Don't look now, but 2021 is almost over. In a whirlwind year plagued by stock shortages and supply chain issues, the tech industry still somehow managed to launch a ton of great devices. And now that the year is wrapping up, it's time to crown our favorites.
From new Surface PCs to refreshes of some of our favorite laptops and gaming accessories, it hasn't been easy to pick our favorites. Still, the Windows Central team came together and voted on our picks for what we feel are the best of the best across PCs, monitors, gaming keyboards, and PC components. Our gaming staff has also been hard at work choosing their favorites for the Windows Central Game Awards, so check those out for a deeper dive into the world of PC and Xbox gaming in 2021.
Without further ado, here are our picks for the best products of 2021.
Best Laptops and PCs of 2021
Best Overall Laptop
Dell XPS 13
Gorgeous and powerful
The Dell XPS 13 continues to impress us year after year thanks to a flawless design, undeniably handsome look, top-end keyboard and touchpad, and the latest ports. It's the best Ultrabook you can buy today.
Its most recent refresh for 2021 added a stunning new Samsung 3.5K OLED touch display option with anti-reflective coating for those who prefer deep color and contrast with the higher pixel count. You still get the latest 11th Gen Intel Core CPUs mixed with deep customization options, allowing you to get exactly what you want. For a perfect mix of looks, performance, and usability, the XPS 13 is hard to topple.
Most Innovative New Device
Surface Laptop Studio
Innovation on display
We think the Surface Laptop Studio is worthy of most innovative device this year, pushing a new form factor we've only seen attempted a handful of times before. It merges the best of the Surface Laptop with the best of the Surface Pro to deliver a sturdy, robust, and versatile laptop form factor, that can also turn into a studio/draft board for drawing on in a simple motion.
It's also Microsoft's most powerful Surface yet, featuring 35W chips, up to 32GB RAM, 2TB storage, and an NVIDIA RTX 3050 Ti for graphics power on the go. It has a 14.4-inch 120Hz display with rounded corners, and what we consider to be the best keyboard and trackpad on a Windows PC in 2021.
Surface Laptop 4
Style and power in a portable package
The Surface Laptop 4 is a brilliant thin and light PC, with a beautiful contemporary design, Intel 11th-generation or AMD Ryzen 4000-series processors, and one of the best keyboards and trackpads on the market. It's available in both 13.5-inch and 15-inch variants, and can be had with up to 32GB RAM and 1TB storage for those who need to go all-out.
It can also be had in a number of different colors and materials, including platinum, ice blue, sandstone, and black. You can configure it with either metal or Alcantara as the material used on the keyboard deck, making it stand out in a crowd. The Surface Laptop 4 is the better designed MacBook Air of the PC world, and that's nothing but a compliment.
Best 2-in-1 Tablet
Surface Pro 8
The king of 2-in-1s
It shouldn't come as a surprise that Microsoft has perfected the 2-in-1 formula with its Surface Pro line. While some might argue the Surface Pro X reigns supreme because of its slimmer profile, the new Surface Pro 8 still takes the lead because of its sheer versatility.
This year was one of the biggest yet for the Surface Pro 8. It added a 120Hz display, pen haptics with the Slim Pen 2, and (finally!) Thunderbolt 4 support. At nearly 10 years old, Surface Pro keeps showing its versatility with every update.
Best Gaming Laptop
HP OMEN 15
Still the best of the best for gaming on the go
There's plenty to love about the HP OMEN 15. It can be configured with powerful Intel and AMD processors, makes use of NVIDIA's latest GeForce RTX 30-series GPUs, and comes with enough RAM for even the most taxing PC games.
The most recent refresh introduced a new design to replace the aging look and feel, as well as one of the best 4K AMOLED displays we've seen. It's truly spectacular, especially when lost in one of your favorite titles. If that wasn't enough already, it's also got full HDR support and has unthrottled performance.
Best Desktop AIO
HP ENVY 34
What a modern desktop PC should be
The HP ENVY 34 is a near-perfect all-in-one PC that'll make anyone jealous when they walk into your room. It has an impressive 5K, anti-glare display with superb color accuracy, an 8MP webcam that mounts almost anywhere, up to a Core i9 processor, and up to an RTX 3080 Laptop GPU. Even the RAM and SSD are user-upgradeable to 128GB and 2TB. Toss in an included keyboard, mouse, and a stand with Qi wireless charging powered by a single cord (with no power brick). HP nailed this PC, full stop.
Best Pre-Built Gaming PC
HP OMEN 30L
Great PC gaming, no build required
Sure, building your own desktop PC is fun and rewarding, but what if you just want a really nice, pre-built gaming system that doesn't break the bank AND gives you some of the best hardware? You get the HP OMEN 30L. It looks fantastic, can take up to an Intel Core i9K (or go with AMD Ryzen 7), has optional liquid cooling, 64GB of HyperX RAM, and up to an RTX 3080. Heck, even the cabling is respectable.
What we like, though, is the ability to upgrade this system yourself. Buy it cheap, add more RAM, SSD, or the GPU later on when you have the budget. The see-through side panel pops off with a button, and this PC is super easy to work on without tools.
Best Always-Connected PC
Samsung Galaxy Book Go
Power and connectivity on the go
The Samsung Galaxy Book Go is a bit of a departure from a company usually accustomed to creating high-end laptops. This is nevertheless a lot of laptop for the price; it's fanless, it has great battery life, it's built well, and the keyboard, touchpad, and display are all excellent.
This market is dominated by laptops that are generally larger, heavier, noisier, and thicker without offering better performance, making the Galaxy Book Go a bit of an outlier. If you're shopping for something affordable, this is one of the best options we saw in 2021.
Best PC Accessories of 2021
Best Phone for Windows Users
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
THE best you can get
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is still the king of all smartphones and the best for Windows users. The S21 Ultra hardware brings the best cameras, display, and overall hardware to the table, making it a pricey but excellent choice for a premium smartphone.
But what makes it great for Windows users is the Your Phone integration, which lets you run your Android and Samsung apps separately and directly in Windows. Sure, Android app emulation is coming, but this is here and works exceptionally well if you like to leave your phone in the pocket. That's something an iPhone won't get you with Windows. It even all works better if you get a Samsung laptop, too, since Samsung's apps all have Windows versions that sync, giving you an envious ecosystem that rivals Apple's.
Razer Huntsman Analog V2
Fine tune to victory
Razer has been on a roll as of late, and the Razer Huntsman Analog V2 is the best keyboard the company has made thus far. Razer makes some excellent keyboards, so what makes this one so good?
It has optical switches that can be adjusted per-key allowing you to fine-tune your keyboard so certain keys are easier to press than others. The UBS-C connection ensures there's no lag or downtime between charges and there's even an included wrist rest.
Razer DeathAdder V2 X Hyperspeed
Best clicks around
The best gaming mouse ever made continues to get better. The latest refresh to the DeathAdder V2 adds Razer's latest tech while keeping the core exactly as it should be. The now iconic form factor makes it one of the most ergonomic gaming mice there is, and without the wires you get the freedom to take it everywhere. As well you should.
4K gaming with gusto
Gigabyte's M28U is a great mid-range gaming monitor with a 4K IPS display. It has low input lag, a high refresh rate that can go up to 120Hz and works well with both PC and latest consoles. Not only can you get away with some butter-smooth gaming thanks to adaptive synchronization tech contained within, but Gigabyte also made this a great choice for productivity.
The highlight feature here, especially for 4K gamers, is the inclusion of HDMI 2.1 that allows for some seriously high frame rates at UHD. It's not a perfect display, but it's not priced nor positioned to be just that. This is the choice to get if you're wanting to take your gaming experience to the next level without remortgaging your home.
Razer Opus X
Green with envy
It feels like Razer has launched new products every week in 2021, but when they're as good as the Opus X wireless headphones, keep them rolling. A slimmed-down version of its existing Opus headphones, you still get ANC, fantastic battery life, killer wireless range, and a more attractive price. Oh, and you can also get a rather fetching green paint job.
Samsung Galaxy Buds2
Punchy, comfy, and affordable
The Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 remain one of the best bang-for-your-buck options for earbuds out there. For a retail price of $150, you get excellent battery life, punchy sound, and effective active noise cancellation. Best of all, they're super comfortable to wear for long periods of time.
There are definitely other options out there on either end of the price range. However, the Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 offer the best combination of features at the right price. And because they're frequently on sale, the Buds 2 are the obvious pick going up against anything in the $100 to $150 range.
Razer Seiren V2
Pro sound on a budget
What beats great microphone quality, plug-and-play simplicity, and a reasonable price tag? Nothing. And that's why the Razer Seiren V2 X wins the top slot as our favorite microphone of the year. It nails the fundamentals of an affordable mic and serves as a reminder that execution is everything.
Dell Ultrasharp Webcam
A webcam with 4K capabilities, helpful AI, human-presence detection tech, and Windows Hello? All for under $200? Wow. Though it lacks a built-in mic, Dell's UltraSharp Webcam does so much else that it's hard to fault it for what it's missing, especially at its competitive price point.
Best PC Gaming Components and Accessories of 2021
RTX 3060 Ti
So good you can't find one
Can you really crown a "GPU of the year" in a year you couldn't really buy one? For those who could get an NVIDIA RTX 3060 Ti, they were well rewarded with amazing performance for the (normal) price, ray tracing, and a significant upgrade on the old RTX 20 series that can match even the mighty RTX 2080.
Intel Core i5-12600K
Easily one of 2021's most exciting products
Intel hit back at AMD this year with the exceptional Intel Core i5-12600K. It offers an incredible level of performance for the price, matching and surpassing counterparts from Team Red. If you thought 11th Gen processors were a little disappointing, this is a whole different ball game.
You will need a new Z690 motherboard to take full advantage of the available overclocking headroom and features, but it's well worth it for a new PC or hefty upgrade, unlocking the potential for DDR5 RAM support and PCie 5.0. We found the Core i5-12600K to even beat the outgoing Core i9-11900K in synthetic benchmarks.
ASUS ROG Z690 Maximus
If we had to pick just one motherboard in 2021, this would be it
In order to make the most of what Intel has to offer with its 12th Gen processors, motherboard partners came up with Z690 boards, and the ASUS ROG Z690 Maximus Hero is our favorite for 12th Gen CPUs.
It has everything you need to build a capable PC, including excellent BIOS support, overclocking capabilities, rock-solid VRM setup with a strong power delivery, and even more advanced custom water-cooling loop support. There's very little to dislike about this board.
Best PC Gaming Headset
Roccat Syn Pro Air
Killer audio sans wires
The Roccat Syn Pro Air is one of the best wireless gaming PC headsets we've used in a while. It has Turtle Beach internals with some magical software tweaks to produce killer audio for gaming.
While a little on the pricey side for a headset, and there's no Bluetooth or 3.5mm jack (so console and mobile gamers need not apply), this should be at the top of every PC gamer's shortlist for a less cluttered desktop experience.
Best Xbox Accessories of 2021
Best Xbox Accessory
Razer Wolverine V2
Hands-down the best controller available in 2021
Although it isn't wireless (thanks to patent issues), the Razer Wolverine V2 shouldn't be ignored. This controller adds a wide array of features that can and will enhance your competitive edge. The sensitivity clutch allows you to rapidly change from fast turns to precision aiming in a split second, and while it does take a bit of practice, the results speak for themselves. This is a great controller absolutely everybody should at least consider.
Best Xbox Headset
Corsair HS75 XB
Nailing the fundamentals
The Corsair HS75 XB marked the Xbox debut for the seasoned gaming peripheral maker but quickly checked all the boxes. It uses Microsoft's Xbox Wireless protocol for easy pairing, coupled with robust construction and incredible sound for the price. It's a well-rounded mid-ranger that nails all the fundamentals of great wireless audio and easily among the best Xbox headsets out there.
Best Mobile Accessory
Backbone One Gamepad
Turn your smartphone into an Xbox
One of the most frustrating issues behind Xbox Cloud Gaming is the service's lack of ergonomics. Touch controls aren't great in most games, and most of the phone clips on the market you can buy are flimsy and of poor quality. By far, the Backbone One is the best solution we have right now. The Backbone integrates with a huge array of phone sizes thanks to a clever clamp system, and even incorporates screenshotting and video capture features. Where it succeeds most is in the controls themselves, with joysticks and triggers that feel on-par with what you'd expect from Xbox itself.
Best Windows Apps of 2021
Best Overall Windows App
For the community
Windows Terminal is a prime example of how good an app can become when its community is involved in the development. It's been around for a while but its constant development as well as its absolute quality makes it worthy of recognition. You can customize it to your heart's content and use multiple services at the same time, and Windows Terminal is truly an app that other desktop operating systems can envy.
Best Windows Photography App
Adobe Photoshop Elements 2022
Professional results at a solid price
Adobe Photoshop Elements 2022 allows you to make professional-looking edits without having to be an expert. While there are more powerful photo editing apps on Windows, many of them require a subscription or have a complicated interface. Photoshop Elements 2022 strikes a balance as an affordable app with a straightforward interface that's powerful enough for most people.
Best Windows Social App
Better at Telegram than Telegram
This year was an interesting one when it came to social media. Because of controversies with Facebook, which rebranded to Meta in 2021, many people searched for a WhatsApp alternative. Telegram was the choice of many. Unigram is a third-party Telegram client that looks gorgeous on Windows 11 and Windows 10. It's regularly updated, integrates well with Windows, and is easy to set up.
Best Windows News App
News here! Get your news here!
Microsoft News has been our favorite news app for years. It retains its title in 2021. It lays out news in a clean interface that looks good on tablets, laptops, and larger PCs. In Microsoft News, you can customize your newsfeed, pick your sources, and follow specific topics.
Best Mixed Reality of 2021
Best Windows Mixed Reality Headset
HP Reverb G2
The reigning king of WMR
The HP Reverb G2 was originally released in 2020, but a refreshed version hit markets late 2021. What was already by far the best Windows Mixed Reality system saw three major improvements without any sort of price hike. Controller tracking has been improved, with HP claiming 30% better vertical vision below the waist. There's a new face gasket portion that allows for down to 9mm eye relief, which helps boost FOV. There's also a new cable that works better with AMD systems and a new link box with a power toggle button.
Combined with the stunning visual fidelity, high-end audio experience, and streamlined SteamVR support, the refreshed 2021 HP Reverb G2 is a strong contender in a market dominated by the expensive Valve Index and the Facebook/Meta-tarnished Quest 2.
Best Xbox and PC Games of 2021
These are the very best games of the year, as picked by our editors. But this is just a small sample of all the games that won 2021 Windows Central Game Awards.
Game of the Year
Resident Evil Village
Resident Evil Village proved an unbeatable celebration of horror, conjuring up a stellar first-person tale, doubling as a culmination of series high points. While the latest in the revered franchise isn't known for radical shakeups, it's a striking refinement upon over 25 years of excellence, packed with haunting moments to leave you petrified. The result finely balances an incredible showcase of action and scares, layered with atmospheric tension that ensures nothing quite feels right.
Best Xbox Exclusive
Forza Horizon 5
Xbox's best launch so far
Forza Horizon 5 saw players embark on a road trip across Mexico, home to an open-world vehicular sandbox brimming with vehicles and activities to satisfy any virtual petrolhead's desires. It doubles as a showcase for Xbox Series X|S, leveraging the full power of Microsoft's latest gaming consoles to render a dazzling photorealistic world ripe for exploration. Developer Playground Games has retained its title in delivering one of the best Xbox games out there in 2021.
Best PC Exclusive
Age of Empires IV
Making RTS cool again
Age of Empires IV is a return to the beloved real-time strategy series, attracting veteran RTS players and newcomers to the genre. The lengthy four-part campaign mixed with live "Hands on History" segments proved an ideal match, giving even those who aren't particularly interested in crossbows and swords something to chew on. Beautiful and varied landscapes serve as a backdrop for asymmetrical warfare waged between eight unique civilizations on the multiplayer side. If you love building bases, managing resources, and raising medieval armies to crush your enemies, it's all here.
Most Anticipated Game
Prepare your souls
Scores of Dark Souls fans have been waiting for the next FromSoftware title since the success of 2019's Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, and a Demon's Souls remaster on PS5 could only hold them over for so long. Thankfully, the long-awaited Elden Ring, a project with a ton of pedigree but shrouded in mystery, is finally set to release in February 2022. Many of us at Windows Central were able to get our hands on the recent network test and came away wanting more. This open-world title promises a Souls experience unlike any other, and if FromSoftware's reputation is anything to go by, we can't wait.
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