With each year comes brand new or otherwise updated tech. But just because those gadgets get more advanced doesn’t mean they’re all good ideas.
Some are poorly constructed or just aren’t that useful, while others pose a huge risk to your privacy. Tap or click here to see which tech products made Mozilla’s annual “Privacy Not Included” report because some might surprise you.
With the new year only days away, we’ve put together a list of the very best and worst tech of 2020. Keep reading to find out what you should stay away from and what’s okay to buy if you’ve got some post-Christmas money to spend.
The 5 gadgets of 2020 to stay away from
The following five products make up our picks for the worst tech of 2020, based on factors like your privacy, gimmicks and outrageous prices. Let’s start with Facebook.
1. Facebook Portal
Let’s face it — there are already plenty of privacy concerns when it comes to the internet-connected tech we continue to bring into our homes, especially when it comes to smart speakers and smart displays. Take the right precautions in setting them up and you should maintain some level of privacy, but what about one that’s made by Facebook?
Facebook wants to know as much about you as possible, through your Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp accounts. And tap or click here to find out the shocking amount of data the company tries to harvest from your iPhone and its other apps.
Now Facebook thinks it’s a good idea to bring its hardware home with the Facebook Portal, which was first released in 2018. Its main purpose is to easily video chat with your family and friends who also have Facebook accounts, but it does so much more — like continuously listening and tracking your movements.
Related: Facebook slapped with massive antitrust lawsuits to break up social media chokehold
It’s one thing for Facebook to follow you around the internet, but bringing the creepy company directly into your living room takes it to a whole new level. Stay away from the Facebook Portal.
2. The rise of folding phones
The introduction of the iPhone in 2007 ushered in a new era for what a smartphone could do and revolutionized the industry. More than a decade later, today’s smartphones kind of all look the same and often have similar options.
For years, Samsung worked on the next big thing to shake up an increasingly stale gadget: bringing the flip phone to the modern-day with a twist. In early 2019, the South Korean company unveiled the Samsung Galaxy Fold, which would have everything you want in a smartphone but with a flexible screen.
The first model was previewed by journalists and because of an overwhelming number of design problems, Samsung delayed the rollout by months. Fast forward to this year and you have a few options to choose from, including the recent Samsung Galaxy Z Flip and the resurrected Motorola Razr.
Related: Microsoft gets back into the smartphone game with $1,400 foldable gadget
Bottom line: While the technology is improving, the kinks are still being worked out. Right now, the available options definitely don’t justify the “luxury” price tag of a flexible screen smartphone, which can set you back up to $2,000. Give it a little more time.
3. Amazon Halo
Not wanting to be left out of anything, Amazon decided this year to take on the Apple Watch, (now Google-owned) Fitbit and other tech companies with its own wearable fitness-tracking gadget for your wrist. With an unassuming name, the $100 Amazon Halo looks like an old school fitness tracker with a simple band and the lack of a screen. That’s where the similarities stop.
Like others on the market, the Halo tracks your basic health metrics like steps, heart rate and sleep. But it goes way beyond that and into an all-new level of sensitive data collection. It’s so bad that The Washington Post called it “the most invasive tech we’ve ever tested.” Here’s why …
Amazon Halo packs a microphone that not only listens to what you say but how you say it. That’s right. It uses machine learning to track things like your voice’s tone and positivity to supposedly “help strengthen communication.”
The silver lining here is that the microphone is disabled unless you decide to use the tone feature and set up a voice profile. Even if you do, you can still shut off the mic by holding down a button on the band for three seconds.
Beyond that feature, you’re also asked to take photos of yourself — in your underwear — as a way to track your body fat levels. In addition to the cost of the Halo, this invasion of privacy will cost you $4 a month to access all the available features.
Run away from the Amazon Halo; far, far away. Tap or click here to listen to Kim’s take.
4. AirPods Max
Following months of speculation, Apple finally unveiled an over-the-ear version of the massively popular AirPods line late this year. Like the existing in-ear Pro model, the AirPods Max packs active noise cancellation, transparency mode and spatial audio. But these also have H1 chips in each ear cup that uses “computational audio” to measure exactly what you’re hearing and continuously adjust the EQ.
On the surface, the AirPods Max also has a premium look and comes in five different colors, but they definitely have their drawbacks. For one, they’re heavier than competitors’ headphones, have a very strange (and very mocked) carrying case and come with a price tag that even makes other Apple products blush.
AirPods Max costs $549, which is more expensive than entry-level iPhones and basic computers. If you want a nice set of noise-canceling headphones, save hundreds and buy a Sony or Bose instead.
5. Ring Always Home Camera
Do you have an interest in modern home security cameras? What about drones? How about combining them into one little gadget that flies around inside your home?
That’s the idea behind Amazon-owned Ring’s upcoming indoor security drone. The Ring Always Home Cam is a little robot that docks on a low-profile base when not in use, then can autonomously fly pre-programmed patterns around your house that you can monitor from your phone.
The camera can be manually activated or launch autonomously if a security sensor detects what could be an intrusion, but can you imagine if something like that is hacked? There have already been several reports of Ring security cameras being hacked over the past few years, which has led to a class-action lawsuit filed over the past few days. No thanks to one that isn’t stuck in a static location.
Related: Amazon Sidewalk: Should you opt-out of the neighborhood wireless network?
The Ring Always On Camera is set to take flight at some point in 2021, but we recommend steering clear of the creepy little $249 drone. Instead, why not try the security system Kim recommends: our sponsor, Simplisafe. Visit simplisafe.com to protect your home and if you act fast, you can get a free HD security camera to get you started.
Money to spend? Here are the 5 best tech products of 2020
While no modern tech is completely without some risk to your privacy, some companies do a better job protecting your data than others. Not just that, but some of 2020’s best gadgets have features you never even knew you wanted.
1. Echo gen 4 smart speaker
Hands down, the Amazon Echo is still the best smart speaker for most people. They’re affordable, they work well and since the Echo’s initial release back in 2014, they’ve expanded to work with just about any smart gadget around — Amazon-made or not.
And in 2020, the standard Echo underwent a major redesign from cylinder-shaped to round. It’s not just a better-looking speaker that blends into your home decor’s background; it also sounds better because of the redesign.
Related: Clever uses for your Amazon Echo – and security steps you can’t skip
The full-size Echo is more expensive than the smaller, best-selling Dot, but it makes up the cost with better sound and a built-in hub that’s compatible with Zigbee and other smart devices as well. It’s usually around $100 but has been down to $70 during much of the holiday shopping season.
Keep in mind that just because it’s on our list of the best tech of 2020, that doesn’t mean the Echo (or any smart speaker for that matter) doesn’t have the potential to be a privacy nightmare. Tap or click here for five security settings to check on your Echo right now.
2. Roku Streambar
Save some money (and space) by combining a couple of home theater necessities with the Roku Streambar: a 4K streaming player and all-in-one premium soundbar. Watch your favorite movies and shows on just about any streaming service, including Netflix, Hulu, Disney+ and finally HBO Max.
Expect big sound from the compact Streambar, including Dolby Audio and the ability to stream music from your phone. It’s also expandable with additional speakers and subwoofers.
Related: 8 Roku pro tips you need to try right now
Like the Amazon Echo, remember to adjust those privacy settings first. Streaming gadgets, streaming services and smart TVs are notorious for collecting massive amounts of your data. Tap or click here to learn how to opt-out on your various devices and services, including Roku.
3. Dell XPS 13
If you’re looking for a Windows laptop that’s as sleek as a MacBook, check out the latest Dell XPS 13. The redesigned PC features a 7% larger display, 17% bigger touchpad and a 100% CNC-sculpted enclosure. On the inside, expect a battery that’ll last the whole day and an 11th Gen Intel Core processor.
This particular XPS also packs a 512GB solid-state drive (SSD) and 16GB of RAM. Top it off with Dolby Vision, which displays content on screen 40 times brighter and a 20% higher contrast ratio than the previous model.
Bottom line: The new Dell XPS 13 has taken the premium laptop to new heights in 2020.
4. Apple Watch SE
One of the biggest up-and-coming gadgets over the past few years has been the smartwatch. And this year, Apple released a more budget-friendly option: the Apple Watch SE.
It packs most of the features of last year’s Series 5, including an FDA-approved ECG that monitors for atrial fibrillation, built-in GPS and fall detection. Make calls and text directly from the watch and checkout using the Apple Pay feature.
Combine the existing features with Apple’s new Fitness+ subscription service and it becomes even more useful, especially when you consider the price. The Apple Watch SE starts under $300.
5. Sony WH1000XM4 Noise Cancelling Headphones
As we mentioned earlier, $550 for a pair of noise-canceling headphones is overkill — even for Apple. That’s where these new Sony headphones come in, which let you listen to music or your other favorite audio content while blocking out the rest of the world around you.
Make hands-free calls and ask Alexa for the weather forecast with the press of a button. These headphones also charge quickly and provide up to 30 hours of battery life on a charge.
These headphones are so advanced that they upscale compressed digital music files with built-in artificial intelligence tech. For the money and quality, the Sony WH100XM4 is your best bet.We may receive a commission when you buy through our links, but our reporting and recommendations are always independent and objective.