We covered nearly a hundred products on our YouTube channel in 2020 and countless more here on the site. But while we return all our review units, there are some products we get sad about having to send back — so sad, in fact, that we end up buying them for ourselves (or at least have wishful thoughts about buying them) because we simply can’t live without them.
What follows are some of the gadgets that our staff really liked.
The Galaxy Buds Live (or the Galaxy Beans as they should have been called) aren’t the perfect pair of true wireless headphones, but they fit my specific needs perfectly. That’s because I wanted a pair of earbuds to wear while cycling. So for starters, they couldn’t be too bulky or have a stem that’d catch on the straps of my helmet. Nor did I want a pair of earbuds that were too good at blocking out environmental noise; it’s more important for me to hear incoming traffic than the end of a guitar solo. That turned the Beans’ open-air design from a negative into a positive for me. Throw in a USB-C port and support for wireless charging, and you’re left with my favorite gadget of the year. — Jon Porter, reporter
The Oculus Quest 2 is a big compromise as a platform, since it ties virtual reality directly to the Facebook service. As a gadget, though, it can’t be beat. The Quest 2 is the first piece of consumer VR hardware without a big and obvious compromise. It’s self-contained and can be used without any wires, but you can also plug it into a laptop to play higher-powered games. It’s light enough to wear without hurting your head, although it’s best when tricked out with an alternate head strap and some special short-cord headphones. And it supports some of the best VR games around, including my personal obsession Beat Saber. The Quest 2 isn’t quite the Nintendo Switch of virtual reality — but it’s surprisingly close. — Adi Robertson, senior reporter
Reviewing the new Peloton bike, the Bike Plus, has been a bright spot in a horrifying year. I’m still testing it and working on the review, but the small bugs I’ve found so far don’t take away from the fact that having a place to listen to good music, sweat, and work out all my 2020 frustrations has been incredible. I need an outlet for everything I’m feeling from being cooped up in my apartment. That said, the bike costs nearly $2,500 with a $40 monthly subscription plan attached. It’s a massive cost that is tempting for me to spend, but I do wonder if, when the pandemic wanes, I’ll crave in-person gym experiences again. — Ashley Carman, senior reporter
The PS5 was one of my most highly anticipated pieces of tech this year, and I am happy to say it has lived up to the expectations I set for the console. While I still have concerns on how expandable storage will work, I find the PS5 to have had a stronger launch than its competitor, the Xbox Series X, for this reason: namely, the DualSense is one of the most innovative controllers I have seen in the last few years. Its haptic feedback and adaptive triggers provide extra realism to immerse me even more in the games I play. — Taylor Lyles, writer
I reviewed a whole bunch of convertible laptops this year, but the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 is the closest to being one that I’d actually consider buying. There are certainly things I don’t love about it: the keyboard is a bit flat for my taste, and the lack of USB-A ports means I can’t connect some of my peripherals without a dongle. But when it comes to the most important aspects of a 2-in-1 laptop, the XPS 13 doesn’t just check all the boxes — it blows the boxes off the page. The build quality is exceptional, the touchpad is comfortable, the 16:10 display is roomy and gorgeous, the battery life lasts all day, and the chassis is unbelievably thin and light. You can even play games like Overwatch at well above 60fps. As someone looking for a reliable, portable machine, I really couldn’t ask for anything more. — Monica Chin, reporter
DJI’s new Mini 2 drone is the drone I didn’t really expect to love as much as I do. It’s not the ultimate do-it-all drone — in fact, it misses a lot of features you’d find on more expensive drones. The Mini 2 doesn’t have any obstacle avoidance sensors, it has a tiny photo sensor, and photos are only 12MP. But it also nails the basics: those 12MP photos look sharp, dynamic range is good for that small sensor, and video looks crisp. It also has two awesome features: it includes DJI’s OcuSync 2 wireless connectivity and it weighs only 249g. OcuSync 2 enables radio transmission and a nearly impeccable connection, compared to the flaky Wi-Fi connection in the original Mavic Mini. And being a sub-250g drone means you don’t need FAA registration (but be sure to follow other FAA regulations). It’s easy to bring anywhere you go and it’s incredibly fun to fly. If you’re a content creator, drone enthusiast, or a total beginner, this is a perfect drone to get. — Vjeran Pavic, senior director
The iPhone 12 mini isn’t the best iPhone 12 for most people. If you asked me, I’d tell you to get the regular iPhone 12 or maybe the 12 Pro Max, especially if you really care about the camera. But the 12 mini is my favorite and the one I purchased. It has been a very long time since we’ve had a small phone with true flagship specs. Usually, smaller phones are either nonexistent or deeply compromised. With the 12 mini, there’s really only one compromise that matters: the battery life isn’t great. That’s the reason I don’t recommend it right off the bat. But if you’re aware of that battery life and think it can fit into your lifestyle, having a small phone again is great. It just feels like it was designed for human hands instead of being designed to maximize the screen size. That’s why it’s my favorite. — Dieter Bohn, executive editor
Fujifilm went back to the basics with the Instax SQ1, which is absolutely the least tech-y gadget I reviewed this year. With no screens, only two shooting modes, and a rotating ring around the lens that turns the camera on and off, the SQ1 feels more like a toy than a $120 camera. And it’s perfect that way because it inspires creativity and fun. Although it’s a bit bulky, the joy it provides by instantly developing memories in that iconic Polaroid frame still makes me want to bring it everywhere. Plus, taking photos of the contents of your friends’ refrigerators and then hiding the photo under the milk carton never gets old. — Becca Farsace, senior director