The best tech gadgets we tested in 2021

Tech is an essential part of our everyday lives, but finding the right gadgets for your needs — whether it’s for working, staying fit or having fun — can be overwhelming. That’s why we spend countless hours rigorously testing the latest technology, from measuring how fast the top smartphones and laptops actually are to living with headphones and earbuds for weeks on end. We’ve tried out lots of great gadgets this year, but here are the ones that truly stood out in every category.

Best smartphone overall: iPhone 13 (starting at $699;

Apple’s iPhone has long been at the top of our list of smartphones, and this year the iPhone 13 replaced the iPhone 12. It has a modern build with an immersive display, along with the best performance and one of the best cameras of all the phones we’ve ever tested.

Runner-up: Samsung Galaxy S21 (starting at $799.99;

Jacob Krol/CNN

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Samsung’s Galaxy S21 is an excellent Android with a smooth and vibrant display, a triple camera system and performance that comes close to our top pick.

Best budget phone: Google Pixel 5a with 5G (starting at $399, originally starting at $449;

Jacob Krol/CNN

Google Pixel 5a with 5G

Google’s Pixel 5a with 5G is a budget phone that feels like a high-end model, with performance that beats out everything else in its price range. A capable camera system and sharp display let you capture and view detailed images, plus a clean Android installation, long battery life and guaranteed updates for three years make it an even more solid buy.

• Read more from our testing of phones here.

Best tablet overall: 9th Gen iPad ($329.99;

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Apple iPad 9th Gen

The 9th Gen iPad stood out as the best overall option in our testing thanks to a faster processor that crushes everyday tasks with ease. It mixes performance and value in a way that no other tablet can, and tosses in support for core iPad accessories like the Apple Pencil.

Best Performance: iPad Pro (starting at $799.99; or

The 2021 iPad Pro is the fastest tablet we’ve ever tested and it runs effortlessly through all sorts of tasks — Photoshop exports, video renders, gaming, productivity tasks and streaming all happen without a hitch.

Best Android tablet: Galaxy Tab S7 ($499, originally $649.99;

Jason Cipriani/CNN

Galaxy Tab S7

The Galaxy Tab S7 provides enough power to keep up with whatever you can throw at it and plenty of battery life to get through more than a day. While Android isn’t quite on par with iPad OS, Samsung DeX mode brings Windows-like multitasking to the Tab.

Best budget tablet under $200: Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus ($64.99, originally $109.99;

The Fire HD 8 Plus can handle a host of everyday tasks and access Amazon’s library of content, including streaming movies and TV shows, e-reading and even some light gaming. For its low price tag, it can do a lot, but know that the Amazon App Store is limited.

• Read more from our testing of tablets here.

Best Apple laptop: MacBook Air ($899.99, originally $999;

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Apple MacBook Air

Even with Apple’s newer, more powerful 2021 MacBooks on shelves, the M1 MacBook Air is still the best Apple laptop for most people. It’s absurdly fast for the money, has a gorgeous and travel-friendly design and will get you enough battery life for a full workday and then some.

Best Windows laptop: Dell XPS 13 ($899;

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Dell XPS 13

The Dell XPS 13 stands above all other Windows laptops thanks to its stunning and nearly borderless display, excellent keyboard and very strong performance for the price. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s one of the most attractive and lightweight laptops you can buy.

The upgrade pick: Apple MacBook Pro 14-Inch ($1,999;

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Apple MacBook Pro 14-Inch

If you need more power, the latest MacBook Pro is Apple’s best yet. The new 14-inch model is both an evolution and a throwback for the MacBook line, with a healthy selection of useful ports, the return of physical function keys and the most bonkers MacBook performance we’ve ever seen courtesy of the new M1 Pro and M1 Max processors.

Best 2-in-1 laptop: Microsoft Surface Pro 8 (starting at $879.99;

Michael Andronico

Microsoft Surface Pro 8

Microsoft’s Surface Pro 8 is a versatile powerhouse. With a Type Cover keyboard attached, it’s a comfortable, speedy and highly portable laptop with enough power to handle everyday multitasking and a good amount of demanding visual work. And when you’re done with email for the day, its beautiful and smooth 2880 x 1920 display and booming speakers make it an excellent tablet for kicking back with movies and shows.

• Read more from our testing of laptops here.

Best overall microphone: Blue Yeti (starting at $89.99;

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Blue Yeti

Even with lots of strong competition from newer models, the Blue Yeti is still the gold standard when it comes to USB microphones. This microphone delivers superb audio quality that made us sound clear and true-to-life, and has four useful recording modes that makes it versatile enough for home offices, streaming setups, podcast booths and conference rooms alike.

Best budget microphone: Fifine K669B (starting at $29.99;

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Fifine K669B

This relative no-name microphone took us by surprise in a big way, offering sound quality that’s better than some options that are nearly double the price. It’s a great starter option for your home office, or even for folks looking to jumpstart their YouTube or Twitch channel.

Best microphone for streaming: Elgato Wave:3 ($119.99, originally $149.99;

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Elgato Wave:3

If you’re serious about Twitch streaming, the Elgato Wave:3 is the microphone for you. This premium microphone sounds great, but it really stands out with excellent software that makes it incredibly easy to manage multiple audio sources at once and make sure you always sound your best for your audience.

• Read more from our testing of microphones here.

Best overall webcam: Logitech C920S ($59.99;

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Logitech C920S

We’ve tested just about every mainstream webcam out there, and the Logitech C920S continues to sit at the top of our monitor as our daily work camera. This beloved webcam still offers the best picture quality you can get for the money, with solid low light performance and some useful software customization features.

Best budget webcam: Microsoft Lifecam HD-3000 ($26.80, originally $39.95;

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Microsoft Lifecam HD-3000

If you’re on an extra-tight budget, the Microsoft Lifecam HD-3000 offers dependable picture quality for next to nothing. This 720p camera has a lightweight, travel-friendly design that’s especially useful for those commuting again, and offers a generous 68.5-degree viewing angle that can capture lots of your conference room (or home office) at once.

Mike Andronico/CNN

Logitech StreamCam

The C920 may be our daily work webcam, but when we’re streaming, we’re using the Logitech StreamCam. That’s because this high-end camera delivers beautiful 60 frames-per-second video that goes a long way towards making us look more professional and true-to-life during broadcasts. It’s also the nicest-looking webcam, and the only mainstream option that can shoot vertically for TikTok and Instagram creators.

Best high-end webcam: Razer Kiyo Pro ($99.99, originally $199.99;

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Razer Kiyo Pro

• Read more from our testing of webcams here.

Best gaming laptop overall: Asus ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition ($1,649.99;

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Asus ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition

In terms of performance and features for the money, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better gaming laptop than the Asus ROG Strix G15 Advantage Edition. This laptop can handle the latest PC blockbusters with the graphics cranked up, lasts impressively long on a charge and has a distinct and customizable design — all for a very reasonable $1,649.

Best big-screen gaming laptop: MSI GS76 Stealth ($2,199.99;

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MSI GS76 Stealth

If you want a big screen for getting as immersed as possible in your favorite games, the MSI GS76 Stealth is the way to go. This laptop has a gorgeous 17.3-inch, 2560 x 1440 screen that made our go-to titles look great, all backed up by an extremely powerful Nvidia RTX 3070 graphics card packed into an elegant and slim design.

Best splurge gaming laptop: Razer Blade 15 Advanced Model ($2,699.99;

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Razer Blade 15 Advanced Model

Of the many gaming laptops we’ve tested, the Razer Blade 15 Advanced Model is the one we’d actually take out to a coffee shop. It’s just about the slickest-looking gaming notebook out there, which makes it all the more impressive that its slim frame houses beastly Nvidia RTX 3080 graphics and an Intel Core i7 processor that blew through every demanding game we threw at it.

• Read more from our testing of gaming laptops here.

Best budget gaming headset: Razer Kraken X ($29.99, originally $49.99;

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Razer Kraken X

The Razer Kraken X works well with every gaming platform and pumps out very good sound for just $50 — and it’s often on sale for even less.

Best wired gaming headset: HyperX Cloud Alpha S ($129.99;

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HyperX Cloud Alpha S

The HyperX Cloud Alpha S is the best wired gaming headset we’ve tested, with a supremely comfortable design, excellent sound quality (complete with virtual surround sound) and very useful inline controls for adjusting game and chat volume on the fly.

Best wireless gaming headset: Turtle Beach Stealth 700 ($149.95;

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Turtle Beach Stealth 700

The Turtle Beach Stealth 700 is our pick for the best wireless gaming headset, with tons of useful features, great audio quality and plush earcups that kept us cozy for hours on end. But it really stands out with its Bluetooth capabilities, which allows it to pair to your console and phone at the same time so you can easily chat with Discord friends or play your favorite tunes while you game.

• Read more from our testing of gaming headsets here.

Best wireless earbuds for Apple users: Beats Fit Pro ($199.99;

The Beats Fit Pro are essentially the AirPods Pro, but better and cheaper. These buds pack all of the Pro’s key features — including active noise cancellation and transparency mode — into a design that’s more secure, has better controls and comes in more color options. It’s the new go-to if you’re an Apple user.

Best wireless earbuds for Android users (and best wireless earbuds for calls): Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro ($144.99, originally $199.99;

Michael Andronico/CNN

Galaxy Buds Pro

The Galaxy Buds Pro have a ton to offer for Android fans, including great audio quality, dependable active noise cancellation and a litany of useful features for customizing how your tunes sound and switching noise modes on the fly.


EarFun Air True Wireless Earbuds

You won’t find a better pair of earbuds on a budget than the EarFun Air, which have excellent audio quality that can rival the AirPods Pro in the right environment.

Best noise-canceling earbuds: Sony WF-1000XM4 ($248, originally $279.99;

Jacob Krol/CNN

Sony WF-1000XM4

If blocking out the world while you listen to music is your priority, the Sony WF-1000XM4 earbuds do it better than any model we’ve tested. These earbuds drowned out even the noisiest environments, and did so while sounding great and offering truly epic battery life.

• Read more from our testing of true wireless earbuds here.

Best smart TV overall: TCL 6-Series (starting at $699.50;

Jacob Krol/CNN

TCL 6-Series

For just shy of $1,000, the TCL 6-Series gives you great picture quality and an immersive viewing experience with QLED and Mini LED backlighting. The built-in Roku interface is easy to use and provides instant access to thousands of streaming services.

The luxury pick: Sony A90J (starting at $2,498, originally starting at $2,799.99;

The Sony A90J has the best picture quality we’ve ever tested, with superb detail and hyper-accurate colors. It’s one of the brightest OLED TVs we’ve seen, supports all the standards videophiles demand and lets you access everything easily.

• Read more from our testing of TVs here.

Best smart speaker overall: Amazon Echo 4th Gen ($59.99, originally $99.99;

Jacob Krol/CNN

Amazon Echo 4th Gen

Not only does the 4th Gen Echo have a unique cylindrical design, it also houses terrific sound and a myriad of Alexa smarts — all of which make it our top pick for a smart speaker. The spherical shape allows for stronger sound to be pushed out and its sound quality is unmatched at its price point. Better yet, it has plenty of connectivity to power your smart home and make setting up other devices effortless.

Runner-up: Apple HomePod Mini ($99;

Jacob Krol/CNN

Apple HomePod Mini

As our runner-up pick for a smart speaker, the HomePod Mini gets a lot right — but its Achilles heel is that it only works for those in the Apple ecosystem. You actually can’t set it up without an iPhone. If you have that, though, and live in the Apple ecosystem, it produces excellent sound with surprisingly strong quality as well. Siri is smarter than ever and this tiny smart speaker can power your smart home.

Best sound under $200: Sonos One ($219;

If you want bold, clear audio and an assistant-agnostic smart speaker, the Sonos One is your best bet. You get your pick of Amazon Alexa or the Google Assistant for easy control and answers to queries, but the real star is the audio quality, where the Sonos One beat out every other smart speaker we tested.

Best budget smart speaker: Amazon Echo Dot 4th Gen ($29.99, originally $49.99;

If you’re on a tighter budget, the best value for under $50 is found with the Echo Dot. It features a circular design that really mimics the full-size Echo. It still gives you easy access to Alexa — which lets you get an answer for nearly anything — and offers pretty good sound quality for the size.

• Read more from our testing of smart speakers here.

Best overall smart display: Amazon Echo Show 8 ($94.99, originally $129.99;

Jacob Krol/CNN

Amazon Echo Show 8

If you’re seeking a smart display, your best bet is the Echo Show 8. It’s the best smart display we tested and hits a home run with a versatile, easy-to-read 8-inch screen baked into a design that fits in anywhere. It can do everything you’d expect from a smart display, and Alexa can respond to your queries both vocally and visually.

Best smart display for a nightstand: Google Nest Hub ($59.99, originally $99.99;

Jacob Krol/CNN

Google Nest Hub

If you want a smart display for your nightstand, we’d recommend one that makes the most of the space and doesn’t feature a camera. That’s the $99 Nest Hub, which can also serve as a full-featured alarm clock with the ability to track your sleep. It also gets plenty loud to wake you up.

• Read more from our testing of smart displays here.

Best overall smart plug: Wyze Plug ($11.98;

The Wyze Plug is a nearly perfect smart plug — it’s small enough so that it doesn’t block multiple outlets when plugged in and is quick to respond to any command. Those can be sent from the Wyze app or with a smart assistant (Amazon Alexa or the Google Assistant). It’s also very affordable.

Best for HomeKit: Wemo Smart Plug ($12.99, originally $17.99;

Jacob Krol/CNN

Wemo Smart Plug

While the Wyze Plug doesn’t support Apple HomeKit, the Wemo Smart Plug does and it’s our pick for working within Apple’s ecosystem. Setup is as easy as scanning a code with your iPhone and it’s still a very compact plug. Better yet, it can work simultaneously with Amazon Alexa and the Google Assistant.

• Read more from our testing of smart plugs here.

Best overall smart thermostat: Google Nest Learning Thermostat ($199, originally $249;

Google Nest Learning Thermostat

While the Nest Learning Thermostat isn’t the most affordable, it’s the best thermostat we’ve tested. It studies your habits and controls the temperature in your home automatically. These smarts are paired with some of the best controls we’ve ever used as well.

Best budget smart thermostat: Google Nest Thermostat ($99.99, originally $129.99;


Google Nest Thermostat

If you’re on a tighter budget, the Google Nest Thermostat offers some great functionality. It has the same simple, straightforward interface as the flagship model, and offers control from afar in the Google Home app.

• Read more from our testing of smart thermostats here.

Best home security system: Ring Alarm Pro (starting at $249.99;

Jacob Krol/CNN Underscored

Ring Alarm Pro

The Ring Alarm Pro wasn’t just the most seamless to set up and customize out of all the security systems we’ve tested; it also offers features that no other system can match. Yes, the Alarm Pro — through sensors — will monitor your home and offer you an easy way to expand the system as needed, but it also can keep your internet running when the electricity goes off.

• Read more from our testing of home security systems here.

Best smart bulb: Wyze Bulb Color ($13.86, originally $15.98;

Jake Krol/CNN

Wyze Bulb Color

The Wyze Bulb Color marries affordability and functionality like no other bulb we tested, boasting instantaneous and straightforward controls. Better yet, those can be sent through the Wyze app or smart assistants. You can set the bulb to thousands of color options and different light temperatures when casting white light.

• Read more from our testing of smart bulbs here.

Best smart garage door controller overall: Chamberlain myQ ($19.98, originally $29.98;

Eric Chiu/CNN

Chamberlain myQ

The Chamberlain myQ makes controlling your garage door — from nearly anywhere — an effortless experience that’s done in a snap. It gives you the main benefit of opening or closing your garage door from anywhere.

Best for multi-garage-door homes: Genie Aladdin Connect ($59.99;

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Genie Aladdin Connect

Genie’s been a mainstay in the garage door industry, and it shows with the Aladdin Connect. This smart controller includes all the tools you need in the box and a single unit can control up to three garage doors.

Best for advanced smart homes: iSmartGate Pro ($149, originally $179;

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 iSmartGate Pro

The iSmartGate Pro isn’t cheap, but it’s easy to set up and stretches its compatibility list to a broad range of smart home ecosystems.

• Read more from our testing of smart garage door controllers here.

Best overall video doorbell: Ring Video Doorbell 2 Pro ($249.99;

Jason Cipriani/CNN

Ring Video Doorbell 2 Pro

Ring’s Video Doorbell 2 Pro uses radar to give you highly accurate motion alerts; has stellar-looking video with a wide, tall field of view and crisp audio; and can even show you on a map the route someone took as they made their way to your door.

Best Ring alternative: Arlo Wired Video Doorbell ($129, originally $149.99;


Arlo Wired Video Doorbell

The Arlo Wired Video Doorbell has a sleek design and is easy to set up, plus it gives you clear video, a multitude of settings to fine-tune the video quality and an affordable price.

Best wireless doorbell camera: Google Nest Doorbell ($129.99;

Jason Cirpaini/CNN

Google Nest Doorbell

The wireless Google Nest Doorbell can be installed anywhere thanks to an integrated battery, gives you intelligent alerts without making you sign up for a subscription and produces clear, crisp video so you can stay informed about your visitors and deliveries.

• Read more from our testing of video doorbells here.

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