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Pixel 4a, Galaxy Buds Live, and more

We’re a little more than halfway through 2020, and it’d be an understatement to say it’s been an eventful year — both in the tech world and, you know, overall. We’ve already had a new iPhone, a foldable smartphone, a phone with 100x zoom, a booming soundbar and countless other devices.

But arguably the busiest portion of the tech year is still ahead of us: “Techtober.” Samsung started the Fall launch season with the Note 20 Ultra and we’ll be hearing more about the Z Fold 2 in September. At the same time, we’re expecting new products from Apple, many new Echos from Amazon and the Pixel 5 from Google.

It will be a jam-packed second half of 2020, and we figured while the summer is a little slow, let’s take a walk back down memory lane. Here are the 2020 tech launches that stick out to us.


PHOTO:
Jacob Krol/CNN

While Apple isn’t exactly known for its affordability, the company bucked that trend when it launched the iPhone SE, the most affordable iPhone at $399. That’s notable in and of itself, but Apple spoiled us further by giving it the same speeds and buttery smoothness as the iPhone 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max, which is why it’s our favorite smartphone of 2020 and our pick for a midrange device.


PHOTO:
Jacob Krol/CNN

The Pixel 4a is an affordable, but still solid phone from Google. It has the same main lens as the Pixel 4, which means photos look stunning with an immense amount of details captured and it features Night Sight for photography in lower light conditions. It’s available in just one color (black) and one size (5.81 inches) housed in a polycarbonate build. It has a mid-range Qualcomm processor inside and is running a clean version of Android. In our testing, it performed really well and for most people it’s a terrific phone that doesn’t break the bank — and is the best mid-range Android phone.


PHOTO:
Jacob Krol/CNN

We knew foldable smartphones would be a big talking point for 2020, and we got a strong showing with Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip. To put it bluntly: It’s leagues better than the Motorola Razr (which really just has nostalgia going for it). It not only proved that this compact vertical foldable design was feasible, but it made some strong use cases for it. We love how the Z Flip can stop and hold a right angle, which is great for video calls and for capturing time-lapses. It also has dual cameras on the front, and we can’t get enough of the Mirror Purple color.

Sonos Arc

Sonos Arc

Make no mistake: Sonos had a really rough start to 2020 with the legacy product debacle, essentially announcing that some devices wouldn’t be supported and would be bricked, and then walking back on almost all of it. Even so, new hardware from Sonos has been top-notch. The $799 Arc is not the most affordable soundbar on the block, but it really packs a punch with sound and design. At 45 inches long, it comes in your choice of matte black or white, and underneath it packs 11 speakers inside. You can hear low, mid and high notes clearly, and the bass is surprisingly powerful. It’s room-filling for music, movies and even reality TV.


PHOTO:
Jacob Krol/CNN

Apple went back to the basics with the 2020 MacBook Air, making it a really terrific option for the masses. It has the Magic Keyboard and a large trackpad that makes working on this portable 13-inch a joy. But it’s also powered by the latest 10th Gen Intel Processor, and Apple doubled the base storage. For $999 (before discounts), the base model features 256GB of storage, an Intel Core i3 processor and 8GB of RAM. We wish this was the original redesign Apple rolled out a few years back, but we’ll take it as a win for 2020.


PHOTO:
Jacob Krol/CNN

What we dubbed the “kitchen sink phone” for the sheer amount of features Samsung threw into it, the S20 Ultra is a beast of a smartphone that checks off the boxes for a flagship. For $1,399, you get a 6.9-inch vibrant display, four cameras, a zippy processor and 5G support. The tech still needs to mature a bit, and even after several updates we’d like to see a few more. But even so, the S20 Ultra is a cutting-edge flagship, and if it can give us hints at what’s to come from flagships later this year, we’re certainly amped up.


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LEGO

Yes, nostalgia is still a thing in 2020, and Lego hit the gold mine with its most recent set. The Nintendo Entertainment System Building Kit isn’t cheap at $229.99, but you can literally build one of the original gaming systems. And Nintendo didn’t stop there. You also build the controllers, the game cartridge and an ‘80s-style TV with a working “Super Mario Bros.” course.


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SAMSUNG

An SSD making the best tech list? We’ll level with you that it’s a bit surprising, but Samsung’s line of sleek and fast external SSDs already came in super handy, and with the move to working from home, they’re even more vital. The T7 keeps super fast speeds (like being able to edit 4K movies off of it or moving all your old documents in a jiffy) and still is about the size of a few credit cards stacked together. It’s our go-to recommendation for external portable storage.


PHOTO:
Jacob Krol/CNN

We knew Samsung’s bean-shaped earbuds were coming, we just had no idea they’d perform so well. The Buds Live simply pop into your ears and stay there. A wing on the top helps to hold them in place, while the bottom faces the ear canal but doesn’t go into it. This fit ensures the buds have a front row seat to the eardrums to pumps up the tunes. Audio was rich and crisp, and open ANC blocks out a decent amount of sound. These also pack a punch with great battery life and an awesome array of colors to choose from.


PHOTO:
Jacob Krol/CNN

We just called the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra the best Android device of 2020 … so far. It fixes nearly all of our qualms with the S20 Ultra and is $100 cheaper (at full price). You don’t get 100x Space Zoom, but rather a clearer and, quite frankly, less gimmicky 50x zoom. There are three versatile lenses on the back that let this device become your main shooter. The main display is a stunning, massive 6.9-inch AMOLED screen that supports a 120hz motion refresh rate. For $1,300, you’re getting an incredibly powerful phone.

That’s our list of the best tech of 2020 — so far. But it’s only August and we have a lot more announcements to come. Stick with CNN Underscored for all of it, and we’ll get through “Techtober” together.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailers’ listed price at the time of publication.

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