innovation. What a completely slippery word, second only to “invention”. As much as we are culturally fond of the concept of “Eureka!” Devices of the moment or “game-changing” devices, important leaps in technology (or science or philosophy or … almost any discipline) are slowly and quietly advancing until they appear, as if they were head-spinning at Apple. or google. or Microsoft. Or that unknown company that lies in the shade and waits for its moment in the sun. Everyone stands on the shoulders of giants.
For this reason, when choosing innovative products for a particular year (or decade or century), it is easy to succumb to either the overall turtle view that true Innovations happened years ago or display random things you remember from the year – even if the actual dates for those things lie outside of list structures.
In the end, my picks for innovative products this year either disappointed or surprised me. Disappointing because, for once, I expected a product to do something new and failed – but still showed promise to eventually pay off in some way, sometime. Or surprise because she did something new and met or transcended my idle ideas of how to achieve it. and we will Not We call that expectation.
This list is off my head. I did not solicit input. It’s random, incomplete, and likely not anything you think it might. In addition, it covers only my small corner of the technical field, which mainly consists of computers and games.
The Framework Laptop is one of the few innovative products from 2021 that serves all-round. The 13.5-inch laptop addresses one of the biggest flaws in modern laptops as part of the Right to Repair movement.
It features four expansion card slots, slide-in units that plug into USB-C connectors, socket storage, RAM, and a replaceable motherboard module with fixed CPU, fan, battery, display, keyboard, and more. It’s an easy-to-access parts design, all while delivering powerful performance at a competitive price and without sacrificing aesthetics.
Her biggest misfortune is that she comes from a new company, so even though her founder created the Meta Oculus team, she’s facing a steep rise to turn that into a success. However, even if the laptop itself doesn’t last, it heralds a new trend for products designed to be more repairable, starting with Apple’s iPhones and MacBooks next year.
Read our Framework Laptop review.
Turtle Beach’s first gaming console is frustrating in many ways, but it makes sense that the company, with its long sound roots, was the first to put an amplifier in a console—which it really should be if you have the headset attached to the console. It’s a wired USB model that works with your Xbox or PC, adding presets for equalizer, volume, mic mute, mic monitoring and more to any analog headset you plug it into.
Read the Turtle Beach Recon Controller hands-on.
When I think of products with promises that let me down in 2021, the Razer Zephyr is at the top of my list. It arrived as a concept at CES 2021 that cleverly rethought the face mask in the era of the pandemic. But by the time it shipped at the end of the year, economic realities and design flaws made it a mask I couldn’t even get myself to wear.
Razer had to abandon most of the important innovations for reasons of cutting costs and reducing claims; Hence the name was changed to “wearable air purifier” and there are no claims about COVID at all despite the constant need. One of the most notable among them is the built-in amplifier; Without it, no one can hear me speak, especially on my somewhat grumbling fans (the only aspect that seems to work well enough). Interior lighting is supposed to show your mouth for better socializing, but it’s really not bright enough. Despite the promotion of replaceable N95 filters, the way you place them in the magnetic mounts is not secure, so I have no confidence that they actually cover the holes.
The thing is that none of the problems can be solved. The producer also shows that Razer’s thinking is headed in the right direction with ideas that others can build upon. Both are a reason why I still consider him innovative.
Read more on the Razer Zephyr.
Huge external GPUs to add discrete graphics power to lame laptops have been around for a long time, and adding Thunderbolt 3/4 as a viable eGPU connection comes with its own issues. By pairing a compact 13-inch laptop with an all-in-one dock-and-eGPU that’s highly portable, and its own connection, Asus solves some issues: You can take it on the road or to the coffee shop without having to carry it around. The power adapter is when you don’t need it, and it will work with systems that include AMD as well as Intel processors (AMD Thunderbolt does not support).
The pair has worked well, plus the laptop is fine on its own. The downside is that for the laptop alone, the price is way too high, and you can’t find XG Mobile anywhere; It’s not clear if this is a short, imperfection-driven passing picture or not.
Read the review.
Apple M1 and Intel 12th-gen (Alder Lake) CPUs
Something new in the silicon system
An apple; Illustration by Stephen Shankland / CNET
Nothing represents the infinite helix of “when it happened” more than wizards. For me, Apple and Intel hybrid CPUs—a major shift to an architecture that splits fast, high-powered cores and energy-efficient cores for back-end processes—represents an innovative technology that has been successfully brought to market without compromising performance in 2021.
One aspect I have been waiting for is scalability. It is not so impressive if the architecture cannot generally be extended to higher or lower power configurations. But Apple’s M1 Pro and M1 Max launch this year for MacBooks at least prove they can scale in graphics, and Intel’s launch of 12th-generation Alder Lake CPUs for high-end gaming and creative desktops shows the technology can bring a little more. Too much on the power side of the equation.
Some questions remain, though. One of the biggest things for me is the high end. Every systems hybrid implementation so far has crossed eight performance centers, so how well it can beat that (for example, a Mac Pro) is a question for 2022.