The Recommender team spends a lot of time testing gadgets—devices designed to make our lives easier, smarter, better, or simply more enjoyable. For the holidays, we rounded up some of our favorite gear, from a thermoregulating wearable made by engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to a barista-grade espresso maker that puts most home systems to shame.
Solo Stove Bonfire
Solo Stove offered soothing respite during the pandemic lockdowns with its well-designed, easy-to-maintain fire pits. The midsize stainless-steel Bonfire model provides consistent, low-smoke flames and minimal cleanup, for a cozy but still impressive fire that’s safe for backyards and campsites. The product—and its two other sizes, the 15-inch Ranger and 27-inch Yukon—uses an innovative ventilation system, funneling out heat and mitigating smoke as it burns. While our story on Solo Stove looks back to 2020, the most impressive elements of the product—its ingenious method of putting out heat and eliminating messy cleanup—remains the same.
Loftie Alarm Clock
In the spirit of breaking up with your phone before bedtime, Loftie’s sleek alarm clock has plenty of clever features in the service of sleep hygiene. From built-in bedtime stories and sound baths to a gentle, glowy nightlight, the device brings all the digital “musts” to your bedside table, without the outside chatter of social media and other to-dos. From our review: “Since I moved house just a few weeks ago, my Loftie alarm clock is currently lost in a sea of boxes. I hadn’t realized how dependent on it I had become. I’m now back to mindlessly scrolling through TikTok before bed and waking up groggier than ever. I’m just waiting until I get to that fateful box and my Loftie and I can be reunited.”
Therabody Wave Duo
Premium percussion massagers were everywhere in 2020—but the new line of vibrating rollers from Therabody, the maker of Theragun, were a slightly different take on muscle maintenance. The Wave Duo’s unique peanut shape allows it to cradle your spine and midback: “We created it to treat muscles on either side, and then you melt into the center,” Therabody’s director of human performance, Lissa Bankston, told Recommender. Still, despite its distinct shape, this compact device can also be used elsewhere on the body, cradling muscles to give users an effective, all-around massage. When reviewing, we found the product to be lightweight and nimble, giving our carpal tunnel syndrome a run for its money.
Opte Precision System, $599
Opte—a P&G Ventures gadget—provides what CEO Matt Petersen calls “the world’s smallest inkjet printer.” The catch? It’s for your skin. The product uses a hypersensitive camera and blue LED lights to detect hyperpigmentation and other discoloration to place small amounts of color product for a smooth, even, glowy finish. The brand aims to own a category it deemed “precision skincare,” with the market message that you need only the smallest fraction of product to address skin ailments, rather than a cookie-cutter amount to slather over your entire face. In our review, we found that the Opte could be relied upon to hide blemishes and dark circles, providing a glow that made skin look healthier and brighter.
Embr Wave 2
Born out of MIT, Embr Labs released the new iteration of its temperature-controlling wearable over the summer. The Embr Wave 2 looks (and wears) like a covert watch or fitness tracker, but it uses a small sensor to deliver hot and cold bursts to your inner wrist in pulsating sessions—which, in theory, tricks your brain’s hypothalamus into perceiving your body temperature to be warmer or cooler. Think: putting your wrist against a frosty-cold glass or rubbing ice on your temples. We tested the Wave 2 in the dead of summer (through a house move, no less) and felt its subtleties were somewhat effective for us, but could be game-changing for those who struggle with temperature regulation. (Which, to be fair, the brand hopes to reach: Those going through menopause, chemotherapy, and long COVID-19 are among the target demo.)
The Nori Press
Nori’s founders developed their direct-to-consumer steam-iron hybrid after being inspired by a travel hack of using a hair straightener to smooth out wrinkles in clothes. Their more elegant (and intentional) design provides a simple, no-board application that delivers pressed and crisp (or steamed and silky) fabric in a swipe. We took the Nori Press for a spin after it launched earlier this year and found it to be a breeze. It heats up quickly and makes it easy to get wrinkles out of everything from wide-leg trousers to crinkled pillowcases.
Balmuda Toaster Oven
Japanese electronics brand Balmuda makes sleek, design-forward gadgets and offered to send us its signature steam toaster for test. It looks like a regular toaster oven but the way it works is this: You add a thimble of water to a coin-shaped slot behind the door. And then watch as the window fills with steam and the coils glow. Shoko Fukuoka, Balmuda’s sales manager, said the product design was inspired by Hayao Miyazaki’s animated film Kiki’s Delivery Service, encouraging users to watch their bread (or pizza, or croissant) be enveloped in vapors and reconstituted to its moist, fluffy self. We found the toaster oven was able to reheat pizza and make toast well while delivering the delight that comes with watching food disappear behind the steam and emerge ready to eat.
Dyson Airwrap and Supersonic
In the five years since Dyson debuted its hair-care products, it has found an audience that is satisfied enough with the results to champion the luxe—and luxe-priced—hair tools. Two Fast Company editors recently put the products to the test and were impressed. The Airwrap is a hair styler that uses high-speed air to dry hair at low heat and impart curls, sans the possibly damaging temperatures that accompany a traditional curling iron. The Supersonic hair dryer works fast and quietly to get hair dry and styled before heading out the door.
MYX II Bike Plus
MYXFitness was acquired by long-standing fitness brand Beachbody over the summer, and its second-iteration spin bike rolled out not long after. The MYX II is designed to be a cost-effective alternative to its competitors—trading magnetic resistance for friction—but mostly keeps all the luxe bells and whistles you’d find for several hundreds of dollars more. The bike features a 21.5-inch swivel screen, which can face the bike or a mat, for the massive library of workout content and live classes across both Beachbody On Demand and Open Fit platforms. We loved its versatility, sturdy and stable design, and the built-in option to take live classes, especially when upgraded to the MYX II Plus model, which includes a catalog of workout accessories, like weights, a foam roller, and mats.
Hyperice Core Premium Bundle
Hyperice—which makes very good, very strong percussion massage devices—tackled mental health care with the acquisition of Core, a physical meditation tool designed for breath training. The cute, very Zen orb uses gentle vibrations and pulses to help users get into a flow state in tune with app-led sessions and exercises. The product is designed to mesh seamlessly with your home or office design, and act as a gentle nudge toward maintaining a daily practice. Admittedly the concept brought on giggles at first, but upon review we found the value in having a tangible device to reach for and clever app design that keeps you in the zone.
FlexiSpot Kana Bamboo Standing Desk
The days of WFH may be increasingly permanent for some and our pursuit for the perfect standing desk was never in vain. FlexiSpot’s Kana Bamboo Standing Desk is sturdy and handsome, and our review marveled at the ease with which it can be raised and lowered, as well as its scratch-resistant coating and the availability of a curved or straight edge.
Breville Bambino Plus
Designed to appease coffee aficionados, Breville’s Bambino Plus brings barista-level features into your home, without the fuss and ritual. Fast Company senior writer Mark Wilson called it “a true espresso maker with a counter-friendly footprint that’s just 7.6 inches wide, or about the size of a hotel room Keurig. That’s right. Even though it’s small, there are no strange pods or flavor capsules behind this machine. It even features the exact same pressure and water-heating technology as Breville espresso makers that cost nearly twice as much (in cash and counter real estate).”
Mpowerd Luci Color Solar String Lights
These solar-powered string lights first popped up on Recommender’s radar via Alyssa Ravasio, the CEO of Hipcamp, the camping booking site that includes everything from public campgrounds to private ranches. Fast Company senior editor Amy Farley took her set on a family trip through Colorado and New Mexico. In her review she wrote, “The 18-foot-long cord comes with 10 light nodes that deliver a luminous punch. When set on high, they can light up an entire campground. Set to medium or low, they add a mellow, warm glow (that feels in harmony with the great outdoors) and a whole lot of ambience. According to Mpowerd, which specializes in solar devices, . . . the Luci Solar String Lights have a battery life of up to 20 hours from a single charge. You can charge them via the built-in solar panel or a USB port. We used them every night, giving them a quick top up in the sun during the day, and never saw them dim.”
This smart feeder by the company Whisker—previously AutoPets, best known for its signature self-scooping litter box—runs on Wi-Fi and releases food to your pet on a set schedule or with a tap of an app. The device also allows you to monitor your furry friend’s diet, making sure they aren’t getting a free-for-all meal plan while also providing the convenience of shooting out an extra scoop of kibble when you’ll be home later than expected. We wrote: “This high-tech gadget that I might have previously written off as a silly investment has rescued my relationship with my cat—and my sleep schedule—by making feeding as easy as clicking a button.”
Lora DiCarlo Osé 2
The women-led sex-tech brand that shook up CES now offers a range of unique vibrator designs and introduced model-actress Cara Delevingne as a co-owner and creative adviser last year. The new iteration of its hero product, the Osé vibrator, aptly named Osé 2, continues to boast “blended orgasms,” with several strategically placed stimulators across the form.
Dyson V15 Detect Vacuum
This year, Dyson took its brilliant vacuum design and put lasers on it. Because 2021, amirite? The lasers serve a purpose (of course): They’re green, which Dyson found to be the easiest color to reflect dust particles and help you navigate corners and tight spaces, seeking out places dirt may be hidden to the naked eye. Plus, it’s an incredible vacuum. We took the newest model for a spin in May, which only emphasized its extraordinary design and how horrifyingly disgusting our homes are.
Magic Bullet Air Fryer
If you know someone who hasn’t yet joined the cult of the air fryer, this Magic Bullet version is the perfect way to introduce the exceedingly useful and time-saving cooking tool into their lives—with minimal countertop commitment. The 2.5-quart Magic Bullet Air Fryer, which has a 60-minute timer and a temperature range of 180 degrees to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, delivers deliciously crispy foods in a jiffy. It’s easy to use, simple to clean, and small enough that it doesn’t take up much space in your kitchen. It can even be tucked away in a drawer when not in use.
The Mirror’s innovative workout system is perfect for at-home fitness fans who tend toward the kinds of classes where form really matters: barre, Pilates, yoga, and weights. You can watch your instructor and yourself in the same reflected surface, checking your movements against the idealized version, which helps to both prevent injury and keep you from cheating. And when you’re done, you don’t have any bulky equipment taking up valuable space in your house or apartment—just an elegant mirror, leaning against a wall.
The Whoop 4.0 is the perfect gift for fitness junkies or extremely obsessive people. The unobtrusive wristband is hands-down the most stylish fitness tracker on the market (you use an app to check the stats it records). The best part? The device records how hard you’re working out and lets you know how much you should rest to recover. Finally, a fitness tracker that tells you to take a day off.
Fast Company’s Recommender section is dedicated to surfacing innovative products, services, and brands that are changing how we live and work. Every item that we write about is independently selected by our editors and, wherever possible, tested and reviewed. Fast Company may receive revenue from some links in our stories; however, all selections are based on our editorial judgment.