Our Favourite Products Of 2020 – Merry Techmas

Rewind 12-months ago and who would have predicted the year we’ve had? If you answered positively you’re probably a clairvoyant. We also couldn’t have predicted the technology on display throughout the year too. Despite the pandemic, new laptops, phones, chipsets, power units, vehicles, and much more have hit the market. Here’s our best of 2020 tech products.

Kurt – Google Alert

My pick for my favourite bit of tech this year is clear and easy for me; the Google Chromecast with Google TV. It’s by and large the most important bit of technology I have used this year during these times in lockdown and makes viewing experiences exponentially better. I’ve had an Apple TV, a Roku stick and a FireStick – none of these come close to Google’s implementation.

The apps you get for this are to be expected from any TV streaming platform, with the exception of Apple TV+ which is coming early 2021 and also NowTV. The device is so easy to set up, which is the best part about the whole experience really. Much like when I got my Pixel 5, the software experience you receive from the Chromecast with GTV is so easy that a 5-year-old could pick it up and use it. Google TV is as close to a pure Android experience you can get on a TV, with a clean user interface and an amazing implementation of Google Assistant right on the home screen, or just by holding the Assistant button on the remote that comes with. 

As to be expected, the Chromecast is 4K-ready which is a handy thing to have, as televisions of that calibre are decreasing in price come over the holidays. 

My stand-out feature has to be the Chromecast’s support for multiple devices. I moved from Apple at the mid-way point of the year and I loved AirPlay and everything it encompassed. With Chromecast, it’s effectively the same thing but a smoother implementation. Since I already have a Google Home as well, I can just ask Google to play a video on my Living Room TV.

The Chromecast with Google TV is around £60 if you bought it directly from Google’s shop, and comes in a few snazzy colours. 

If I had to choose a runner up, then it would be the Pixel 5. There are not many phones I would consider moving to an iPhone from, but the Pixel 5 did just that. The camera is just as exceptional as Google ‘s previous generations, the battery life equals or beats most Android phone’s released this year, and the software is, well, it’s a Google product so it’s as pure as you can get. Not only that, but I also appreciate the fact that it’s a smaller phone when a lot of companies are going the behemoth route. In a world where the market for smaller phones is relatively niche, it’s nice to have a Google offering that fits. The jury is out as to whether they release an XL version of it, but it’s probably too late for that anyway. 

Craig – It’s About The Future

It’s been as strange a year for tech as it has in many other aspects of everyday life. The UK waded into the Huawei-shunning by decreeing no more than 35% of the UK’s infrastructure will be Huawei-based, and then promptly doubled down by mandating all Huawei kit be removed from 5G use by 2027. Everyone embraced mobile working and Zoom, a company specifically aligned to that use case, had a minor meltdown before bouncing back. Finally, Nvidia purchased ARM, and everyone cried a little inside.

Product-wise though I think I personally have a lot to thank the Tech giants of the world for this year. 

The winner of my favourite product of 2020 is a strange one, as it’s not one I’ve used, intend to use, or can actually buy outright. It’s the Apple M1 chip. Apple announced in November of 2020 that it’s long rumoured departure from the mainstream Intel chipsets, it has been using in Macbooks for years, was almost complete. The ARM-based M1 chip is their first SoC, and it looks to deliver an improvement in power management (read increased battery life and better thermals) as well as bringing lots of other aspects of a functioning machine, like Secure Enclave and Neural Engine, on-chip, for lower latency and larger efficiencies.

So why is this getting the nod for my favourite product, if I’m not going to use an Apple device? It’s for what it hints at in the future. ARM-based devices are increasing in performance rapidly, and deliver real portability to power-hungry productivity tasks. I’m looking forward to seeing further generations in prosumer devices.

A runner up has to be the Google Pixel 4a (Dom’s winner incidentally). The combination of balanced performance and features, from a reputable brand known for stellar update support (of course), at an affordable price makes the Pixel 4a perhaps the best value Android smartphone, ever. That’s a bold statement, but peep Dom’s review when it drops. At the time of writing, he’s been doing an elongated review period for the phone, and some of the notable comments coming from him relate to the quality of the optics and the general user experience. There are cheaper phones, there are better performing phones, there are more pretty phones, but the Pixel 4a perhaps delivers the most balanced metrics we’ve yet seen.

Here’s to 2021 and more tech!

Domenico – The Rule of 3

My Favourite this year is the Pixel 4a from Google. For £349 it is not the cheapest phone you can buy, and it is certainly not the fastest, in fact, there are a few phones that are cheaper than the Pixel 4a and are faster, so why do I pick this? The size and the camera. The size is pretty dang small. it is 144×69.4×8.2mm and 143g, compare it to phones of the same price, the Galaxy A42 and the Realme X3 SuperZoom, those are monsters both being roughly 20mm taller and 6mm wider, as well as teetering near the 200g mark for the Samsung and actually going over it on the Realme. The Pixel 4a is a small but usable phone, and it has a Pixel camera. I do miss the ultrawide and zoom from my P30 Pro, of course I do, but what Google is able to do with modest (read; ancient) hardware, is astounding.

Runner up would be the HiFiMAN DEVAs that I just finished reviewing, these are not cheap at £300, but my god are they amazing for that money. The sound stupendous, the open back design invites a soundstage that closed-back cans can only dream of, and the Bluemini USB and Bluetooth DAC/amp combo is a real stunner, I have used these as close to every day possible since getting them almost 9 months ago.

Lastly is something I never actually got round to reviewing for MobileTechTalk, but it’s my McLEAR VISA payment ring. In this year of [insert expletive here] contactless payments boomed all around the world, and in places like the UK where they were already very well implemented into society, they raised the contactless limit to £45, meaning for most of this year, I never even took my wallet out with me, and on very few occasions that I was spending more than £45 I used Google Pay on my phone. How does this work? Well the ring acts as it is own pre-paid debit card, open the app, give your ring a name, and top it up. You can manually top it up, or you can set it to auto-refill once it hits a certain limit. There are multiple security features as well such as pausing, permanently disabling etc as well as real-time transaction alerts. These are pricier than initially expected in 2016, but at £90 they’re not out of reason, just make sure you size your ring properly, once it’s activated, if you change your mind, it is on you.

Siddu – New Isn’t Always Best

My favourite tech product of 2020 is somehow my 2018 11” iPad Pro that I purchased earlier this year. Whilst its already been superseded by a newer model this year and technically discontinued, its essence lives on in the 4th generation iPad Air. The device features an A12X Bionic chip which is essentially the same chip as the 2020 model bar the extra GPU core, extra camera, LIDAR sensor and RAM. 

I previously had an iPad Air 2 which I seemed to use less and less over time, snappiness or responsiveness wasn’t really a problem, I just found it hard to integrate it into my daily lifestyle. But this year with us all being at home more, it’s been the perfect entertainment device.

I have ended up watching much more content on the iPad Pro compared to my phone which I previously solely ended up using. My productivity has also been improved due to its more compact form factor vs my 2015 Retina MacBook Pro. The iPad Pro 11” also has support for the ridiculously priced Magic Keyboard which will essentially turn it into a laptop replacement. 

The Apple Pencil is ideal for people who can draw and for making notes. I don’t fall into either of these use cases, but Apple integrating Scribble into iPadOS makes it a lot more cohesive. There is still some way to go, but is a lot better than what was available at launch for non-creative professionals.

FaceID would potentially be the only standout feature for which I would pick the Pro over the much cheaper iPad Air if I was comparing retail prices but I got the Pro at a significantly reduced price back in June which made it a better buy than the iPad Air 4 released in September. But if I was buying a current gen variant then I would pick the iPad Air 4.

The M1 Macs are definitely a close second, this is due to the fact that they offer far superior performance vs the Intel Macs of yesteryear with no price rise (but unfortunately no price drop either). The ARM based SOC’s have shown very promising results with instant power on similar to iOS devices and snappy performance. But with more bugs and glitches becoming apparent especially for third-party applications, Apple still has a bit to go before they perfect the experience. 

About Craig Bradshaw

Tech enthusiast and Editor-in-Chief of MobileTechTalk

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