We’ve reviewed plenty of tech this year, so what’s the best technology in 2020? From headphones to computers to speakers and more, find out.
It’s almost the end of the year, and we’re not done summing up the year of tech that was. While Pickr handles a lot of phones and such, picking the best phone of 2020, we’re also sorting through a good assortment of other gear, and there was a lot of that this year.
It’s not just phones that made an impact in 2020, because there were a lot of tablets, computers, headphones, speakers, services and more. As usual — and much to the surprise of virtually no one — there was so much gear, we found it almost entirely impossible to get through, and we’re still running through our backlog for the year.
But we need to get through what we have and work out the best tech of 2020, so here goes…
Best headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4
We’ve taken a look at a lot of headphones this year, and the competition has been pretty fierce. But notably, Sony followed suit on its regular WH-1000XM winners with the XM4 this year, updating a model that has won headphone of the year every year since we started these things.
And this year, Sony does it again, clinching the headphone victory with a pair of headphones that delivers impressive sound with a warm rendition of everything, balance, volume, some of the best noise cancellation in the world, and some great new features to change how your headphones cancel the world as you move about.
Plus there’s the value: while the RRP is around the $500 mark, you can regularly find the Sony WH-1000XM4 for under $400 if you look around. They’re just a stellar deal, and the best headphones in 2020, bar none.
Best earphones: Sony WF-1000XM3
Sony’s best headphones are matched by last year’s in-earphone equivalent, the WF-1000XM3, a pair of earphones that still stands out, delivering warm sound and excellent noise cancellation regardless of whether you’re on iPhone or Android.
This year was a hard call, to be sure, deciding between the still excellent Apple AirPods Pro, the thoroughly brilliant Bose QC EarBuds, the surprisingly warm Oppo Enco W51, the lovely Technics AZ70W, and even seeing something nice from Jabra in the Elite 85t, but we think Sony still has the edge here, even with the addition of Spatial Audio in the AirPods Pro. Sony’s WF-1000XM3 earphones still sound that good, and are hard to shake from this top spot.
Best fitness earphones: BlueAnt Pump Air X
There have been some pretty strong options with earphones made for running and exercising this year, but we’re giving this one to Australia’s BlueAnt because of two reasons: value and battery life.
At around the $230 mark — and found for under $200 at street price (closer to $180 upon last glance) — the BlueAnt Pump Air X offer a pretty decent value, and deliver on battery life, too, achieving six hours of use and another 60 in the case, as well as sweat resistance. That’s what we call a win.
Best value earphones: Oppo Enco W51
BlueAnt achieves solid value, too, but it’s actually not our winner for the best value earphones. Rather, it’s from an unlikely source: Oppo.
You might know Oppo for its value-driven smartphones, plus a phone that managed to get in with one of the best phone cameras of 2020, but it also used to do a lot in the audio space.
This year, Oppo returned to Australia’s audio world with the Enco range of earphones, and totally surprised with a pair of earphones that delivers decent noise cancellation and excellent audio quality for around the $250 mark. You typically don’t get a good combination of the two for below $300, making the Enco W51 a winner in our books.
Best speaker: Sonos Arc
Speakers are getting big and powerful, but Sonos showed us just how impressive a speaker could be with the Sonos Arc, a long soundbar that delivers so much volume and bass, we’re not sure it should be physically possible.
This speaker is longer yet thinner than the previous Sonos Playbar soundbar, and yet also delivers so much more impact, plus enough speakers to deliver Dolby Atmos sound, meaning sound can happen all around you by bouncing audio around the room.
The Sonos Arc is a phenomenal soundbar worthy of any home. It’s so good and so impactful, you may not even need a subwoofer. It’s just that impressive.
Best smart speaker: Amazon Echo (gen 4)
The Sonos also acts as a great smart speaker, supporting both the Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa, but it wasn’t the only smart speaker this year.
Google also offered the updated Nest Audio which was decent, and Apple had the Siri-enabled HomePod Mini offering something for iPhone owners.
But in terms of great quality smart speakers that nail the price, Amazon’s fourth generation Echo is the one to beat. Arriving in a shape that will surprise and likely be a talking point in the home, the Echo gen 4 delivers a spherical speaker with a whole lot of sound.
We feel the app could be better, and it doesn’t help you much if you don’t use Amazon’s music service, so some improvements wouldn’t go astray. But between the flexibility of the Amazon Echo skill system, and the amount and quality of volume on offer in the new Echo, this is definitely one speaker worth checking out.
Best smart display: Google Nest Hub Max
There hasn’t been a lot of movement in this category this year, but smart displays aren’t dead. Rather, they’re just getting better, and the Google Nest Hub might just be the best around right now.
Supporting calls, the ability to watch streaming TV shows, and something you can set up for mum and dad with a remotely updating photo frame of family photos, we’re calling the Google Nest Hub Max the best of the smart displays again this year.
Best tablet: Apple iPad 10.2 8th gen
Apple updated much of its tablet line-up this year, and it wasn’t the only company to do so, either. We’re still seeing plenty of tablets in 2020, and that’s great, but if you’re looking for a tablet that epitomises value and capability, it’s hard to look beyond the standard entry-level iPad 10.2, which this year dropped in price and yet gained performance.
To Apple’s credit, it has two takes on cost-effective iPad models this year, with the iPad 8th gen and the 2020 iPad Air, each delivering value in different ways. In the latter, the new iPad Air is a gadget focused on creatives, bringing the look, feel, and much of the capability of the iPad Pro for a less expensive price, making it an iPad Pro for everyone else.
But we’re giving the award for the best tablet of 2020 to the 8th gen iPad, a $499 tablet that comes with support for an optional but physical keyboard, Apple’s Pencil stylus, and is a little faster this year, too. The 2020 iPad is impossibly solid value that is hard to beat.
Best computer: Apple MacBook Air M1
2020 might have been a bit of a weird year, but computers had a strong showing, with some great laptops for PC and Mac alike.
However Apple might have offered the best out of the whole thing, launching its own hardware platform with the M1, the first breed of Apple Silicon. Capable of some blazingly fast performance, support for iOS apps on macOS, and impressive battery life, the M1 MacBooks are definitely something to look for.
Apple’s least expensive M1 MacBook, the MacBook Air, nabs our choice for best computer this year because of all of those reasons, but also because it’s less expensive than the also-excellent M1 MacBook Pro, but manages to perform on par with the more exy machine. That’s a winner for us.
Best wearable: Withings ScanWatch
There’s been a decent assortment of updates to the wearable world this year, but one of the gadgets we saw at CES went on to surprise us, and not just because of what it does, but what it does in Australia specifically.
Withings’ ScanWatch doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the hybrid smartwatch world, but what it does do differently in Australia is bring support for an electrocardiograph, making it the only smartwatch with ECG switched on in Australia as of the end of 2020. That’s not something Apple can lay claim to, nor Samsung, nor Fitbit, nor anyone else. Just Withings.
ECG approval aside, the Withings ScanWatch offers great battery life, curiously cool health metrics, and a style that’s pretty nice to look at. It’s a fantastic combination that leads to what is a little nicer than just a modest watch upgrade, and makes it a wearable ideal for so many, not just those with a specific type of phone.
Best kids tech: GoCube
Kids tech hasn’t felt like the force it was last year, but one of the gadgets we connected with not only solved a bucket list, but also provides a physical multiplayer game for kids and teens.
You’d never believe it unless we showed it to you, but the GoCube is a modern and multiplayer equivalent of a Rubik’s Cube, taking the classic kids toy and making it something a little more connected for our day and age.
That’s great for kids, and may help sharpen and train their minds, but there’s also a great component for adults, allowing them to finally — yes, finally — finish a Rubik’s Cube. Hooray.
Best accessory: Belkin GaN 68W Boost Charge Pack
One of the best surprises from CES 2020, the idea of Gallium Nitride kind of took us by surprise. Shortened to GaN in the industry, the material is a replacement for silicon in power chargers and runs cooler, allowing power packs to be a little smaller and more capable.
That means a MacBook Air’s 30 watt charger can be smaller, as can one made for a MacBook Pro, with Belkin sweetening the deal by throwing an extra USB Type C port, making the Belkin 68W GaN just such a great little gadget.
If you own a Mac or PC, and you happen to have a phone that needs charging, this little brick will handle both, and in a smaller size than what your laptop comes in. It’s in our pack and part of our new daily driver, going with us everywhere.
GaN is the best accessory for this year, and Belkin’s won us over from the get-go.
Best surprise: Apple AirPods Max
A pair of headphones that came rather out of left field, Apple’s endeavour to try bigger over-ear headphones wasn’t exactly a secret, and rumoured for some time. But when it did arrive, the result was rather more like a pair of audiophile headphones, but made wireless.
At $899, the Apple AirPods Max won’t be for everyone, but those who do dive in will hear big volume with an even bigger impact, delivering some of the best bass we’ve heard in a pair of headphones and a design that stands out.
While they’re hard to find at the launch at the end of the year, the AirPods Max are a surprise that we’re delighted to see in this crazy year that was 2020.
Best music service: Spotify
Another solid year for Spotify, delivering a service that continued to evolve, snapping up podcasts, wellness playlists, launching an app for kids in Australia, and still offering a free service, with one that also works as a freebie on smart speakers, too.
Spotify also keeps hold to this spot because of what the app can do, controlling speakers that have apps that aren’t fantastic. An example of this is the Amazon Echo speakers, with the Spotify app able to control speakers remotely in Premium accounts, something the no other music service can do.
In second place, Apple Music is steadily improving, and offers some of the best music-oriented podcasts you can find, but we’d love it if Apple would add support for controlling speakers over the app, and would make it a more solid competitor. YouTube Music also gained presence this year as Google killed off Google Play Music, though YouTube still has issues, while Tidal feels like it’s improving, too, now offering video concerts and support for Dolby Atmos music, something we wish Apple would do.
Spotify still has the edge it seems, at least in 2020.
Best video service: Disney+
Australians get a pretty solid selection of video services to choose from, what with Netflix, Stan, Amazon Prime Video, Binge, Disney+, Hayu, and Kayo, among others, not to mention the assortment of free-to-air catchup services from the broadcasters, including Seven, Nine, Ten, ABC, and the SBS.
But we think Disney+ might have nailed it this year, bringing more adult-oriented content to the table including Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, plus more Star Wars, and even two titles that were originally skewed to hit the cinemas first, Mulan and Soul.
Best gaming service: Xbox Game Pass
Something a little new for our service round-up in 2020, we’re adding game services just because there’s more than one. Between what’s on the Xbox, what’s on the PlayStation, and what’s on the PC, Mac and iPhone, we’ve found Microsoft’s take to be one of the more generous approaches to gaming overall.
Sony’s PlayStation Plus gives you a couple of games and DLC, plus some discounts, while Apple Arcade is all about games, though whether or not you dig them as much as others you might pay for may well leave a question mark looming over your head. And then there’s EA Play, which digs up EA games across platforms.
Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass arrives in both console and PC equivalents, or a neat “ultimate” edition that gets both, and delivers top tier titles as well as some of the classic games. Titles can disappear from the platform at times, but the amount of games on Xbox Game Pass make it a must have for owners of an Xbox, and could be something they can live on if they opt for a digital console.