In 2021, we loved these gadgets. You will too.

Protocol staffers share the gadgets that changed the way they worked, played and even received packages in 2021.

Nintendo switch, Keychron mechanical keyboard, erasable pens

Protocol staffers shared their favorite gadgets in 2021.

Photo: Nintendo; Chamberlain Group; Pilot; Keychron; Belkin

Click banner image for more holiday coverage for 2021

In 2021, we used gadgets to escape, to cope and to organize our COVID-induced chaos. At a time when we were asked to do almost everything — from working to working out — online, technology became not just convenient. It became essential.

We asked Protocol staffers to share their favorite gadgets that changed the way they worked, played and even received packages in 2021. Here’s what they said:

Nintendo Switch

“I got my Switch late in the pandemic. I’m not really a gamer but my family has been a devoted Mario Kart household since we got a Wii when I was in high school. I use the online play feature to play my parents every Sunday, which allows me to absolutely nuke my dad with a red shell even when I’m 3,000 miles away, thus keeping him humble [and] maintaining a connection with my beloved parents even when I’m far from home <3.” Becca Evans, copy editor

Suprus USB lighter

“As a person stereotypically obsessed with candles, I used to have plastic lighters scattered all over the house, most of them out of lighter fluid and not in the trash because I just didn’t want to buy another lighter. This little, extremely cheap USB lighter has transformed my candle habits (this is not an exaggeration). It almost never dies or needs recharging, seems to last forever and has the added bonus of confusing and freaking out everyone you know who thinks you just happen to carry around an extremely large vape pen for no reason. Plus, it’s long enough that you never struggle to light a big candle, even when the wick is at the bottom of a large jar.” Anna Kramer, reporter

Keychron mechanical keyboard

“It took returning to the office to make me realize how much I love my mechanical keyboard, but I can’t bring it with me, as the clickity-clackity sound would drive every colleague mad. But when I’m alone at home and writing/coding for hours, that sound will be the perfect white noise for me to stay focused. Also, sometimes being at home and typing into a laptop doesn’t feel like working, but the sound materializes the minute labor of pressing a key: It gives me the confirmation that I’m doing work bit by bit that gets me closer to the daily finish line.” Zeyi Yang, reporter

A notebook and erasable pens

“I’m on an eternal quest to stay organized. I set calendar reminders for everything. My phone and computer are riddled with task list apps, calendar apps and note-taking apps, some of them used for only a week before being abandoned for something else. I’ve read blogs on how to organize life ("Send yourself emails!”) and how to organize work (“Block off an hour on your calendar!”), but nothing has worked better for me than just writing things down. The erasable pens come in many colors, so I can prioritize and separate sections in various ways; there are even erasable highlighters! And my graph-paper notebook allows me to draw little squares that can be checked off once I’ve finished the task, because as a wise person once said: The only way to continue using a thing you’ve been using is to make it pretty. I love gadgets big and small, but sometimes being analog is the way to go.” —Karyne Levy, West Coast editor

AirPods Pro

“I've been extremely resistant to Bluetooth earbuds since one fell out of my ear and got run over by a car while I was doing laundry two years ago, but I finally bought some AirPods. I didn't want to spend over $100 on something I was sure would get run over by a car again, but the AirPods Pro, remarkably, have not fallen out of my ears yet. The customizable rubber tips are extremely useful, and the noise-canceling feature is pretty powerful, too.” Jane Seidel, digital editor

Audio-Technica microphone

“I am as allergic to gadgets as Protocol Editorial Director David Pierce is obsessed with them. So my favorite gadget is, fittingly, one that David bought for me after we recorded one too many podcasts where my audio sounded crappy. The microphone arrived at my house, and David promised me it was so easy to use, there was no way I could screw it up. I laughed, thinking I’d almost certainly prove him wrong. But, turns out David knows a thing or two about gadgets. It is insanely easy to use and makes recorded audio sound 1,000 times better.” —Issie Lapowsky, chief correspondent

iPhone 13 Mini

“I bought the iPhone 13 Mini on preorder earlier this year, and it was a great decision. Coming from the iPhone 11, I was worried that the phone would be too small, but I’m actually enjoying a return to the good old days when cell phones could actually fit in your pocket. The camera is a major upgrade from the 11, especially in dark settings. And I’ve noticed longer battery life as well: I can easily go more than a day without charging my phone if I don’t have heavy usage. I’ve always been a fan of flat edges and how it makes a phone feel in your hand, too.” —Aisha Counts, reporter

Sonos Roam

“2021 has been another weird year, with working from home, home-schooling, home renovations and … generally being at home A LOT. Our backyard in particular has seen a ton of usage, and, among other things, become an extension of the home office. Being able to bring music into that space without having to wear headphones all day long has been a godsend. I could probably get by with any other Bluetooth speaker, but I like the fact that the Sonos Roam doesn’t require me to fiddle with my phone all the time, and I’ve actually found some of the Sonos Radio stations to be quite good. Yay for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar curating Impulse Records!” Janko Roettgers, senior reporter

Wemo WiFi Smart Plug

“A few years ago, I had a very new smart-lighting startup come to my house to replace all my light switches with ‘smart’ light switches so I could tell my Alexa or my iPhone to turn on and off the lights instead of having to do it myself. At the time, I covered the smart home as part of my beat, so I should have known better. Reader, I did not. The switches were never compatible with Apple’s HomeKit, and earlier this year they stopped connecting to my Amazon Echo devices for no good reason at all. When I tried to contact support, I learned that the company had gone out of business at least a year earlier. The switches still (sort of) work as regular dumb switches, so I haven’t been living in the dark since then. But now when I ask Alexa to turn on and off the lights, she orders me three dozen rolls of toilet paper from Amazon instead. This brings me to my favorite gadget of this year — the simple Wemo WiFi Smart Plug from Belkin. It’s not like I think it will last forever, but it’s much easier, cheaper and more reliable to make your home smart through a simple solution like a smart plug rather than an entire lighting system.” Meg Morrone, Workplace editor

MyQ garage door

“I’ll admit the idea of Amazon opening my garage door absolutely creeped me out, and it kind of still does! But that hasn’t kept me from loving having one of the myQ smart garage doors that works with Amazon Key. Now if I can’t remember whether I shut the garage door or not, I can just check it in the app and close it if I need to. Amazon can also directly deliver packages into the garage so I don’t have to worry about them being stolen off the porch. It could just be San Francisco problems that I’m this concerned about theft, but having a smart garage door gives me surprising peace of mind.” Biz Carson, senior reporter

Climate

Supreme Court takes a sledgehammer to greenhouse gas regulations

The court ruled 6-3 that the EPA cannot use the Clean Air Act to regulate power plant greenhouse gas emissions. That leaves a patchwork of policies from states, utilities and, increasingly, tech companies to pick up the slack.

The Supreme Court struck a major blow to the federal government's ability to regulate greenhouse gases.

Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Striking down the right to abortion may be the Supreme Court's highest-profile decision this term. But on Wednesday, the court handed down an equally massive verdict on the federal government's ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. In the case of West Virginia v. EPA, the court decided that the agency has no ability to regulate greenhouse gas pollution under the Clean Air Act. Weakening the federal government's powers leaves a patchwork of states, utilities and, increasingly, tech companies to pick up the slack in reducing carbon pollution.

Keep Reading Show less
Brian Kahn

Brian ( @blkahn) is Protocol's climate editor. Previously, he was the managing editor and founding senior writer at Earther, Gizmodo's climate site, where he covered everything from the weather to Big Oil's influence on politics. He also reported for Climate Central and the Wall Street Journal. In the even more distant past, he led sleigh rides to visit a herd of 7,000 elk and boat tours on the deepest lake in the U.S.

Every day, millions of us press the “order” button on our favorite coffee store's mobile application: Our chosen brew will be on the counter when we arrive. It’s a personalized, seamless experience that we have all come to expect. What we don’t know is what’s happening behind the scenes. The mobile application is sourcing data from a database that stores information about each customer and what their favorite coffee drinks are. It is also leveraging event-streaming data in real time to ensure the ingredients for your personal coffee are in supply at your local store.

Applications like this power our daily lives, and if they can’t access massive amounts of data stored in a database as well as stream data “in motion” instantaneously, you — and millions of customers — won’t have these in-the-moment experiences.

Keep Reading Show less
Jennifer Goforth Gregory
Jennifer Goforth Gregory has worked in the B2B technology industry for over 20 years. As a freelance writer she writes for top technology brands, including IBM, HPE, Adobe, AT&T, Verizon, Epson, Oracle, Intel and Square. She specializes in a wide range of technology, such as AI, IoT, cloud, cybersecurity, and CX. Jennifer also wrote a bestselling book The Freelance Content Marketing Writer to help other writers launch a high earning freelance business.
Fintech

Can crypto regulate itself? The Lummis-Gillibrand bill hopes so.

Creating the equivalent of the stock markets’ FINRA for crypto is the ideal, but experts doubt that it will be easy.

The idea of creating a government-sanctioned private regulatory association has been drawing more attention in the debate over how to rein in a fast-growing industry whose technological quirks have baffled policymakers.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Regulating crypto is complicated. That’s why Sens. Cynthia Lummis and Kirsten Gillibrand want to explore the creation of a private sector group to help federal regulators do their job.

The bipartisan bill introduced by Lummis and Gillibrand would require the CFTC and the SEC to work with the crypto industry to look into setting up a self-regulatory organization to “facilitate innovative, efficient and orderly markets for digital assets.”

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Enterprise

Alperovitch: Cybersecurity defenders can’t be on high alert every day

With the continued threat of Russian cyber escalation, cybersecurity and geopolitics expert Dmitri Alperovitch says it’s not ideal for the U.S. to oscillate between moments of high alert and lesser states of cyber readiness.

Dmitri Alperovitch (the co-founder and former CTO of CrowdStrike) speaks at RSA Conference 2022.

Photo: RSA Conference

When it comes to cybersecurity vigilance, Dmitri Alperovitch wants to see more focus on resiliency of IT systems — and less on doing "surges" around particular dates or events.

For instance, whatever Russia is doing at the moment.

Keep Reading Show less
Kyle Alspach

Kyle Alspach ( @KyleAlspach) is a senior reporter at Protocol, focused on cybersecurity. He has covered the tech industry since 2010 for outlets including VentureBeat, CRN and the Boston Globe. He lives in Portland, Oregon, and can be reached at kalspach@protocol.com.

Policy

How the internet got privatized and how the government could fix it

Author Ben Tarnoff discusses municipal broadband, Web3 and why closing the “digital divide” isn’t enough.

The Biden administration’s Internet for All initiative, which kicked off in May, will roll out grant programs to expand and improve broadband infrastructure, teach digital skills and improve internet access for “everyone in America by the end of the decade.”

Decisions about who is eligible for these grants will be made based on the Federal Communications Commission’s broken, outdated and incorrect broadband maps — maps the FCC plans to update only after funding has been allocated. Inaccurate broadband maps are just one of many barriers to getting everyone in the country successfully online. Internet service providers that use government funds to connect rural and low-income areas have historically provided those regions with slow speeds and poor service, forcing community residents to find reliable internet outside of their homes.

Keep Reading Show less
Aditi Mukund
Aditi Mukund is Protocol’s Data Analyst. Prior to joining Protocol, she was an analyst at The Daily Beast and NPR where she wrangled data into actionable insights for editorial, audience, commerce, subscription, and product teams. She holds a B.S in Cognitive Science, Human Computer Interaction from The University of California, San Diego.
Latest Stories
Bulletins