Our team of writers and editors reviews hundreds of products every year, and we routinely update our lists of the very best laptops, TVs, phones, and more to make sure you can find the right one for you. But let’s be honest: Sometimes the best is boring. For instance, the iPhone still makes the best phone for most people in 2023. A product that’s easy to use, affordable and reliable may be the most pragmatic purchase, but it’s not always exciting.
That’s why once a year, we like to recognize the most innovative products. Whether they introduce a few new features or totally try to reinvent a category, these are the products breaking new ground in technology. Sometimes they’re impractical, overpriced, or just don’t work as intended the first time. But we love them anyway for the sheer chutzpah it takes to try something new. And sometimes, they truly are the best, too.
So join us in saluting the companies that stepped out on a ledge in 2023, and the products that dared to be different.
— Nick Mokey, Managing Editor
Most innovative laptop: Lenovo Yoga Book 9i
Ah, the dual-screen laptop. It was a concept killed off before it had a chance to see the light of day. I’m talking about the Surface Neo, of course, the announced-then-canceled project from Microsoft, which featured two screens that could be used in various modes. After years of silence, Lenovo came around this year and revived the idea with the Yoga Book 9i, the most successful of the company’s experiments in years. I knew it was something fresh the first time I saw it at CES earlier this year.
Things get really fun when you use the foldable “origami stand.” Using strong magnets, the stand folds up so that you can actually use both screens of the Yoga Book 9i in tandem — either side by side or stacked vertically. This is where the Yoga Book 9i starts to really feel fresh, allowing Windows to handle the two screens as it would two external monitors. Now, you could do that with a standard laptop and a portable display, but having it all in one package is pretty tidy. The vertical mode is neat too, if a bit impractical. But if you want to watch a YouTube video while keeping the other screen free to use, for example, it’s great. It’s nothing special in performance, battery life, or other basic laptop features — but it doesn’t throw them aside to chase its unique design either. It’s surprisingly competent.
The most surprising thing about the Yoga Book 9i is that the price isn’t too over-the-top either. There’s just one configuration (with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage), and it costs $2,000. Not cheap exactly, but it’s nice to see some legitimate innovation that isn’t an excuse to be extremely overpriced.
— Luke Larsen, Computing Editor
Check out the rest of our picks for the most innovative laptops of 2023.
Most innovative tablet: Google Pixel Tablet
There’s one tablet from 2023 that stands out above the rest, and that’s the Google Pixel Tablet. While it doesn’t have the best specs, and it’s not impervious to software bugs, it’s also unlike every other tablet you can buy. Why? The Pixel Tablet isn’t just a tablet — it’s a tablet and a smart display melded into one sleek package.
You can use the Pixel Tablet like a regular Android tablet, and it does everything you’d expect it to do. You can browse the web, watch YouTube videos, play games, etc. The 11-inch display looks good, the Tensor G2 processor is suitable for casual use, and Google’s simple Android 14 interface is easy to navigate. But when you aren’t using the Pixel Tablet, it doesn’t have to sit in a drawer or on your desk, left unused and collecting dust. Instead, you can attach it to the speaker dock that comes with it — effectively turning the Pixel Tablet into a Nest Hub.
When the Pixel Tablet is attached to its dock, it works like any other smart display. You can control smart home devices, ask about the weather, see upcoming calendar appointments, and more. The dock also charges the Pixel Tablet, plus it enhances the audio experience thanks to its powerful (and loud) speakers.
This is what makes the Google Pixel Tablet so magical. It’s not just another Android tablet — it’s a tablet and a smart display in one. It’s an ingenious idea and one that no other tablet this year offers, and it makes the Pixel Tablet an easy choice for the most innovative tablet of 2023.
— Joe Maring, Mobile Editor
Check out the rest of our picks for the most innovative tablets of 2023.
Most innovative phone: OnePlus Open
Though Samsung has dominated the foldable market in the U.S. for a few years, 2023 saw a rise in foldables from competitors like Google and OnePlus. But the OnePlus Open has become the folding phone to beat, even though it’s the first foldable from OnePlus.
In terms of specs, the OnePlus Open is certainly impressive. You have Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip along with 16GB RAM and 512GB storage. With this kind of power, the OnePlus Open can handle pretty much anything you throw at it. It even packs in a 4,805mAh battery that will last a full day and then some, and it has support for 67W fast charging.
It features a 6.31-inch AMOLED cover display and opens up to reveal a 7.82-inch AMOLED inner display. Both screens have up to 120Hz refresh rates and can reach up to 2,800 nits peak brightness, making it one of the brightest displays available on any phone. The inner display also has an anti-reflective coating, making it much more usable outdoors in bright sunlight than the competition. Plus, OnePlus’ Flexion Hinge results in a barely visible crease, which isn’t a given with folding phones today
You have a powerful triple-lens Hasselblad camera array with a 48MP primary camera, a 48MP ultrawide camera, and a whopping 64MP telephoto camera that can do 3x optical, 6x in-sensor, and up to 120x Ultra Res zoom. The selfie cameras are also 32MP on the cover display, while the inner selfie camera is 20MP, though you can also use the rear camera for selfies.
But the OnePlus Open’s real magic is its power for multitasking with the Open Canvas feature in OxygenOS 13.2. This new way to multitask was specifically designed to increase productivity with multi-window efficiency.
What does this mean? Essentially, the OnePlus Open can support up to three apps in split screen and floating windows, and there’s a persistent desktop-like taskbar at the bottom. But it’s not restricted to just utilizing the physical screen space. You can stretch and resize all windows as you see fit, as Open Canvas is like having virtual screen space. To bring in the second or third window, just slide it in or out of view.
So not only is the OnePlus Open impressive in terms of specs (and it has a nice design to boot), but its fresh approach to multitasking allows you to be more productive than ever before. All of this makes the OnePlus Open one of the most innovative phones this year, especially for a foldable.
— Christine Romero-Chan, Mobile Staff Writer
Check out the rest of our picks for the most innovative phones of 2023.
Most innovative wearable: Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 Classic
For 2023, Samsung decided not to update the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro it released in 2022. Instead, it brought out the Galaxy Watch 6 Classic, which saw the return of the Classic name and design, plus a fantastic feature: the physical rotating bezel. The Watch 5 Pro made a vague attempt to take on the Apple Watch Ultra, but it was nowhere near as accomplished or as interesting, so it’s no surprise to see Samsung leave it alone this year.
The rotating bezel last made an appearance on the Galaxy Watch 4 Classic, and it was a poor decision on Samsung’s part to ignore it in 2022. Twisting the bezel makes controlling the Galaxy Watch 6 Classic’s software more intuitive, faster, and easier than just prodding the touchscreen. It is also unique, as most of the competition favors the rotating crown instead, but this method is far more fiddly. Utilizing the unused space of the bezel as a control system is a stroke of ergonomic genius.
It’s perhaps a bit of a stretch calling it an innovation, but it did disappear for a year and has now been sensibly brought back. The Galaxy Watch 6 Classic is also still packed full of features, some of which are unusual on a smartwatch. The body composition measurement is usually only found on smart scales, plus it can reliably take your blood pressure without any fuss. Not charging a subscription for access to all your health data and accompanying features in Samsung Health could also be seen as an innovation these days.
Samsung’s design department also got the watch-like look and feel of the Watch 6 Classic exactly right, making great use of the bezel, providing a choice of case sizes, and also bringing back the Watch 4 Classic’s stunning silver-and-white color combination. It’s a fantastic smartwatch, and the clever rotating bezel makes it stand out far more than the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro ever did.
— Andy Boxall, Senior Mobile Staff Writer
Check out the rest of our picks for the most innovative wearables of 2023.
Most innovative headphones: Hed Unity Wi-Fi headphones
The convenience of wireless Bluetooth headphones and earbuds can’t be overstated. Ever since Apple released the original AirPods in 2016, music fans have turned these categories into multibillion-dollar industries. But there’s one group of music fans that has always greeted Bluetooth with skepticism: audiophiles.
Audiophiles correctly claim that Bluetooth is no substitute for a wired connection because Bluetooth has traditionally required lossy compression of digital music. In order to squeeze CD-quality stereo into a size that can fit inside Bluetooth’s invisible pipe from your phone to your headphones, some information must be discarded. As for better-than-CD-quality hi-res audio? Fuggedaboudit.
On the other hand, if wireless audio products like headphones and earbuds could use Wi-Fi instead of (or in addition to) Bluetooth, there would be more than enough bandwidth for even the highest-resolution lossless digital audio. To some, that may seems like an obvious statement, but until the Hed Unity came along, no audio manufacturer had ever tried it.
By embedding Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, the Hed Unity have become the first wireless headphones to let folks listen to CD-quality and higher lossless audio without worrying about Bluetooth codec compatibility, or even wireless range. As long as the headphones are within range of your Wi-Fi network, you can stream several sources of hi-res lossless music to them, including Tidal, Qobuz, and your personal music collection if it’s stored on your network.
Audiophiles now have the option of wireless listening without the compromises of Bluetooth, but it doesn’t come without a few major caveats. The first is the price. At $2,199 the Hed Unity might just be the most expensive wireless headphones you can buy that don’t make use of exotic materials like gold or diamonds.
Second, one of the reasons Wi-Fi hasn’t shown up on headphones before now is it’s incredibly power-hungry when compared to Bluetooth. Unsurprisingly, the Hed Unity are only good for about six to eight hours of listening before needing to be recharged, ranking them among the worst wireless headphones for battery life.
Third, Hed is still making inroads with streaming music companies, so for now, Tidal and Qobuz are the only sources of lossless audio that are compatible with Wi-Fi on the Unity (you can stream any service via traditional Bluetooth).
For Hed itself, there may also be a price for being first. Apple revealed that the H2 chips inside the AirPods Pro 2 with USB-C are able to work with Wi-Fi on a limited basis — it’s how they can do lossless audio with the Apple Vision Pro. Separately, Qualcomm announced that its latest S7 Pro Sound Platform Gen 1 chips will support Wi-Fi streaming in a variety of wireless audio products, and with almost no hit to battery performance.
These announcements could mean that the Hed Unity’s Wi-Fi audio pole position will face serious challenges from other Wi-Fi products in the very near future.
I recently received a pair of Hed Unity for evaluation — I’ll post my thoughts as a full review soon.
— Simon Cohen, A/V Contributing Editor
Check out the rest of our picks for the most innovative headphones of 2023.
Most innovative TV tech: LG MLA OLED panel technology
When Samsung made waves with the QD-OLED technology in its S95B OLED TV, LG immediately shot back with MLA OLED technology, making it look like the tech had been set aside for just such an occasion. Whatever the true inside baseball story may be, we were delighted to see it unleashed this year.
Practically speaking, MLA — or, Micro Lens Array — technology makes LG’s OLED panels significantly brighter than they’ve been in the past. This is notable not only because one of the few complaints about OLED TVs and monitors was that they couldn’t get as bright as QLED TVs, but because Samsung Display’s QD-OLED technology was posting some unprecedented brightness numbers.
LG achieved this boost in brightness in a really interesting way. Rather than tweaking organic compounds, juicing up electricity, or adding clever new heat-dissipation technology, LG Display solved its brightness limitations by homing in on efficiency.
In effect, MLA is a thin sheet of material upon which millions of tiny convex lenses have been printed. Those lenses capture light that normally gets scattered inside an OLED panel, and focuses it at the desired destination: your eyeballs.
It may sound like a simple solution, but its implementation is a true feat of engineering. The result of MLA, paired with other brightness-boosting efforts made by LG, sees brightness increases of up to 70% over traditional W-RGB OLED TVs. In the end, LG’s Gallery Series G3 OLED wound up being the brightest OLED TV I’ve ever tested.
With OLED brightness now of significantly lower concern than before, LG has made it even harder for QLED TV makers to claim their TVs are superior. This, naturally, will incite the next salvo in the ongoing TV brightness war that’s been raging for several years already.
— Caleb Denison, A/V Editor at Large
Check out the rest of our picks for the most innovative TV tech of 2023.
Most innovative monitor: Samsung Odyssey OLED G9
Just because a monitor is big doesn’t mean its innovative, but the Odyssey OLED G9 is truly innovative. It’s an impressive 32:9 display that measures 49 inches diagonally, which is a form factor Samsung has championed over the past couple of years. This year, though, it’s delivered via a QD-OLED panel, and that makes all the difference.
OLED looks amazing, but it’s the practicality of this tech that stands out on the Odyssey OLED G9. Compared to LCD, where you need to allocate some space in the monitor for a backlight, OLED is very thin. That allowed Samsung to massively cut down on the size of the Odyssey OLED G9, delivering a slim metal frame and more subtle curve compared to the previous version. Both monitors are big, but an aggressive curve and chunky plastic back made the previous Odyssey Neo G9 too impractical for most users to consider.
The panel swap is also a huge boost to image quality. The Odyssey Neo G9 looked great for an LCD monitor, but the perfect black levels of OLED are far more immersive for cinematic games. Combined with the 32:9 aspect ratio, the Odyssey OLED G9 pulls you into the game world, providing the most immersive gaming experience we’ve ever seen.
The Odyssey OLED G9 may not be some new, crazy concept on the level of the Samsung Odyssey Ark, but it takes an already great foundation and improves it through a smart panel swap, and that makes it the most innovative monitor we’ve seen this year.
— Jacob Roach, Senior Computing Staff Writer
Check out the rest of our picks for the most innovative monitors of 2023.
Most innovative streaming device: Amazon Fire TV 4K Max
The Amazon Fire TV does, for the most part, look and act the same as it has the previous few years. Yes, it’s gotten some pretty sizable visual refreshes. Yes, the hardware has been updated on a pretty regular schedule. And, yes, it’s still a very affordable device in that Amazon way of making you ask “It’s only how much?”
But in announcing the 2023 Amazon Fire TV 4K Max at an event in September at HQ2 just outside Washington, D.C., Amazon announced some new features for this particular Fire TV Stick — it’s the best among them — that truly make it stand out among the other varieties in the Fire TV lineup.
Amazon has had what it calls its “Ambient Experience” for some time now, but previously it was only available on Amazon’s Omni QLED televisions, not a low-cost stick. It’s basically a mostly excellent screensaver-type option that turns your TV into something you’ll want to leave on for everyone to see, with a number of widgets also available that take you even further into the Amazon ecosystem, like suggesting things to watch or listen to — or even cook for dinner — or helping you track your Amazon purchases. That’s all very cool stuff.
The Fire TV will also get several AI-powered features at some point in 2024. While it’s true you can’t shake a stick without hitting something with the letters “AI” in it, Amazon had something tangible to show us. Better search results, for starters. That’s kind of the bread and butter for all this, but it goes deeper. “We’ve completely reinvented the Fire TV search experience,” Fire TV vice president Daniel Rausch said at the September event. And, indeed, that early demo looked extremely promising. Better, more natural results, with better context.
Rausch also demoed a cool feature within Amazon Photos that leverages AI to take your basic phone-based images (let’s be honest, that’s what most of us are shooting, right?) and turn them into works of art that are more worthy of the largest screen in your home. Or, you can have it just conjure AI-generated images on the fly. That may not drastically change the way you use your Fire TV, but it’s something nobody else is doing yet.
And in a year in which we didn’t really see any other drastic changes in the streaming hardware, it’s more than enough to stand out.
— Phil Nickinson, A/V Editor
Check out the rest of our picks for the most innovative streaming devices of 2023.
Most innovative gaming device: PlayStation Access Controller
While this year was filled with flashy handhelds that make gaming more flexible than ever, PlayStation delivered 2023’s most important piece of gaming tech in the PlayStation Access Controller. The unique gamepad is built with accessibility in mind, providing players with specific needs a ton of ways to customize their PlayStation experience. We’ve seen similar devices from companies like Xbox in the past, but the Access Controller takes that idea even further.
The device is a round gamepad packed with swappable parts. Players can map different buttons onto its side panels and can even mark what each pad does with erasable markers. It comes with a control stick that can swing 360 degrees around the gamepad and can be locked in place with the press of a button. It can even be attached to a second Access Controller or hooked up to other accessibility devices to give players extra flexibility. To top it off, custom profiles lets players store up to 30 configurations for easy access. It’s a fully loaded controller that aims to provide as much customization as one could hopefully need.
While we’ve yet to get hands on with it ourselves, the Access Controller takes our top innovation honors this year on principle alone. It’s always fun to toy around with new devices that let us play in new ways, but those don’t mean anything if they’re excluding players. Creative accessibility tools like the Access Controller ensure that more players will be able to experience games like Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 and Final Fantasy XVI. Sony deserves credit for not just creating a gamepad that allows that, but for also going the extra mile to create an innovative design that considers a range of needs.
— Giovanni Colantonio, Gaming Editor
Check out the rest of our picks for the most innovative gaming devices of 2023.