It’s the holiday season, which means every tech brand is vying to be the one that makes your “holiday miracles” happen—as long as you’re willing to spend. As the decade closes, we’re getting overrun with a lot of cool gadgets, which all more or less work. But with such an over-saturated market, it’s a real challenge to figure out what is absolutely worth owning without spending thousands and thousands of dollars on trial and error. Fear not, weary gadget fan. We at Esquire did that trial and error so you can save those pennies.
Now, the items on this list aren’t all the utmost top of the line, but rather a mix of affordability and quality. If you can get something almost as good as the best and save 500 bucks while you’re at it, then we’re letting you know. Value matters. The gadgets on this list also did not all necessarily come out this year, but they are the newest models available. Don’t worry, we’re not pushing a five-year-old iPad Air like Karen on Facebook Marketplace. We were as fair as can be, taking everything and anything we could try out into consideration. For instance, Google absolutely crushed it this year, so the search-engine-turned-tech-savior shows up more than a few times, and there are oddball picks as well.
So start doing some presumably much-needed charging cord management to make way for the following: the best of the best in gadgets for 2019, for when you’ve got more than a hundred dollars to spare.
Google Pixel 4
The Pixel has aggressively staked its claim as the most reliable smartphone on the market, and this year Google finally flattened the competition, going up primarily against the iPhone 11 and the Samsung Note and S10. With the Pixel 4, there’s no exploding, few glitches, solid software, a refined OS, and a camera that combats, and beats, the others. While it may not have a telephoto lens for ultra-wide-angle shots like the iPhone 11 Pro, a valuable feature to be sure, the portrait mode and other camera variants in the Pixel 4 work leaps and bounds better than those on the new iPhones. Google also added a new feature that takes long exposure shots to get starry nights and other dark nature settings. While you’re not likely to use it as much as you’d like, and it requires that the phone stay still for a few minutes, it’s pretty cool to have that power in the palm of your hand. Google’s OS is another huge plus, with just enough of the customizable features you get from Androids, mixed with the more accessible and ergonomic design of Apple’s OS. But the one place Google shines the most is in its lack of native glitches, with barely any of the freezing, chugging, frame rate drops, or other annoyances that have been rampant in Apple and Samsung devices of late. The Pixel 4 retails starting at $799, but if you’ve been looking to break your blood oath to another brand, this is definitely the phone to do it with.
iPad 10.2 (7th Gen)
There are a lot of stellar tablets on the market, but the new iPad falls right in the middle: It comes in at a surprisingly low $330, especially for Apple, with the ability to use both the versatile Apple Pencil and smart keyboard. This iPad may not be as intense as its big brother the iPad Pro or some of the new Microsoft Surfaces, but that price point hits such a sweet spot for tablet shoppers, a majority of whom need something on the go for web-surfing. It also features a slightly bigger screen (jumping from the traditional 9.7-inch to a 10.2-inch) with crisp and sharp picture quality (a 2,160-by-1,620 Retina display), and the OS allows for more seamless multitasking than previous generations. The new 7th gen iPad proves why Apple has owned the consumer tablet market for years, and helps get the brand back to a time when a tablet was viewed as a tech accessory, instead of an attempt at a high-end computer substitute.
Microsoft Surface Laptop 3
Microsoft’s newest addition to the Surface family, the Surface Laptop 3, is a near perfect machine, giving the MacBook a real run for its money. It’s incredibly lightweight and features a touch screen, crisp picture quality, and a helluva lot of processing power. Starting at just under a thousand bucks, this laptop packs nearly equivalent power to the MacBook Pro in terms of its processor, screen resolution, and memory, meaning it’s a beast of a machine—and it is both lighter and thinner. The Surface Laptop 3 also features modular drives, allowing for easy storage expansion. It’s slick from a design standpoint too, coming in a traditional silver and black, but also a gorgeous sandstone and cobalt blue for those who want a little flair. Needless to say, if you want a new laptop and won’t flinch at the price, Microsoft’s got a powerful commuter companion.
JBL Reflect Flow
There are a lot of True Wireless buds out there, and—spoiler alert—none work as well as you’d like to believe. Truly wireless Bluetooth is still riddled with glitchy, unreliable audio and pairing nightmares. But somehow, the JBL Reflect Flow buds severely cut down on how often you have to deal with all these harsh realities, and that’s coupled with their deep, full sound quality and comfortable design. The best part is you get all of this for about 100 dollars less than the rest of the high-end sport headphone options. In true JBL fashion, the Reflect Flow come in four colorways, from neon yellow to plain black, a small detail but still a customization not seen in the true wireless field quite yet.
•Best Smartwatch, Part 1•
Fossil Gen 5 The Carlyle
This Fossil device puts the “watch” back in “smartwatch.” The best thing it has going for it is Fossil’s mastery of design. It’s easily the sharpest and most fashionable smartwatch on the market for the price, and it blends into outfits the way you want a watch to, unlike some of the chunkier, more athletic designs. Sure, there are $10k smartwatches out there that will help you live out your Tony Stark fantasies, but this one lands right in the $300 range. The OS is intuitive and works with a variety of smart devices; it can even control calls and receive texts from iPhones even though it is powered by Google, which is a massive plus. Fossil offers plenty of finishes and bands, so you’re always connected and feeling true to your own style, too.
•Best Smartwatch, Part 2•
Fossil Hybrid HR
Yes, there are two Fossil smartwatches on this list. Yes, they are that good. These Fossil “hybrid” styles are the middle-ground Fossil accessory for those who don’t want to wear anything remotely resembling a Buzz Lightyear-looking laser on their wrist. The watch face is totally analog, so there’s no busy LED screen. The “smart” comes in with a few brilliant features, including Bluetooth and fitness monitors. These hybrids can play music and adjust the volume, vibrate with notifications, and track your activity all through very subtle and normal-looking buttons. So if you’re searching for the features of a smartwatch but not so much intensity, the Hybrid HR is a natural match—for people who hate smartwatches.
The models in the TCL 6-Series are not the most technically advanced TVs on the market. They are, however, the best. TCL’s newest TVs have the picture quality and frame rate of a TV that would set you back $1,500, which is amazing when you consider that the TCLs start at $599 before any sale pricing. The 6-Series features top-of-the-line color display with over 100 contrast control points, allowing for intense colors and true blacks, as well as the Roku suite, meaning you can control all your apps and streaming for the home by operating the TV itself—and much more quickly than other smart TVs on the market. TCL did create a technically superior 8-Series this year that landed itself at a luxury price point, but what makes the 6-Series our choice is its ability to bring that luxury-level picture quality to those without thousands to spend.
•Best Gadget for Kids•
The duality of having children: You want your kids to have a phone because things would be much easier if they did, but a phone nowadays opens up a black hole of social media, games, and other obsessions. So Verizon created a new kid-centric smartwatch called the GizmoWatch. This watch allows for calling and texting with 10 trusted contacts, and gives parents a GPS tag to keep tabs on their children (no microchipping necessary)—but there’s not much else going on with the watch to suck up their attention. It gets activated on a special cellular plan with Verizon, but don’t worry, it’s not going to require unlimited data or an otherwise intense plan. The GizmoWatch shows restraint while including the important things that’ll keep your kid safe. Cute, too.
•Best Smart Home Assistant•
Google Nest Hub Max
Dare we say, this is the only good smart home hub. Google crushed the game with its bigger and better iteration of the original Hub, which already boasted a universally usable OS with simple on-screen controls. The new Nest Hub Max has a stunning physical design that can blend in to the scenery, wherever you choose to put it, with minimal bells and whistles and a mesh base. It also comes equipped with a killer speaker. As for smart assistance, Google Assistant is easily the most responsive voice out there, more times than not understanding what you’re saying to it and taking in a ton of context clues to help get you the most accurate possible result. In fact, there are so many features that you’ll keep accidentally learning new tasks that the Nest Hub Max can accomplish for you.
•Best Smart Home Decor•
Nanoleaf has been a frontrunner in the smart home decor field since its triangular Aurora lighting panels became one of the most interactive beauties to grace anyone’s home walls. Nanoleaf followed up the triangular techno vibe with a similarly interactive, but much more versatile, square design called Canvas. These light squares do everything from react to sound, mirror colors playing on a screen, support touch-based games, and even respond to smart home control gestures. Beyond all of this, they are modular, allowing you to construct some really stunning (and unique to you) light wall designs.
•Best Wifi Support•
Google Nest Wifi
If you don’t already know this, invest in a mesh network, few of which are as smooth to set up as the original Google Wifi. But before you buy that, Google just released a new iteration of its Wifi, and it’s the absolute best mesh network we’ve seen. The connection is even stronger than before, the literal design of it is subtle, and every single Nest Wifi Hub has a speaker and Google Assistant built in, meaning you can use them to field commands, play music, or do anything else a Google Assistant can do. Along with all of that, Google made it easy to check what’s wrong with your network (if anything) and can give you comprehensive information on what devices are hogging wifi. You can also set up guest networks, deliver stronger connections to preferred devices, loop devices together, and turn off wifi to some devices. Sucks for your kids at bedtime, but an excellent wifi solution for everyone else.
•Best Smart Kitchen Gadget•
Don’t be fooled: June may have this labeled as an “oven,” but it’s far more. While the price tag is hard to swallow, this kitchen transformer will replace your oven, air fryer, microwave, dehydrator, slow cooker, and more. In addition to its versatility, the tech is seriously impressive: It has food-recognizing cameras to help you get the optimal cook. For example, if you put even something as specific as a Toaster Strudel in, two options will pop up asking if it is a tart or a strudel. Click strudel, and bam, it heats it up to perfection. The software is constantly learning to recognize new foods to improve the user experience, mastering everything from steak to marshmallows. A chef of any level will feel like a pro.
•Best Bar Gadget•
This badass little growler lets you bring draft beer into your home, with a pressurized tank and spout that carbonize the beer to get a frothy pour. It’s also transportable, giving you the freedom to take draft beer along anywhere you go (within reason). Best yet, it’ll kick up your cold brew with a little bit of nitro punch. The growler keeps the beer or coffee fresh for two weeks, so it’s ideal for parties or for backup when you just need a drink or five—be it alcoholic or caffeinated—throughout the week. Beyond all else, it looks rustic and makes for both a cool gadget and decoration, with a range of finishes that would all be welcome additions to your counter, bar, or what have you.
•Best Large Appliance•
LG InstaView Fridge with Craft Ice
There are a lot of smart fridges out there. Most of them work as smart hubs with music and TV streaming, which is great if you like that sort of thing in a fridge. That being said, LG made an appliance that is a Bond-esque blend of necessity and luxury. LG’s fridge with Craft Ice comes equipped with two key features. One is, as you may have guessed, a craft ice maker. The fridge pumps out large, round ice balls for your whiskey or cocktails, or for when you want your water to feel fancy. (Don’t worry; it still makes normal cubed and crushed ice.) The second is the smart glass panel, which stays dark until you knock twice, when it becomes transparent to show what’s inside the fridge. It’s a simple yet elegant way to bring energy-saving technology into your kitchen. And while it may lack those smart hub features, we think it innovates in ways that make actual logical sense for a fridge.
•Best Coffee Maker•
Keurig K-Duo Single Serve & Carafe Coffee Maker
The best thing about the entire K-Duo line is the way it harmoniously joins a traditional Keurig with a standard coffee maker, for those people who like the convenience of a single K-cup but sometimes want to brew a specialty bean or a full pot. In other words, it lets you keep that single serve ease, but no one will have to man the Keurig for an hour and a half anytime you have caffeine-deprived guests who all need a mug at the same time. And the K-Duo will snuggly fit in your counter’s designated coffee area, only taking up the space of one machine.
•Best Espresso Machine•
Philips 3200 Series Fully Automatic Espresso Machine
Espresso machines are in, and that means the market is full of them. Of course, there are machines ranging from $100-plus, making this one seem like a big hit to the wallet, but be warned: A cheap espresso machine makes cheap espresso. What Phillips did was build a restaurant-quality machine, while including the ease of automation that most people want in their at-home coffee maker. There are versatile drinks options that, when coupled with the simple-to-use controls, make this the espresso companion for those who appreciate a good shot but may not have the know-how to pull one themselves. And the milk frother handles the frothing for you, in case you never put in your time as a barista. The series runs from $500, depending on what model and which bells and whistles you want, but all will give you a coffee-shop-quality espresso drink.
Dyson V11 Torque Drive
Dyson’s lightweight, cordless, all-in-one vacuum gets the job done like no one’s business. It comes equipped with an LED screen with several different modes, an easy-to-empty chamber, and nine attachments that work on floors and stairs and between cushions—or anywhere else you may want to vacuum. The Torque packs all the power you would need to deep clean your carpet, which is even more impressive considering how lightweight and portable it is. It won’t make vacuuming fun, but it’s the closest you’re ever going to get.
•Best Robot Vacuum•
Neato Botvac D4 Connected
There are a lot of robot vacuum friends out there, and they can get remarkably expensive, charging you both for the cleaning and the companionship. This Neato series ranges from the D4 ($350) to the higher-end D7 ($829), with varying price points throughout. The machines are equipped with wifi connections and the ability to activate remotely. You can even integrate this cleaning beast into your smart home and ask your preferred assistant to let it out and about. It also has the ability to learn floor plans, so that it can go in straight lines and avoid getting stuck. Of all the robot vacuums we’ve seen, this little guy gets confused the least and sweeps up the most.
Rad Power Bikes RadRunner
This is the e-bike that doesn’t look like an e-bike. For those who don’t know much about the wild world of electric bikes, they aren’t mopeds but bikes that use batteries to help riders travel further, using less energy. The RadRunner more than lives up to its name. This thing looks ready for anything, thanks to loads of accessories like a passenger seat, center console, and even a phone mount, making it work for your ride to work or just up to the store to grab some quick groceries. It hits that trendy space in-between retro design and high-tech efficiency, so it suits almost anyone, but especially bike commuters.
•Best Fitness Gadget•
This bottle not only makes drinking post-workout vitamins look like something out of RoboCop, but they’ll taste damn good, too. There are three slots for “fuel pods” in the bottom, which inject then mix vitamins and nutrients into the water. The pods have a variety of flavors ranging from peach to ginger citrus—they’re all actually palatable—and different strengths as well, with one for focus, one for natural energy, one for electrolytes, and so on. LifeFuels isn’t trying to do anything wacky with oils or new supplements, but instead is focused on improving the way we consume tried and true vitamins. It is the essential gym bag gadget to force feed yourself nutrients, and to get as close to actually enjoying the whole ordeal as possible.
•Best TV Sound Bar•
Sonos has become synonymous with top-tier home audio, so it should not come as a surprise that this sound bar has amazing sound quality. The thing that takes the Beam above and beyond is how seamlessly it integrates into your home ecosystem. It’s not only a speaker for your TV, but it also works with your phone, smart home assistants, and other Sonos products. The Sonos design is also unparalleled in sound bar design. It’s something that looks minimalistic and unobtrusive under your TV, or wherever you choose to put it, becoming one with your home decor.
•Best Bluetooth Speaker•
This Sonos Bluetooth speaker (yes, Sonos again) is durable, easy to move around, and simple to charge, and it has some incredible software learning to make sure the sound quality is always spot on. You know the deal with most Bluetooth speakers: They sound nice in a wide open area, but once you move them into a cabinet or between shelves, the sound becomes muddy. With Sonos Move, there’s a built-in accelerometer that tells the speaker to listen to itself so it can adjust the sound distribution, meaning there’s always crisp, clear vocals and full music playback no matter where you set it. As with all other Sonos devices, the speaker itself is design oriented with a calm, minimalist appearance—so you won’t want to stick it in a drawer somewhere. Plus, the Move is durable, with water resistance and a tough exterior to protect from drops and falls.
•Best Gaming Controller•
Xbox Elite Series 2
The controller that showed the gaming industry how to do custom controllers put a second iteration out. The Xbox Elite Series 2 is modular, with 12 extra buttons you can assign tasks to and customizable parts—interchangeable joysticks, paddle shapes, and styles. It gives you the ability to set up to three profiles on a controller, meaning your button layout can change from game to game, depending on the player. That customization might even cut seconds off reaction times so you, like Han, can shoot first, or just improve the experience for someone who finds controllers generally uncomfortable. It also looks super cool, with a smooth steel texture and color. The original Elite was largely responsible for normalizing the custom controller market, and the Elite Series 2 is a worthy follow-up.
•Best VR Headset•
There’s nothing like tripping over a chord to ruin your VR game—or the thousands of dollars it costs for a gaming PC, cameras, and a wireless VR headset to ruin your wallet. This year, Oculus released the best VR tech we’ve seen since the VR gaming industry exploded: a fully contained, fully wireless, fully fun virtual reality headset. The Quest works as well, if not better, than its PC-requiring counterparts, and it launched with an awesome library that’s still expanding monthly, with the likes of Job Simulator, Beat Saber, Super Hot, and the otherworldly Vader Immortal. It’s the exact stepping stone the industry needed to bring VR to those who have been dying to try it, but can’t invest all of their savings—truly an innovation.
•Best Gaming Headset•
Sennheiser GSP 670
Sound giant Sennheiser recently decided to make the jump into video games, releasing two killer wireless gaming headsets: the 370 and 670, at a lower and higher price point, respectively. While they are both fantastic choices, understandably the 670 has a few upgrades, making it the winner for this list. For instance, robust sound quality that allows for immersive gaming, a crisp and clear built-in mic, and an always-reliable Bluetooth connection. Please gamers, do us all a favor and invest in this headset—or the 370, budget permitting—and stop using your leftover Apple earbuds to shittly scream online.
•Best Smart Accessory•
Philips Hue Play HDMI Sync Box
Whether you’re a movie buff, a gamer, or just really into lighting, Philips Hue designed an immersive entertainment accessory that you’ll really dig. The Sync Box is an HDMI splitter that mirrors what you’re watching or playing on the TV with your Philips Hue smart lights, creating a surround-lighting effect. For example, if you were to watch a movie scene that takes place at night, the lights would match the colors on screen, glowing deep, dim purple and blue. Then, suddenly, if there were to be an explosion on screen, the lights would mimic that fire with orange and red as the explosion hit. With its varying levels of intensity that work for both subtle transitions and rave-like flashing, along with shockingly fast response times for digesting colors on the TV, the Sync Box works far better than you could even imagine.
•Best for Artists•
Wacom Cintiq 16 with Pro Pen 2
Every artist, architect, designer, or digital creative craves one of Wacom’s innovative tablets. Now, this isn’t your iPad kind of tablet, but rather a bundle of computer accessories that gives you the ability to use a pencil and touch controls with your traditional computer. The Cintiq Pro 16’s gorgeous monitor doubles as an artist’s workspace with Wacom’s unparalleled pen, making designing for digital by hand an absolute breeze. The color and visuals are state of the art—comparable to many high-end monitors—which for those who need them is invaluable. The company has been an industry leader for god knows how long, and the Cintiq Pro 16 shows why, helping creatives get back to that pen and paper feel.
•Best for Photographers•
Old is new and vintage is cool, so Polaroid Originals created this nostalgia-embracing smartphone printer that’s unlike any other. The Polaroid Lab takes any photo off your phone and produces a really honest-looking Polaroid. Arguably the most valuable part of the Lab is how much more freedom it gives you than an instant camera. You can print edited photos, wide-angle photos, or anything else that you wouldn’t normally be able to capture with just an instant camera. It also saves that expensive film, since you no longer have to worry about wasting your precious few shots on subpar pictures. The Lab is a fantastic example of retro vibes melding with modern tech.
•Best for Art Lovers•
Meural Canvas II by Netgear
Whether you have an ever-changing color palette or just get tired of things quickly, it’s hard to “invest” your pennies in art that you could be sick of in a year. Meural and Netgear designed a digital art frame for all you noncommittal interior decorators. The Canvas II allows users to switch art as they please, pay for new art, and upload their own. Now, if you’re thinking, “It’s a big, expensive digital frame like the one we got Gram for Christmas in 2008,” you couldn’t be more wrong. The Canvas II has ambient light sensors, meaning it can mimic the light in your home to always look like a flat piece of art and not like a bright computer screen. You can gesture at it to change the art or find out more info on a piece. There’s also a subscription service with a wealth of art to browse, from Van Gogh to modern underground photographers. If that doesn’t make you feel like a total art badass, we’re not sure what will.
•Best Clothing Tech•
Levi’s Trucker Jacket with Jacquard by Google
The classic denim trucker jacket will never go out of style—that’s just a fact. But Google gave it an update by partnering with Levi’s to create the Jacquard, a denim jacket with smart controls. All that’s required is for a little stick smaller than a thumb drive to be inserted into a plug in the cuff. The cuff, woven with remarkable thread technology, then allows you to control your smartphone with gestures on the jacket. For example, if you want to skip a song, you can swipe on the jacket without clicking earphones or fumbling with your phone. And the gestures are customizable, with loads of different assignable actions available to you when paired with the app and a phone: getting train times, checking the weather, etc. The most impressive thing here is that the jacket is still machine-washable once you remove the little Jacquard stick. Up to now, integrated style tech was either clunky and large or a watch, so this marks the first time we’re seeing cloth-based tech make a splash.
Seirus HeatTouch Hellfire Gloves
Heated gloves seem kind of gimmicky, like you’re being asked to wear a toaster oven on each of your hands. Seirus, however, made a glove that does heating right. The Hellfire gloves (and other gloves in the Seirus heated line) produce safe, spread-out heat for your hands, while hiding the battery pack so that you forget you’re actually wearing a gadget. It’s the same with the other wearables on this list: The best way to wear tech is to not look like you’re wearing tech. These gloves can heat your hands to warmth levels ranging anywhere from thin blanket to bonfire, and they have a pretty phenomenal battery life that should last any ski stint or outdoor session. They’re tough, too, making them not only a heating device, but also a functional piece of winter gear. These are a gadget made for the perpetually cold, or the kind of person who insists on being outdoorsy even when it’s below 0.
•Best Closet Gadget•
The Styler may not be the most affordable thing on this list, so it’ll probably wind up as your post-lottery-jackpot, pipe-dream buy. But for good reason: It steams, freshens, de-creases, and sanitizes any piece of clothing hanging in it, working as a personal dry cleaning locker. The Styler is of course ideal for the busy commuter who needs their work attire freshened in a jiffy, but it’s also great for parents, because the sanitizer can clean kids’ blankets or stuffed toys to prevent germ mongering. It’s a time saver, albeit with an astronomical price tag.