Photo Credit: Dyson, Roydon Cerejo/Gadgets 360, Sennheiser; Collage: Akhil Arora/Gadgets 360
It's an understatement to say that it's been a weird year. With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging through the world, including in India, we've essentially spent three quarters of 2020 indoors. That means we've relied more on gadgets than ever before, to stay connected with friends and family, to stay fit and healthy, to keep our homes clean or make them more productive, and to alleviate our boredom. You can see a lot of that in the picks below, with the Gadgets 360 staff nominating mesh routers, smart watches, camera accessories, robot vacuums, and televisions as their favourite (tech) purchase of the year. We hope you'll find something worth considering to fulfil your needs, and as always, you can reach out to us directly for recommendations too.
2020 was the year I finally bought myself a TV. After years of being satisfied with my (19-inch) desktop, (15-inch) laptop, or (6-inch) mobile as my primary means of video consumption, I gave in to increasingly frequent idle whims of investing in a larger display.
I wanted an Android TV that offered Dolby Vision HDR and a 4K resolution but kept my budget as low as possible, knowing I didn't need a large panel, and with Ali Pardiwala's recommendation I went in for the Hisense 43A71F (2020). It has a 43-inch UHD 60Hz panel, 24W speakers, and Dolby Atmos sound.
So far, I've been happy with the picture quality, the official Android TV 9.0 Pie interface, the voice remote, and the added bonus of surprisingly good audio. Thanks for the recommendation, Ali! I also managed to have my cake and eat it too, when I was gifted a fancy gaming monitor for my laptop — a 24-inch full-HD 240Hz beast, giving me more eye candy at home than I could have hoped for.
Read: Hisense 50A71F review
I was using the Xiaomi Mi Router for the past few years and while I thought of switching to something better on multiple occasions I kept delaying that decision. But with the ongoing pandemic and everyone working from home, the Mi Router soon became the bottleneck in my network. The poor router kept dropping devices and couldn't handle multiple laptops and smartphones on the network. Frustrated with frequently being dropped out of the network, I had to upgrade to a better router.
I bought the Asus RT-AC59U dual-band router and finally got to experience full speed from my ISP. This router cost me about Rs. 5,200 whch is a reasonable price for what it offers. I did think of going for a mesh router, but I'll save that for when I move to a bigger place. The dual-band router has let me put all the laptops on the 5GHz band while the smartphones at home and my review units have populated the 2.4GHz band. I haven't faced any connectivity issues since and no one at home has come back to me complaining about network issues. While I was tempted to chuck the Mi Router out, I choose to keep it anyway. It is currently in charge of keeping my IOT devices online, which its handling quite well.
Buy: Asus RT-AC59U
I spend a lot of time in front of my TV, because 1) I love watching movies and TV shows, and getting lost in all kinds of gaming worlds, and 2) of work, which involves even more watching as a film critic. And when the pandemic struck in March and forced us to spend all our time at home, I knew that I was going to spend even more time in front of the TV. And that's exactly what has happened in the past nine months (and will no doubt continue for a long while).
That's why I decided to upgrade my home theatre system entirely. Owing to my enthusiast tendencies, I needed something that would offer support for 4K, Dolby Vision, and Dolby Atmos. And it had to be 55” minimum, because I was used to that. I picked up the OnePlus TV Q1 because it offered all that I mentioned, and good black levels at a budget thanks to the QLED panel. Ideally, I would've gone for an OLED display, but they cost more than double the OnePlus, which I picked up at less than Rs. 60,000 during Prime Day. I didn't pick the Q1 Pro because I don't care for in-built soundbars.
Instead, I opted for the Sony HT-Z9F which offers a 3.1-channel main unit, and a wireless subwoofer that you'll never get with a TV's sound system. It's got Atmos support too, though admittedly, there are no upward-firing speakers. But that's the compromise you've to live with at this price range — the Sony Z9F comes in less than Rs. 60,000 too. You can add wireless rear speakers for another Rs. 10,000 if you want to have a proper 5.1 experience. If you want a world-class Atmos soundbar, you're again looking at products that cost more than double. It's just something that I couldn't justify.
With the OnePlus TV Q1 and the Sony HT-Z9F, I essentially made my own home theatre, what with theatres shut for several months and still too risky after they have reopened. I've been able to make full use of my streaming subscriptions (Netflix, Prime Video, and Disney+) and my gaming consoles (Xbox One X), and enjoy a bunch of 4K Blu-ray content (rewatching classics and new movies like Tenet). It's a big expenditure, I know, but it's not like I'm going on holiday anytime soon. In fact, that's where a chunk of my budget came from.
Read: OnePlus TV Q1 Pro review
The switch to permanent work-from-home systems for us this year meant that keeping the home clean while working was even more important. For this reason, I decided to invest in a robot vacuum cleaner, so I could summon it to clean up whenever I needed. Among the many robot cleaners I've reviewed this year, the 360 S7 stood out for a couple of key reasons, including laser navigation, and the ability to control it from an app and through voice assistants.
Thanks to laser navigation, the 360 S7 is precise and quick with its cleaning, moving effortlessly between rooms. What I find most convenient about it is its app, which lets you control and monitor the robot from anywhere, as well as set up specific instructions for different rooms of the house, including vacuuming power. It can also mop through a dedicated fitting, and was able to clean my 600-square-foot home in just about 35 minutes. Buying this robot was an easy decision.
Although there are more affordable options, the 360 S7 is easily available online, works well, and has a big enough battery to be able to clean a normal-sized home easily. It's helped me out through immensely this year, and it's a strong recommendation for anyone working from home right now.
While I was expecting myself to upgrade to the latest iPhone Pro in 2020, ultimately, I did not. I am happy with my iPhone 11 Pro and I think I'll sit this year out.
Which brings me to my favourite tech purchase of the year: the Apple Watch Series 6. I remember falling in love with the OG Apple Watch and having an eye on my dad's Apple Watch Series 4, but I don't know why it took me 6 long years to get my own. Not that I think the Apple Watch wasn't a capable smartwatch, which it certainly is and has been, on its own or even when you compare it with its competitors; but I really don't know why it took me so long to get one.
Anyway, my experience with the Apple Watch Series 6 has been pretty amazing. It is loaded to the brim with features such as new watch faces, health tracking, new workouts, calling and texting, always-on-display and so much more. The best part that I appreciate the most about this watch is the fact that I can leave my phone at home whenever I step outside; and all I have on me is my watch and my AirPods.
So, if you're in the market on the lookout for a good smartwatch, you should consider buying the Apple Watch Series 6. And while many would argue that the Apple Watch SE is a better overall option and does almost everything that it's costlier sibling can; if you're looking for the best of the best, the Series 6 is the way to go.
Buy: Apple Watch Series 6
As all meetings became virtual, we've had to spend more time thinking about the home-office, and in my case, the part of the house that offers usable backdrops, does not overlap with the part that was close enough to my Wi-Fi router. I started to think about getting a mesh router system, but the more I read the more confused I became.
This forced me to explore different solutions — from trying to set up an office space in another part of the house, to wasting money on Wi-Fi extenders. But finally, I realised I didn't have a choice, and so I had to take the plunge and buy a mesh Wi-Fi setup. It sounded like overkill for a small apartment, but having made the switch, it's hard to imagine how I managed to work without this for so long. In order to make my decision, I went back to Gadgets 360's reviews of these setups, and then also accounted for customer reviews online. Taking into account prices and discounts, I crossed my fingers and bought the TP-Link.
Setup was fast, and a lot simpler than I thought it would be, and the results have been good. The mesh setup has helped to deliver fast and reliable speeds across the entire house, and it's given me the option to hold a video conference and look professional again. At this price, it was also a pretty good deal, and helped me a lot.
During a normal year, I'd buy all sorts of things I don't need during festive season sales. This year has been crazy on so many levels. I still ended up buying one thing though, but I have a good reason. 2020 is the year when everyone around you is talking about the importance of staying fit. I got myself an Apple Watch Series 3, promising I'd use it to try and get in good shape. Why a Series 3 model? Well, it was at a discount, what do you want? I've used the first-generation Apple Watch for almost 2 years until the display came off. But this time around, I'm going to make the most out of it. Excuse me, the Watch is now telling me that I've been sitting for too long.
Buy: Apple Watch Series 3
The coronavirus outbreak has brought many changes to our lives. It, of course, affected quite harshly our impoverished societies and the people who already required care and support. But at the same time, the pandemic has changed the way we all live here. It also moved our priorities and that shifted buying patterns for many of us. The culture of working from home and staying doors has made us refrain from purchasing things for our routine travel. This is all unlike what we had in the past.
Thus, instead of going all self-centred and picking any tech purchase for my own use, I decided to get something that can be helpful for not just me but also for my family. That something turned out to be a Dyson V10 Absolute Pro after some research.
The Dyson V10 Absolute Pro comes with a range of accessories that help us clean our home effectively. Its cord-free form-factor also brings an ease-of-use. You can also mount the bundled dock station on a wall to keep the vacuum cleaner on one of the corners of your home. The expensive pricing of the machine is indeed something that made me rethink a couple of times. However, the recent Black Friday sale, during which it was available at a 20 percent discount, eventually convinced me.
2020 hasn't felt like a year for splashing out on anything expensive or self-indulgent. Sure, I've been tempted by sales, but I don't really need AirPods if I'm not going out anywhere. Prices rising across the board have also taken some of the shine off any potential upgrades. The only things I've invested in are tools for working at home — with little time to plan the shifting and distribution of the entire Gadgets 360 reviews team, we all had some logistical setbacks to overcome and new environments to adapt to.
With no studio and no camerapeople, amateur video production at home has been a challenge, and has required some experimentation. The most useful things I've bought have been four little camera accessories. One is a neck brace for first-person point-of-view shots; one is a clamp with a flexible stalk; one is a Gorillapod knockoff (the handiest of the bunch); and finally, there's a swiveling ball-head to allow for better angles. Collectively, they cost just over Rs. 1,000.
Buy: Flexible tripod
I had been experimenting with minimalism this year, as a result of which my purchases in general had been very low. There were no personal tech purchases for me this year.
I was gifted a Elac Cinema 5 460W RMS 5.1-Channel Home Theatre Speaker System. The set came with 5 speakers and a subwoofer that skyrocketed my content-watching experience. Elac Cinema 5 supports Dolby Atmos and the subwoofer is adequate for a small to medium-sized room. Since I didn't narrow down on this product by myself, I wouldn't be able to say if this is the best in the market. But if you are looking for a home theater within the range of Rs. 50,000, this is definitely not a bad choice.
Buy: Elac Cinema 5
While I began the year with magnificent dreams of upgrading to the iPhone 12, I ended it on a high all thanks to my two-year-old HomePod that had been lying unused until the pandemic struck. During the lockdown, I have finally found use for a gadget that I'd recommend only to the most dedicated Apple fans. I have a tendency to buy things that I'll never use, as witnessed by the thousands of unread books or unplayed games in my library, which is why I feel great when I use products that I paid for. For instance, I bought a 1,200-page book, which ended up becoming the only book I read in 2020.
Similarly, the HomePod became my constant companion through this miserable year. Yes, Siri is still infuriating (there was this one time when I asked it to “stop the 4pm alarm” and it ended up listing out each of the twenty-two alarms stored on my iPhone), and yes, this gadget is not for everyone. However, I now listen to music for a few hours every day and that has worked wonders on my mental health. During the day, the HomePod keeps playing music, while at night, I've been using it for meditation via AirPlay. It's going to be used until this pandemic ends, and that is what makes this an excellent addition to my home.
Buy: Apple HomePod
I was on the market looking for a good pair of headphones for my editing purpose, but I was confused whether to get wired or wireless headsets since I wanted it for gaming as well. During the Diwali sale on Amazon, I somehow came across the Sennheiser HD 350BT, and after hours of researching, I finalized the HD 350BT over the likes of JBL E55BT and the successor to HD350BT, the Sennheiser 450BT's. The heavy discount definitely played a role.
It's been over a month and I have to say I'm glad I made this purchase. The Bluetooth range is pretty impressive and so is the sound, it's not made for bass heads but for people who love a balanced sound signature. The only thing that bugged me was the all-plastic build and the lack of foam on the headband. But then again, at its asking price, you really can't expect much.
I was able to juice out around 25–30hrs on the HD 350BT, which is quite good. The fit was okay-ish for me and the clamping force wasn't rough, which helped me use it for 4–5 hours without facing any issues. My muscle memory is still not trained enough to use the on-board physical buttons since the placements were unnatural for me. Also, it uses a USB Type-C port for charging purposes. Yay.
Buy: Sennheiser HD 350BT
We've all read stories about how people have discovered new hobbies during the lockdown like learning a new musical instrument or taking exercising seriously. I did none of that. However, I did find myself doing a lot of DIY projects at home and these seemingly simple tasks would have been hell to complete without a good cordless drill, and it doesn't get better than the Bosch GSB 120-LI.
The beauty of this cordless drill is that apart from the regular drilling and screwdriving functionality, it also offers a hammer drill function which lets you drill through brick walls. I've found this to be immensely useful if you need to do some quick DIY projects at home, like installing shelves. While the hammer drill is decently powerful, it still struggles when trying to drill through concrete, which is where I had to break out my wired power drill. But for most other tasks like assembling furniture or cutting a hole through a cabinet for cable management, a cordless drill is all you'll ever need.
The Bosch GSB 120-LI has individual settings for power and torque, making it very versatile. You also get an extra 12V battery, and basic drill and screw bits in the hard-shell carry case. It might seem a little pricey compared to the local alternatives but I think it's worth it when you consider the quality of the drill and accessories, and you really can't put a price on German engineering.
Buy: Bosch GSB 120-LI
I replaced my old, faithful iPhone SE (2016) with the new iPhone SE (2020) this year. Now, we all know that the new iPhone models don't come with a regular 3.5mm headphone jack. For the first few days, I tried using the Apple Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter with my Bose QC25, but it didn't sit right in my pocket and somehow, didn't feel right. The flimsy adapter especially ruined the look of my new iPhone, I felt. So, I had to go for TWS (truly wireless) earphones that don't burn a hole in my pocket. Hence, I opted for Realme Buds Air Pro.
These were my first-ever Bluetooth earphones. I always had my reservations against wireless headphones as I had this idea that they somewhat lagged while working on GarageBand. However, the Realme offering took me by surprise. There wasn't any notable lag (when Gaming Mode was turned on) and I was surprised by the quality of active noise cancellation (ANC) the earphones offered at an affordable price of Rs. 4,999. Of course, the sound quality isn't that great (but not too bad either if you keep the volume levels high) and I wish it had at least 13mm drivers instead of 10mm ones. However, it's a nifty little device with fun TWS features like wear-to-resume-playback, consistent auto-Bluetooth connection, and more. It made me a believer in TWS technology and now makes me want to upgrade to a pair of premium ones later on.
I'd recommend Realme Buds Air Pro if you want entry-level TWS earphones that don't cost much but still offer a good-enough performance, given the price tag.
Buy: Realme Buds Air Pro
This may seem to be a bit strange, as everyone asks me “Shubham, why did you buy a two-year-old gaming laptop in 2020 with the touchpad on the wrong side?” There's a reason for that. My job involves a ton of video editing, sorting, researching and publishing, which means at any point in time, I have at least 15 chrome tabs open along with Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects. So, any kind of delay is not an option. I also like playing games, although at the time of purchase, I hadn't played any big titles for almost 5 years.
Therefore, I zeroed in on the Acer Predator Triton 700, a complete beast of its time. Sure, it doesn't have the chops of a modern, fully fledged gaming or editing machine, but it does get the work done very well without ever breaking a sweat. And the best part, I got it at almost half its original price on a Flipkart sale, just shy of Rs. 80,000.
It's almost like owning an Italian sports car, it goes really, really fast, it can be obnoxiously loud, it has angular lines everywhere and it also has similar teething issues. For instance, I have to clean the fans inlets and the mechanical keyboard every so often and since the touchpad sits above the keyboard, it's almost impossible to use it on a regular basis. The battery life of about an hour too is an issue at times. But hey, it runs everything, including Cyberpunk 2077, like a breeze.
With a lot of money saved due to the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent lockdown, I wanted to move on from my old Pixel 3 to a smartphone that offers most of the features in my personal checklist. My checklist includes a good, if not great, software experience, timely updates, flagship hardware and a great display. Long story short, I pretty much found all that I wanted in the Galaxy S20+, which was neither underpowered like the Galaxy S20 nor too flashy like the Ultra variant.
Buy: Samsung Galaxy S20+
I'm not someone who likes to spend a lot of money on tech products. But having been stuck with an iPhone 7 for about two years, I finally decided to upgrade to a new phone this year: iPhone XR. I genuinely like this phone. The camera is the best I've ever had on a phone. Its battery life amazes me everyday. I love the colors, the display size, the gestures, and now that Apple has permanently slashed the prices of iPhone XR in India, I think it's a great entry-level iPhone for those who have never had one. Should you buy it? Definitely yes.
Read: iPhone XR review
Buy: iPhone XR
My Fitbit Versa 2 was due for an upgrade. And Apple is not the first word that comes to mind when I think of a fitness wearable. Simply because Apple Watch has a much smaller battery, is heavier, and costs way more than its smartwatch counterparts (case in point: Apple Watch Series 5 vs Fitbit Versa 2). So after carefully considering all my options (Fitbit and Garmin, but also Amazfit and so on), I bought the Apple Watch SE this year. Allow me to explain the contradiction.
A few things changed for Apple and I this year. Apple launched a more affordable Watch SE. And even though I moved away from sleeping with a watch strapped on (I slid a Dozee sleep tracker under my mattress, instead), WatchOS can now track sleep. Apple is poised to introduce Apple Fitness+ in India soon, which should substitute for the excellent content of Fitbit Premium. The Watch SE also syncs with the Nike Run Club app where I track my running mileage and that of all my shoes (Apple 1: Fitbit 0).
Unfortunately, all of it still does not make Apple Watch a great fitness wearable (heavy, delicate). But the watch is a great substitute for a bulky phone. I have been using it to make calls, reply to messages — texts, WhatsApp, but also Slack — with voice. Siri, too, is way more useful on the Watch SE that the mute Alexa on Versa 2 (no speaker was a bad idea). And to top it all, I can finally stream new music and podcasts while running with the LTE-enabled Apple Watch SE. Oh, and it looks and feels great with the new Sport Loop.
Read: Apple Watch SE review
As this year was mostly spent working from home, I was in much need of a USB to SATA docking station. Context: I work on the video editing team. Since all the old important Gadgets 360 data was stored on a secondary system, it meant I had to turn on the other computer every time to access said data. Laziness leads to a solution, so I picked up the PiBOX India USB 3.0 Hard Drive Docking Station. This really helped to access the 4TB SATA HDD via the external USB port. You're probably wondering why I didn't just install the drive inside my primary machine permanently. Well, that's because I didn't want to have it online all the time.