2020 Indulge Tech Picks: Computing, Wearables and Hearables
The global pandemic has its way of injecting new life into product segments, and nowhere was it more apparent than in the laptop category, thanks to the huge shift to working and schooling from home. Beyond laptops, all those Zoom/Meets/Teams calls and the increased focus on keeping one’s sanity through exercise and fitness led to more folks looking at the hearables and wearables categories seriously, and companies responded with a strong showing in both segments this year. As we wrap up 2020, which products made a real impact in these segments? Here are our picks, in the Indulge Tech Picks for Computing, Wearables and Hearables.
Best Budget Laptop: Mi Notebook 14 e-Learning Edition
While I’ve tried out the Dell Inspiron and the Lenovo Ideapad S series over the course of the year (and they’re both great options in the Rs. 40,000 bracket, few have cut through the clutter and got most of the basics right as much as the Mi Notebook 14 series, particularly the entry-level Mi Notebook 14 (pictured here) and the geared-for-learning e-Learning Edition. It’s not as if Xiaomi’s the first to bring laptops at these price points, but true to their reputation on TVs and phones, offer quality and high-performance components for the money.
Best Premium Laptop: Apple MacBook Air (M1)
If money was no object, the Dell XPS 13 nailed the brief for what one should expect from 2020-laptop-sans-compromises, and there’s a newer variant launched recently with the latest 11th generation Intel Tiger Lake chips with Iris Xe graphics and of course, that class-leading Infinity Edge display. But it’s the MacBook Air M1, the Mac for everyone, that’s my pick for how it redefines laptop performance. The M1 chip that powers the Air and the pricier MacBook Pros isn’t just a great first effort at breaking Apple’s reliance on Intel, it set the scene for a more profound shift for the entire Mac product lineup and, in a broader sense, what one should expect from high performance computing across the board. Another trend I’m more than happy to spot is the rise of AMD Ryzen 4000-series-powered laptops, which are now regularly delivering performance figures that take on Intel’s top-end.
Best Smartwatch: Apple Watch Series 6 / Samsung Galaxy Watch 3
Apple’s flagship wearable is still at the top of its game, delivering a blood oxygen sensor, an always-on altimeter and sleep-tracking (watchOS7) to this generation on top of its already great fitness tracking and broad app support. The Series 6 handily outperforms Google’s WearOS-based watches, of which the Oppo Watch is a fine example, and is by far the most fully realized and well considered smartwatch experience around, hands down. Oh, and this year, you have the option of picking up a slightly more budget variant (Apple Watch SE) if you’re not keen on spending the extra cash on the Series 6’s always-on display and the ECG/SpO2 sensor. Both the Watch Series 6 and the Watch SE are still tied to an iPhone, which means there’s a large section of Android consumers who might want to pick up Apple’s popular wearable but simply can’t – for them, I’d recommend the Samsung Galaxy Watch3 which combines an attractive and far more normalized watch design with that unique rotating bezel, a slick software experience and all the consumer fitness features you’ll need. Heck, you may even want to consider picking this up for your iPhone if you prefer Samsung’s aesthetic over Apple’s squircle design!
Best Fitness Band: Mi Smart Band 5
It builds on the success of the already wildly popular Mi Band 4, and the Mi Smart Band 5 lands with a bigger, brighter display and a bunch of standout fitness and software features for its price point. Water-resistant? Check. Android and iPhone compatibility? Check. Solid multi-day battery life? Check. If you’re looking to get started with tracking your activity levels in 2021, just pick this one up.
Best Premium True Wireless Earphones: Sony WF-1000XM3
It’s a three-way battle for true wireless supremacy, with the Sony WF-1000XM3 going up against the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 and the Apple AirPods Pro (which, if you’re keeping track, hasn’t seen a 2020 update). As I noted in my review, which one you’ll pick will come down to the finer details – Sennheiser’s buds support the aptX codec and come with IPX4 water resistance rating, while the Sonys sound livelier in comparison. If you’re on an iPhone, you may want to opt for the sheer convenience that the AirPods Pros offer, but for everyone else, Sony edges ahead with a warmer sound and better noise cancellation than the rest. Sony has truly pulled something special out of the bag with this pair!
Best Mid-range Truly Wireless Earbuds: Galaxy Buds+ (for some)
In this category, it comes down to what you prioritize – if it’s battery life and extensive codec support you’re looking for (particularly if you have a Samsung phone), the Galaxy Buds+ is the one to pick. Based purely on a mass-pleasing sonic signature, I’d prefer the Jabra Elite 75t which has recently received a software update to enable active noise cancellation…talk about upping the game! And while I haven’t reviewed the pair yet, the Lypertek Tevi comes highly recommended by just about any music lover I can personally trust.
Best Entry Level Truly Wireless Earbuds: Oppo Enco W51/Redmi Earbuds S
Back when I reviewed the Redmi Earbuds S, I was impressed by the clean design and surprisingly good sound, and that shockingly low price was the clincher. Great for anyone looking to dip their feet without spending a lot of cash. Folks looking to spend a little bit more might want to look at the Oppo Enco W51, a model which surprises with the inclusion of active noise cancellation at a sub-5000 price point.
Tushar Kanwar is a tech columnist and commentator, and tweets @2shar