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Tom’s Guide CES 2021 Awards: The best new products of the year

CES 2021 went all-digital for the first time ever, and it’s clear that the tech industry is rethinking innovation for an age that has us working and playing at home more than ever. We’re watching more TV, doing a lot more video calls and we’re more concerned about our health. So we’re glad that companies are reading the (virtual) room and responding with products that solve problems and make our lives easier and more fun.

We’re now seeing a lot more laptops with better webcams and audio for video calls, smarter fitness products that can help us stay in shape at home and soundbars that deliver movie theater quality audio right in our living room. Alas, we were not able to go hands-on with the hottest gadgets at this year’s show. But after evaluating dozens of products based on their features, design and sheer boldness, these are the ones that make our CES 2021 awards list.

Best of Show: Asus ROG Flow X13

(Image credit: Asus)

A 2-in-1 laptop like no other, the Asus ROG Flow X13 is designed to be the ultimate machine for work and play. On its own, this sleek 2.9-pound convertible is pretty stacked, with a 13.4-inch 120Hz display, an AMD Ryzen 9 CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 graphics card. But things get really interesting when you attach the included 2.2-pound ROG XG Mobile, a compact eGPU that supports GeForce RTX 3080 graphics might. The PCIe connector delivers 63 Gbps of graphics bandwidth, which is even higher than Thunderbolt 4 (40 Gbps). Now, the $2,999 price is pretty steep, but if you want an ultraportable that can transform into a gaming rig, it doesn’t get more versatile than the ROG Flow X13. — Mark Spoonauer

Best Phone: LG Rollable

Tom’s Guide CES 2021 Awards

(Image credit: LG)

You know you’re doing something right when you can produce the most buzzed-about product at CES 2021, and all you have to do is show off the device for a few seconds. But that’s the success the LG Rollable enjoyed this week, thanks to a brief cameo during the electronics giant’s keynote presentation. We don’t know much about the features, price or even release date of this rollable phone, other than LG plans to introduce it at some point this year. But we did see a screen that could expand from a smartphone-sized display into a tablet-sized one, all without the creases and hinges we’ve come to expect from foldable devices. Should LG pull that off at a price that’s not nearly as astronomical as what some foldable phones cost, the hype generated at CES will be well worth it. — Philip Michaels

Best TV: Samsung MicroLED TV

Tom’s Guide CES 2021 Awards: Samsung MicroLED TV

(Image credit: Samsung)

After years of teasing us with The Wall, Samsung has finally made a micro-LED TV that you can actually buy and even fit into a regular home. (The Wall always looked like something better suited to a super-villain’s lair.) The new Samsung MicroLED TVs may not stretch from floor to ceiling, but they’re still huge, with the smallest coming in at 88 inches and the largest measuring a whopping 110 inches diagonally, and they’ll be on sale this spring. Micro-LED is the first real competitor to OLED – offering the same pixel-perfect black levels without the worry of burn-in that comes with OLED – and a major leap forward for TV and display technology in general, and the fact that Samsung has seen this through will mean big changes for TVs. — Brian Westover

Best Health Tech: AirPop Active+

Tom’s Guide CES 2021 Awards

(Image credit: AirPop)

AirPop’s new mask is billed as the world’s first smart air wearable. Like a smart watch can track your pulse and sleep patterns, the AirPop Active+ monitors your breathing through its Halo sensor attached to the mask. Sync the sensor to the app and it’ll capture your breathing rate and volume, plus pull in local air quality data to track the pollutants you’re inhaling. And the app will notify you when it’s time to change out the mask’s filter. The aerodrome shape was designed for maximum comfort and breathability. The mask is rated for  blocking over 99.3 percent of particles — and in these pandemic times, a protective mask is an essential accessory. — Kelly Woo

Best Robot: Samsung Bot Handy

Samsung Bot Handy

(Image credit: Samsung)

Honestly, Samsung had us when we saw this thing pouring wine. The Bot Handy is a concept robot that can pick up various objects, and it knows how to use just the right amount of force to move objects around without breaking them. Samsung showed the Bot Handy loading the dishwasher, setting the table and, yes, pouring a glass of wine without a single drop spilled. This is a robot that’s still very much in development, but it’s very exciting to see how AI can be leveraged to help create a partner for household chores. Just so long as it doesn’t rise up against us. — Mark Spoonauer

Best Concept: Razer Project Brooklyn

Tom’s Guide CES 2021 Awards

(Image credit: Razer)

The Razer Project Brooklyn imagines what a full gaming PC setup might look like without a heavy, bulky desk. This hybrid gaming chair screen creates an immersive, high-res environment to play PC games, thanks to a panoramic rollable screen, a sturdy platform for a mouse and keyboard and haptic feedback built right into the seat. Not only could Project Brooklyn save a lot of space; it could also make PC gaming more absorbing than ever before. Granted, Project Brooklyn relies on tech that’s years away from being available to consumers, and even then, it’d probably be prohibitively expensive. But what’s the point of CES if we can’t dream a bit? – Marshall Honorof

Best Laptop: HP Elite Dragonfly Max 

HP Elite Dragonfly Max

(Image credit: HP)

The HP Elite Dragonfly Max is the right laptop for right now. As we continue to live life one video call at a time, this laptop has the upgrades we need, taking the excellent HP Elite Dragonfly and adding a sharp 5MP webcam and a fourth wide-range microphone. That means you’ll be seen and heard clearly and correctly, as HP Dynamic Audio works to mute and silence background noises so your family’s noise and other ambient chaos doesn’t land in your call. Plus, HP Eye Ease’s low-blue-light filter eases the burden on your eyes, to reduce strain. — Henry T. Casey

Best Startup: Noopl

Noopl

(Image credit: Noopl)

The Noopl will be music to the ears of anyone who’s ever struggled to have a conversation in a restaurant, coffee shop or other public space, and all it takes is an add-on for the phone you already have. Plug the $199 Noopl accessory into the Lightning port of your iOS 14-powered iPhone and you can boost the audio of the person speaking to you while suppressing the surrounding din. Even better, if you’re wearing a pair of AirPods Pro earbuds, Noopl can use the spatial audio feature to focus on the audio of whatever direction you’re facing. While the product launches initially for iOS users next month, a version that works with Android should be arriving later this year. — Philip Michaels 

Best Design: Ampere Shower Power

Ampere Shower Power

(Image credit: Ampere)

Do you practice your American Idol audition while washing up? While the Ampere Shower Power isn’t the first Bluetooth shower speaker we’ve seen, it does have a very clever feature: Like a mini hydroelectric dam, it has a built-in impeller that charges its battery when the water is running. There’s a set of controls on the speaker as well as a remote if your showerhead is a bit out of reach. It’s simple enough to install yourself, and you’ll never have to worry about it running out of power — unless you only take baths. — Mike Prospero

Best Tablet: TCL Nxtpaper

TCL Nxtpaper

(Image credit: TCL)

The e-ink tablet is continuing to mature as a category, growing beyond the Kindle to last year’s excellent reMarkable 2. This is why we’re so excited to see the full-color TCL Nxtpaper, an 8.9-inch Android tablet that should last a whole lot longer than your average iPad, as its display is 65% more power efficient than LCD screens. TCL touts a wide range of potential users, from students (whose parents will likely be happy to put them in front of a screen with less glare) to mobile professionals. Our only issue? TCL hasn’t announced US availability yet, and we’re hoping that changes in the coming months. — Henry T. Casey

Best Mini PC: Zotac Magnus One

Zotac Magnus One

(Image credit: Zotac)

Zotac has been making tiny PCs longer than most people knew that mini PCs were a thing, but its big announcement from CES 2021 packs a huge amount into an extremely tiny space. The Zotac Magnus One (ECM73070C) boasts an Intel Core i7-10700 Comet Lake processor, a compact Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 graphics card, a 500-watt 80 Plus Platinum power supply, up to 64 GB of RAM and room for multiple storage drives. The list of features is huge, but the Magnus One measures only  10.45 x 9.8 x 4.96 inches. It’s more power than we’ve ever seen in such a small case, and it’s available for pre-order now for under $2,000. — Brian Westover

Best Gaming Peripheral: Asus ROG XG Mobile

Tom’s Guide CES 2021 Awards

(Image credit: Asus)

Asus produced one of the very first external GPUs back in 2007, so it’s only fitting that the company has made another bold leap in eGPU technology. The Asus ROG XG Mobile can support brand-new, powerful graphics cards, up to and including the impressive Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080. But unlike competing eGPUs, the ROG XG Mobile is tiny at 8.2 x 6.1 x 1.2 inches. That’s about half the size of most competing models available today. In theory, now even cramped desk spaces could support powerful gaming rigs — especially since the ROG XG Mobile is optimized for the tiny Asus ROG Flow X13 2-in-1 laptop. It’s an expensive setup (at least $3,000), but one that could revolutionize a lot of home workspaces. — Marshall Honorof

Best Gaming Laptop: MSI Stealth 15M

Tom’s Guide CES 2021 Awards

(Image credit: MSI)

As employees of every stripe continue to work from home, products that support both work and play in equal measure are more important than ever before. The MSI Stealth 15M is an absolutely gorgeous device that crams the most powerful gaming hardware available — an Intel 11th-gen CPU and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 30-series GPU — into an elegant, lightweight chassis. In fact, MSI claims that the Stealth 15M is the world’s thinnest 15-inch gaming laptop at a mere 0.6 inches. Whether you take the Stealth 15M with you, or hook it up to a gaming monitor at home, you should expect speedy performance in a refined chassis. — Marshall Honorof

Best Appliance : LG Instaview refrigerator

Tom’s Guide CES 2021 Awards: LG Instaview

(Image credit: LG)

The defining feature of LG’s Instaview refrigerator is a large panel in one of its doors that goes from opaque to transparent with a simple rap of your knuckles. That way, you can peer into the fridge without having to open the door and waste energy. Apart from a larger window, this year’s model boasts two new health-focused features. The first is that this high-tech fridge can now be opened by voice, which not only helps keep grubby hands off the handle, but makes it a lot easier to load if you have an armload of groceries, or are in the middle of cooking. Also new is a UV light inside the water and ice dispenser, which LG says will kill nearly all bacteria after 24 hours. And, there’s an option for making spherical balls of ice. We’ll drink to that. — Mike Prospero

Best Smart Home Device: Schneider Electric Square D Energy Center

Tom’s Guide CES 2021 Awards

(Image credit: Schneider Electric)

While smart lights and smart switches are good piecemeal approaches to saving energy, Schneider Electric’s Square D Energy Center is the first real product that monitors and proactively controls your entire home’s energy consumption. The Square D Energy Center can analyze which of your appliances and outlets are using the most electricity, warn you if something’s about to go bad, and tell you how to save money on utility bills — such as waiting until night to charge up your electric car. And, if you connect the Square D to solar panels, it can automatically switch your power source if there’s a blackout, and route power to only the most essential devices in your home. — Mike Prospero

Best VR/AR: Vuzix microLED AR smart glasses 

Tom’s Guide CES 2021 Awards: Vuzix smart glasses

(Image credit: Vuzix)

Vuzix took the covers off a new pair of AR smart glasses at CES 2021 that make use of a microLED projector to create smart spectacles we’d actually wear. Combining a design that wouldn’t look out of place at a hipster opticians, the glasses — simply called Vuzix Next Gen Smart Glasses — can display color or monochrome content to both lenses. And features like integrated touch controls and noise-cancelling microphones mean the glasses don’t just look neat but promise to be practical. These particular Vuzix specs might not become a final product, but they look more like a real device than some crazy concept, and hint at how AR smart glasses could finally become mainstream. — Roland Moore-Colyer

Best Fitness Tech: Wondercise Live Multi-Point Motion Match Fitness Training System

Tom’s Guide CES 2021 Awards

(Image credit: Wondercise)

The Wondercise Live Multi-Point Motion Match Fitness Training System is like the big-kid’s version of Nintendo Ring Fit Adventure, but with a large collection of classes and a low price point that undercuts Peloton and Apple Fitness Plus. The existing program offers a strong sense of gamification, while the new hardware uses a three-point wearable system that straps to your body to track your movements. We see the appeal of this system for users who either need help with their form as we all try to get in better shape this year. — Kate Kozuch

Best Audio: Sony RA500

Tom’s Guide CES 2021 Awards: Sony RA5000

(Image credit: Sony)

You have to admire the innovation: Sony’s 360 Reality Feature started on headphones, and now it’s been reimagined as a room-scale, Dolby Atmos-style 3D feature for Sony’s first 360-degree wireless speakers. The most ambitious of these is the Sony RA500, an expensive but tricked-out speaker with three up-firing drivers to give music height as well as width. Its room calibration sounds refreshingly simply too: you’ll just need to push a button instead of waving a smartphone around. — James Archer

Best Headphones: Earin A-3

Earin A-3

(Image credit: Earin)

Swedish company Earin is the not the biggest name in headphones, even if it does claim to have launched the first ever true wireless earbuds. Even so, its new 3rd-gen buds, the Earin A-3, are seriously impressive. They’re incredibly compact, allegedly being the smallest and lightest consumer earbuds ever, and they’re smarter than most, too. The A-3’s tricks include accelerometers that can improve call quality by detection the vibrations of your head, and an ambi-aural design that lets you put either bud in either ear and have the left and right channels assigned automatically. — James Archer

Best Monitor: Dell Ultrasharp 40

Dell UltraSharp 40 Curved Monitor (U4021QW)

(Image credit: Dell)

The Dell Ultrasharp 40 Curved Monitor (U4021QW) isn’t the biggest monitor Dell has ever come out with, nor is it the highest resolution monitor we’ve seen, but the combination of ultra-wide display and 4K levels of pixel density across its giant screen might be the best thing to ever happen to your home office. With an extra wide aspect ratio that adds 33% more space than a regular 32-inch 4K monitor, it’s like getting a two- or three-monitor setup in one. Pair this with huge connectivity thanks to Thunderbolt 3 and built-in speakers, and it’s a makeover for your entire office in one simple device. — Brian Westover

TP-Link Deco X20 Voice

(Image credit: TP-Link)

The TP-Link Deco Voice X20 is not the first smart speaker add-on we’ve seen for a mesh Wi-Fi system, and it’s not the first we’ve seen that works with Wi-Fi 6. But the TP-Link Deco X20 Voice is the most stylish product we’ve seen that ticks those boxes, putting Amazon Alexa into a speedy mesh Wi-Fi unit that will work with other TP-Link Deco products. By putting a smart speaker into a mesh networking node, you’ll get the convenience of a new Echo device without having to find room for a new gadget, and TP-Link puts it all in a fun design that looks better than most of the smart speakers we’ve looked at. It’s an easy way to smarten up your whole home network and every device on it, and one of the coolest things at CES 2021. — Brian Westover

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