PCMag analysts and editors review thousands of products and services each year, and we consider thousands more that we don’t even have time to test. Through all of that, we, the staff, have our eyes open not only for what’s best for readers, but what’s best for us, too.
That’s why we do a yearly rundown of the best tech purchases we’ve all made in the last 12 months, covering everything that relates to tech and a little beyond. It could be a small remote control, it could be a giant TV, maybe even a great software suite. Or maybe something else odd, and just plain awesome.
So, what do the tech-evaluating pros buy to make themselves happy? Read on to find out. Despite this being PCMag, several of us bought Apple products, as you’ll see immediately in our alphabetical list below.
Apple iMac 24-Inch
After working from home on my tiny, company-issued ThinkPad for over a year (sorry, IT department), I decided it was time for a change. I initially bought my blue 24-inch iMac for personal use, but it has made a huge impact on my workday. Sitting at a desk again, looking at a big, bright screen feels like a revelation after a year of toiling at my lap in an armchair. The built-in speakers are fantastic for streaming Spotify all day, and I now have the clearest webcam picture in PCMag’s daily morning meeting. Of course, I can’t bring it with me to get any work done while traveling, but that’s what the old ThinkPad is for. —Alex Colon, Managing Editor
Apple MacBook Pro 14-inch
(Photo: Molly Flores)
I don’t buy laptops very often, but this year my daughter took over my 2015 MacBook Pro and I found myself without a computer. Fortunately, Apple finally released the laptop of my dreams, the new 14-inch MacBook Pro. It’s gorgeously built, super-fast, and even has a good webcam. I think it’ll last me the next five years. —Sascha Segan, Lead Analyst
Apple AirPods Pro
(Photo: Molly Flores)
AirPods Pro have been a lifesaver when working in a shared living space/remote work office. The active noise cancellation and portability have made them one of the most useful tools in my arsenal. I am in love with the seamless integration with my MacBook, iMac, and iPhones. And automatically pausing music when you take them out of your ears? That’s cool. My gripes are the short battery life and the very easy-to-lose quality, but that’s implicit in the nature of true wireless headphones. Sadly, tracking them in the Find My app hasn’t been that helpful in locating them, since you must find the earbuds before they die. —Matt Orsini, PR Manager
Beats Powerbeats Pro
My main concerns with wireless earphones are that 1) I am going to lose them or 2) they will be out of battery life on the days when I muster up the energy to exercise. My new Powerbeats Pro earphones solve both problems nicely. The ear loops keep them securely stuck to my head and even if they did fall off, I bought them in a conspicuous Lava Red color that would be hard to miss. The battery life is so good that instead of asking myself, “Did I charge these last night?” I’m asking “When’s the last time I even charged these?” Powerbeats Pro are the perfect earphones for someone with no faith in themselves. —Pete Haas, Social Media Manager
BritBox, iPhone 12, Apple Watch SE, and More
For me, 2021 was the year of social media ads following me until I broke down and bought the sweaters and shoes they demanded. My favorite Instagrammers got me to buy a cookbook and Vitamin-C serum, among other things. This year’s big tech purchases were gifts: upgrading my sister to an Apple Watch SE and my mom to an iPhone 12 (not the iPhone 13 to save some cash). So far, so good with the Apple Watch; better water resistance is a plus for someone with young kids. I’m playing tech support at Christmas and will activate mom’s iPhone then. Wish me luck. I also gifted mom a subscription to BritBox for her fix of grisly English murder shows; I’d recommend Shetland if you have dreams of staring wistfully at a restless sea from the cliffs of a remote Scottish island. —Chloe Albanesius, Executive Editor
Canva/Kindle Direct Publishing
Using Kindle Direct Publishing and Canva, I was able to put out a book this year, a few copies of which are sitting on my shelf. I’ve had some time to rededicate myself to writing flash fiction and was fortunate enough to have several pieces published over the past year or so. Short-story collections are rarely going to bring in a book deal for an author who hasn’t yet put out a novel, so I didn’t have any hesitation about self-publishing just to see my work in print and maybe get some new readers. I learned the pains of formatting for print without a degree in design, easily made a cover in Canva, then uploaded both to Kindle Direct Publishing. Within 24 hours my book was for sale and I haven’t been the only one to purchase it. —Chandra Steele, Senior Features Writer
ChargePoint Home Flex Electric Vehicle Charger
My favorite new gadget this year lives in my garage. Having fast level 2 charging at home is ideal since I recently purchased my first electric car. The ChargePoint Home Flex Electric Vehicle Charger is compact, fairly slick-looking (as far as garage accessories go), and lets me juice up my Mini Cooper SE each night so I rarely have to rely on public EV charging stations. The very intuitive app makes it easy to schedule charging for times when electricity is least expensive, and it also serves up useful (and geeky!) energy cost analysis. Most importantly, the charger is Alexa-enabled, so I can simply ask my smart speaker if I remembered to plug in the car at the end of the day. The cherry on top: The charger (and the Mini) are eligible for utility rebates and federal and local tax credits. —Wendy Sheehan Donnell, Editor
ColorCoral Cleaning Gel
I’m not a hyper-cleaner (ask my wife) but when I go on a mission to fight dust, I get a little nuts. When you’re cleaning up around a computer, especially in the muck-filled keyboard, it’s not enough to have a little brush and some canned air. A brightly colored cleaning gel—essentially a $6 plastic jar of slime—is a must. It picks up dust (and worse) in nooks and crannies that you didn’t know even existed. It also works great on the dashboard of the car, slurping out the vents, plus things like air conditioners. When the neon finally morphs to a gross brownish hue, throw it away and start a new one. I bought three this year, but they last a few months if you don’t let them dry out. —Eric Griffith, Features Editor
Kobo Libra H2O
I love books, and I love eBooks, and I don’t love Amazon, so I started using Kobo devices a few years ago and have become a stalwart convert. What spurred me to upgrade to the Kobo Libra H2O was its unique shape. The crisp E Ink screen has a bent bezel on one side, which makes it easier to hold than ebook readers with bezels beneath the screen. It also detects rotation, so I can easily switch hands. New improvements to the Kobo software make reading, notating, and looking up words easier than ever, but the killer app remains its tight integration with local libraries through OverDrive. I can borrow books directly with Libra or use the excellent Libby app on my phone and know that the book will be delivered to my Kobo where I can start it later. (You can get the same form factor in a newer model from Kobo in the Kobo Libra 2 and the larger Kobo Sage.)—Max Eddy, Senior Analyst
Kuvrd Universal Lens Cap
I didn’t buy any big-ticket items in 2021, just several small products; adjunct tech, you might say. While I love my Anker portable battery and Speck phone case—one saves my phone’s battery life, the other saves my phone—my favorite tech purchase in 2021 is the Kuvrd Universal Lens Cap. I am a loser of lens caps, but I don’t have to worry about buying caps for specific lenses any longer. This stretchy product can cover 99% of DSLR lenses, either the front or rear of the lens, the company claims. I can vouch that it fits snugly onto each of my Canon lenses. And for some reason, I haven’t lost this one. Yet. —Carol Mangis, Managing Editor, PCMag Digital Edition
LG C1 55 4K OLED TV
With so much more time spent at home during the pandemic (and my significant other really getting into gaming, too), we took the plunge on a shiny new TV around Black Friday. The LG C1 55 4K OLED lives up to the hype for its remarkable picture quality and color (We reviewed the 65-inch, but close enough). It shouldn’t be much of a surprise, as it’s pricey, but it’s a great example of getting what you pay for. Even run-of-the-mill shows and reality TV look much better, but colorful and contrast-filled films and games look particularly fantastic thanks to OLED and HDR. We mounted it on our wall, too, and it really elevates the living room. Expensive to be sure, but I’m happy to say there’s no buyer’s remorse on this one. —Matt Buzzi, Senior Analyst
I’m constantly working on foreign language skills, sometimes for personal enrichment and sometimes for survival. After testing and writing a review of Lingoda, I decided to pay for a subscription and keep going with their online Spanish classes. Anyone who has plateaued with Duolingo or another free language learning app knows that they need the real challenge of speaking with and listening to other humans to keep up or advance their skills. Lingoda’s inexpensive, hour-long group classes over Zoom have fantastic curricula and great instructors. —Jill Duffy, Deputy Managing Editor
Logitech M110 Silent Mouse
I wear out a mouse once a year, which means I don’t like to spend a lot of money on new ones. The downside is that I typically only get noisy rodents made of cheap plastic. However, I found the perfect compromise of cost and quietness with the Logitech M110 Silent Mouse.
As the name suggests, it’s nearly silent in operation. Button clicks are still audible, but only barely. The plastic casing doesn’t feel cheap, and it’s available in a range of colors. The one negative is the scroll wheel, which is hard to get any purchase on when brand new. After a few weeks, that problem solves itself. It’s a corded mouse, so not an option if you want the freedom of wireless. At only $26 with no batteries to worry about, I love it. —Matthew Humphries, Senior News Editor
I love the Nintendo Switch. Nintendo makes incredible games and being able to play them on both the TV and on the go is an awesome gimmick. However, it’s not the strongest console on the market, and after looking at crisp next-gen Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 visuals on a 4K TV, it can be tough to go back to somewhat blurry Switch games. That’s why I bought the mClassic Cable. This is an HDMI cable with a built-in graphics card capable of anti-aliasing and other post-processing tricks. In other words, it makes games look cleaner and better. Granted, it can’t perform miracles, but even if I only noticed subtle upgrades while playing Switch games on my 4K TV with the mClassic Cable, that helps me enjoy this great system even more and is a worthy purchase. (For more, read mClassic Is an HDMI Upconverter Designed by Arabian Prince.)—Jordan Minor, Analyst
Midea U-Shaped Air Conditioner
This year I replaced all of my home air conditioners with Midea U units, and wow, it made a huge difference. The Midea U puts the compressor outside the window, dramatically reducing noise. That irritating background thrum from your window air conditioners running all day is replaced by much less bothersome fan sounds. I can sleep with my head right up against it! I’m also thrilled that the Midea U is much more energy-efficient than the older Westinghouse and LG air conditioners it replaced. —Sascha Segan, Lead Analyst
My family spent all the money we would have spent on gym fees and trainers this pandemic year on a Mirror. It’s an incredibly flexible and convenient home system that fits our studio apartment much better than the treadmills, Bowflexes, and squat racks we have owned in the past. Whether it’s yoga, strength training, or stretching and relaxation, we use it every day, and there’s really nothing more important than that when it comes to staying fit in these crappy times. Yes, we wish it incorporated weights better (or, really, at all), but our only real complaint was that we had pretty consistent trouble keeping it connected to our network. —Sean Carroll, Managing Editor
Recommended by Our Editors
Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition
Ever camped out to buy a product? I don’t recommend it. But that’s what I had to do to snag this Nvidia Founders Edition RTX 3080. Back in July, I waited outside a Best Buy in San Francisco for over 24 hours to buy the PC graphics card. The card performs great. But to me, the real value is sentimental. I spent an insane effort to obtain the GPU during what’s become the worst chip shortage in history. But I’m not alone. This year, consumers everywhere have had to go above and beyond to obtain a graphics card or video game console. The experience is exhilarating when you finally succeed, but here’s hoping we never have to endure this situation again. —Michael Kan, Senior News Reporter
Roku Voice Remote Pro
If you lose your Roku remote a lot—don’t feel bad, they’re small—get a backup. The Roku Voice Remote Pro is the same one that ships with the Roku Ultra, but for less than $30 bucks you can use it with any Roku device. Yes, you can have more than one working remote in the room! It has a rechargeable battery, headphone jack for listening to the TV privately, personal shortcut buttons, and voice capabilities (say “Hey, Roku, where’s my remote?” when you enter a room to make it beep out a locator noise). I might buy 2 so my wife and I can both wear headphones and tune out the kid. —Eric Griffith, Features Editor
Nothing about a writing app sounds inherently cool, but trust me on this one: Scrivener is incredibly cool. The writer’s tool of writer’s tools for long-form work, Scrivener gives you numerous, useful templates; various progress-tracking word counts; and a Corkboard view that helps you outline and organize your piece by rearranging flash card-like blocks. And those are just three of the many writer-friendly features. If you’re looking to dive deep into a writing project like, say, a manuscript, there’s no better place to start your journey than with Scrivener.—Jeff Wilson, Managing Editor
Sony ZV-1 Camera
The Sony ZV-1 has changed my life. It’s my new “everything” camera. As a rookie comedian, I record my sets at open mics so I can watch back the tape, cringe at myself, and perform better next time. Other comics started asking me to tape their sets, even big performances like opening for famous headliners. Being known as “the one who will tape you” has strengthened my social ties in the arts community. I’ve used it to take headshots of my friends for their posters, to tape my friends so they can submit to bookers, and most recently to start a YouTube channel with my good friend (it’s a vlogging camera, after all!). I’d love to be a DSLR master, but I don’t have time to learn everything. The ZV-1 got me out of “nervous student” mode and into “confident creator” mode without a learning curve. —Daniela LaFave, SEO Manager
TCL 32-Inch Roku Smart TV (32S327)
Working from home means I finally got a chance to kit out my office and make it into the cozy gaming cafe and writing nook of my dreams. I have four computers in there, plus a Nintendo Switch, a Neo Geo, and even a music production setup. Until recently, the one missing thing was something to really tie the room together, a la the rug from The Big Lebowski. That’s why I got a TCL 32-inch TV. It often broadcasts a burning yule log, bringing a bit of holiday cheer to the room. I use it to play Just Dance 2022 in my off-hours and show my favorite k-dramas and BTS music videos throughout the day. The extra screen brightens up my room and lifts my mood. I can finally say my office is complete. —Kim Key, Analyst
TCL 55-Inch 6 Series 4K Roku TV (55R635)
The best thing my family bought was in the first week of January: A TCL 55-4K TV. We love having the Roku TV interface built-in, and the picture with 4K HDR content looks stunning and still great with 1080p. Scene lighting and color tones seem almost OLED-quality, and the TV was less than half the price of the competition. We couldn’t be happier. (TCL has already supplanted our model with a newer 6 Series featuring even more picture improvements and a switch to Google TV, but we’re glad we got the Roku version.)—Jamie Lendino, Executive Editor
Xbox Series X
I’m a lifelong console gamer, but the hobby fell by wayside for a few years. Up until Covid, that is. I spent much of 2020 playing video games instead of going to real places, so when the new Xbox Series X was announced I was ready to replace it. Boy, did that go poorly. I spent most of 2021 trying. I slacked off early, figuring the supply would catch up with the demand, turned up my nose at spending more than retail, and kept myself happy toiling away at some older RPGs.
I kicked up my efforts in the back half of the year, adding stock alerts via HotStock, paying attention to Michael Kan’s restock reporting here at PCMag, and dutifully refreshing my browser to catch an in-stock console. Patience won out, and I scored one for MSRP. The only problem? It’s not going to arrive until 2022. —Jim Fisher, Lead Analyst
ZSA Moonlander Mark I
Lusting after the fancy split keyboards I saw all over my Mastodon feed led me to the Moonlander Mark I. This keyboard is split completely down the middle, connected by a cord running between the two, making it look like two giant oven mitts. They can be placed however feels comfortable to you—far apart, close together, at different angles, etc. —and individually raised and tented to fit your hands. At first, I struggled with the ortholinear keys (a grid, not offset like normal keyboards) and the unlabeled keys. It took several weeks of working with the bundled typing instructor before I started to feel confident with it. Now, I can’t imagine life without it, and even large traditional keyboards feel cramped to me. —Max Eddy, Senior Analyst
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