Every year I look back at all of the Products of the Week I’ve selected during the year and pick the one that made the most significant impression on me to crown the Product of the Year.
This year the election and pandemic kept our lives pretty messed up, and to keep working we relied heavily on our laptops, cloud services, networking gear, and our collaboration apps.
We also needed entertainment to stay sane, and whether it was HBO Max, Netflix, or Amazon Prime, we found our release in online entertainment.
Let’s look at my top 13 contenders, and then I’ll rank the top four products as we work toward the 2020 Product of the Year.
So here we go, in no particular order.
Cisco Webex Desk Hub
I started in tech working for IBM’s telecommunications division, and for a time, I was the Competitive Analyst over desktop phones. This effort was back in the 1980s. We had created phones that went beyond voice to include critical information on who was calling, both text and voice messaging, and the merger of electronic text and voice messaging.
Since then, I’ve wanted many of these features, yet office phones were outstripped by smartphones in terms of functions and languished. That was until this year when Cisco rethought the desk phone with its Webex Desk Hub.
This new desk phone concept weds your smartphone with your desk phone, providing wireless charging, a place to store your work headphones, and the most significant desktop phone function jump I’ve seen since the 1980s. It has become my dream phone — granted, 30 years later than I hoped — but better late than never!
Montblanc Summit 2+ 4G Smartwatch
There has been the Apple Watch and little else, other than exercise focused products like the Fitbit, that could provide similar functionality for some time. The Montblanc Summit 2+ smartwatch was the first Qualcomm-based Android platform watch to give the Apple Watch a run for its money.
It isn’t cheap at $1,000. But it is, to my eye, better looking than the Apple Watch and has a similar set of features. It is always connected, and you can use it as a wrist phone. This smartwatch is waterproof to 50m, has longer battery life than the prior generation, and it has a full set of fitness apps. A decent alternative for those of us that don’t want to get locked into Apple’s ecosystem.
4th Generation Echo
The Amazon Echo still is the product to beat when it comes to a home digital assistant, and during this pandemic, for way too many of us, the Echo was our only home companion. This 4th Generation Echo improved sound quality, particularly at the low end, became a lot less expensive, and it’s a vast improvement over the 3rd generation offering.
The Orb shape looks far more advanced than the old cylindrical design, and the blue halo on the bottom almost makes the device look like it is hovering. While the Alexa AI still often gets my questions wrong, it does so with more style and elegance with this latest offering. Since most of us use these for listening to music, the vast improvement in sound quality made this a contender for 2020.
Jacoti Smart Earbuds
The Jacoti Smart Earbuds set a new standard for sound quality and performance. What makes these different is they have biometric sensors in them, and your ears are a better place to pull this data from than your wrists.
These earbuds are contextually aware and will switch modes as needed automatically. They can adjust for hearing deficiencies and be tuned to best match your unique hearing capabilities. This offering is one of a handful of products evolving to give us superpowers effectively, and they are the first headphones to tune themselves uniquely for you when you first put them on. This trend of using technology to make us more capable will significantly increase this decade — and the Jacoti Smart Earbuds which boost natural hearing are blazing that trail earlier than most.
HP Omnicept VR Headset
The future is VR, but it isn’t the present yet. One of the problems has been that affordable headsets suck. HP decided to see if it could use its unique skills to create a far better experience, and it did with the Omnicept Headset.
HP hWrapped with a rich set of features, this headset and solution are the most complete in the market. It not only provides excellent performance, but the richest set of features currently available in the market. As we devolve into a world of perpetual virtual travel and the need to get away from a troubling reality for just a few minutes or collaborate on a physical project with someone who needs to remain socially distant, it’s this kind of offering that will keep us working and help keep us sane.
Microsoft Surface Duo
Microsoft reentered the smartphone market with the Surface Duo, arguably the opposite of the iPhone. Twin screens ideal for reading or doing email is what makes this phone special. Since September, I’ve been carrying mine, and always having something with me that is a fantastic eBook reader has been a godsend.
This pandemic has us living in lines, and the Surface Duo has been a way for me to kill time without getting aggravated or angry. It’s ideal for my peace of mind because it is such a good read. Though I’ve found it works a ton better with a smartwatch that has a built-in microphone and speaker, or with earbuds. The only real complaints are that it needs a better camera, it is hard to answer a call quickly without earbuds, and having glass on both sides makes it a tad slippery. Otherwise, this has become my go-to phone.
Ooler Smart Watercooled Mattress Pad
The Ooler is a massive improvement over the earlier ChiliPAD. It is better looking, appears to move more water, and uses a smartphone app rather than dedicated controllers.
Like a lot of couples, my wife and I have very different sleeping needs. I like it cool, she likes it warm. At my temperature she is freezing, at hers I feel like I’m being prepared as the dinner entre. The Ooler will cool or heat the water that circulates under you to create the perfect temperature so that we both can be happy and our marriage and my need for sleep survive. The Ooler is based on similar technology to what cools F1 racers and astronauts, so it is also pretty cool.
Mi TV LUX
Sometimes there is a product where I see it and need to have it. That was true of the Xiaomi Mi TV LUX, which uses a transparent OLED screen to display videos. When it is off, the screen looks like an exact piece of glass.
At $7K the LUX was a bit too rich for my blood at 55″ (I just got an expensive 77″ OLED TV for half that), but when you talk about a TV that would impress folks, the LUX is at the top of the list, though you’d need the perfect mid-room place to put it. Putting it next to a wall would limit its “wow factor.” This technology would be cool in a monitor, because often our monitors block our view and all you’d have to do is blank the monitor to see outside again. One of the coolest looking products I’ve ever seen; I still have lust in my heart for it.
Lenovo ThinkStaton P620 Threadripper Workstation
The most awesome microprocessor brought to the market last decade was the massive AMD Threadripper. I’d always thought that its massive core advantage would make it a better workstation solution than a gaming solution. Well, this year Lenovo stepped up and built a Threadripper Workstation, and it was everything I imagined it could be. With workstations, engineers generally get more say than regular users because they produce mission-critical products directly related to the firm’s bottom line.
If Tim the Tool Man Taylor were still around, he’d specify the workstation because he was always about “more power.” You can’t have enough power in a workstation, and the ThinkStation P620 doesn’t disappoint.
Drinkworks by Keurig
I like a good drink, and I have two robotic bartenders. The best of the two is the Drinkworks by Keurig because it has both a water chiller and a carbonator critical for certain kinds of drinks. You insert your drink cartridge, a dehydrated drink, and then pour the perfect cocktail.
If there is one thing I can’t live without during this pandemic, it’s my nightly drink to calm me down and put politics out of my mind. If you can’t go to a bar, this is the next best thing; and while it has had some reliability problems during the year, Keurig sticks by its offerings and has been great with repairs (it only broke on us once, and we got a replacement from Keurig within days). The Drinkworks is one of the few products we have we couldn’t live without during this pandemic.
Dell XPS 17 Laptop
My idea of the perfect pandemic laptop has a big screen, tons of performance, decent battery life, and an affordable price. Of all the products I reviewed in 2020, the Dell XPS 17 laptop stands out as the best balance of performance, screen size, battery life, and price at $1,500.
The big screen makes sense for productivity since we aren’t flying these days, so it doesn’t need to fit on a couch table (and this won’t). It is sleek, attractive, and it has enough battery life to cover you when you are away from a plug (which probably isn’t that often). It even has carbon fiber on the keyboard, which looks high-tech. Our needs changed when we stopped traveling to work from home, and this, so far, is the best work from the home laptop I found in 2020.
Nvidia’s GeForce Now
The Nvidia GeForce Now was the first genuinely viable gaming platform for those who wanted a high-end gaming experience without the high-end PC cost. Online gaming went vertical in 2020, and currently, esports salaries and awards exceed many of other sports professionals, and there are fewer injuries. Latency and performance have improved dramatically since this offering came to market; and for much of the year it was hard to get on this service because there was so much interest.
Awesome games and a reasonable price made this one of the great bargains of 2020 — and a must-have for parents who either wanted to escape into a virtual world or have their kids occupied by it, so those kids didn’t drive them nuts.
Lenovo Fold X1
Perhaps the most innovative notebook of 2020 was the Lenovo Fold X1. This fascinating product had a foldable screen that would open to a full 13.3″ and fit in lady’s purse when folded.
Granted, this likely made it a product more for a woman than man, but we need more products built for women. This laptop was the product that stood out for me in this year’s CES, and even though it is nearly a year later, I still think it is one of the most advanced notebooks to come to market in 2020. Lenovo outshined the other PC vendors at the show this year, and the Fold was their most exciting product.
Picking a Winner
In looking at the products, all of these things were amazing in their own right. But I’m going to select the top four based on which product best fits our pandemic present. So, without further ado, here they are:
Third Runner-Up: OolerIf we don’t get our sleep, we can’t work well, we are angry, and we’ll turn our home into a place no one wants to be, including us. The Ooler addresses the sleep problem directly and helps us better survive being captured at home.
Second Runner-Up: Nvidia GeForce NowWhile at home, we need to balance work and fun while reducing our desire to go out and get infected. The GeForce Now service allows us to game to our heart’s content and keep our kids on the screen and not catch a virus they will bring home and share.
First Runner-Up: Drinkworks by KeurigBecause staying home goes a little better if you are well-lubricated with alcohol. These crafted drinks made me miss going out less and provided a little taste of Hawaii (their Mai Tai is excellent), and I’m not sure my wife and I wouldn’t have offed each other long before now if it wasn’t for this machine.
The HP Omnicept VR Headset
If there is one thing we all needed this year, it was the ability to travel safely. The Omnicept VR headset promises a future where we will be able to explore real and virtual worlds from the safety of our homes and have fun without putting our loved ones at risk.
It is the closest thing to a 2020 escape hatch I’ve yet found. This year we desperately needed an escape hatch — and this virtual one became my Product of the Year.
Here is hoping your holidays are everything you hope they could be and that you and your family remain safe!