LG’s superb G1 television will see you right on virtually any consideration, but it’s particularly good at gaming. You get an inky-black 65-inch OLED 4K screen and a lightning-quick 120Hz refresh rate with VRR (variable refresh rate), a key feature for getting smooth, clean, artefact-free pictures when playing. And if you don’t like gaming, just revel in the bright, vivid pictures the set can pump out with ease while watching Netflix. JW
These award-winning new Voyager skis, based on a design originally developed for the military, fold using a four-axis mechanism and are then reinforced with a carbon plate that swings into place. Amazingly, you end up with a ski with the same rigidity as “normal” skis. I’ve tried them and, on the snow, I defy you to notice the difference. The lux package includes skis, bindings and collapsable poles – all in a custom travel bag. JW
The Los Angeles over-ears convert all forms of light – outdoor and indoor – into energy. And they also include active noise-cancelling. This means wireless fans are freed from battery anxiety once and for all. An hour spent outside on a sunny day generates three hours of playtime. If it’s cloudy, 60 minutes gets you two more hours. They even charge in ambient indoor light. If this wasn’t enough, the Los Angeles boast a 50-hour battery life from the on-board 750 mAh (milliampere-hour) power pack. We’ve tested these – the solar tech works, they sound great and you even get a carrying case. JW
Samuel Gibbs is consumer technology editor at the Guardian; Rhiannon Williams is technology correspondent for iNews; Cat Ellis is fitness and wellbeing editor at TechRadar; Jeremy White is executive editor at Wired

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