From phones and earbuds to e-readers, there were plenty of new devices this year that made a good thing even better and are easy to recommend.
But there were also plenty of cases where companies took a big swing at something new and didn’t quite make it. Here are three gadgets from 2021 that, while not for everyone, could really hit it big in their next iteration.
Microsoft Surface Duo 2
The original duo was a bit bewildering, not only because it was a phone with two screens pretending to be a new category of productivity device, but because it was an Android phone from Microsoft. It was a device with a lot of promise and a lot of problems, and while the Duo 2 doesn’t solve all the issues, the promise is still there.
As with Samsung’s Galaxy Flip I love the idea of a phone you can close, and, unlike any foldable phone, you can open this one all the way, like folding a paperback, and get one fat screen that reminds me pleasantly of a BlackBerry. If you want to use both screens at once, you can open the phone to any degree and the screens will stay there, and the software is great at letting you run and interact with both at the same time. It’s when you want to expand one experience across the two screens that you can come a bit unstuck.
Apps need to be specifically programmed to do this; for example Outlook lets you view an email on one screen and look through your inbox on the other, and Xbox Game Pass lets you play touch-enabled games like the phone’s a big Nintendo DS. All other apps will just treat the two screens like one big screen with a crack in the middle. I thought this would be an excellent device for reading, but currently it only works if the apps naturally have a gap in the middle and a page on either side. The Kindle app looked great, but most other reading apps and sites tried to spread one page across both screens.
Microsoft is so close, and it may well be that a future update from Android could make the Duo a game-changer. But for now, it really only works if you stick to the company’s own apps.
Apple’s M1-powered iPad Pro
There’s no denying that Apple’s in-house chips have made a massive impact in the computing space. The M1 represents a total rethink for mobile-focused system-on-a-chip units compared to what was the status quo from Intel and Qualcomm. You only have to look at something like the MacBook Air, which is now so much more powerful than it used to be, without a major increase in price, size, power consumption or heat. And when you add active cooling, or some extra grunt via the M1 Pro or M1 Max, the efficiency gains are even greater.