The A-list: Best tech gadgets of 2021

Sony ZV-E10, Nothing Ear (1), MacBook Pro, Nintendo Switch OLED, and more – our top picks for coolest gadgets of 2021.

2021 year-ender
(Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Despite many challenges, from supply chain uncertainties to logistic issues, the world of tech has simply refused to bow down before a raging pandemic. It isn’t business as usual, and yet somehow, it marches on relentlessly in pursuit of the greater good – innovation.

As we approach the new year, 2022, here’s a look back at some of the coolest gadgets launched this year. Those that made our lives wee bit easier. Made us smile. Wowed us. Made us think. Made us question. Maybe even made us hopeful, for a better tomorrow.

In no particular order.

Sony ZV-E10

2021 year-ender
(Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

We’re starting off with making memories. The ZV-E10 pairs the portability of a mirrorless camera with the versatility of interchangeable lenses. This is Sony’s first such camera in the Alpha series. It has a 25MP Exmor CMOS sensor with fast hybrid auto-focus capabilities. The ZV-E10 supports one-touch background blurring, slow-motion video capture, quick focus shifting, quick motion shooting, and face priority auto exposure. There’s also a handy “active mode” in this camera that’s designed for stable hand-held shooting even while walking. The ZV-E10 is primarily geared towards creators and vloggers but its compact size and relatively budget pricing means, it will be a good fit for many casual users, too. Sadly, Sony has temporarily suspended sale of this camera due to the ongoing global semiconductor shortage.

Street price: Rs 59,490 (starting)

Nothing Ear (1)

2021 year-ender
(Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

The Ear 1s have a lot of style going for themselves. They have some substance too. And then when you factor in their pricing, which is killer by the way, you get a package that becomes hard to resist. To be completely honest, we weren’t sold on Nothing’s debut product at least initially. It was, as many have rightly pointed out, much ado about nothing. But we have to admit, it has grown on us since. Most of the bugs have been ironed out and Nothing has, also, sweetened the deal by launching a “black” version that just adds another dimension to it. Whether you end(ed) up buying one or not, it’s all but certain, Carl Pei’s new consumer tech company has caught our attention, and we can’t wait for what Nothing comes up with next.

Street price: Rs 6,999

Oppo Find N

2021 year-ender
(Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

The Find N is the latest folding phone in town and it might just be the greatest (of them all).  Oppo’s first foldable has an almost no-crease and no-gap design, thanks to its propriety 136-component Flexion hinge. The form factor is another area where the company has hit it out of the ballpark by opting for a compact and pocketable chassis which is easy to hold and manoeuvre. The outer cover display – which is 5.49-inch with an 18:9 aspect ratio – is more akin to a regular smartphone. The inner “tablet” screen – which is 7.1-inch and has an aspect ratio of 8.4:9 – is almost a square. Aside from its folding form, the Find N is also a high-end flagship with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chip paired with up to 12GB RAM and 512GB storage. It has a 4,500mAh battery with 33W fast wired and 15W wireless charging. There is support for 10W reverse wireless charging as well. Rounding off the package are a capable triple rear camera setup with a 50MP Sony IMX 766 main sensor, a 16MP sensor with ultra-wide lens, and another 13MP sensor behind a telephoto lens. There are two other 32MP selfie cameras on both the inner and outer displays.

Street price: Roughly Rs 92,300 (starting)

Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3

2021 year-ender
(Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

The Flip 3 is the real MVP of Samsung’s current foldable line-up, offering an eclectic mix of style and substance that go beyond the convention of regular smartphones. More importantly, it’s priced like a regular smartphone – this is the most affordable folding phone in the market today. If foldables, indeed, are the future then the Flip 3 is a big positive step in that direction. It brings a bigger, more useful cover display and water-resistant design packed inside a slightly more compact body (over the last Flip). There is obviously more powerful hardware inside this phone but the bigger deal here is the all-round refinement. Aside from average cameras and battery life, there’s not a lot to complain about which come to think of it, is a big win for Samsung.

Street price: Rs 84,999 (starting)

Nintendo Switch OLED

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(Photo credit: Nintendo)

It might not be the “4K” hand-held that fans, enthusiasts, and even critics had been waiting for – all this time – but the 2021 refresh of the Switch brings some really cool updates over the original which was launched way back in 2017. The big takeaway, obviously, is the slightly larger 7-inch OLED display. It’s still capped at 720p (1080p when docked) but the benefits of that “new” OLED screen can’t be overstated. The storage has been doubled – 64GB versus 32GB in the original – too, and the kickstand on the back is now more useful, and adjustable. Nintendo has also “enhanced” the audio inside the Switch 2021 and added an ethernet port to the bundled dock.

Street price: Rs 41,999

2021 MacBook Pro

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(Photo credit: Apple)

The 2021 MacBook Pro (14- and 16-inch) is quite simply “The pro” MacBook that pro users were waiting for, for a long, long time. It’s got powerful silicon, gobs of RAM and storage, a fast near uninterrupted display with a “notch,” plenty of ports, up to 21-hour battery life and MagSafe charging. Apple calls the 2021 MacBook Pro “game-changing” and for good reason. Even more importantly, it marks its biggest step forward in the transition from Intel to custom silicon on Mac. This new MacBook Pro belongs to the first wave of Mac computers to be powered by M1 Pro and M1 Max, the most powerful silicon that Apple has ever made.

Street price: Rs 1,94,900 (starting)

Intel NUC 11 Extreme – Beast Canyon

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(Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Technically, the Beast Canyon is a small form-factor (SFF) PC and yet, it’s as far from it as chalk and cheese. It’s a very, very interesting “PC” to say the least – more powerful and massive than a typical SFF (think Ghost Canyon/Hades Canyon) but a notch below a full desktop equivalent. What is its purpose, you ask? It’s simple. On the inside, it’s basically Intel showing off its engineering prowess. On the outside, it’s a no holds barred PC – a beast if you will – squeezed inside a relatively compact chassis. If that wasn’t enough, it’s also modular, support for full-length graphics cards included. The port selection is also generous for the size with two Thunderbolt 4 ports (and more). At its heart lies the “Compute Element” housing the CPU, RAM, and M.2 storage. In case it wasn’t clear, the package is bare bones to begin with and you’re required to configure per your need and budget. You can choose from either an Intel Core i9-11900KB, a Core i7-11700B, or a Core i5-11400H. On top of that, you’ll have to opt for a graphics card (like say the RTX 3060), memory, storage, and operating system separately.

Street price: Rs 86,704 roughly (starting)

Samsung Galaxy Watch 4

2021 year-ender
(Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

The Galaxy Watch 4 (and Galaxy Watch 4 Classic) is the best smartwatch for Android users in the market today. Period. By working closely with Google, Samsung has been able to fix some of the most frustrating shortcomings of Android smartwatches namely performance, battery life and lack of a compelling app ecosystem. The Watch 4 is fast, has good battery life and native support for Google Play Store which means you can download and install many more apps — those you’d probably use — on it.

Street price: Rs 23,999 (starting)

Apple AirTag

2021 year-ender
(Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

This small puck-like device made of stainless steel lets you locate lost items such as keys and wallets. Being an Apple product means, setup is simple – bring it near an iPhone and it will detect and start pairing instantly. Once setup, you can track its location using Apple’s Find My app. Tracking is done using both Bluetooth and Ultra-Wideband technology. The latter is more precise but requires an iPhone 11 or later to work. It works like magic, too. But there’s a flipside to it, as well. Someone can slip an AirTag into your personal items to keep a track of your location. Apple has tried to fix this in two ways – by alerting iPhone users if unknown AirTags are following them (though this is limited to iPhones running iOS 14.5 or later), while for Android users, it has launched a Tracker Detect app that does the same thing except that it does not have any background scanning ability.

Street price: Rs 3,190

Amazon Echo Show 10 (3rd Gen)

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(Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Picture an Echo smart speaker with a screen. Now, imagine that it could also follow you around. That is the whole premise of the third gen Echo Show 10 – Amazon’s most expensive Alexa-toting smart gadget yet (in India). The idea is that if you’re playing a video on it, or video calling your friends and family maybe, you don’t have to stay put while doing any of it. You can move around, per your convenience, and the screen of the Echo Show 10 will automatically detect your presence and swivel around on its axis to face you. There is a 13MP camera in the device (and sensors) that make this happen. If that sounds creepy to you, you’re not alone. Luckily, if you’re not impressed by Alexa’s moves, you can turn it off from the settings. Amazon also gives you a dedicated privacy shutter to disable the camera completely.

Street price: Rs 24,999

Dyson Purifier Hot+Cool

2021 year-ender
(Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Form meets function is the best way to describe any Dyson product. The British tech company has slowly, but steadily, expanded its presence in the Indian market over the last few years. Dyson’s air purifiers, are easily, its most sought-after products. The 2021 Purifier Hot+Cool builds on its predecessor and brings useful, if a little iterative, updates to a familiar chassis that looks striking from any perceivable angle, even today. The thing, in fact, looks like some George Lucas movie prop. The “bladeless fan” design is still, as awe-inspiring as ever. Coming to the air purifier bit, the Hot+Cool meets the HEPA H13 standard and can capture H1N1 virus and 99.95 percent of particles as small as 0.1 microns (it is also slightly quieter than before though your mileage will vary depending on the quality of air around you). Now, an air purifier like this won’t stop COVID-19 but it can help reduce airborne contaminants, studies have shown. This, when combined with practises like social distancing and wearing a mask, could help lessen its impact. An interesting thing to know about the Hot+Cool is that, in addition to being an excellent air purifier, it can also double as a room heater during winters.

Street price: Rs 50, 310

Roomba i3 Plus

2021 year-ender
(Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Like the air purifier, robot vacuum cleaners have also picked up steam during the pandemic. iRobot’s Roomba is, perhaps, the most established player in the category with a diverse line-up that spans across different price points right from entry-level to high-end. The i3 Plus is a mid-range offering, a jack of all trades if you will, that can clean your home and also clean itself, to an extent. The robot vacuum cleaner comes with an automatic dirt disposal system that can empty up to 60 days’ worth of contents into the base station (this also doubles as a charging station). The vacuum cleaner itself comes with dual multi-surface rubber brushes including one for edge-sweeping and a filter that’s designed to capture 99 percent of pollen, mold, dust mites, cat and dog allergens. Sensors onboard the vacuum cleaner can detect areas that need more thorough cleaning. It can also recharge automatically in case it’s running low on battery after which, it can resume the task at hand.

Street price: Rs 44,900

Mi QLED TV 75

2021 year-ender
(Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Big bang for your buck – that’s how we will describe the Mi QLED TV 75. This is Xiaomi’s biggest smart TV in India. It is also the most expensive Mi TV to launch in the country. That said, it still undercuts rivals with its stellar value proposition. This TV has a 4K QLED panel with full array local dimming for deep blacks and a 10,000:1 contrast ratio. It supports Xiaomi’s Reality Flow 120 MEMC tuning which means that it can do 120Hz using a combination of hardware chops, though this is not native (there is no native 4K@120Hz). Gamers will appreciate the fact that it has Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM). All the popular HDR codecs including Dolby Vision, HDR10+, HDR10 and Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) are supported. For audio, it has a downward-firing 6-speaker setup with two full range drivers, two woofers and two tweeters for 30W peak output. Dolby Audio and DTS-HD are supported though there is no Dolby Atmos. It has Enhanced Audio Return Channel (or eARC) which invariably means that it supports HDMI 2.1, also. On the software side, the TV is based on Android TV 10 and comes equipped with Xiaomi’s own PatchWall user interface. All this is packaged inside a sleek and premium body that uses a combination of metal and carbon fibre.

Street price: Rs 1,27,999

Realme 4K Smart Google TV Stick

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(Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Now, the Realme 4K Smart Google TV Stick is not a Fire TV Stick 4K killer. Far from it. But it offers a very viable – in fact, the only viable – alternative for those looking for an affordable Google TV-based streaming dongle. Google TV brings visible changes to Android TV with a more active home screen. The traditional methodology to focus on specific apps is out of the window in favour of something far more useful — content aggregation — with a smart array of content from multiple apps with dedicated tabs for movies and TV shows. We quite like it. The Realme TV stick has another use case. It can turn your “dumb” smart TV smarter and increase its shelf life. This will make a lot of sense for those who own a budget smart TV already or those who’re planning to buy one in future. It comes with 2GB of RAM (and 8GB of internal storage) which is 2x more than what budget smart TVs come with, usually.

Street price: Rs 3,699

BenQ 4K Laser TV V6000

2021 year-ender
(Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

The V6000 screams premium luxury from the get-go. It is also a very ambitious product – BenQ wants you to ditch your high-end large screen TV with this 4K UHD ultra-short throw Laser TV home projector. Geared for home cinema, the V6000 is a 4K UHD projector. It offers up to 98 percent DCI-P3 colour gamut coverage and packs support for HDR10 and HLG formats alongside MEMC. It has forward-firing speakers tuned by Trevolo. Unlike a lot of the competition including Optoma, BenQ has added a sunroof slider in the V6000 that you can close when the projector is not in use, thereby avoiding dust build-up. The company has integrated an eye protection motion sensor in the projector that can turn off the light source if someone inadvertently leans over it to protect from eye damage. The ultra-short throw laser projector comes with an anti-light reflection screen (100- or 120-inch size) for best results, which is to say, there will be no need to dim the lights when using it. BenQ also ships a 32GB Apple 4K TV in the box since the projector does not have its own software and native support for apps.

Street price: Rs 4,99,000

Special mention | Xbox Wireless Controller – 20th Anniversary Special Edition

We have no words to describe this translucent special edition controller marking 20 years of the Xbox. We’ll just let the picture – which we have to say, doesn’t do full justice to how gorgeous the thing is in person – do the talking.

2021 year-ender
(Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Street price: Rs 6,390

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