2020 challenged us all and 2021 just kept on giving us things we didn’t want…

Instead of looking at what could be a depressing recap for many of us, today I’m taking a look at some of the tech highlights from my perspective. In some areas, technology has become stagnant, but there are still some stunning devices to look at.

Best Phone – Pixel 6 Pro

Yeah, the Pixel 6 Pro has a fairly mediocre fingerprint scanner but that’s about the only real issue I had with it. The battery life is good, the screen excellent and the Android 12 experience really is a delight.

There are a couple of other excellent phones that weren’t far behind including the OnePlus 9 Pro, Samsung Galaxy Fold 3 and OPPO Find X3 Pro. All very good in their own right, worthy of your dollars but for me the edge came in the excellent user experience coupled with a very affordable price on the Pixel 6 Pro.

Best mid and low range phones

You may well detect a bit of a theme here in the devices that I struggled to separate for the best mid-range device. The finalists for me this year were the TCL 20 SE and TCL 20 5G which are all surprisingly good devices particularly for the dollars which range from $299.00 to $499.00 but…

To be fair to TCL I’d also like to throw the TCL 20 Pro 5G into the mix here because it’s about half the cost of many flagship devices at $799. While the 20 Pro 5G probably belongs in the upper tiers — just — in terms of price, it’s not the $1,299 for a Pixel 6 Pro or $1,400 or so you’ll spend on an S21 Ultra.

So I’m going to label the 20 Pro 5G as the best mid-range device of the year. It ticked all the boxes and genuinely impressed me, to a point where I’d seriously consider it as a daily use device.

Some may say that it’s not fair to the other (sub $700 device) to put an $800 device in the mix, but given the others are all TCL, I don’t think they’ll mind. So I’m going to go with the TCL 20 SE as the best low end device for the $299 price tag and the fact that, at that price, everything just works. It’s a decent second device for users or a great gift for family and friends who are still reluctant to move on to bigger and better phones. It could be better in a lot of respects, but it’s also one of the cheapest actually functional phones I’ve seen.

There’s a couple of honourable mentions I’d like to chuck in because they’re very good devices:

Best Headphones

In years gone by, we’ve seen a shootout between Sony and Bose for the best noise-cancelling headphones. This year, there’s not a lot of difference in that Bose released their QC45 headphones and Sony released several pairs including the WH-100XM4 but there’s a couple of dark horses in this race: The Sony WH-XB910N and the Huawei Freebuds Studio.

For me though, while Sony had a very slight edge in sound quality, the noise-cancelling and long wear of the Bose QC45 put them in the front spot with Sony close behind and Huawei rating an honourable mention.

Best Smart Devices

Earlier this year I spent a month comparing Alexa and Assistant with — probably not surprisingly — both having their strengths and weaknesses. What did become very clear though, is the fact that the Echo Show devices are very good. So with the Nest Hub 2 rating an honourable mention, the Echo Show 10 has my pick for the best smart device of the year.

It’s designed to be used in a high traffic area, has a swivel base, a great screen and instant touch access to just about everything you need to control your smart home and entertainment. Perhaps the only real exception to this is certain apps like YouTube and Kayo Sports being absent.

Laptops and other geeky gadgets

This year with working from home now “normal” for many of us, it was a good opportunity to check out some laptops. While the Razer Blade 14 is my dream laptop, the price sadly is something of a nightmare. The Surface Laptop is a bit more my budget and very much looks the goods, with the ​​Lenovo Slim 7i Cabon also rating a strong mention. Based on specs and experience, I’d love to say the Razer is the go – but the price is just too restrictive – so this one goes to the Surface Laptop.

We get to spend time with some really cool stuff through our work at Ausdroid and this year is no exception. By far the most fun I had with any review was when I completed a review of the Segway Ninebot F40A scooter. The timing coincided with the release of the GoPro Hero 10 Black which was used for filming during the review. The Scooter is something that has become a regular use item for me with the convenience, quiet getaway and essentially zero running cost making it ideal for little runaround chores.

Honorable Mentions

Amongst the goodies this year, there are a couple of strong contenders that don’t quite belong elsewhere. One of these stems from Google’s decision to stop the free storage on Google Drive. The Synology DS720+ is an excellent NAS that not just meets the needs of most homes, but also offers a migration pathway to getting your photos out of the cloud.

The other was a toy that has been a lot of fun and changed the way I use computers and view streaming media. The XDO Pico Projector isn’t ruinous in terms of cost, but it does have some very cool capabilities for installing apps (it’s Android based) and using the Google Platform. At around AU$250.00, it’s pretty reasonable for what it offers and, while it is relatively low resolution, to get higher you’ll need to pay a lot more.

The failures of 2021

What would be a year in review without taking a quick look at a couple of amusing moments of failure or lack of progress? Let’s start with 5G since it’s the forefront of many manufacturers marketing, but still doesn’t really offer any functionality benefits to most users: ie. You can quite successfully stream 4K from a 4G connection. The telcos are delivering blistering speeds into your hands, but it’s still unclear in many respects what this can do for individuals.

Social Media why moments

Unless I’ve misread this, or there are a lot of people who use Twitter heavily enough to need the lesser-known features, Twitter Blue is $4.49 a month to “undo” tweets. When you can easily delete, edit and re-tweet anyway. Swing and a miss on this one Twitter, I know a few people who tried it but no one who renewed after the first month.

Facebook became Meta signalling a wider branching into other products and services. The impact to users — at the time of writing this article — is effectively zero. Facebook still has the same reputation for enjoying everyone’s data and being a great source for identity theft and answers to secret questions under the thin guise of a quiz.

Bye Bye 2021

For many around Australia, 2021 has been a rinse and repeat of 2020. Sadly, this included lengthy lockdowns restricted movement and some poor decisions by political leaders. But there are always highlights, so lets keep a focus on them and our eyes forward.

I’d like to echo Alex’s closing remarks and wish everyone in the Ausdroid community a safe and prosperous new year. I hope you enjoy some down time and are ready for the challenges that lay ahead in 2022.

As always, we welcome feedback at Ausdroid on what we could do differently or better so feel free to hit us up on social media or by email.

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    Phones, mid tier: I find myself repeating the same question I asked of Alex, why are you rewarding corporations of the military dictatorship of China?

    Headphones: What about headphones without ANC? Not everyone can tolerate ANC in headphones and earphones. So what’s the best of this year’s releases without ANC?