This decade we saw the smartphone move from overpriced gadget to something more necessary than a laptop or desktop. We saw the e-reader settle on a design so perfect it’s barely changed in seven years. We saw games systems that made us rethink how we game and laptops that made us rethink what a good laptop should look like. There were incredible wearables, and remarkable VR systems, and drones so well designed practically anyone can fly them. Below are the most innovative gadgets of the decade—the ones that will continue to matter long after the devices themselves become obsolete.
We didn’t want to focus on the best, because in technology the best is often the most recent. No one will say the FuelBand is better than a Fitbit Alta in 2019—but the Fitbit Alta wouldn’t exist without the Nike’s FuelBand paving the way. So don’t expect any device from 2019 to be on the list below—the Switch Lite and Lenovo Book and all the rest of our favorite 2019 gadgets will get their own time to shine. This is about reflecting on what came before and precisely why these innovative gadgets matter.
Released to the world in June of 2010, the iPhone 4 featured a radically different design, eschewing the contours of its predecessors for squared-off edges that made it the thinnest smartphone in the world at the time. It’s a design that many still fondly remember and many hope Apple will one day return to, but that’s not the only thing that made the iPhone 4 such an important iteration.
It was the first to feature Apple’s high-resolution “Retina Display” technology that made individual pixels imperceptible to the naked eye and it was the first iPhone to include a front-facing camera. It also shipped with iOS 4 which was the first version of Apple’s mobile OS to feature true multitasking and the first to include Facetime video calling, a feature that helped sell the iPhone to millions of grandparents. The iPhone 4 was also Apple’s first to ship with a CDMA option allowing it to work on networks other than AT&T’s, which helped greatly expand the market for Apple’s smartphone. — Andrew Liszewski
If you said in 2010 that a smart thermostat would be one of the best smart home products of the decade, people would’ve looked at you funny. But once the Nest Learning Thermostat came onto the scene in 2011, all that changed. Chances are in the past few years you’ve known someone raving about the one they just installed—for good reason. The Nest thermostats are beautifully designed, relatively easy to install, and intuitive to use. Plus, they’re capable of learning your behaviors so after a bit, you don’t even have to tell it when to raise or lower temperatures. The Nest will just do it automatically, and save you money on your heating bills. Sure, plenty of other smart thermostats now do the same thing, but Nest was one of the first and helped pioneer the category altogether. — Victoria Song
Is it an elephant, a blimp, or a goddamn Death Star? Nope, it’s just a big ass phone. But in a time when smartphone displays topped out at around 3.5-inches, the Galaxy Note proved there was no limit to people’s desire for bigger and bigger displays. The original Galaxy Note helped coin an awful portmanteau (phablet), and it even came with a stylus, something that continues to separate the latest edition of the Galaxy Note from its competition even today. The Galaxy Note was a true power user’s handset and its screen changed the way people have been designing phones even since. — Sam Rutherford
The Nike FuelBand didn’t survive long, but it was built with an understanding of something that many wearables manufacturers still do not get: The thing better be cool. The Apple Watch has all kinds of useful features, but if the shit wasn’t cool, people would not give a shit! The Fuel Band was cool and its Fuel Points concept was our first look at the goal-oriented concept that Apple would perfect with its Rings. It’s too bad the Fuel Band wasn’t long for this world because I would absolutely wear one today. — Mario Aguilar
The “smart home” is a common and occasionally cringe-worthy idea today, but in 2012 Philips first introduced us to the idea of household appliances that could do more with its Hue smart lighting system. It moved the control of a home’s lighting from pull chains on lamps and switches on walls to the smartphones we were well addicted to at the time and wouldn’t wander more than a few feet away from. Upgrading your home’s lighting was literally as easy as screwing in a light bulb and aside from serving as a remote control, the Philips Hue smartphone app allowed lights to be organized and even scheduled. Even today, seven years after the Philips Hue smart lighting system was first introduced, there are smart home technologies that are a pain to install and often unreliable. But the Hue bulbs worked perfectly from the start, and remain one of the most compelling reasons to make your home smart. — Andrew Liszewski
Android used to suuuuuuuuck. Similarly, Android phones were mostly terrible. It wasn’t until 2012 that Android phones and the underlying operating system got good enough to use, and while the Galaxy SIII beat the Google’s (LG-built) Nexus 4 to market by 6 months, it was the taste of vanilla Android that makes us remember this little phone fondly. Sure the Galaxy line has stood the test of time, but do you remember what a nightmare TouchWiz was?
Of course, the Nexus 4 wasn’t without its drawbacks. Most notably, it’s camera was absolute garbage. Looking ahead to today, I never would’ve guessed in 2012 that Google would be producing the most sophisticated camera phones on the market. We all have to start somewhere. — Mario Aguilar
There have been a lot of attempts to make super-cheap computers, but the Raspberry Pi, which started at just $25, was the first to actually feel accessible. The little device wasn’t a full computer, you had to bring your own storage, and it was so slow it was hard to use as a replacement for a desktop. However, you could turn it into a fantastic little device to watch movies on your TV, or play old SNES games. And it opened up a whole new world for tinkerers, giving them the ability to quickly build smart dog food dispensers, and robots, and sprinkler systems, and more. Later Pis only got more powerful and while the price has slowly crept up over the years since the original device’s launch, it still never costs more than $55 to have a tiny computer with abilities that are are limited more by the skills of the person using it than by any technical flaw in its design. — Alex Cranz
No company on Earth has had greater impact on the publishing industry in the last few decades than Amazon. And yes, much of this has been driven by terrible anti-competitive market practices that have put a strain on both book stores and publishers. But damn we still love the Kindle! Books everywhere! Though the Kindle was first released last decade, the Paperwhite was the first device to transcend the merely utilitarian portable electronic reading device to become one that was a pleasure to look at and use. — Mario Aguilar
Not that long ago, taking music on the go required a boom box or a nest of cords. But with the advent of Bluetooth technology, along came new wireless speakers that could fit in your pocket and entertain you for hours. The only problem was that they all sucked—until the Boom. Made by Logitech’s audio arm, Ultimate Ears, the Boom seemed too good to be true when it launched in 2013. It was the size of a tall boy, connected seamlessly to any device, played music for hours, and sounded great. Oh and it was basically bombproof. While the original speaker was water resistant, newer models can be completely submerged in water—while still playing music. Some UE Boom models can even float. The boom box has never looked less cool. — Adam Clark Estes
Film was long dead by the time Sony released its first A7 camera, but discerning photographers who wanted the quality of shooting on a digital camera with a full-frame, 35-millimeter sensor, had to learn to live with carrying bulky and heavy DSLRs around. In 2013 the Sony A7 (and A7r) changed that by putting a 35-millimeter sensor in a mirrorless camera body with interchangeable lenses that was comparatively smaller and lighter than any DSLR, and at a price point that even amateur photographers could stomach.
The A7 also positioned Sony, a company who for years had been selling camera hardware that only worked with its own memory card formats, as serious competition for industry giants like Nikon and Canon. Over the years the A7 line has advanced by leaps and bounds, adding functionality and performance improvements that the competition can’t, or seemingly won’t, compete with, allowing Sony to slowly but steadily woo professionals and grow its market share. It won’t be long before Canon and Nikon go the way of analog film, and Sony’s A7 line will be the reason why. — Andrew Liszewski
Phones conquered our standalone cameras long ago, but arguably the first phone to see just how important camera technology would be in future devices was the Nokia Lumia 1020. The Windows Phone was built around a gigantic camera bump that foreshadowed the prominent camera arrays on phones today. Under the hood, the camera also featured some clever photo software tricks that prophesied the coming computational photography revolution. — Mario Aguilar
The smartwatch had long been a punchline in the tech industry, with companies even as big as Microsoft (remember MSN Direct and SPOT?) failing to convince consumers to strap a device to their wrists that could do more than just tell time. But in 2013 the Pebble smartwatch arrived with a design and functionality that positioned it as a second screen for your smartphone. With notifications about emails, calls, and messages routed to your wrist, the Pebble allowed anxious smartphone users to leave their devices in their pockets without having to worry about missing anything. The smartwatch also allowed users to download an app that added to its usefulness and allowed users to customize their personal wearable experience. Two years later the Apple Watch arrived, but with an incredibly affordable price tag, long battery life, and rock-solid performance, many still believe the Pebble did it better. — Andrew Liszewski
Voice assistants used to be the realm of science fiction and then Amazon came out with the Echo in 2014. Alexa wasn’t—and still isn’t—perfect, but it was the first viable voice assistant ever. Suddenly, Amazon Echo products became a neat solution to the messy problem of how to get all of your smart home products to interact with each other. You can ask it to read you a bedtime story, turn on and off lights, set a slew of laundry and cooking timers, ask for the weather, play music, and most importantly, settle pointless arguments with friends without having to reach for your phone. If that sounds like nothing special, it’s because Alexa has done so well and is so prevalent, it’s hard to remember how awful most digital assistants were before the Echo launched. — Victoria Song
I know. I know! The original Surface is sad and one of the most disappointing gadgets of the decade, so how is the Surface Pro 3 one of our best gadgets of the decade? It’s because the Surface Pro 3 was the first Windows tablet to get it right. Microsoft switched from the awful Windows RT to the full version of Windows 8 and then complemented that change with a move from underpowered ARM processors to the x68 processor found in laptops and desktops. It meant that the Surface Pro 3 was the first Microsoft tablet you could actually do work on and it was also so thin and light compared to other Windows tablets that it felt like a whole new way to use a computer. It wasn’t..it still required a mouse and keyboard to interact (thankfully the keyboard also got a major upgrade), but it did create a huge trend of powerful Windows tablets that are still being made today. — Alex Cranz
For the better part of the decade, consumer drones were synonymous with the DJI Phantom. First released in 2013, this white quadcopter was sometimes called “the iPhone of drones” because it had so many capabilities and was so easy to use. While the original Phantom required a third-party camera like a GoPro for aerial photography, DJI released a version equipped with an HD camera and three-axis gimbal just a few months after the original model’s launch. By the end of the decade, the Phantom was on its fourth-generation and featured a 4K camera as well as obstacle avoidance technology. Although DJI and other companies now seem more focused on smaller, folding drones, the Phantom will always be the mean quadcopter that started it all. — Adam Clark Estes
More than a decade ago it would have been absolutely ridiculous to consider Dell a major innovator in laptop design. While the company was hugely successful, it was because it made solid and inexpensive laptops—not because it made beautiful successors to Apple’s aught-innovations. The Dell XPS 13 released in 2015 changed how we think about good laptops—and drove innovation across the whole category. Initially a blatant copy of the MacBook Pro, it’s now the leader in 13-inch laptop design. With barely there bezels and the best battery life in the category, the XPS 13 is a shining example of laptop design and far removed from its ripoff roots. — Alex Cranz
Say what you will about the smugness of those little white earbuds, but the AirPods are clearly one of Apple’s most successful products of this decade. One might even say they’re one of the companies’ most impressive technologies ever. In the same way that the iPod swooped in and became a close-to-perfect version of an mp3 player after so many companies failed at the task, the AirPods arrived in 2016 when most truly wireless earbuds sucked. Thanks to its new W1 chip, though, Apple managed to improve the Bluetooth connectivity experience so that the AirPods just turned on and worked when you took them out of the case. Now every other companies is copying some of the technological tricks the AirPods introduced, but it might be too late. The AirPods are the most popular wireless earbuds on the planet. — Adam Clark Estes
While Fitbit’s been around since 2007, it wasn’t until this past decade that their trackers evolved past tiny clip-on pedometers and into full-blown smartwatches. But along the way, the Charge 2 stands out as one of the best simple fitness trackers of all time. Fitbit’s Charge series has always been popular, but the Charge 2 hit all the right notes. It was comfortable to wear, the screen was finally big enough to read notifications, battery life was great at 5 days, and you could finally track different sleep stages. It also wasn’t pretending to be a device it wasn’t. You could get notifications, but unlike the Charge 3, the Charge 2 didn’t cram smartwatch-esque features into what was clearly meant to be a fitness band. The company has since doubled down on smartwatches, but in many ways the Charge 2 was Fitbit at its best. — Victoria Song
Prior to the arrival of the Oculus Rift (and the HTC Vive), people’s idea of virtual reality was awkward old sci-fi movies like Lawnmower Man and the Nintendo Virtual Boy. But the Rift proved that not only is high-fidelity VR within our reach, it was fun as hell. Sure, the Rift wasn’t cheap and its PC requirements gave a lot of people a reason to upgrade, but between launch titles like Ad1ft, Lucky’s Tale, and Eve: Valkyrie, the Oculus Rift has birth a new era in VR development that still continues today. — Sam Rutherford
The iPhone X, launched on the 10 year anniversary of the device, was remarkable for many reasons. The OLED display was gorgeous and new. The industrial design was beautiful. But Face ID was the most remarkable thing about it. It sounded a little creepy at first: a series of futuristic cameras would scan your face and unlock your iPhone. Turns out Face ID was one of the most transformative technologies that Apple’s ever made. With Face ID, passwords could become a thing of the past. The extra effort needed to scan a thumbprint was replaced by the effortlessness of a glance. Face ID has now become standard on the iPhone and has appeared on the iPad Pro. It could soon come to MacBooks, making it one of the most pervasive security technologies on the market. And it works! — Adam Clark Estes
Everything the Nintendo Wii U did wrong, the Nintendo Switch did right. Arriving 28 years after the Game Boy, one of the most popular portable gaming systems of all time, the Switch looked like a streamlined version of the Wii U’s touchscreen controller, but it was completely self-contained and could be taken and played anywhere you roamed. It was a true successor to the Game Boy, but with a full-color 6.2 inch screen and the ability to easily connect to a TV using a well-designed and clever charging dock. Graphically it can’t compete with consoles like the PS4 and Xbox One, but with the Switch Nintendo balanced portability and capability to create a truly excellent handheld gaming experience. Launching with what is considered to be the best Legend of Zelda game of all time didn’t hurt either. — Andrew Liszewski
The Galaxy S8 was simply smartphone design perfection. With small, but balanced bezels, big, gorgeous display, rounded pebble-like frame, and a smooth glass back, the S8 personified elegance. And with its rear fingerprint sensor, Qi wireless charging, IP68 rating for rating for dust and water-resistance, microSD slot and built-in headphone jack, the Galaxy S8 had pretty much every feature you’d ever want. In fact, the S8’s design was so nice, Samsung has practically been using the same template for the last three years, while so many competitors tried (and failed) to emulate its success. The Galaxy S8 is easily one of the top three phones Samsung has ever made, and that’s saying something coming from a company that has become the worldwide leader in smartphone sales. — Sam Rutherford
The one thing the Pixel has always had is an excellent camera, but with the Pixel 3, thanks to features like Night Sight and Super Res Zoom, Google put the idea of computational photography in everyone’s minds. It didn’t matter than the Pixel 3 only had one rear camera compared to the double or triple camera modules found on competing phones, its pictures were that good, and even now after a year are other phone makers beginning to catch up. And unlike previous Pixels, the Pixel 3 was actually kind of stylish, had wireless charging, and boatload of nifty software features. For Google, its third Pixel really was a charm. — Sam Rutherford
When Apple first introduced the Apple Watch in 2014, it was the sort of gadget you scoffed at. It was expensive, relied on your phone, and honestly didn’t live up to the wrist-communicators of science fiction. Plenty of reviewers dubbed it as a nice luxury—cool if you had it, but not necessary for the average person. Fast forward to 2019 and you can spot people wearing them everywhere. But of the Apple Watches, the Series 4 stands out. On top of adding a brighter, bigger screen, it took things a step further by being the first smartwatch to cram ECG capabilities, fall detection, and FDA clearance in one tiny package. That turned it from a luxury device to one that could potentially save your life. — Victoria Song