What were the best products of the year? The Future Tech Awards celebrates the best consumer tech gadgets, from smartphones to TVs to wearables. After collecting a number of nominations across a broad range of categories, the editors across Future Publishing’s tech sites — including Tom’s Guide, T3, TechRadar, What Hi-Fi, iMore and Android Central — voted on what we considered to be the top devices of 2021.
Be sure to also check out the winners of the Future 50 Awards, which highlights tech industry professionals from executives and product managers to young professionals and content creators. This year’s winners include people at the very top of some companies, standout product designers, and even community managers helping keep fans and customers engaged.
For more details, check out our dedicated Future Tech Awards site.
Best TV: Samsung QN900A
The Samsung QN900A Neo QLED 8K Smart TV is the company’s top-of-the-line QLED set, which rivals or exceeds comparable OLED sets when it comes to picture quality. It boasts Quantum HDR 64x, a tone-mapping technology that is used to boost the HDR performance of formats like HDR10+ for ultra-rich color and deeper contrast.
It’s also a gorgeous set, from the 0.8-millimeter thick Infinity Screen bezels to a super-slim metal chassis that doubles as the speaker grilles for an array of frame-mounted speakers.
Samsung doesn’t skimp on audio, either, with Object Tracking Sound Pro technology, that allows the TV’s audio to track with the position of actors and objects on screen, providing a more immersive experience. In addition, SpaceFit Sound adjusts the audio based on whether you’ve got the TV on a stand or mounted on the wall, and will compensate for sound-reflecting surfaces and the size of the room.
Best smartphone: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
Its dynamic 6.8-inch AMOLED display scales from 10Hz to 120Hz for super smooth performance whether you’re surfing the web or playing games. Its Snapdragon 88 chip makes it incredibly responsive, and its 5,000 mAh battery lasted nearly 11.5 hours on our web surfing test.
However, its killer feature is its dual telephoto cameras, with 3x and 10x optical zoom, and the ability to Space Zoom up to 100x with a new Zoom Lock feature. The overall camera quality is improved, too, with better-looking portraits and brighter shots with Night mode. A Director’s View mode lets you record using the front and back cameras at the same time.
Best laptop: Dell XPS 13
The Dell XPS 13 has been one of the best laptops for several years running, so it’s no surprise that it lands atop the Future Tech Awards. This 13-inch laptop packs speedy performance and a gorgeous bezel-less display into an incredibly slim and lightweight design with long battery life.
This past year, Dell began offering the XPS 13 with a 3.5K OLED touchscreen option, which provides deep, inky blacks, vibrant colors, and high contrast ratios.
Best smartwatch: Apple Watch Series 7
When it comes to the best smartwatches, it’s hard to top the Apple Watch Series 7. This year’s model features a thinner bezel, which allows the display to be nearly 20% larger than the the Series 6 display, and more than 50% larger than the Series 3 display. The display borders are 40% thinner than before, too.
In addition to the larger screen, the Series 7 also features a full QWERTY keyboard and larger calculator buttons to a brighter always-on mode and exclusive watch faces. While battery life is the same as before — around 18 hours — this is still a smartwatch you’ll want to wear all day.
Best robot vacuum: iRobot Roomba J7+
iRobot’s Roomba j7+ is not only one of the best robot vacuums, but one of the smartest, too. New obstacle avoidance technology means it can detect everyday objects, such as cables, socks — and pet poop — and steer clear of them. iRobot is so confident in it, that it will replace any j7+ that fails to avoid solid pet waste. This robot vacuum constantly learns with every run, making it smarter the more you use it.
Like Roomba’s other advanced models, the j7+ comes with a cleaning base that can hold up to 60 days of debris, and its new design is not only more compact, but a lot easier on the eyes, too.
Best smart home product: Amazon Echo Dot with Clock
Sometimes, the best products are the simplest. The Amazon Echo Dot with Clock takes one of the best smart speakers and adds a digital clock to the front, making it an excellent bedside companion. In addition to the time, the clock can also display the current temperature and be used as a timer, making it a triple threat.
It’s not just the clock that makes it great: Backed by Alexa, the Echo Dot with Clock can be used to play music, control smart home devices, order food, look up recipes, and much, much more.
Best gaming laptop: Asus ROG Zephyrus G14
Like Superman, hidden beneath the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14‘s understated chassis is some serious power: the latest AMD Ryzen 9-4900HS processor and Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Max-Q GPU to be exact, making it one of the best gaming laptops to be reckoned with.
Even while gaming, the G14’s thermal management kept things cool to the touch — impressive for a 14-inch system — and when performing more mundane tasks, it lasted an excellent 11 hours on our battery test. And while it might not have the splashiest design, you can light up and customize the Asus ROG logo on the lid with colorful graphics.
Best wireless earbuds: Sony WF-1000XM4
The Sony WF-1000XM4 are one of the best noise-cancelling earbuds, period. Compared to the previous generation, their active noise cancellation is better, sound is refined, and battery life is longer, too. These great-looking earbuds have embossed copper rings and logos and a more compact design than the last model.
The touch controls are a cinch to use, and include a full set of media controls: call management, playback, voice activation, volume, and listening mode activation. They’ll also work with Alexa and Google Assistant. And, the inclusion of new Sony Headphones Connect app features make for one terrifically well-rounded package.
Best over-ear headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4
The over-the-ear cousin to the WF-1000XM4, the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones take all that’s great about the company’s earbuds and packs them into larger cans.
While the design hasn’t changed much since previous generations, they have a soft rubberized finish, making them feel more premium than their predecessor. Active noise cancellation remains as excellent as always, and audio quality, whether listening to music or making phone calls, remains top-notch.
The WH-1000XM4s also have responsive touch controls and on-ear detection, and battery life — 30 hours with active noise cancellation on — is head and shoulders above the competition.
Best camera: Canon EOS R5
Canon’s midrange full-frame mirrorless camera, the EOS R5, stands out for its 45 megapixel CMOS sensor, which takes some of the best stills of any Canon camera. It’s helped along by its Digic X processor, 5-axis 8-stop in-body image stabilization, and a quad layer low-pass filter.
Its AI makes it amazingly accurate when eye, face and head tracking — which includes not just people, but animals, too. Its 1,053-point dual-pixel autofocus covers nearly 100% of the sensor, and it can shoot at up to 20 frames per second. Last, but not least, it can record video at resolutions up to 8K/4320p. All in all, a truly impressive camera.
Other Future Tech Award winners
Best Chromebook: Acer Chromebook Spin 713
With an Intel Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and a 13-inch display, the Acer Chromebook Spin 713 features amazing battery life, great performance and a bright, colorful display for an affordable price.
Best gaming computer: Alienware Aurora R10 Ryzen Edition
Not only did this gaming desktop get a much-needed design refresh, but the Alienware Aurora R10 Ryzen Edition got a specs boost with AMD processors, making it as powerful as it is attractive.
Best smart display: Amazon Echo Show 8 (2nd gen)
While not the largest Alexa smart display, the Amazon Echo Show 8 is one of the most functional and affordable. It will fit as great on your bedstand as it will in your kitchen, and gives you full access to Amazon’s smart assistant.
Best computer: Apple iMac 27″
While it doesn’t have the M1 chip of the smaller 2021 iMac 24″, the 27-inch iMac still impresses with its 10th generation Intel processors, AMD Radeon Pro 5000 series graphics, 5K Retina display, and perhaps most importantly, a 1080p webcam.
Best tablet: Apple iPad Air
Best smartphone tablet: Apple iPhone 13 Pro / Pro Max
Best projector: Epson Home Cinema 3800
This 4K projector boasts a 3-chip LCD and HDR, which helps deliver crisp and bright images; its rated brightness of 3,000 lumens doesn’t hurt, either, and a 300-inch viewable screen size make it an excellent home theater projector.
Best VPN: ExpressVPN
With thousands of servers, top-level encryption, cross-platform compatibility, and excellent speeds, it’s no wonder that ExpressVPN is the best VPN around.
Best value smartphone: Google Pixel 4a
It may not boast the latest specs, but the Google Pixel 4a is still shockingly good and costs less than $350, making it one of the best smartphone deals around.
Best antivirus: Kaspersky Total Security
As its name suggests, Kaspersky Total Security provides complete protection for your PC or Mac without causing a strain on your system resources.
Best mattress: Nectar Memory Foam Mattress
The award-winning Nectar memory foam mattress delivers superb comfort and support — and costs a lot less than many of its rivals.
Best smart lighting: Philips Hue White And Color Ambiance
Philips has a lot of smart light bulbs in its portfolio, but its flagship Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance bulbs remain the best for those who want to illuminate their homes.
Best monitor: Samsung Odyssey G7 32-Inch
This 32-inch QLED curved gaming monitor has a 240GHz refresh rate and supports both Nvidia’s G-Sync and AMD’s FreeSync for the best performance when gaming.
Best smart speaker: Sonos One
Even when compared to much larger smart speakers, the Sonos One still beats them out when it comes to audio quality. It also works with Alexa and Google Assistant, and connects to dozens of streaming services.
Best soundbar: Sony HT-A7000
This 7.1-channel soundbar features Sound Field Optimization, which calibrates the HT-A7000 to your room environment to provide the best sound.
Best gaming headset: SteelSeries Arctis 7P/7X
Michael A. Prospero is the deputy editor at Tom’s Guide overseeing the home, smart home, drones, and fitness/wearables categories, as well as all buying guides and other evergreen content. When he’s not testing out the latest running watch, skiing or training for a marathon, he’s probably using the latest sous vide machine or some other cooking gadget.