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9 best gadgets we reviewed in December

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Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 FE+ Display on a wooden desk

2023 was a big year in tech, introducing premium devices with mind-blowing features, as well as affordable gadgets with more capability than we could have foreseen. In contrast to our Tech-tober reviews, which included some of the best high-end smartphones in the last couple years, both November and December left us pleased with a variety of midrange and even entry-level accessories and tech toys that had no right to be as useful and fun as they were.

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While some of the products we reviewed did leave a bit to be desired, we lucked out in testing a handful of satisfying and convenient gaming gadgets, streamlined e-readers, and well-performing yet moderately priced tablets. We’re happy to report that the last month or so of deep dives shone light on some truly worthwhile electronics that can make your life more fun, or just less hassle.

1 Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 FE+

A great blend of powerful hardware and thoughtful software implementation routinely garner top marks for Samsung S-series tablets, but they can be a little pricey at the high end. Enter the Tab S9 FE+, which boasts a handful of luxury features normally reserved for the standard Tab S9+, but doesn’t quite cost an arm and a leg.

Samsung made sacrifices in the priciest areas, opting to use its in-house Exynos 1380 SoC and a considerably less costly IPS LCD panel instead of the S9+’s OLED display. But otherwise, the cheaper, FE+ version delivers a remarkably similar experience for just about half the price. Its durability, form factor, dynamic S Pen support, and excellent battery life all impress, and even the less-than-ideal LCD screen operates at a smooth 90Hz. And with either 8 or 12GB of RAM, you can still take advantage of Samsung One UI’s excellent multitasking and productivity features without seeing a big performance hit.

While we typically like to tout the best and boldest of all releases, the reasonably priced Tab S9 FE+ will appeal to more users. It’s an especially good choice when you consider that it’ll get the same four full Android updates as the more premium versions, culminating in Android 17.

Read our full Galaxy Tab S9 FE+ review

Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 FE+, showing front screen and back with two cameras

Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 FE+

$550 $600 Save $50

2 8bitdo Lite 2 gaming controller

8BitDo Lite 2 controller with Bob-omb

It’s always fun when a gaming accessory review rolls across our desk, because who doesn’t like playing games for a living? 8bitdo’s made some of the best Android gaming controllers for years now, including premium build quality, dependable connectivity, and a host of useful features among its priorities. The diminutive Lite 2 doesn’t exactly break ground in terms of novel technology, but it does provide dedicated gamers as well as bored commuters the opportunity to have a fun, reasonably comfortable gaming experience on the go, without lugging around any bulky equipment.

Despite being small enough to fit easily in a pocket, the spacing keeps it from cramping your hands longer than other similarly sized controllers (of which there aren’t many, to be honest). Due to both its size and 8bitdo’s design and manufacturing standards, it’s as durable as they come, and should stand up easily to any bumps and bruises from regular use. It’s not limited to just Android, either, as it works flawlessly with Windows PCs and even the Nintendo Switch, which adult gamers around the world decry as difficult to play on with the stock joysticks.

The main buttons all provide just enough tactile feedback to remind you it’s a high-quality piece of gear, and the battery life easily outlasts a daily commute or cross-country flight. It would be a bit more versatile if 8bitdo offered some first-party phone clips or hand grips, but for just $35, it’s hard to complain.

Read our full 8bitdo Lite 2 review

8BitDo Lite 2 in blue on a white background

3 Google Nest Wifi Pro mesh system

nest-wifi-pro-group

Home Wi-Fi has undergone serious change in the last few years. You can still get your hands on plenty of spaceship-reminiscent Wi-Fi routers, but more and more consumers continue to choose self-contained Wi-Fi mesh systems over their more piecemeal relatives. Like some other wireless mesh setups, the Nest Wifi Pro boasts the dependable connectivity and straightforward network setup that many traditional routers only dream of.

They aren’t exactly cheap, but after dropping $200 on the first one, the second and third come at just $100 each. That’s actually good value for something you can be confident will last throughout the current generation of Wi-Fi-enabled electronics.

Its Wi-Fi 6E support, seamless connection hand-off, and general range and bandwidth performance just about top the list. It even supports both Matter and Thread smart home devices, making it an excellent investment for anybody who loves home automation. Adding in the increasingly simple setup process and somewhat overhauled, more satisfying appearance, and the Nest Wifi Pro easily ranks among the best mesh Wi-Fi systems of the year.

Read our full Nest Wifi Pro review

Google Nest Wifi Pro in three colors

Google Nest Wifi Pro

$160 $200 Save $40

4 Formovie Xming Page One smart projector

A side view of a laser projector sitting outdoors, with flowers in the background

The Page One smart projector squarely takes aim at the less-than-user-friendly wireless video projector market. Formovie actually makes a relatively substantial lineup of projectors you probably haven’t heard of, and this mid-range model was clearly a coveted release, as evidenced by its successful crowdfunding campaign.

First glance makes it clear that you’re working with a well-built device, as it looks and feels like a high-quality piece of AV equipment. But, as usual, it’s what’s inside that counts — and there’s great stuff inside the Page One. Its true 1080p resolution and effective (if not quite top-of-the-line) HDR implementation make great use of most streaming content, and it boasts the official Netflix certification that a surprising number of competitors lack.

The software makes it especially easy to take advantage of the image quality, backed by Google TV, instead of an older AOSP-based interface that a lot of smart projectors rely on. While the Page One isn’t the brightest projector on the market and does occasionally see some performance hiccups, neither issue’s anywhere near a dealbreaker, and this is one of the best mid-range projectors we’ve seen in a long time.

Read our full Xming Page One review

Xming Page One Projector on a white background

Formovie Xming Page One Projector

5 Nubia RedMagic 9 Pro

hand holding redmagic 9 pro in front of brick wall

Smartphones outfitted with top-of-the-line hardware typically cost a fortune, but the RedMagic 9 Pro hit so hard upon its late-2023 release partly because of its surprisingly low price. Just $650 nets you a truly premium piece of hardware, packed with the blazing-fast Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 SoC, 12GB of RAM (with 16GB available for an extra $100), a high-resolution OLED display, and stunning battery life.

To be clear, it runs with a different philosophy than most other flagship phones. The biggest tell here is the lackluster camera performance, which falls well below some other phones in the same price range, with a selfie cam that’s legitimately just blurry on some shots. But the phone actually shies away from focusing on the camera, which the lack of any rear camera bump reinforces, by providing a more ergonomic handheld gaming experience. The flat back does have a tendency to pick up smudges and fingerprints, but at least it lays flat and results in less risk to the cameras when used without a case.

All told, it’s an impressive package for the price, even if you’ll almost certainly have to weed out some of the bloatware and dig into a little customization for the perfect UI experience. If gaming is your thing and you want the best visuals at the highest framerates, the RedMagic 9 Pro’s a great choice.

Read our full RedMagic 9 Pro review

redmagic 9 pro on a white background

6 Anker Solix C1000 power station

Anker Solix C1000 powering a space heater and charging a phone

The Solix C1000 is not a power bank. It’s a full-on power station, with six AC outlets, four USB ports, a car electrical socket, and a peak continuous output of 1,800W (with surge support up to 2,400W). Granted, running it near peak output continuously will make relatively short work of its 1,056Wh capacity, but Anker does offer an expansion battery that doubles the storage.

And when you do have access to a power source, you can top off the C1000 at impressive speeds. At the 1,300W it can accept through AC charging, it takes less than an hour to go from empty to full — a legitimately impressive feat. And for sunny days when you have the right panels, its 600W solar charging support can keep you powered up all day long.

But wait, there’s more. The C1000 even makes a mark in more subtle, technical features, including a 20ms UPS controller that kicks on fast enough to keep the most important electronics (think medical devices, like a CPAP machine) from failing in case your main grid fails. Then there’s the noticeable, if not readily apparent, use of LiFePO4 cells, which are considerably more energy-dense than Li-ion cells, and therefore lighter. These important considerations all add up to a versatile and overall excellent power station, from one of our favorite power accessory manufacturers.

Read our full Solix C1000 review

The Anker Solix C1000 against a white background

Anker Solix C1000

$699 $999 Save $300

7 Nook Glowlight 4 Plus

Nook Glowlight 4 Plus on wooden end table with coffee cup next to brown couch

Source: Android Police

As nice as physical books are, they’re no match for the convenience, versatility, and literature-consuming potential of an e-reader. Nook’s lineup has posed a bit of competition within the e-reader space in recent years, but the Glowlight 4 Plus takes the next step, as an especially functional offering with a handful of must-have features for many readers.

First and foremost, it’s the first Nook device to support audiobooks, which makes a huge difference for many of us today. There’s no built-in speaker, but given the device’s thin form factor, an integrated speaker probably wouldn’t do justice to the increasingly high-quality narration of the latest publications. There is, however, Bluetooth support and a 3.5mm audio jack, so you can easily use your favorite headphones to hear the author or narrator’s dulcet tones.

Some of our other favorite features might be a little more subtle, but still contribute to a quality book-reading device. Its flush exterior keeps it relatively free of dust, even around the tactile-responsive page-turning buttons that we wouldn’t mind seeing some competitors adopt. Its 32GB of storage provides plenty of space for your favorite releases, whether text or audio, and the battery lasts for well over a week even with moderately heavy use. We would appreciate slightly snappier performance, and some people will lament the display’s inability to rotate, but those are small setbacks for an otherwise fantastic device.

Read our full Glowlight 4 Plus review

Nook Glowlight 4 Plus e-reader with example text set on a white background

8 Acer Chromebox CXI5

Acer Chromebox CXI5 sitting angled on desk

The low overhead of the Android-adjacent Chrome OS makes it the perfect candidate for desktop systems that don’t require the power of a full-on x86 Windows setup. As opposed to Chromebook laptops that utilize the lean operating system for portability purposes, Chromeboxes like the Acer CXI5 offer similarly efficient performance in compact, generally well-priced packages ideal for basic computing as well as specialized tasks like home media servers.

The CXI5 gives you plenty of flexibility, with your choice of everything from Intel Celeron all the way to Core i7 processors. This option ensures you have the firepower to do whatever you want with your Chromebox, including running a vast array of powerful Linux apps with no significant slowdowns. Considering how some Chromeboxes don’t exactly play nice with full-featured Linux apps (and might even require you to run them in a tedious container), this unlocks quite a bit of potential within the already-versatile OS.

Nobody buys a Chromebox just to play the latest AAA games, but this one actually performs pretty well, as long as you get a strong enough processor. With few exceptions, general app performance remains snappy across the lineup, and casual gamers will be pretty well satisfied with its processing power. The i5 and i7 versions even enable light photo and video editing, although they do (predictably) come at a premium. The CXI5 is the latest in a line of Chrome OS machines that leave us rethinking the concept of a desktop PC entirely.

Read our full Acer CXI5 review

acer-chromebox-cxi5-render-01

9 Onyx Boox Note Air3 C e-reader tablet

Onyx Boox Note Air3 C resting on a marble table

Is it an e-reader, or is it a tablet? You can read ebooks and usually listen to audiobooks on both types of device, but they don’t typically have a lot of feature overlap. The Onyx Book Note Air3 C bridges that gap — verbose name and all — with a tablet-esque experience based on the underlying, but barely recognizable Android 12 OS.

It does a predictably excellent job when reading ebooks, which sometimes see ghosting due to the nature of eye-friendly E Ink displays. Four settings let you choose your favorite overall balance of refresh speed and image clarity, with additional fine-tuning available on a per-app basis. And it doesn’t just unlock a wide range of content by supporting third-party apps, it even lets you dial in the right refresh settings for most of the non-default tools.

And that’s not even considering the productivity side, a concept we rarely mention with regard to e-readers. The near-perfectly engineered combo of stylus and Wacom layer delivers remarkable precision, consistent touch sensitivity, and reliable inputs that dedicated artists will love. Coupled with well-above-average performance and support for a slew of organization, note-taking, productivity, and reading apps, no other tablet or e-reader offers quite the same balance of work and play as the Note Air3 C.

Read our full Note Air3 C review

Onyx Boox Note Air3 C product render

What’s happening in January 2024

Our favorite devices from December bring 2023 to a satisfying close, but buckle your seatbelts, because 2024 should get off to as blistering a start as any year in tech. With CES 2024 now upon us, expect a ton of interesting news, even if it’s not all products ready for immediate release. We’re also bracing ourselves for the imminent Galaxy S24 family launch on January 17, so rest assured we’ll have plenty of hot takes and in-depth reviews for the next monthly rundown of our favorite devices.

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