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Gadgets of the Year

Best consumer tech of 2021

The pandemic may have dragged on, but tech evolution did not slow down, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK and BRYAN TURNER find as they choose their best consumer devices of the year.

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The pandemic slowed down our lives, but has barely been a barrier for tech evolution. In our selection of the best consumer technology of 2021, we found numerous breakthroughs.

TV of the year

Winner: LG OLED55A1 TV (R17,000)

LG’s 2021 OLED line-up improved on its already impressive 2020 line-up, and the breakthrough model was the first OLED TV for under R20,000, the 55-inch OLED55A1. At its price, it competes aggressively against rival units with far lower display specifications. To sweeten the deal, users get three months of Apple TV+ free to enjoy Apple’s 4K library.

Runner-up: Hisense ULED 8K 75-inch TV (R50,000)

With four times the number of pixels than 4K, the 8K Hisense ULED TV is a fantastic option for futureproofing one’s entertainment area. It has Dolby Vision for excellent colour reproduction and AI-upscaling to make 4K content look sharper. The built-in Android TV operating system is open to apps like Netflix, Showmax, and DStv Now.

Student laptop of the year

Winner: Asus VivoBook 15 OLED (from R14,000 on special from Evetech – usually R16,000)

For those watching a lot of online video, the VivoBook 15 OLED is the laptop to get. As the name implies, the OLED screen is one of the sharpest and most vivid displays on a laptop right now. It also comes with a fingerprint sensor for convenient login with Windows Hello. It houses the latest generation Intel processor, and the battery easily lasts the day.

Runner-up: Acer Chromebook Spin 713 (from R19,000)

Acer’s latest Chromebook comes close to dethroning the VivoBook, but falls short with limited software support. This laptop is for those who only use Google Chrome and Android apps from the Google Play Store. Since the laptop runs a few apps, its battery life is fantastic and can take a user through a full day and then some.

Tablet of the year:

Winner: Lenovo Tab P11 Pro (Releasing soon)

This tablet works hard and plays hard. The Lenovo Tab P11 Pro wins on its fantastic display, quad-stereo speakers, and fantastic battery life. It also has a few goodies in the box: a magnetically attached keyboard and a stylus with palm rejection. This made the tablet a great all-rounder, which ran Word all day and streamed Xbox Game Pass games all night.

Runner-up: iPad mini 6 (from R10,000)

Is it a phone? Is it a tablet? It’s in limbo at this stage, because it has 5G but can’t make or receive calls. However, it’s Apple’s most capable ‘mini’ style tablet with the A15 Bionic chipset, which also features in the iPhone 13 lineup. 

Audio device of the year:

Winner: Sonos Beam 2 (R10,000)

The Sonos Beam (Gen 2) ups the game from last year’s winner from the same company, with a second edition that supports Dolby Atmos, the new standard in surround sound. Tailor-made for home theatre, brings home the surround sound technology of cinemas, by adding height channels, allowing sounds to be experienced as coming from three-dimensional objects.  Equally effective for music and radio listening, it also supports Alexa and Google Assistant, meaning it can be controlled by voice, and is compatible with standard TV remote control devices.

Security tech of the year:

Winner: Ring Doorbell Wired (R1,300)

Ring’s new smart doorbell offers an easy-to-use, smart tech security solution with a compact design. It connects to a user’s smartphone via the Ring App, including features like 1080p HD video with night vision; two-way talk; and audio with noise cancellation. It offers a clear field of view and the ability to see and speak with visitors at one’s door – no matter where the homeowner is. Customisable motion zones allow for specific zones that trigger alerts, and privacy zones users do not wish to monitor.

Wearable of the year:

Winner: Fitbit Charge 5 (R4,000)

Despite not being the flagship device in the Fitbit range, the Charge 5’s focus on overall well-being makes it a pandemic winner. It’s probably the first fitness device that tells you when it’s okay not to work out. It includes tools to track stress, heart health and sleep, such as an electrodermal activity (EDA) sensor for stress management, ECG assessments, atrial fibrillation (AFib) detection, high/low heart rate notifications, and deeper sleep insights. Health metrics include breathing rate, skin temperature variation, and SpO2, or oxygen saturation.

Runner-up: Huawei Watch 3 Pro (R8,000)

The Huawei Watch 3 Pro brings the smartwatch closer to the smartphone with eSIM functionality, which means it can receive and make calls independently of a smartphone, and enables connectivity while away from one’s smartphone. It is packed with sensors for tracking the likes of heart rate and SpO2, coupled with intelligent software to enable sleep tracking and stress management. Five-day battery life with continuous tracking turned on brings it into the long-life realms of Fitbit.

Hearable of the year:

Winner: Huawei FreeBuds 4i (R1,200)

The Huawei FreeBuds 4 is the perfect mix of price meeting high-fidelity. It has whopping 10-hour continuous battery life for music, which dips to 3 hours when on a continuous voice call. It also has active noise cancellation and silicone ear tips to seal out background noise.

Runner-up: AirPods Max (R11,300)

Apple’s premium over-ear headphones mark the epitome of luxury hearable tech, with an expectedly high Apple price tag. It has spatial audio, which adjusts one’s surround sound audio to how one adjusts one’s head. It’s quite magical to hear someone in one’s left ear when looking left, then returning to centre when looking back at the screen.

Personal tech of the year:

Winner: Xiaomi Smart Toothbrush (R700)

Stats come to dental hygiene with the Xiaomi Smart Toothbrush, with statistics of how well one brushes, how long they brush for, and if they’re getting to all the teeth. It also produces reports over time on how one’s dental hygiene journey is going.

Home tech of the year:

Winner: iRobot Roomba i7+ (R15,000)

The original name in robot vacuum cleaners finally arrives in SA, and the Roomba i7+ gives one a good idea why it leads the category. An auto-empty system makes it ideal for house-wide cleaning, with a mapping system that customises it to the unique design and contours of the home. A remote control device can be placed anywhere to create temporary, invisible Virtual Wall barriers, and It’s great at navigating over varied surfaces, like mats, ridges and carpet protectors.

Runner-up: Hobot Legee 7 (R8,000)

At half the price, the Legee 7, described as a Mop 4-in-1, offers a combination of mop and vacuum cleaner. It stood out for two capabilities: superb automatic mapping of the spaces being cleaned, across multiple rooms, and seven specialised cleaning modes, when gentle vacuuming is not enough. It lost out due to difficulty with some surfaces.

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