Best gadgets of the pandemic year

The small form factor of the iPhone 12 mini will be appreciated by those who thought the iPhones had become too big.

Anuj Bhatia and Nandagopal Rajan

The year 2020 has been like none other before. As the Covid-19 pandemic took its grip on every country, gadgets became the way for people to connect with the rest of the world, continue working and stay relevant in the changing economic scenario. After a few months in which most companies lost their access to customers thanks to stringent lockdowns, the pent-up demand by people trying to upgrade their devices for the new requirements of work from home resulted in an unprecedented spurt in sales of everything from smartphones to affordable laptops and personal audio devices.

iPhone 12 mini

This year Apple surprised everyone by launching the iPhone 12 mini. The small form factor of the iPhone 12 mini will be appreciated by those who thought the iPhones had become too big. Priced at Rs 69,900, the iPhone 12 mini does exactly look the same as the iPhone 12 but its 5.4-inch screen makes this iPhone almost invisible in the pocket. But don’t call the iPhone 12 mini “cheap”. It is a flagship iPhone with just a smaller form factor. So you are not missing on features such as the new MagSafe charging, Face ID and improved dual cameras. The iPhone 12 mini has its market, and Apple should be credited for taking a risk and bringing back the compact flagship back to the market. You can’t go wrong with the iPhone 12 mini.

HomePod mini

The arrival of HomePod mini was expected but Apple shocked consumers with the audio quality coming from the tiny speaker. The HomePod mini can get really loud without muddling sound quality, and that makes Apple’s Rs 9,900 speakers fairly decent. Although many would argue that the Amazon 4th-gen Echo or the Google Nest Audio would be better smart speakers, the fact remains that the HomePod mini is designed to work best with the Apple ecosystem. Siri has become better over the years and it’s just a matter of time before the voice-based digital assistant becomes as responsive and polished as the Alexa or Google Assistant. Where the HomePod mini really triumphs the competition is in the audio department and it shouldn’t be taken lightly.

GoPro Hero 9 Black

When GoPro released the Hero 9 Black, it was dismissed as yet another action camera. But people, especially content creators and Vloggers, soon became convinced with the GoPro Hero 9. It may look identical to its predecessor, but the presence of a forward-facing colour LCD screen transforms the Hero 9 into a tool for content creation. So now it is easy to see what you are shooting when framing selfie-style shots. But GoPro didn’t stop there. The Hero 9 Black has better battery life, is waterproof up to 33 feet, can shoot 5K video with 20MP stills, has an ultra-wide detachable lens option, and the action camera can be used as a webcam. All of these features make the GoPro Hero 9 Black the go-to action camera for content creators, enthusiasts as well as adventurers. Despite its hefty price of Rs 49,500, the GoPro Hero 9 impresses.

iPhone 12 Pro Max

The best phone of the year was without doubt the iPhone 12 Pro Max, taking both processing power and camera capabilities to a whole different level. With the new software tweaks and the added LiDar scanner, the Apple flagship is now a phone the killer flagship that has left the flagship killers far behind.

Apple Watch Series 6

The Apple Watch Series 6 has only got better in the few months since its launch. But given the pandemic fears we are all struggling with, the watch added the ability to read blood oxygen and then topped it up with cardio fitness measurement capabilities. The smartwatch from Apple is now a complete wellness device.

Apple MacBook Air M1

The Apple MacBook Air was always a much loved laptop, especially for those on the move. Now, the MacBook Air has the power of Apple’s all new M1 silicon, that gives it the power to take on high-end photo and video editing if needed. The Apple MacBook Air has just become more relevant to a lot more users.

Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

The flagship smartphone market got a new contender this year in the form of the Galaxy S20 FE (Fan Edition). It had all the ingredients of being the coolest smartphone in its price range and even challenged the OnePlus 8 and other phones. What made the Galaxy S20 FE familiar yet so distinctive was the way it was positioned. Like other phones in the Galaxy S20 range, the FE had a 120Hz display, a top-notch camera system, large capacity 4500mAh battery, IP68 dust/water resistance and the latest Exynos processor. Even though it lacked a premium glass back, it was nevertheless a well-made smartphone.

Samsung Galaxy M51

Samsung’s Galaxy M51 wasn’t its top-of-the-line Galaxy smartphone, but despite that, the phone delivered a lot of value. It had a massive 7000mAh battery that kept its gigantic 6.7-inch screen going for days. Although a mid-range smartphone, the Galaxy M51 had managed to strike the right balance of build quality, performance, and camera. Yes, the Galaxy M51 followed a very tried-and-tested formula but the end result was a phone that mattered to a lot of people.

Google Pixel 4a

The Google Pixel 4a was far from being the perfect smartphone but it did help the Pixel brand be far more accessible in India. Knowing Google can’t compete with the Chinese smartphone vendors, the company focused on its core competencies. The Pixel 4a’s camera, even though a single one, was way above the competition. Google’s expertise in image processing in software worked wonders for the Pixel 4a. Sure, the Pixel 4a didn’t have the high-refresh rate screen or the fastest processor. However, what worked in favour of the Pixel 4a was the compact size and a smaller price tag.

Magic keyboard by Apple

The new Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro and iPad Air impresses, not because it is the most useful accessory one can buy, but simply due to the fact that it transforms your tablet close to a laptop. The full-sized keyboard magnetically attached to your iPad, and its adjustable angles, allows you to adjust the tablet to a comfortable viewing angle. Not to forget the Magic keyboard also comes with a built-in trackpad, which is nearly comparable to what you get on a MacBook. Sure the Magic Keyboard isn’t cheap but Apple does make an effort in making a tablet closest to a laptop.

OnePlus Nord

OnePlus broke away from its set schedule of smartphone launches by coming up with a more affordable device in the middle of the year. The Nord sub-brand has made a good debut with a smartphone that ticks all the right boxes and emerges as a flagship in the Rs 25,000 range. It has a very good camera, good display and a processor that can do most tasks well.

Dell XPS 13

If there was one premium Windows notebook that truly shined in 2020, then it has to be the Dell XPS 13. Dell once again improved the formula of ultra thin-and-lightweight notebook, and delivered a device that emerged as the top-of-the-line laptop. The design, build, look, display, and the keyboard of the laptop were great. It had plenty of power for doing everything one could expect from a compact 13-inch notebook.

Mi Notebook 14 e-learning Edition

The Mi Notebook 4 e-Learning Edition surprised us for its sheer value and more than that, the performance it managed to deliver. The affordable laptop had a lot of things right such as a Full HD 14-inch display with slim bezels all around, all-metal design, a fantastic keyboard and long battery life. Aimed at students, this was a Windows machine that redefined how entry-level laptops should be made. The Mi Notebook 14 e-Learning Edition delivered good performance at a decent price.

iPad Air 2020

The iPad Air changed the flow of the iPad series in a way. The iPad Air version of 2020, powered by the A14 Bionic processor, made it in a way the most powerful tablet on offer from Apple. The magic keyboard folio helped the iPad Air 2020 bridge the gap with a full-fledged computer and the Apple Pencil made it a good option for creative users.

Shure Aonic 50

The year presented an interesting array of very capable headphones. But the most impressive in our books was the Shure Aonic 50, a brand that is not that well known in India but is popular among the professionals. The audio profile of the earphone was better that what we had heard most of the year and it also has a style quotient that puts it at a notch above the rest.

Canon EOS R5

2020 was certainly an odd year to be investing in cameras, given that there wasn’t much to shoot inside our homes after a point. But the Canon EOS R5 stood out for taking professional grade photography to mirrorless cameras with 8K video recording a host of top of the line features. Canon is finally taking on the challenge from Sony in the professional space with a camera that packs a punch.

Best truly wireless earphones

Lypertek Tevi

With millions of people working from home with no avenues for entertainment, the truly wireless earphones became an important part of many lives. While there were many good options across price points, the Lypertek Tevi stood out for its audio quality despite its affordable price tag. The Tevi had a stylish design with fabric finish, touch panels on the earpods and a very natural sounding audio profile.

Best television

Sony Bravia 55X9000H

There were some very good televisions through the year, from experts like Samsung and even upstarts like OnePlus, but the best one in my books was the Sony Bravia 55X9000H. This premium model from Bravia offers a stunning screen that can go up to 120Hz making it a great option for those planning to buy the PS5, and the software that offers a superb experience that puts it a notch above the rest.

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