Last year, we opened our awards for the annual Consumer Electronics Show by saying “oh, what a difference 12 months makes.” One year later we can confidently say again: oh, what a difference 12 months makes.
It’s been a challenging year, and we weren’t sure what to expect coming into this CES. As the COVID-19 pandemic began to shut the world down early last year, events started to be canceled in a trickle — and then in waves. Scientists and experts told us the world wasn’t going back to normal for possibly years, so there was no way CES 2021 was going to happen as usual. The Consumer Technology Association (CTA), which runs CES, is optimistic the show will be back in 2022 — but that’s a big “we’ll see.”
But even without a global pandemic, CES was always going to change. As big tech companies have seized their own airtime during the last decade, the power of CES’s main stage has waned. And yet the show has hung on admirably — even if it doesn’t have the most important product announcements for stuff you can go buy right now, it still manages to give us some good hints at what the most important tech trends will be for the next year or two. That’s why, each year, The Verge returns to that show to see every hope, dream, and excess of the technology industry.
This year’s awards are bestowed on a beleaguered, but not beaten, CES. We honestly strained to even find enough to fill our typical amount of categories. But all of the exhibitors did their best in a difficult time, and that’s all we can ask for. Traditions are important in difficult times, and, for whatever it’s worth, CES is one of ours.
Last year we said CES was “a lot of show with not much very substance,” and that’s on our mind again this year in a world where we couldn’t safely assemble for hands-on demonstrations. But distance makes the heart grow fonder, and we’re hopeful that we’ll see you all again next year in the desert.
“Best” in Show:
This might be our least-flashy pick yet for “best” in show at the CES, but this is no ordinary year. Somehow, this little chip from AMD managed to be the heart and soul of this year’s show.
At AMD’s highly-anticipated keynote on Tuesday morning, CEO Lisa Su unveiled the Ryzen 5000 series: a line of 7nm chips mostly built on the company’s new “Zen 3” architecture, which has already made impressive strides in the desktop form factor. (If you don’t believe it was “highly anticipated”, just go back and look at the YouTube comments for other keynotes, where everyone kept asking “when is AMD?”) There are eight “H-series” processors for high-end gaming laptops and five “U-series” processors for thinner and lighter notebooks. The headliner, the Ryzen 9 5980HX, has eight cores, 16 threads, and high hopes.
Su made some big claims. She said that AMD’s chips will beat Intel’s top end in both single- and multi-threaded performance. She claimed that they’ll deliver excellent battery life as well. And she promised that Ryzen 5000 will power the best gaming laptops of 2021. Essentially, she said that she was unveiling the best mobile processors in the world.
This award comes with some caveats. Obviously, we haven’t gotten our hands on a Ryzen 5000 system yet, so we can’t guarantee that these chips will deliver the performance gains AMD is claiming. The company has also faced some driver issues on the GPU side (which have improved), and it struggled to meet demand for its hardware last year.
But if there’s one reason to be optimistic about these new chips, it’s that manufacturers clearly believe they’re the real deal. Immediately following AMD’s keynote a barrage of OEMs announced AMD models, while some (namely Asus and Lenovo) basically indicated that they’re all-in on the chips. From heavy dual-screen gaming rigs to budget laptops for students, AMD is going to be everywhere in 2021. But most importantly, it’s going to be paired with Nvidia’s top GPUs.
That’s a milestone for AMD, and it’s what makes Ryzen 5000 the most important announcement of this year’s CES. Where AMD has played second fiddle to Intel in the high-end mobile gaming sphere for many years, the winds are shifting now. And in the middle of a trade show famous for its abundance of flashy vaporware and lofty promises with no hope of coming true, AMD has released a product that’s not only very real, but also continues the transformation of the laptop market, and redefining of what gaming laptops can do, that began with Ryzen 4000 last year. It’s a tiny chip, but we’ll see its impact for years to come. —Monica Chin
Last year, we gave the best laptop award to the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14. We were right to do so. Armed with AMD’s Ryzen 9 4900HS, the G14 shattered expectations for what 14-inch laptops could do. I wrote in my review that I didn’t see a reason to buy any other ultraportable gaming laptop when the G14 was running around — with nine hours of battery life, incredible frame rates, excellent cooling, a phenomenal keyboard and touchpad, and a starting price of just $1,049, it was the thin-and-light rig that gamers had been dreaming of for years. It was also one of the first signs that Intel was in trouble.
The ROG Zephyrus G15 wasn’t Asus’s headline CES announcement; the company didn’t spend much time talking about it at all. And it doesn’t look like anything new or groundbreaking; there are no foldable screens or RGB lights. It just looks like a slightly bigger version of the G14 and, like the G14, it will contain the latest chips from AMD and Nvidia.
But I agree with Asus here. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And if Asus is able to replicate the massive success it saw with the G14 in a 15-inch form factor, I have no doubt it will be one of the best gaming laptops of the year — if not the best one. —Monica Chin
TVs face some of the fiercest competition at CES, which means that the “best” television in show usually blends a useful vision for the future with the expectation that people will actually be able to buy it at some point. Meeting that standard this year is the LG G1. It’s the successor to LG’s ultra-premium GX series, but this year it’s got a OLED Evo panel, which the company says is the next generation of its screen technology.
With Evo, LG is hoping to close the brightness gap between OLED and LED. The G1 also utilizes LG’s gallery design, which allows it to sit flush against the wall (which is good, because it won’t come with a stand.) It should also be pleasing to gamers, with four HDMI 2.1 ports that support 4K at 120Hz, and Google Stadia and GeForce Now built in.
None of this is to say that we expect most people to buy this TV — LG’s GX series is pretty expensive— but the real excitement is for when the OLED Evo panels start showing up in other places. Not only does LG have its own C and B series televisions (though these were just updated, so we likely won’t see Evo in them for at least a year), but it also supplies most of the panels found in other brands’ OLED TVs. And given that OLED is starting to face some competition from Mini and MicroLED, it’s about time it started evolving. —Mitchell Clark
Best Monitor / Display:
This year’s CES has finally made gaming monitors whole — with Asus, Acer and LG adding the HDMI 2.1 ports they’d been missing to properly support butter-smooth variable framerates and 4K resolution with the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X consoles. And yet, the monitor that captured our imaginations isn’t a gaming monitor at all. It’s an LG OLED computer screen that’s likely to have mind-blowing image quality.
To say OLED monitors have been few and far between is a bit of an understatement; for the past few years, the only OLEDs marketed as monitors have basically been gigantic 55-inch TVs housed in monitor-esque frames, or a small portable display for colorist work. 15-inch OLED laptops were also sometimes a thing... if you were willing to sacrifice battery life.
But now, we can look forward to a full-sized 31.5-inch 4K OLED desktop display that boasts 99 percent DCI-P3 and 99 percent Adobe RGB coverage, one that’ll charge up your laptop with 90 watts of USB-C PD power at the same time, plus two DisplayPorts and HDMI. It’s got three USB ports you can use to share a keyboard and mouse with a couple PCs at the same time and — yes — a headphone jack. A 60Hz screen with no adaptive sync whatsoever probably means gamers should look elsewhere, but the 1ms response time might make games worth it for a few. With LG Display also promising a 42-inch OLED panel this year, it feels like OLED might finally be coming to a desktop near you. —Sean Hollister
CES is always full of wild concepts that are unconnected from reality, but this year we have to give it up for something that’s a literal sign of the times: Razer’s Project Hazel face mask. Let’s be clear: at this point it’s as good as vaporware in the fight against COVID-19, and we’re not expecting this (likely very expensive) gadget to be a real factor in fighting the pandemic. But seems to solve some real problems folks have with masks while managing to look awesome, so we’re awarding some points to Razer for trying something other than making sick gaming mice.
Razer still needs to prove that its disposable, rechargeable ventilators can keep you and others safe, and we’re quite skeptical: the mask doesn’t yet have authorization or certification from the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. But the Project Hazel mask is an undeniably appealing concept. It’s transparent, with auto-activating lights to illuminate your lips when it’s dark outside. Plus, it uses microphones and amplifiers to boost your voice, so you don’t sound muffled. For anyone who works in-person with others, it seems like a useful device to make communicating through a mask seem more natural. And while it’s upsetting to think about, it can’t hurt to be more prepared for the next pandemic. —Cameron Faulkner
I argued unsuccessfully to make this friendly robot our “best” in show pick, and I probably would have gotten away with it if not for the fact that Samsung churns out unattainable robot concepts almost every year at CES. Still, plenty of us at The Verge made the most noise this year while cooing at the Handy bot, who just wants your dishes to be clean and your meat-based body to be well-hydrated. Samsung is getting better and better at making robots look friendly, even now, when they’re sporting
killer robot appendages dexterous digits. It was a hard year, and I welcome the idea of a new friend who’s unaffected by human frailties. —TC Sottek
Most Unnecessary Use of Pods:
A great pod is two things: mildly convenient, and ludicrously unnecessary. This year, the runaway winner for Most Unnecessary Use of Pods went to ColdSnap, which makes a large countertop appliance that turns the contents of tall aluminum cans into soft serve ice cream. They’re among the largest pods we’ve ever seen, and their innovation — on-demand ice cream at home — is something we’ve all been enjoying since the invention of home freezers. —Jake Kastrenakes
Best CES Innovation:
The 30-Minute Keynote
For this year’s “all-digital CES,” some official exhibitors were limited to 30-minute presentations. And I have to say: this is one of the best innovations we’ve ever seen at CES. While this kind of time limit may have prevented us from experiencing the greatest technology keynote of all time, that’s a small price to pay for constraining the snoozeworthy excesses of corporate suits who could not deliver a joke properly even if given thousands of hours of training in a virtual joke simulation machine. All keynotes from tech companies should now have a 30-minute limit unless they receive the express written consent of the National Keynote League. —TC Sottek
A good bath sounds really nice right now. And while I could take a bath in my regular bathtub at home, I really wish I could relax into Kohler’s new Stillness Bath instead. With just your voice, you can turn on the water, set the temperature, change the colors of the lights around the tub, and even activate fog and aromatherapy. Sadly, I don’t have an extra $16,000 lying around to buy Kohler’s new tub, but I’m sure it will be coming soon to the feed of an Instagram influencer near you. —Jay Peters
Best Throwback to Ancient Mesopotamia:
We weren’t able to touch much of anything for CES this year, but we can almost feel this laptop from MSI just by looking at it. The MSI GE76 Raider Dragon Edition Tiamat (yes that’s the real name) features an engraved, stone-like design on its lid, with a dragon and circular patterns that might not be accurate to Mesopotamian stonework, but are certainly cool if you’re in the mood. Sure, the device features Nvidia’s new GeForce RTX 3000 graphics cards, and high-end 10th gen Intel processors, but props to MSI for looking back to 3100 BC for laptop names. The company says it chose the name for the “supreme power” that Tiamat the goddess and Tiamat the laptop represent, and it’s hard not to agree with the decision. —Ian Carlos Campbell