Best in tech: Ten gadgets that helped us get through 2020

In a time of need, gadgets helped us stave off loneliness and work from home. Our independent technology writer Peter Griffin found 10 that made 2020 easier to get through.

1. Huawei Smart Watch GT2e

Fans want a smartwatch that will track fitness activity and sleeping patterns as well as push message alerts from their phone. But too many smartwatches pack so much else in that the battery runs flat after a day or two. Huawei does things differently. The GT2e lasts up to two weeks between charges but has all the basics, including GPS location tracking. It is waterproof, offers a heart-rate monitor and has a crisp, large screen. You can stream from it to your earbuds while you are out jogging. It isn’t as sophisticated as an Apple Watch, but at a fraction of the price, it’s a worthy, understated alternative.

Price: $279

2. Surface Laptop Go

With the Surface Go tablet, Microsoft offered a cheap, entry-level device that ticked most of the boxes, but was a little underpowered. With its new entry-level laptop, there’s no such limitation. Powered by Intel’s i5 Quad-Core processor with up to 16GB (gigabytes) of memory and 256GB of storage, this Surface Laptop really is ready to go. There’s a 12.4-inch touchscreen and a full-size keyboard for comfortable typing. It has the styling and quality finish of Microsoft’s higher-end laptops, too. A worthy new competitor in the mid-priced laptop category.

Price: from $1149

3. Samsung Galaxy S20+

It is still the king of the Android smartphones. The Galaxy’s winning formula has been refined to the point that there are no eye-opening new features with the S20 in 2020. Elegance in design, a powerful processor and a stunning large, bright screen are the industry-leading highlights. The multi-camera set-up covers all the bases, including night shooting, and the zoom capability is impressive. It supports 5G connectivity and has great battery life. The middle phone in the S20 range, it offers the best mix of features for the chunky price tag.

Price: $1899

4. Philips Hue Starter Kit

Lockdown revealed how patchy the lighting in my apartment is. So I’m finally moving to LED bulbs, which offer much more flexibility in varying lighting tones, colour and brightness. With the Philips Hue starter kit, you get three LED screw-in bulbs (bayonets are also available) that are also wirelessly networked. That means you can control them from your phone or by using voice commands on Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple Homekit devices. A bridge gadget that comes with the set-up lets you add up to 50 bulbs, which is more than enough to let you control all your lighting at the tap of a touch screen.

Price: $330

5. Samsung The Frame 50-inch QLED

Yes, you could have opted for a 65-inch TV with top-of-the-line 8K resolution this year, but with little 8K content around, you’d be paying for functionality you can’t make the most of. Samsung’s The Frame series has 4K resolution, which is supported by streaming platforms such as Netflix, and a QLED display far superior to Samsung’s “ultra-high-definition” range. But the real point of difference is that The Frame looks fantastic when the TV is off. It displays artworks digitally, and when you choose a nice picture frame, your guests will have trouble picking it from the real thing.

Price: $3099

6. Oppo Reno 4 Pro

This is the “Pro” version of Oppo’s popular Reno smartphone, which means better features, a larger screen as well as 5G connectivity. Yet, this smartphone comes in at $600 less than the Galaxy S20+. Sure, it hasn’t quite the same processing grunt or luxurious design, but it is incredible bang-for-buck. The triple-camera set-up on the rear delivers sharp, lifelike photos and smooth video. Oppo’s acclaimed SuperVOOC fast charging means you’ll be able to charge your battery to 60% in 15 minutes. The new Reno really is hard to fault.

Price: $1299

7. Apple Mac mini

iMac or Mac mini? As much as I love my iMac, I love the compact footprint of the Mac mini, which, when paired with a standalone screen or two, makes for a worthy desktop replacement. The 2020 version comes with Apple’s new 8-Core M1 processor, which is said to deliver up to three times the performance of the previous generation. Much-improved graphics capability will also appeal to gamers and those in the creative industries. The box itself is sleek and quiet and sells for $250 less than its predecessor. Not a bad deal.

Price: $1199

8. Lenovo Smart Clock

Do you really need a digital clock you can talk to? Well, let’s face it, most of us have a clock on the bedside table, so why not make it one packing a powerful digital voice assistant, too? It can help you organise your life and stream music and radio stations. With Google Assistant integration, the Lenovo Smart Clock can do all that and also allow you to control hundreds of compatible devices, from lightbulbs to alarm systems and view feeds from Nest video cameras. There’s reasonable audio from the speaker and the well-designed 4-inch touchscreen displays weather reports and traffic updates. It will even tell you what time it is.

Price: $89

9. Huawei MateBook 13

Huawei was a late starter in the laptop market, but it has clearly been watching from the sidelines and learnt what makes for a great, lightweight ultrabook. The Matebook 13 draws clear design inspiration from Apple’s MacBook Air, with its moulded metal case and slim dimensions. But this is also a flagship device, performance-wise. It runs on the powerful 10th generation Intel i7 processor and has good graphics performance, so video editing and gaming are very much in scope. There’s a fingerprint reader embedded in the power button for quick, secure access and a quality touchscreen.

Price: $2199

10. iPhone 12 Mini

The iPhone 12 Mini is “the smallest, thinnest and lightest 5G smartphone in the world”, says Apple. Its compact size will appeal to iPhone devotees put off by the heft and unwieldy dimensions of Apple’s iPhone models with larger screens and more cameras. There is a decent dual-camera system built in and you can shoot 4K footage at up to 30 frames per second. It’s the smallest and most affordable iPhone and the form is perfect for those who still love the older, classic iPhones.

Price: From $1,349

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