2021 has been a year of ups and downs for new technology, but I’m going to focus on the positive side of things here and take a look at all the technology I’m really happy to have bought since last January. It’s an eclectic mass, but there’s something for everyone here if you want to use these Christmas gift cards. Also, as far as I know, the products mentioned here are all readily available and do not suffer from backorders or scalping (as of this writing).
DJI Air 2S
Flying drones is a true passion for me. Filming and photographing the world from an aerial perspective is always exciting and I have captured some incredible photos and videos over the years where I shoot with them. The Air 2S from DJI takes the image options from my previous favorite drone, the Mavic 2 Pro, and crams them into an ultra-portable package at a cheap price.
While you may be tempted by the amazing new top-of-the-line Mavic 3, it costs twice as much as what the Air 2S does. Unless you need the quite distinctive features of the Mavic 3, the Air 2S is much more accessible and gives great results.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G
Even as a serious photographer who owns serious camera equipment, a telephone camera is an invaluable tool for capturing fleeting, unexpected moments. A smartphone is a device that is practically glued to my hip or my hands every waking hour of the day, and I have found that it is true that the best camera is the one you have with you. With this in mind, I broke the piggy bank to acquire a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G, which without a doubt has the best camera of any phone on the market today, and the photos I have taken with it justify that investment.
Between the ultra-wide, wide, short telephoto cameras and long telephoto cameras, it is incredibly versatile, where everything except the long telephoto camera produces fantastic image quality. While it certainly is not as good as the rest, the long telephoto camera is still really useful if I want to take a wildlife photo but do not have a giant camera / lens setup with me. Aside from photography, the S21 Ultra has enough RAM and processing power to handle my inability to close Chrome tabs and my tendency to have multiple apps running at the same time.
It’s not just roses and sunshine that I’m talking about on my list of technology I wish I had not bought in 2021 – the screen gets easily scratched. The USB-C port also wears very quickly with only moderate use. For this reason, I am very contradictory in my feelings towards the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G, and am both glad that I bought it and wish I had not bought it at the same time.
Samsung Galaxy Buds 2
I listen to a lot of audiobooks and music – some days I will rip through 5-10 hours (or more) of audio content. Whether I’m writing, editing photos or videos, or doing duties around the yard or house, I’ll either listen to a sci-fi novel or blow up punk rock. As you can imagine, having the right earphones is extremely important to me, and this year I think I found the ideal in-ear headphones with Samsung Galaxy Buds 2. They have everything I want: They are discreet, sits securely enough for any activity, is extremely comfortable and has great sound quality.
What’s surprising is how relatively affordable the Galaxy Buds 2 are. They are a really great value for money. I have used earphones that are double or even three times the price of Buds 2 and I would choose Buds 2 over them.
This one is a little more niche and will only be of interest to electric guitar enthusiasts, but it’s so cool I’ll just have to talk about it here. Triplegraph is a guitar effect pedal designed by Coppersound Pedals in collaboration with Jack White, and it’s a beautiful object to see. Its surface is a combination of stylish design and robust, durable materials designed to facilitate working musicians in the studio and on stage. The tripegraph has three large contacts that are similar to the ones you would use to send a telegraph message back in the old days.
The left and right side telegraphs change the pitch of the signal from your guitar up or down one octave and can be set to either instantaneous or locked mode. The middle switch performs several different functions. It can be used to cut the signal completely to get a stuttering effect, it can be used to isolate the pitch-shifted signal from your guitar, or you can connect another effect pedal to Triplegraph in a loop configuration to be activated when the middle telegraph switch is pressed down. It creates incredible, creative opportunities for musicians, and it is also hugely fun and a beautiful object to own.
Fender Mustang Micro
Another music-related item, the Fender Mustang Micro is a small guitar amplifier the size of a large key chip. Your sound is then output via an AUX jack to headphones or speakers, making it ideal for practicing quietly or on the go. It is packed with custom effects and can be connected via Bluetooth to your phone to stream music to the amplifier so you can easily practice with a jam track.
This last feature is important because it essentially turns the Mustang Micro into a pocket-sized Bluetooth audio adapter. If you do not have Bluetooth speakers available, simply connect the Mustang Micro and you are ready to go. The only problem I have with it is that it does not work with Piezo pickups, which is a bit of a skirt for acoustic guitarists.
Koss Porta Pro
Koss Porta Pro is the perfect example of “If it’s not broken, do not repair it”. These ultra-compact and lightweight corded headphones have not changed in decades and that’s just fine with me. They provide excellent sound quality and are both remarkably comfortable and surprisingly durable, as well as dirt-cheap. I actually bought them for the Mustang Micro for guitar training on the go, but since then I have also found myself using them just to listen to music or with my Nintendo Switch Lite. Technical products tend to be volatile and quickly obsolete, but the Porta Pro has survived the Sony Walkman, it was built to compliment.
Nikon Z 2x TC
A teleconverter to extend the range of a telephoto lens is not terribly exciting, even for the professional photographers who buy them, but the Nikon Z 2x Teleconverter (TC) is quite an exception. Usually a 2x teleconverter (the largest magnification available) reduces the image quality of the lens to a considerable extent. However, Nikon’s new teleconverters challenge the long-standing problem of largely preserving the image quality you would get from the lens without a teleconverter.
The lens will still be made darker due to the inevitable laws of physics, but to be able to throw a teleconverter on my Nikkor Z 70-200mm f2.8 S lens and turn it into a 140-400mm f5.6 lens without going too far to compromise on the image quality is absolutely fantastic.
Apple iPad Mini 6
This is my latest technology acquisition, purchased at a Black Friday sale. I’ve been pretty crazy about the Apple iPad Mini 6 since I bought it. I use the iPad Mini primarily as a screen for drone flying, but it is such a remarkably powerful and responsive device that I have found myself putting my smartphone from me to larger screens real estate more regularly than I originally expected.
I have not been a huge fan of larger tablets before, but I find that with my first iPad Mini, its form factor is almost ideal. It’s perfect for things like drone flying, photo editing on the go or controlling a variety of other devices, from cameras to smart home products.
DJI FPV Drone:
You might be wondering why I would buy more than one drone in a year, and no, I did not crash with the first one. While the DJI Air 2S is a great tool for photography, it is also pretty much just a very functional aerial photography tool. The DJI FPV Drone, on the other hand, is basically just a very expensive toy, and I absolutely love it. If you’re like me and have long wanted to get into the high octane world of flying in first person view (FPV), but have found the extremely steep learning curve of the DIY FPV drone too scary, then the DJI FPV Drone is the perfect entry to this exciting new hobby.
The DJI FPV Drone is a thick beast that makes an appropriately angry roar when it wakes up from its slumber. The set contains everything you need to get started – controller, headset and the drone itself. The drone includes a normal mode that limits speed and helps you avoid obstacles. There is also a sport mode with a higher speed limit and no obstacles, but some smart features to help you stay out of control. Finally, there is the full manual mode, which gives you full control of the drone. Beginner pilots are best advised to spend some time flying in the included simulator before attempting to fly the drone manually.
In the end, the DJI FPV Drone is just an absolute blast to fly. My biggest complaint would be that the camera leaves something to be desired, but that’s enough to control the drone and take a few cool pictures. This drone is definitely the most exciting toy to hit the market in 2021.
Choosing a single favorite gadget from the ones I bought this year would be almost impossible. They are all pretty amazing in different ways. DJI Air 2S has been incredibly useful, Coppersound Triplegraph is incredibly cool, and Samsung Galaxy Buds 2 has kept my ears full of music and audiobooks for literally hundreds of hours.