CES 2021 is here, and the world’s biggest annual tech show has never looked so different. But while this year’s event ditches the packed Las Vegas ballrooms in favor of an all-online experience, there are just as many cool gadgets and exciting innovations to get excited about as ever.
From eye-popping 8K TVs to laptops and desktops that make working from home more seamless than ever, we’ve already seen a ton of great products come out of this uniquely all-virtual CES. In order to cut through the sea of shiny new tech and find the best products that we think will be worth your money, we met with manufacturers big and small for in-depth briefings, compared these gadgets to our top tested picks in terms of specs and features and, in some cases, even got our hands on early units.
With that in mind, here are our picks for the best gadgets from CES 2021 that you’ll actually want to buy this year.
Best Chromebook: Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2
The Samsung Galaxy Chromebook is our current recommendation for the best 2-in-1 Chromebook you can buy, but it retails for a steep $999. The new Galaxy Chromebook 2 retains the best aspects of its predecessor (including a vivid display and a stunning Fiesta Red design) while starting at a much more attainable $549 with more modest specs. Don’t call this a downgrade, though — the Galaxy Chromebook 2 is the first Chromebook with a QLED display, delivering much more vibrant colors and finer details than you’ll find on a standard LCD laptop screen. The Chromebook 2’s beautiful screen and snappy keyboard performed well in our early hands-on testing, and its eye-popping design makes the other Chromebooks of CES look boring.
Best earbuds: Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro
Offering a lot of compelling features for a very enticing price, the Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pros easily stand out as our favorite earbuds to come out of CES 2021. These sleek new buds distinguish themselves with multiple active noise cancellation (ANC) modes, which include a Transport mode when you’re out commuting, an Outdoor mode to drown out street noise and an Indoor mode to combat chatter. We’ve seen buds with multiple ANC modes before, but the Air 2 Pro’s ability to tailor to different environments gives it a big win. That’s on top of a rated battery life of seven hours with ANC on, which beats both the AirPods Pro and the new Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro. But the real kicker is the fact that you get all of this for just $129 — that’s nearly half the price of the $249 AirPods Pro. We’re currently testing the Air 2 Pros and wouldn’t be surprised to see them earn a spot on our list of the best true wireless earbuds.
Best gaming laptop: Asus ROG Flow X13
This year’s CES gave us a slew of great gaming laptops, but none are as versatile as the Asus ROG Flow X13. This slim notebook stands out for two reasons: For starters, it’s the rare gaming laptop with a 2-in-1 touch-screen design, making it just as ideal for sketching notes and drawing on its 13-inch display as it is for doing some gaming on its Nvidia GTX 1650 GPU. But where this laptop really comes alive is with the ROG XG Mobile, an included external graphics dock that packs Nvidia’s powerful RTX 3080 graphics card into a slim and portable design that’s a far cry from the bulky GPU enclosures we’ve seen in the past.
When you connect the XG Mobile to the Flow, you essentially turn it into a desktop-caliber machine that can tear through modern PC games with ease. It’s this versatility that makes the ROG Flow X13 our pick for the best gaming laptop of CES — it can be a slim and portable 2-in-1 laptop when you need to work and get creative, and a genuine desktop replacement when you want to hunker down and play PC titles at the highest settings. We can’t wait to get our hands on the Flow X13 and XG Mobile when they launch later this year in a $2,999 bundle.
Best gaming monitor: Acer Nitro XV282K KV
If you’re in the market for a gaming monitor to use with your PS5 or Xbox Series X, the new Acer Nitro XV282 KV should be on your radar. This 28-inch display features the latest HDMI 2.1 standard, which you’ll need to take full advantage of the smooth 120 frames-per-second gameplay that the new PlayStation and Xbox consoles are capable of. It’s also a great option for PC gamers, with AMD FreeSync Premium technology for eliminating screen tearing and 1 ms response times for minimal input lag. The Nitro XV 282K KV secured our best of CES pick because its HDMI 2.1 support makes it one of the first displays to make your next-gen console gameplay as smooth as possible — and could usher in a new wave of gaming monitors optimized for PS5 and Xbox Series X. Look out for it in May with a starting price of $899.
Best home appliance: Samsung JetBot 90 A.I+
Like most other smart vacuums, Samsung’s latest doesn’t have the catchiest name. But after a demo and an in-person briefing (conducted safely), the JetBot 90 A.I+ proved to bring a lot to the table. It goes past other smart vacuums that just feature LiDAR sensors by tossing in cameras and object recognition. This way it can actually identify what’s in its path and change direction. Obstacle avoidance is the *chef’s kiss* on the JetBot 90 for this very reason — it can work around a cable, a pair of sneakers or the dreaded doggy doo-doo. It will even send an alert via the connected app to let you know what it ran into. This is the first vacuum to have this truly next-level object avoidance tech, so it pretty much makes other smart vacs look quite dumb. We don’t have pricing just yet, but the JetBot 90 A.I+ has a feature set that will leave other smart vacuums in the dirt.
Best laptop: HP Elite Dragonfly Max
Laptop webcams are generally terrible, which is a problem HP looks to solve with the new HP Elite Dragonfly Max. This powerful 2-in-1 business notebook features a 5MP webcam, which, combined with the laptop’s advanced AI-driven sound technology, should make you look and sound as presentable as possible during important Zoom meetings. Combine that with a 13.3-inch display with features such as HP Eye Ease and HP Sure View Reflect for keeping your documents safe from snoopers while minimizing eye strain, and the Dragonfly Max is shaping up to be the ultimate work-from-home laptop. Though we didn’t test directly, the Dragonfly Max’s design, specs and feature set look to rival the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon — our best laptop pick for business users — making it the most impressive laptop we’ve seen come out of CES so far.
Best monitor: Dell UltraSharp 38 Monitor
The UltraSharp 38 Monitor doesn’t just give you an expansive display, but it has the specs to match. This 37.5-inch WQHD+ curved display features a resolution of 3840 x 1600. While this isn’t exactly 4K, with that high resolution we fully expect it to be sharp and likely hard to pick out individual pixels on. The panel should allow it to produce a wide range of colors like previous UltraSharp Monitors, one of our current top picks for best monitors. Those who work in creative apps like Photoshop and Illustrator will be able to handle detail-oriented edits with relative ease. And in everyday use, we expect it to provide plenty of room for emails, spreadsheets and web browsing. The real kicker is the built-in productivity hub — there are two HDMIs, a DisplayPort, two USB-Cs, an Ethernet jack and four USB-A ports, among others. It’s an all-in-one docking solution that we feel will really be a plug-and-play experience. That’s not something every monitor out there can match. If you’ve been squinting at an aging monitor and struggling with all sorts of dongles, this feels like the complete package. We look forward to testing the UltraSharp 38 Monitor when it launches on January 28.
Best phone: LG Rollable
LG surprised us with a look at the future of mobile phones, specifically with the LG Rollable — not a foldable, the craze of 2020, but a rollable, in which the screen stretches from the main body. The LG Rollable can essentially double in screen size. In the teaser video, the screen extends into a small tablet from the right side of the device. While the hardware will need to slide in or out, it’s another unique form that could lead to an improvement in durability. Not much else is known, but expect this device will run Android with an LG user interface. What we can tell you for sure, though, is that the LG Rollable will be released later this year. When it does, it’s safe to assume it will be cutting edge in terms of display technology. Other brands like TCL and Oppo have teased phones that can stretch, so we expect this sector to grow in popularity.
Best smart home: Linksys Velop
Linksys is doing something neat with its latest Velop router, specifically the AXE8400. It features the normal tropes of a mesh router, essentially using multiple nodes to improve performance and decrease dead zones. But it will use the connected devices, like smart bulbs and plugs, to help monitor your home. You see, a connected device has a band of connectivity, invisible to us, to and from the router. If something interferes with that connection, like a person, it can detect that. So, let’s say motion is detected in the band connecting a smart lightbulb to the router when no one is home, it can alert you of activity. Linksys calls this Aware, which can be activated through a $2.99 monthly subscription.
Additionally, it supports Wi-Fi 6, the latest standard, and is a tri-band setup with three roadways for your devices to live on. This way even the most packed networks with upward of 100 devices won’t see slowdowns. It’s also a Wi-Fi 6E router, which essentially opens up the 6 GHz band for your devices to connect to. You won’t see devices with 6E for a bit, but in the meantime it will allow the internet connection to move from node to node faster and with a dedicated band. It’s impressive and should deliver faster internet speeds. The Linksys Velop packs a high price tag at $449 for one or $849 for two. We expect the price to come down soon after launch as more Wi-Fi 6 and 6E routers become mainstream.
Best TV: Samsung Neo QLED
Samsung’s Neo QLED aims to increase the brightness level and color vibrancy as well as deepen black levels compared to previous generations. It’s not doing so with entirely new technology or even a dramatically new processor, but with Mini LED. Samsung’s Quantum Mini LEDs are about 1/40th the size of a conventional LED backlight and remove much of the packaging. Shrinking the size allows for more LEDs to be placed inside, and the TV can control the lighting on an LED-by-LED basis. This is closer to the pixel-by-pixel picture creation found on OLEDs. We got to see it in person, and the 8K Neo QLED drew our eyes with its increased levels of vibrancy without causing blooming or leakage. Given Samsung’s expertise with producing images and upscaling, we have a feeling this will excel past our current overall pick for best TV, the TCL 6-Series. The specificity that Samsung can offer with Mini LEDs should increase the clarity level and deliver brightness at a new level. We don’t know the price yet, but Samsung’s Neo QLEDs will be available later this spring.
Most innovative: Razer Project Hazel
CES is typically host to a ton of neat prototypes that may or may not become actual consumer products, and this year’s show is no exception. But the concept we most want to actually come to market is Razer’s Project Hazel. Dubbed “the world’s smartest mask,” this high-tech face mask features N95 medical-grade protection and Smart Pods that can filter out at least 95% of any particles that cross the air — while still featuring a transparent design that lets people see your mouth. There will also be a built-in voice amplifier (because we all know how hard it is to have a conversation while masked up), and replaceable and rechargeable ventilators to reduce waste. And because this is a Razer product, it’ll feature fully customizable RGB lighting to flaunt your favorite colors while out and about.
While Razer currently doesn’t have any plans to sell Project Hazel, its forward-thinking face mask wins our innovation award because it’s an example of how tech can address our ongoing health pandemic. And since Razer already makes traditional masks, we’re eager to see if any of Hazel’s advanced features could make it to a product already on the market.