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Gear of the Year 2021: Tech

Wired and not, these gadgets help you dial in everything from your game-playing to your sleep.

gear of the year
Staff
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Best TV
LG OLED C1 Series
amazon.com
$2,499.99
$1,796.99 (28% off)

The biggest draw of the 65-inch C1 is the OLED display, which turns each pixel on and off for higher contrast and true blacks. This results in vibrant colors that pop off the screen and accentuates details—and LG did it for a reasonable price. Plus, HDMI 2.1 inputs mean gaming systems and streaming players can reach 4K resolution at 120 hertz for ultrasmooth motion.

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Best Smart Display
Facebook Portal Go
bestbuy.com
$149.99

Facebook’s wireless Portal Go has two distinctions among smart hubs: its unmatched video chatting experience and the Calendar app’s integration with Google or Microsoft work accounts. Regarding the former, AI automatically centers the screen and adjusts volumes. And the latter lets you take Zoom or Teams calls directly from the device.

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Best Bluetooth Tracker
Tile Pro
amazon.com
$34.99

While not as slick as AirTags, the Tile tracker lineup is hardware-agnostic, has a crowdsourced finding network, and performs better as a local Bluetooth tracker, with superior range and sound. Should you lose whatever it’s attached to, simply open the Tile app and activate the Pro’s tone or see its last pinged location on a map.

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Best Webcam
Logitech StreamCam
amazon.com
$166.75
$149.99 (10% off)

Think Grant Wood’s American Gothic, not Monet’s Water Lilies, when it comes to the level of definition you want in your webcam’s picture. And the StreamCam is worth the premium for its clarity, recording 1080p at 60 frames per second for noticeably smooth video. Its lighting isn’t bad, either, for our age of hybrid and remote work.

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Best Whole-Home Security System
Ring Alarm
amazon.com
$249.99

Each component of Ring’s alarm system—from the contact sensors to the keypad—is built sturdy. And, while the monitoring service has a middling response speed, you still get a call within a minute of a triggered alarm. And if you upgrade to the Pro model, you get a long-lasting backup battery and cellular service, so if you lose power or internet, you’re still protected.

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Best Sleep Tracker
Withings Sleep Tracking Pad
amazon.com
$99.95
$79.99 (20% off)

Simple, affordable, and unobtrusive, this is the best way for most people to evaluate sleep quality. Instead of altering your bedroom or latching onto your body, this pressure pad sits below your mattress so you don’t even realize it’s there. You get detailed insights into your resting heart rate, sleep stages, and breathing disturbances from the night.

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Best TV Backlighting System
Govee Immersion Kit
amazon.com
$86.99

Govee’s newest Immersion Kit combines reactive RGBIC TV backlights with two light bars to surround your TV screen with ambient lighting. Whether you’re serious about your games or movies, the splash of light makes a big difference in impact. The lights receive color information using a camera to tell them what’s on screen. Seeing the hues of X or Y. The process happens almost instantaneously, flipping and blending colors without delay. While it would be great if the setup came with a physical controller, the smart home control works well enough provided you have a smartphone or hub.

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Best VR Headset
Oculus Quest 2
amazon.com
$299.00

As a standalone virtual reality headset that can pair with a gaming computer to access higher-fidelity experiences, the Oculus Quest 2 blends the best of both worlds. You can play room-scale games with other people over the internet, work from a virtual mountain top or beach, and visit various social spaces.

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Best Keyboard
Razer BlackWidow V3 Pro
bestbuy.com
$139.99

Cutting the cord on the traditional keyboard, the BlackWidow V3 Pro offers a satisfying typing and gaming experience thanks to the full key layout and travel. While its USB dongle allows for instantaneous key presses we barely noticed a difference over Bluetooth on a variety of devices. We liked the plush magnetic wrist rest, spacing between the keys, and multi-function media wheel. If you work an office job or want a versatile keyboard for work and play, the BlackWidow V3 is the best keyboard we’ve used this year. If you want a low-profile mechanical switch alternative, Logitech’s G915 TKL is a much more portable keyboard that came in at a close second place due to a lack of wrist support and higher price.

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Best Commuter Backpack
Timbuk2 BP35
timbuk2.com
$159.99

While not necessarily a gadget itself, Timbuk2’s BP35 backpack provides a 35-liter carry capacity to store all your electronics safely. There’s plenty of organization for every component, EVA padding on pockets, and even a separate laptop pocket all the way at the back for easy access and extra protection.

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Best Gaming Headset
SteelSeries Arctis 1
amazon.com
$99.94

SteelSeries’s Arctis 1 closed-back wireless gaming headset sounds great, works across all consoles, PC or mobile devices, and can often be purchased for just under $100 on sale. With controls directly on the earcup, a detachable noise-cancelling bidirectional microphone, and 20 hours of battery life, the Arctis 1 is an impressive set of cans. Compared to higher-end options double or even triple the price, the Arctis 1’s 40mm drivers kick an impressive bass and an immersive soundscape. The simplified plug and play USB dongle means you can connect the headset between different consoles in seconds. An included 3.5mm auxiliary cord means you can jump between consoles by plugging the headset into your controller’s auxiliary or USB port.

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Best Phone
Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max
apple.com
$1,099.00

Apple’s iPhone 13 Pro Max is tough, powerful, and features a gorgeous 6.7-inch Super Retina XDR display that hits up to 120 Hz. We’ve dropped it, tossed it, and thrown it in bags without a case. Visuals produced on the screen are some of the smoothest and most vivid on a mobile device. We edit and shoot 4K video directly on the it, making use of the Cinematic Video capturing that autofocuses on subjects like a much more expensive film camera would. The Pro Max’s 4,352-mAh battery is the biggest ever in an iPhone, and lasts from the moment we wake up to the minute we go to sleep despite processor-heavy usage like playing Call of Duty: Mobile.

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Best Video Doorbell
Google Nest (Battery)
walmart.com
$179.00

The Google Video Doorbell released last year offers a clear view, snappy response times, and wire-free installation for fast, quality protection with any door no existing chime or transformer required. Connected to a 5-GHz network this doorbell offered the fastest notification times from detection to alert. 

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