We spend a lot of time here at Digital Trends fussing over the best tech products on the market, but just because something is the best doesn’t necessarily mean it pushes the envelope or drives the world of technology forward in any way. So rather than recapping the best products of 2022, we wanted to take a moment to shine a spotlight on the ones that did something interesting, unusual, and potentially transformative in their respective category. With that in mind, here are our picks for the most innovative tech products of 2022.
- Most innovative laptop: Asus ROG Flow Z13
- Most innovative tablet: Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra
- Most innovative phone: Nothing Phone 1
- Most innovative wearable: Apple Watch Ultra
- Most innovative headphones: Sony Linkbuds
- Most innovative TV tech: QD-OLED panel technology
- Most innovative monitor: Alienware QD-OLED
- Most innovative streaming device: Apple TV 4K
- Most innovative gaming device: Steam DeckShow 4 more items
Most innovative laptop: Asus ROG Flow Z13
The ROG Flow Z13 shouldn’t be possible. By category, it’s a 2-in-1 gaming laptop — that is, a Surface Pro with some RGB lighting and a discrete GPU inside. It’s the first of its kind, but as a concept, I wasn’t sure I understood the premise. A gaming device this compact is going to be seriously held back by how small it is. But once I got the thing in my hands, I realized how genius the design really was.
Yes, it’s pretty — thin bezels, a comfortable keyboard, and the neat “window” on the lid that gives you a glowing view of the internals. It’s also a true engineering marvel, given how thin it is — just 0.47 inches thick, or 0.69 inches with the detachable keyboard connected. The RTX 3050 Ti inside doesn’t make this a gaming powerhouse necessarily — but that was never the point. You can play honest-to-goodness PC games on a 2-in-1 this small. That’s the point.
But my favorite thing about the design is the way it moves the heat away from your hands. Every gaming laptop struggles to keep your palms and fingers from overheating while you’re playing, and the ROG Flow Z13 sidesteps that completely since all those hot components are behind the screen. It’s really smart. In that way, it’s doing something no other gaming laptop really can, building a case for why 2-in-1 tablets might be a great form factor for PC gaming devices after all.
The ROG Flow Z13 also uses the proprietary Asus PCIe port to connect to the XG Mobile external graphics enclosure. Buying the two together makes for quite an expensive purchase, but you can pump the graphics potential on this little machine and transform it into a do-it-all desktop dock. It’s pretty incredible, and exactly the type of innovation I want to see more of.
– Luke Larsen, Computing Editor
Check out the rest of our picks for the most innovative laptops of 2022.
Most innovative tablet: Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra
This year, Samsung decided it was time to “go big or go home” with its tablet lineup. Coming in at a monstrous 14.6 inches, the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra dwarfs Apple’s classic 12.9-inch iPad Pro, a device that’s long been considered the gold standard among larger tablets.
The Tab S8 Ultra offers everything that’s already great about Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S8 lineup — and gives you more of it. The expansive 14.6-inch 2960 x 1848 Super AMOLED screen offers a 120Hz refresh rate with bright colors and deep blacks. In short, it’s gorgeous and an ideal canvas for everyone — including aspiring digital artists, media editors, and folks who just need more room to multitask.
This isn’t a tablet for people who plan to travel a lot and merely want something for reading books or watching movies. However, it’s a breath of fresh air for creative users looking for a productivity powerhouse. The generous screen real estate is joined by magnetic wireless charging for Samsung’s S Pen, support for a keyboard cover for laptop-style use, and a 12-megapixel selfie camera duo that pair up to offer the best coverage angles possible for vide conferencing.
There’s more to this “Ultra” tablet than just its size; there’s also no shortage of power under the hood. Just like you’d expect, the Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra packs in Samsung’s top-end Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 octa-core processor, but it’s also available with up to 512GB of storage and 16GB of RAM — a staggering amount for an Android tablet. Naturally, you can add a microSD card for more storage, and it supports the latest Wi-Fi and Bluetooth standards. It’s the largest and most powerful Android tablet on the market and will undoubtedly give Apple a run for its money.
– Jessie Hollington, Mobile Writer
Check out the rest of our picks for the most innovative tablets of 2022.
Most innovative phone: Nothing Phone 1
It can be difficult for a new smartphone to include features that make us smile or look twice these days — and that’s especially hard for a brand-new company trying to capture our attention. Nothing, the technology brand founded by OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei, managed to do exactly this with the Nothing Phone 1.
On the surface, the phone is much like any other — it has a screen with a high refresh rate, cameras on the back, Android installed inside, and a design that’s not a million miles away from the iPhone. But to concentrate only on this is to deliberately ignore what makes the Nothing Phone 1 special. The flashing lights on the back really do serve a purpose in addition to looking cool, there aren’t any superfluous 2MP macro cameras, and the software is a wonderfully clean version of Android.
The Nothing Phone 1’s Glyph interface is wild, but the rest of the phone is sensibly restrained, and that makes it brilliant. There’s no silly macro camera (just two good cameras), no fancy-but-pointless skin over Android, and a very reasonable price. The lights mean that, despite the iPhone-like looks, you can’t mistake the Nothing Phone 1 for anything else. The transparent back means it fits in perfectly with Nothing’s unique design language, also seen on the Ear 1 and Ear Stick earbuds.
It does something different from any other phone. It’s really great to use on a daily basis, it’s fun to look at, and it’s Nothing’s first phone. There are brands that don’t tick those boxes even when it’s their 10th release! We’re very keen to see how Nothing follows the Phone 1 up in the future.
– Andy Boxall, Senior Mobile Writer
Check out the rest of our picks for the most innovative smartphones of 2022.
Most innovative wearable: Apple Watch Ultra
Following persistent rumors that Apple was working on a more “rugged” Apple Watch, Apple finally delivered this year with the Apple Watch Ultra. Though it’s designed to be for those who need the extra durability, the Apple Watch Ultra is really for everyone, not just those who plan to go deep-sea diving, hike up a mountain, or do other extreme activities.
The Apple Watch Ultra has an all-new design, as well as a bigger case size (49mm) than all previous models of the Apple Watch. Since it’s designed for rugged activities, it’s made with titanium, which offers the best durability while also remaining incredibly lightweight (so it doesn’t get in the way). There’s also an all-new Action Button, which defaults to bring up Workout mode, but you can also customize it to bring up other actions. The Action Button also activates the new emergency siren that can be heard up to 180 meters away, which is very useful when you’re stranded in the middle of the wilderness.
Working out with the Apple Watch Ultra isn’t drastically different from other models, including the Apple Watch Series 8. However, it has L1 and L5 GPS antennas that provide more accurate location data. This is also beneficial with the new Emergency SOS via satellite and crash-detection features, as well as the Compass app with its Backtrack functionality. The Wayfinder watch face is another helpful tool, which includes latitude and longitude information.
Finally, the Apple Watch Ultra’s larger size means a larger battery that is 76% bigger than the Series 8 and SE 2 models. With this, you get around 36 hours on a single charge without cellular data, and with Low Power mode on watchOS 9, that can be extended to around 60 hours. Though the $799 starting price is a bit pricey, there is tremendous value here in terms of design and materials, as well as functionality and long-lasting battery life.
– Christine Romero-Chan, Staff Writer, Mobile
Check out the rest of our picks for the most innovative wearables of 2022.
Most innovative headphones: Sony Linkbuds
People love wireless earbuds — and with good reason. They’re convenient and most sound so good these days, you hardly miss the wire at all. Tack on handy new features like noise cancellation, Bluetooth Multipoint, and access to your voice assistant, and it’s easy to see why these devices are everywhere.
But the problem with wireless earbuds is that they block out the outside world. And the better they sound, the more they usually block our ears. Transparency mode can help, but it’s only meant to be a temporary thing — best used for quick conversations. Sony thought it might be able to give us the best of both worlds: earbuds that sound great while letting us hear the world around us, not just some of the time, but all the time. Its solution: the uniquely shaped LinkBuds.
By designing the LinkBuds with a doughnut-shaped audio driver, Sony managed to create surprisingly great sound that doesn’t block even the faintest of sounds from entering our ears. It also introduced Wide Area Tap, one of the coolest features we’ve ever seen on a set of earbuds, which turns the part of your cheek directly in front of the earbud into a touch control.
Unfortunately, Sony’s clever formula means you need to accept certain compromises. The LinkBuds, while small, don’t fit a lot of ear shapes. Fit always plays a role in earbud sound quality, but it matters a lot more on the LinkBuds. Battery life is well below what we’ve become accustomed to, and it turns out that listening to the outside world is something we don’t always want to do — and yet there’s no way to block it out.
Still, these issues notwithstanding, a ton of thought and engineering went into making the LinkBuds, and we appreciate the effort Sony made to solve a very real problem.
– Simon Cohen, Contributing Editor
Check out the rest of our picks for the most innovative headphones of 2022.
Most innovative TV tech: QD-OLED panel technology
Developed by Samsung Display and implemented in the award-winning Samsung S95B and Sony A95K QD- TVs, QD-OLED panel technology stands out as the most innovative move in TV tech for 2022. The moment I got my first look behind closed doors at CES 2022, I knew we were in for an exciting year. On its face, QD-OLED may seem like an obvious and simple approach — pair quantum dots with OLED — but in practice, its implementation is much more complicated and, thus, impressive.
In QLED TVs, quantum dots enhance the light output of LED backlights, which is later handled by a color filter that splits the light into red, green, and blue subpixels. In QD-OLED, the quantum dots have a heavier lift, serving as subpixels themselves. That means that the red and green light they emit must stand independently. Paired with the blue OLED light that activates them, the quantum dots are responsible for two-thirds of the image you see on a QD-OLED screen.
And what an image it is! QD-OLED tech increases color gamut and color brightness to a degree not possible with QLED or OLED technology. Thanks to QD-OLED, we can see colors that we’ve never seen on TVs before. The deep black levels of OLED are mixed with the brightness levels only seen on QLED TVs, giving us the best of both worlds. No wonder QD-OLED TVs like the S95B and A95K are universally hailed as the best you can buy.
– Caleb Denison, Editor at Large
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Most innovative monitor: Alienware QD-OLED
No monitor made an impression on us this year quite like the Alienware 34 QD-OLED. It’s still the only QD-OLED gaming monitor available, despite having come out almost six months ago. That’s given this Alienware monitor some time to bask in the limelight, and prove just how good the QD-OLED technology really is.
The Quantum Dot OLED panels from Samsung bring the best of both worlds together — the color accuracy of Quantum Dot and the incredible contrast of OLED. The result is a gorgeous gaming screen with exceptional HDR performance. We’ve been beating the drum for better PC monitors for HDR gaming all year, and it was the Alienware 34 QD-OLED that kicked everything off.
Of course, that magnificent display is wrapped in an increasingly popular form factor — the 34-inch curved ultrawide. We’ve never had OLED gaming monitors that are actually designed to plop on your desk, and the Alienware 34 QD-OLED proves just how fantastic that experience can be. With LG’s 27-inch OLED coming in 2023, there will continue to be more options for PC gamers — and that’s a really good sign.
– Jacob Roach, Senior Staff Writer, Computing
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Most innovative streaming device: Apple TV 4K
From the outside, the new Apple TV 4K looks nearly identical to the 2021 model. It’s every-so-slightly smaller, thanks to the removal of the active fan (yes, previous iterations had a fan, which you probably never actually heard). But inside that unassuming exterior, you’ll find a handful of small but important improvements.
Most notably, this year’s model comes with an A15 Bionic processor. In other words, Apple TV was overpowered before, and it’s still overpowered, insofar as what you’d need to do things like watch video. Maybe that’s just because it’s easier and more cost-effective for Apple to use that processor versus something a little older and not quite as good. Maybe it’s required for the inclusion of the Thread and Matter standards, which should let Apple TV serve as a better smart home hub. (Those standards are being adopted by all the major players, including Amazon and Google.)
Or maybe it’s something else altogether. Maybe we’ll one day see Apple TV get serious about streaming gaming. Or not.
Another minor improvement? The remote control now recharges over USB-C instead of Apple’s own Lightning cable. That’s good because Apple’s proprietary standards need to go away, especially for something that you’ll likely only have to charge a couple of times a year. (Now do that with iPhones and AirPods, Apple!)
And it’s also an excellent workout partner with Apple Fitness+.
And you still won’t find ads anywhere on the home screen. (Don’t make us regret saying that, Apple!)
– Phil Nickinson, A/V Editor
Check out the rest of our picks for the most innovative streaming devices of 2022.
Most innovative gaming device: Steam Deck
For some gamers, PC is the only way to play. Unlike a console, PCs offer much more flexibility when it comes to customizing an individual game to one’s liking. However, PCs can be restrictive, requiring you to be tethered to a desk to use an expensive rig. If you want to take your games on the go, you likely have to invest even more money in a good gaming laptop. In the era of the Nintendo Switch and cloud gaming, that lack of portability left the PC feeling less appealing as a gaming platform.
Valve solved that problem with the Steam Deck. Its own spin on the Switch, the supersized device is essentially a PC in a traditional portable form factor. It lets players access their entire Steam library on the go, and its Linux browser allows it to work as an emulation box too. What’s especially notable, though, is that the Steam Deck still offers the customization that makes playing on PC so appealing. It isn’t a static device like the Nintendo Switch, but rather one that can be tinkered with via a variety of settings.
The Steam Deck has plenty of problems that’ll likely have to be fixed in a second iteration. Its giant form factor leaves much to be desired and it has a fair amount of tech issues that can make play sessions frustrating. Growing pains like that are to be expected from a piece of experimental tech, though. For all its quirks, the Steam Deck has fundamentally changed the way I play PC games — something that no piece of gaming tech has done since the Switch launched five years ago.
– Giovanni Colantonio, Gaming Editor
Check out the rest of our picks for the most innovative gaming tech of 2022.