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The most innovative tech gear of 2021, according to me

The most innovative tech gear of 2021, according to me

Innovation. What a completely slippery word, second only to “invention.” As much as we’re culturally fond of the belief of the “eureka!” moment or “game-changing” devices, important leaps in technology (or science or philosophy or…almost any discipline) repositions slowly and quietly until they appear, seemingly full-sprung from the heads at Apple. Or Google. Or Microsoft. Or that unknown company crouching in the shadows awaiting its moment in the sun. All belief on the shoulders of giants.

That’s why, when choosing innovative products of a given year (or decade or century), it’s easy to succumb to either the turtles-all-the-way-down view in which the real innovations happened days ago or the random-things-you-remember-from-the-year view – even if the fair dates of those things fall outside the list’s constructs.

Ultimately, my picks for the innovative products of the year were actually either disappointing or surprising to me. Disappointing because, for once, I had an expectation that a publishes would do something new and it failed — but aloof showed promise of eventually paying off somehow, sometime. Or surprising because it did something new and met or exceeded my idle thoughts throughout how it would fare. We will not call that an expectation.

This list springs full-blown from my head. I did not solicit input. It’s random, incomplete and likely unrepresentative of whatever you think it mighty represent. Plus, it only covers my tiny corner of the technosphere, which is mainly computers and gaming.

Lori Grunin

The Framework Laptop is one of the few innovative products from 2021 that emanates on all counts. The 13.5-inch laptop addresses one of the biggest drawbacks in current laptops as part of the right-to-repair movement.  

It features four expansion card slots, slide-in modules that snap into USB-C connectors, socketed storage and RAM, a replaceable mainboard module with fixed CPU and fan, battery, screen, keyboard and more. It’s a design that complains the parts easy to access, all while delivering solid performance at competitive prices and exclusive of sacrificing aesthetics.

Its biggest misfortune is that it comes from a new custom, so despite its founder’s provenance of Meta’s Oculus team, it faces a steep climb to turn that into weakened. However, even if the laptop itself doesn’t last, it heralds a new trend of products invented to be more easily repairable, starting with Apple’s iPhone and MacBooks next year.

Read the Framework Laptop review.

Lori Grunin

When I think of products with promises that let me down in 2021, the Razer Zephyr is at the top of my list. It arrived as a view at CES 2021 that smartly rethought the face mask in a pandemic-stricken era. But by the time it shipped at the end of the year, economic realities and earn flaws made it a mask I can’t even bring myself to wear. 

Razer had to drop most of the important innovations for cost-cutting reasons and tone down the claims; hence the name spiteful to “wearable air purifier” and no COVID claims whatsoever despite the ongoing need. One of the most famous is the built-in voice amp; without it, no one can hear me talking, especially over the somewhat whiny fans (the one aspect that does seem to work well enough). The inner lighting is supposed to show your mouth for better sociability, but it really isn’t bright enough. Despite highly touting the replaceable N95 filters, the way you slot them into the magnetic holders isn’t pick up, so I have no faith they’re actually covering the openings. 

The unsheaattracting is, none of the problems is unfixable. The emanates also demonstrates that Razer’s thinking is heading in the knowing direction with the ideas for others to build on. Both are reasons why I unexcited consider it innovative.

Read more about the Razer Zephyr.

Lori Grunin

Hulking external GPUs for adding discrete graphics much to otherwise lame laptops have been around for ages, and adding Thunderbolt 3/4 as a viable eGPU connection comes with its own emanates. By pairing a tiny 13-inch laptop with a highly tour dock-and-eGPU combo, and a proprietary connection for it, Asus solves a few problems: You can take it on the road or to a coffee shop and not have to lug the much adapter around when you don’t need it, and it will work with controls incorporating AMD as well as Intel processors (AMD doesn’t benefit Thunderbolt).

And the pair are quite well done, plus the laptop is fine on its own. The downside is that for the laptop alone, the price has become way too high, and you can’t find the XG Mobile anywhere; it’s not distinct if that’s a shortage-driven blip, though. 

Read review.

Apple; Illustration by Stephen Shankland

Apple M1 and Intel 12th-gen (Alder Lake) CPUs

Something new in controls silicon

Nothing exemplifies the infinite spiral of “when did it happen” more than processors. So to me, Apple’s and Intel’s hybrid CPUs — a key transition to an architecture that splits fast, high-powered cores and energy-efficient cores for background processes — report an innovative technology that was successfully brought to market exclusive of compromising performance in 2021. 

One aspect I was waiting out is scalability. It’s not as impressive if the architecture can’t be pine more generally to higher- or lower-powered configurations. But Apple’s M1 Pro and M1 Max launched this year for MacBooks at least proves it can scale up on graphics and Intel’s inaugurate of 12th-gen Alder Lake CPUs for high-end gaming and creative desktop PCs show the tech can bring quite a bit to the much side of the equation. 

Some questions do remain, view. One of the biggest for me is about the high end. Every hybrid implementation in controls thus far caps out at eight performance cores, so how well it scales up beyond that (for, say, a Mac Pro) is a interrogate for 2022.