What a year it has been; as we welcomed in 2020 we were blissfully unaware of Zoom, the vast number of television shows and films on streaming services we were about to rely on, and how to improve our internet connections.
But we had to learn fast, getting accustomed to slow bandwidths and when to unmute ourselves.
As schools closed their doors and workforces transitioned to working from home, the effects of the coronavirus pandemic highlighted the importance of technology in our lives. We were able to stay connected with our loved ones, using quizzes and catch-ups, in times of darkness.
Throughout these changes, we’ve been busy testing just about every tech item we could get our hands on – from noise-cancelling headphones to electric toothbrushes – to keep you informed about the latest items that were best to invest in.
We’ve only ever included the greatest products, putting every gadget through its paces to discover our IndyBest best buy.
Here, we’ve brought together our best tech buys from 2020 to help you establish what you’ll need to make 2021 a little easier.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
Apple series 6 vs Apple SE: Which smartwatch is best?
10 best smartwatches that do much more than just tell the time
Best phone of 2020: iPhone, Samsung and Huawei smartphones reviewed
Best smartwatch: Apple watch series 6
Capable of doing plenty more than just telling the time, The Independent’s technology critic, David Phelan, rated the Apple watch the best smartwatch in his review. Phelan praised it for its “gorgeous design and immaculate build quality”, heralding its ease of use and the fact the battery lasts a full day.
“The best apps are those by Apple, which include sleep tracking, heart rate monitoring, blood oxygen tracking and even ECG measurements,” he said, before commenting on the fitness app that consists of “three concentric rings which you close when you hit a chosen calorie target, minutes of brisk exercise [or] hours when you’ve stood for a minimum of a minute. It’s a simple system which is persuasive and appealing, driven on by onscreen badges you can earn.”
Intrigued to see how the Apple Watch SE compares to this? Read our head-to-head feature to find out.
Buy now £379.00, Apple
Best running watch: Garmin forerunner 935
For a tech-packed timepiece that will keep track of your fitness goals, it was the Garmin forerunner 935 that took the top spot in our review of the best running watches. It got seriously rave reviews with our tester, who noted that this is a “running watch that stands on the shoulders of giants”. He wrote that as “well as being great for running, it has the added bonus of being totally at home with multi-discipline activities such as swimming and cycling”. With built-in barometric altimeter, compass, gyroscope, accelerometer and thermometer, this is clearly an impressive bit of kit. Your data is auto-synced with the likes of Strava, too.
Buy now £359.99, Garmin
Best phone: Apple iPhone 11 pro max
Your search for a new device with great battery life, camera and facial recognition is over, since the iPhone 11 pro max was crowned IndyBest best buy in our guide to smartphones. “Apple’s pro smartphones are pricey but amazing,” said David Phelan, adding that this is “an all-screen phone, except for the notch at the top where the camera and other sensors sit. The sensors make the facial recognition possible – just by looking at it you can unlock the phone, or authenticate payments and use as a digital wallet.”
He then praised it for its “blazingly fast processor inside”, meaning everything from opening apps to playing video games happens at high speed. While previous iPhone models had “average battery life, here it’s epic – it lasts a full day and more with ease”.
Buy now £1024.00, Argos
Best kids’ tablet: Amazon fire HD 10 kids edition tablet
If 2020 has made you realise you need to invest in a device that your child can use for learning and playing games, this Amazon fire tablet came out top in our review of best kids’ tablets. This is the largest display version in the range, with a 10.1in screen. “Although they cost more than the version aimed at adults, they have certain extra benefits: a colourful bumper protects the electronic device from harm if it’s dropped, for a start”, said David Phelan, our technology critic. He added that the “price includes a year’s subscription to fire for kids unlimited, which offers access to some games, books, movies, educational apps and more”.
Buy now £199.99, Amazon
Best computer monitor: LG 27QN880 27in QHD ergo IPS monitor
With working from home now the norm, treat your eyes to this LG monitor. It’s “elegant, convenient and beautifully sharp”, according to our tester, who also praised it for being “a joy to set up and use, with the eight default picture modes catering excellently for a range of uses, from gaming to writing this very review”.
The ergonomic stand received further praise, with our reviewer calling it “a bit of a marvel”. Once safely clamped onto your desk it enables you to “swivel, extend, retract, pivot or tilt the screen” pretty much as you please. “This makes it remarkably easy to position the monitor on your desk, where other screens of the same size might take up too much space.”
Buy now £378.99, ebuyer
Best high-end laptop: Apple macbook pro 16in
Taking the top spot in our review of high-end laptops, we praised the macbook pro series for being Apple’s best-quality laptop range. The top row of keys has been “replaced by a slender touchscreen called the touch bar, which changes according to the program you’re using”, noted our reviewer.
In terms of the hardware, it got rave reviews: the display is “high resolution and gorgeous to look at, with thin bezels on each side”; the lid is “perfectly weighted so you can open the laptop with one finger”; and the all-aluminium shell is “classy and beautifully crafted. It also keeps the machine light, despite its size.”
A great additional feature is the fact that the power button has a fingerprint sensor in it so you can unlock the macbook or authenticate online payments with one touch.
Buy now £2799.00, Apple
Best keyboard: Apple magic keyboard with numeric keypad
Has working from home made you realise you need to up your game in terms of your equipment? Enter the best keyboard of 2020, which, according to our tester, is “sumptuously comfortable with decent travel and keys which are consistently stable and precise, both of which make for faster and more accurate typing”. It’s rechargeable and is powered by a supplied cable, which is the same you’d use with an iPhone.
Buy now £129.00, Apple
Best running headphones: Jabra elite active 75t
Whether you wear them to the gym or outside, soundtrack your exercise with these smart earbuds, which were our tester’s favourite thanks to them performing “superbly during high-impact exercises” and the fact they were the “most comfortable pair by far”.
If this doesn’t persuade you enough, they also said that the “noise cancelling capabilities are excellent, and if you’d rather be able to hear what’s going on around you, pressing the button on the left earbud once activates the ‘hear through’ function that allows you to hear ambient sound with astonishing clarity. Too much clarity? Use the Jabra+ sound app to adjust how much ambient sound is allowed in.”
“Delivering top notch sound and comfort, which are paramount when you’re trying to get through a gruelling workout,” we found these were are a joy to exercise in.
Buy now £189.00, Currys PC World
Best noise-cancelling headphones: Bose headphones 700
This headset got rave reviews from our tester for being “among the most luxuriously designed headphones you’ll come across, with no visible joints, a stainless-steel headband and adjustable earcups”. Our tester added that the build quality is also “extraordinary: lightweight and comfortable even for long use”. For an all-round pair of headphones, you can’t go wrong with these from Bose.
Buy now £279.00, John Lewis & Partners
Best smart speaker: Amazon echo studio
Control your music, ask trivial questions, listen to the radio and so much more with this echo studio, which took the top spot in our review of the best smart speakers. “The multiple speakers fire in different directions including two mid-rangers pointing upwards and a woofer which points downwards and vibrates visibly when there’s bass to be heard. The resulting experience is immersive and deeply impressive,” said our tester. You can also connect it to an Amazon TV streaming device, such as the fire TV stick 4K (Amazon, £39.99).
Buy now £189.99, Amazon
Best soundbar: Sonos arc
“The latest soundbar from Sonos is fantastic,” praised our technology critic, David Phelan, before adding that it sounds good “across the board, with spectacularly well-judged audio.”
Deeming it the best buy in his review of the best soundbars, he stressed that “it’s the TV soundtracks that really shine, with plenty of punch and effectiveness. The surround effects from Dolby Atmos are stunning.”
Buy now £799.00, Sonos
Best streaming device: Sky Q
If you need to improve your streaming service set-up, look no further than the Sky Q, which is “outstanding, delivering hundreds of channels via the satellite dish plus huge amounts of on-demand viewing via broadband and an on-demand Sky Store of the latest movie titles”, according our reviewer.
They added that “the remote has a microphone and you can search programming, though searching Netflix content via voice command comes later. The Sky Q interface is attractive and easy to use, and the range of content is outstanding. The range of movies in 4K quality, for instance, is wider than most – available to buy, rent or watch if you subscribe to Sky Cinema.” A must-have for 2021.
Buy now £27.00, Sky
Best wireless earbuds: Apple airpods pro
It should come as no surprise that these were our technology critic’s top choice in our round-up of best wireless earbuds. David Phelan noted that they “fit the ears perfectly, with a near-spherical part nestling in the ear comfortably and securely”, plus they come with three different sizes of silicone ear tips, so you can choose the right size for a perfect fit.
In terms of audio, the “transparency mode lets you easily turn off noise-cancelling, while the microphone boosts the outside world so you can hear what somebody’s saying to you”, and you can “also get help from Apple’s virtual assistant Siri, hands-free – just by saying ‘Hey, Siri’”.
Buy now £249.00, Apple
Best electric toothbrush: Philips sonicare protective clean 5100
While a less fun tech purchase than some, it’s certainly a necessary one, so consider whether it’s time to upgrade your oral hygiene routine with this electric toothbrush. In our review, our tester praised this model for hitting “the sweet spot between delivering the most useful advances in toothbrush tech at a really good price”.
“The quadpacer timing system divides your mouth into quarters and buzzes when it’s time to move on to the next quadrant and the pressure sensor makes sure you’re not damaging the gum line,” they said.
Buy now £79.99, Amazon
Best portable projector: Anker nebula capsule II
“As small as a soft drink can, with a multitude of both wireless and wired connections, Anker’s offering walks the path that all portable projectors should follow in the future,” said our reviewer. They added that “one of the key selling points is how easy the capsule is to use, avoiding the issues many people have to face when setting up a projector in multiple locations. This projector keystones (changing the dimensions of content to fit the screen) automatically, and has an Android operating system built-in.” The three-hour battery life means it will power through most films.
Buy now £549.99, Amazon
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