The 10 best tech products of 2021 didn't rock the world, but key refinements put them at the top
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- The best consumer tech products of 2021 aren't revolutionary over their previous models.
- But their performance and features were highly strengthened, keeping them at the top.
- Based on our research and testing, these are our favorite tech products of 2021.
Consumer electronics go through periods of revolution and evolution. Some years, you get new products that disrupt the status quo — what the iPhone did to cell phones or the Roomba did to vacuum cleaners, for example. In other years, it's all about refining what already exists. For 2021, it was the latter: No products truly stormed the Bastille, but they were so improved that they remained the best tech products.
The Nintendo Switch OLED has a terrific display, but its features and functionality are similar to the previous Switch. The same could be argued for the 10-inch iPad or Fire TV Stick 4K Max. But most of the changes were more than just superficial: These upgrades made them better products over their predecessors and helped improve the experience, whether it's listening to music, playing games, working from home, or staying healthy.
The "best" moniker is subjective, of course, but we determined the best tech based on our research and testing. They had to be consumer products that are available for purchase and will last you several years, and we considered pricing. It was difficult to narrow down, but these are our favorite tech products of 2021.
Here are our picks for the best tech products of 2021
Regardless of operating system or interface, the iPhone continues to be the best phone for most people, and the iPhone 13 only further solidifies that position. It's somehow both the most simple and most powerful phone to date, with longer battery life, most notably. All the usual benefits of Apple's phones apply here, such as an intuitive user interface, privacy and security controls, and arguably the best cameras in smartphones today. — Joe Osborne, Senior Tech Editor
The Hisense U8G is our pick for the best midrange TV you can buy, and it's one of the most impressive displays I tested in 2021. Though we think LG's more expensive C1 is the best TV overall, that model is nearly identical to its 2020 counterpart. The Hisense offers a bigger step up from its previous version, with HDMI 2.1 ports and one of the brightest panels on the market. You'll still get better picture quality with an OLED, but the U8G delivers great performance for such an affordable price. — Steven Cohen, Tech Editor
Apple's 10.2-inch iPad is a powerful and attractive tablet at a great price. Apple's entry-level offering continues to serve the widest group of people, from kids to working adults. This year, it uses a new processor and the base model has double the storage. Sure, it doesn't have the cutting-edge specs of its iPad Pro, iPad Air, and iPad Mini siblings, but for most people, its performance is more than plenty. — Joe Osborne
The 2020 Roku Ultra remains our favorite streaming device overall, but when it comes to new media players released in 2021, Amazon's Fire TV Stick 4K Max deserves recognition. The compact stick plugs right into your TV's HDMI port, delivering access to every major streaming app there is. Though it isn't a huge upgrade over Amazon's older 4K stick, it does offer snappier performance for just $5 more. In fact, the Fire TV Stick 4K Max is the fastest media device I've ever tested in this price range. I ultimately prefer the simpler interface on Roku's competing 4K Stick, but Amazon's 4K Max is the model to get if you crave speed. — Steven Cohen
Yes, you could argue that Apple's newly redesigned MacBook Pro is revolutionary. While clever marketing suggests it's something completely different, it's really a laptop that embodies all the best things people love about Apple's portable computers, and none of the stuff people didn't like — sorry, Touch Bar. Now coming in a 14-inch MacBook Pro option and an updated 16-inch model, it uses an insanely powerful version of Apple's M1 processor and brings back user-requested features like an improved keyboard, dedicated HDMI port, SD card reader, and the beloved MagSafe charger. It's a little something old, a little something new, but it's definitely something way better. — Joe Osborne
The second-generation Sonos Beam carries over everything we loved about the original model while offering one notable new feature: Dolby Atmos. The compact soundbar is perfect for buyers who need to conserve space, and its Atmos capabilities create an engaging sense of virtual surround sound. That said, the device lacks true up-firing speakers so you won't get the full overhead effect you'd get on something like the Vizio Elevate. Still, the Beam delivers impressive audio performance for its size. It also has built-in support for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, making it a full-fledged soundbar and smart speaker in one. — Steven Cohen
For only $50 more than the original model, the Nintendo Switch OLED offers a larger and sharper display that uses OLED technology. Nintendo also improved the much-maligned kickstand, added more built-in memory, and included a new dock with an Ethernet port for a more reliable Internet connection. Together, these upgrades create a far superior gaming experience on the Switch, and it's what we recommend if you are new to the system. — Joe Osborne
The Apple Watch Series 7 isn't a big overhaul from the Series 6, but it is the best smartwatch on the market, especially from a health perspective. Compared to the old model, the Series 7 boasts a slimmer bezel with a larger screen, offering a more modern design. In addition to an accurate heart rate sensor, the Series 7 comes with an electrocardiogram (ECG) to detect irregular heartbeats, a blood oxygen sensor, the ability to track a wearer's sleep patterns and detect when they fall, and built-in GPS for location tracking. It also includes other sensors like a gyroscope, accelerometer, and compass. Never before have you had so much vital health information at your fingertips as you do with the Series 7. — Rick Stella, Health and Fitness Editor
When it comes to new headphones released in 2021, few were as highly anticipated as Sony's WF-1000XM4 wireless earbuds. The new earbuds replace the XM3s from 2019, and they deliver improved noise cancellation, longer battery, and a better fit. Though they're expensive compared to other options, they earn their high-end price with equally high-end performance. — Steven Cohen
Robot vacuum cleaners are fairly common since iRobot launched the Roomba in 2002. The Eufy RoboVac 15C Max doesn't offer anything innovative, but it wins in affordability. Often found on sale low below its $250 list price, the RoboVac 15C Max puts this type of smart home appliance in more homes. It can connect to your Wi-Fi network for hands-free use, but it also comes with a remote control for the less tech-savvy. It is our pick for the best budget robot vacuum, but don't let that price fool you — it's very effective in sucking up carpeted and hard flooring. — Joe Osborne