A year like none other deserved a gadget show like none other, and CES 2021 delivered. The first all-digital show in the 55-year history of CES arrived as a necessary measure to keep attendees safe amid COVID, leaving the entire industry to experience via webcam what once occupied a convention center the size of a small city. It was enough to make us pine for the days when all we had to complain about were crusty press lunches and getting smacked with selfie sticks.
But it wasn’t all bad! While we missed the electricity of the live events, the comradery of coworkers, and the delight of meeting new people on buses, CES 2021 proved that the technology industry is uniquely suited to carry on in an all-digital environment. These are the companies that invented half the tools, after all. Press conferences went off without a hitch, companies shipped us prototypes to play with, and Digital Trends’ unique CES Experience Center made it possible to virtually come together as an editorial team and share our impressions with you, even from afar.
Oh, and the gadgets. Companies rose to the occasion with the usual spate of outrageous concepts, COVID-fighting devices to meet the moment, and new technologies we’ve been waiting ages for. So naturally, we had to pick the best of the best. Here they are.
Best in Show: LG A-Series OLED TV
By Nick Mokey
CES may be all about the sizzle, but for our Best in Show award, we’ve always focused on the steak (or the burger, in the case of CES 2019). We’re looking for real products that will actually shake things up when they arrive in the near future, not 3D-printed concepts that make us roll our eyes when we look back. In years past, we’ve arrived at everything from brain-controlled prosthetic limbs to supercomputers that will power safer cars, but this year, we reached deep and picked the pragmatic product that speaks to the exhausted Netflix binger in all of us.
The Top Tech of 2021 Best in Show award goes to LG’s spectacular and spectacularly affordable A-series OLED television.
Weren’t there bigger, brighter, better TVs at CES 2021? Sure, but we guarantee none will be as warmly received as this one: People are stuck at home. They’re burned out. And they don’t have a lot of disposable income. A TV of this caliber arriving at a price the masses can afford is manna from heaven.
OLED has been the gold standard of TV technology for a decade now, continuously topping our lists of the best TVs and earning rave reviews industrywide. But only for those with deep enough pockets to play. The LG CX series we currently highly recommend costs $2,200 at 65 inches. Last year’s “budget” LG B series still retails for $1,400 at 55 inches. LG promises the A series will be much more affordable to a wider audience, and while LG won’t talk numbers yet, we’re confident we’ll reach the kind of prices the average family can afford.
How did they do it? By ripping out the bells and whistles the average family doesn’t need: Fancy processors, HDMI 2.1, swanky bezels. You just get solid processing and the killer panel that makes OLED magic. And unlike Vizio’s budget competition, there’s a size for every household: 48-, 55-, 65-, and 77-inches. You don’t need a McMansion to qualify.
LG hasn’t yet released photos of the A Series, but it shouldn’t be too far off from this previous model shown in the photo above.
Automotive: Mercedes-Benz MBUX Hyperscreen
By Ronan Glon
Mercedes-Benz unveiled the technology that many of its peers and rivals have talked about for years. The MBUX Hyperscreen is a true next-generation infotainment platform that bundles the features you’re used to seeing in your car, like navigation and vehicle settings, with cool new content, like entertainment and on-the-go shopping.
The 56-inch curved OLED screen is double-coated to reduce reflections, and its massive size allows the driver and the front passenger to each enjoy their own display, so you won’t miss a turn even if the person next to you is browsing a playlist. Artificial intelligence lets the system learn the driver’s habits, whether it’s calling someone at the same time every day or activating the hot-stone-massage function on your drive home.
Unlike many of the new technologies announced at CES 2021, the MBUX Hyperscreen is around the corner. It will make its production debut later in 2021 in the EQS, an electric luxury sedan that will break new ground for Mercedes-Benz and is positioned near the top of the carmaker’s range.
Computing: Nvidia GeForce RTX 30-series mobile graphics
By Luke Larsen
Gaming has never been bigger and more influential, especially coming out of the year that was 2020. The problem? You still can’t buy one of those hot new consoles, nor can you upgrade your desktop with one of the next-gen graphics cards. The low supply and scalping problems have left a hole for new gaming hardware, and Nvidia just gave us the key to filling it — the RTX 30-series graphics cards for laptops.
Nvidia says its low-end option, the RTX 3060, is 30% more powerful than the PlayStation 5, while the flagship GPU can play games at 90 frames per second in 1440p. Of course, you can never just take performance data for granted. But the proof is in what these new graphics inspired laptop manufacturers to go and create.
CES this year brought us an explosion of innovation in the world of portable gaming, from laptops with 1440p 240Hz screens to inventive new ways of connecting external graphics. There’s never been such a wide range of options and experiences to choose from — and the power in Nvidia’s new graphics is what makes it all possible.
Gaming: Acer Nitro XV282K KV gaming monitor
Going into CES 2021, there was one thing gamers were certain they’d see: Monitors and TVs that could actually capitalize on the power of new consoles. While the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X both boast impressive specs, few monitors were actually able to deliver the promise of 4K gaming at 120Hz at launch. We expected this CES to usher in a new era of new console-ready screens — and that’s exactly what happened. Sometimes the best CES picks are the ones you saw coming from a mile away.
When it comes to new monitors, Acer’s Nitro XV282K KV is an exciting development, even if it was totally expected. The 28-inch gaming screen supports HDMI 2.1, which is a big deal. HDMI 2.1 is basically the missing link that lets gamers experience high resolutions and refresh rates sumultaneously without sacrificing one for the other. Now gamers will be able to play titles in 4K, 120Hz glory for $900.
With the Nitro XV, players can finally unlock the real potential of the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. We’ve only seen half of what these consoles are capable of, so now the next-generation of graphics can truly begin.
TV and Audio: Samsung micro-LED TVs
Samsung’s monstrous micro-LED TVs may not be practical, but when it comes to showstopping, jaw-dropping screens of pure awesome, these next-gen TVs are where it’s at. After showing off its “The Wall” modular commercial displays for two years, Samsung is now bringing one-piece micro-LED TV tech to the home in 88-, 99-, and 110-inch sizes, which represents some significant innovation and progress for TV tech at this year’s show.
Smart Home: Samsung JetBot 90 AI+
By John Velasco
Samsung redeemed itself in the robot vacuum space with the announcement of the Samsung Jetbot 90 AI+, its most ambitious robot vac to date. And why’s that? Well, not only is it beastly looking, like a miniature tank for your living room, but it’s smarter thanks to a built-in camera and A.I.-enhanced object-recognition technology.
Essentially, it’ll avoid objects in its cleaning path, and the massive wheels enable it to go up and around dividers throughout the house, hoisting itself up a little to clear them.
The integrated camera enables it to act as a security watchdog when you’re out, so you can keep tabs on the kids or pets. And lastly, it comes with an automatic disposal system that empties the contents of the bot when it’s done, so you don’t need to empty it after every run.
Mobile: TCL NXTPAPER tablet
By Andrew Martonik
We’re all staring at screens more than ever, and eye strain and damage are real problems. TCL’s NXTPAPER tablet takes a step in the right direction, with a display that emits no light at all. NXTPAPER eases eye strain by removing the backlight entirely, leaving you to work with the room’s ambient lighting, like an e-reader. But unlike traditional e-ink screens, NXTPAPER is relatively high resolution, in full color, with a 30Hz refresh rate.
The tablet comes in at 8.8 inches and runs a complete version of Android, meaning you can use apps just like any other tablet — but with a more natural viewing experience. It’s an important development, especially for children, who are facing increased screen time and are particularly susceptible to eye damage from displays. And the TCL NXTPAPER tablet will be available very soon for an affordable price of 349 euros, or $426 U.S.
There’s simply too much amazing stuff at CES to hand out only one award, and editors had to make some close calls, so we’re also recognizing finalists in every category. They may be the runners-up, but they’re still incredible.
Automotive: Cadillac Celestiq
By Ronan Glon
Cadillac is moving upmarket as it electrifies. At CES 2021, it previewed a range-topping electric sedan named Celestiq that will be largely built by hand and packed with cool tech features, like a smart glass roof made up of four panels that can be tinted individually. It will feature all-wheel drive and four-wheel steering, too, and I’m expecting a head-turning design, but it won’t be fully unveiled until later in 2020.
It’s one of several electric cars that Cadillac will release in the coming years. Parent company General Motors also has additional EVs in the pipeline, including sedans, pickup trucks, and SUVs.
Computing: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga
By Luke Larsen
I’ve never counted myself as a ThinkPad devotee — you can tell because I still fumble around when trying to use the signature TrackPoint nub. That’s why the ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga surprised me so much. For a brand that is known for its legacy, its latest entry in the lineup is one of the most forward-thinking laptops I’ve seen in years.
Thanks to the use of titanium, this 2-in-1 is an ultrathin and light laptop that doesn’t sacrifice build quality or performance along the way. The difference in portability has to be felt to be truly appreciated. It also has a gorgeous 3:2 aspect-ratio screen, a feature that has made the Titanium Yoga the laptop I keep wanting to go back to when I want to be productive. For a business laptop, what more could you ask for?
Gaming: Arcade1Up Pong 4-Player Pub Table
While there was plenty of exciting gaming tech at CES, from laptops to creative cloud gaming solutions, it’s hard not to be charmed by Arcade1Up’s commitment to retro gaming. The company unveiled its new line of old-school arcade cabinets at the show, including tributes to classics like X-Men: The Arcade Game.
The most eye-catching, however, is the company’s new Pong 4-Player Pub Table. The round table is a home statement piece that comes installed with eight classic games. Up to four players can compete using built-in joysticks and buttons. What’s more notable here is the clever mix of niche retro gaming and practical design. It’s hard to argue for why you should own a full arcade cabinet, but it’s much easier to justify buying a nice pub table that happens to play games, too.
TV and Audio: TCL Alto R1 Soundbar
Getting cinematic sound with your TV used to be complicated and expensive, but soundbars have made getting face-melting sound easier and more affordable than ever. This year, TCL and Roku are making things that much more convenient and practical using Roku’s Roku Ready audio platform, which allows high-resolution audio to be sent from a Roku TV to a soundbar completely wirelessly. The Alto R1 is just the first of such soundbars to come from TCL, with several Dolby Atmos options on the way. Now that Roku’s done it, expect Google and Amazon to follow up close behind.
Smart Home: NordicTrack Vault
By John Velasco
Workout fitness displays have gained popularity this past year, as people abandon gyms to work out in the safety of home. At CES 2021, the NordicTrack Vault gave us a good look at just how good it can get.
It’s an astounding package because of how much of a gym experience it packs into one piece of equipment. Yes, it features a gigantic mirror with an embedded 32-inch touchscreen display that allows you to follow the instructors as you work out — while ensuring you’re doing it with perfect form.
What sets the Vault apart from its rivals is that it contains a compartment within the mirror display that discreetly tucks away all the dumbbells, kettlebells, and resistance bands that come with it. Whether it’s strength training or cardio, you’re all set from the get-go because the Vault comes with everything you need.
Mobile: Motorola Moto G series (2021)
By Andrew Martonik
Motorola’s Moto G line has been a stalwart of the affordable smartphone space for the better part of a decade now, and its 2021 lineup is set to continue the company’s strength in the segment. The Moto G Power, Moto G Play, and Moto G stylus all bring big screens, big batteries, and slick Android experiences with solid specs and cameras. And they don’t break the bank — ranging from $150 to $350, they’re the pragmatic choices that will undoubtedly be great sellers in 2021.