Overall 2020 has not been a good year for a lot of people. With COVID, natural disasters, murder hornets, politics and all the other crappy stuff that’s happened over the past 12 months, it’s been the calendar equivalent of a dumpster fire. While we still don’t know what 2021 is going to bring, we can all firmly say that 2020 is done. It’s over. Dead in the dirt. And we can’t say we’re going to miss it at all.
But as crappy as it’s been, stuck at home and gnawing our fingers down to stubs whenever the news is on, 2020 hasn’t been a complete nightmare. Don’t get us wrong, it’s been pretty horrendous, but there have been things that didn’t completely suck. From adorable little green men to the reinvention of the MacBook, here are eight things from 2020 that were actually quite good.
A great year for streaming
COVID has put a damper on a lot this year, and that’s particularly affected Hollywood. With the movie theaters closed, studios have had to find new ways to make money from their movies. Some movies have been perpetually delayed, but others went to the next best thing: streaming.
Whether they were bundled into an existing service like Wonder Woman 1984 on HBO Max, available on premium VoD like Trolls: World Tour, or a weird mishmash of the two like Mulan, 2020 was the year studios finally realised there’s another way. A way that didn’t involve cinema screenings to successfully distribute their latest blockbuster releases. So much so that some major studios announced plans to carry on into 2021, and seriously pissed off the theater chains in the process.
But even on a smaller scale, 2020 has been an incredible year for traditional streaming TV as well. From Tiger King to The Mandalorian, there have been plenty of shows that have got people talking. After all there’s not much else to do when you’re stuck inside. And with WB releasing the next 12 month’s worth of blockbusters to HBO Max, plus all the other big series coming, it’s only going to get better in 2021. — Tom Pritchard
Apple M1 showed how to do ARM chips right
Intel has long been the king of the hill when it’s come to making chips for laptops, but in 2020 Apple may have set the ball rolling to knock Chipzilla off its lofty perch.
When we first heard Apple say it was going to make its own ARM-based chips to power Mac machines, with the idea to move away from a reliance on Intel chips the next couple of years, we were skeptical. We’ve seen Microsoft try that with the Surface Pro X and miss the mark because Windows 10 doesn’t play that well with ARM-based silicon. But the Apple M1 chip proved that clever engineering and emulation can deliver stunning laptop performance from processor architecture you’d normally find at the heart of a smartphone. In fact, the M1 chip outperforms Intel chips at a lot of the same tasks.
With the M1 chip Apple has proven it’s a company to be reckoned with. And the M1 could be the tip of the spear that pierces Intel’s bubble of laptop chip dominance and brings us more laptops that no longer need Core processors at their….cores. — Roland Moore-Colyer
Baby Yoda returned, and reminded us it’s not all bad
The Mandalorian’s sophomore season is now over, and boy what a season it was. Especially that finale, which I won’t spoil for anyone who still hasn’t seen it yet. Despite the quality of the show itself, the biggest draw continues to be the adorable green gremlin we all know as Baby Yoda. He may have a name now, but since that sounds very much like the space-version of “Greg”, I’m sticking with the nickname the internet bestowed upon him.
2020 has been bad for everyone, but Baby Yoda has been a bright spot among all the hell that’s been going on. Because he’s just so god damn cute. Sure he may just be a hybrid of Yoda and Gizmo from Gremlins, and he has a nasty habit of eating things he shouldn’t, but just look at his face? It’s impossible to not fall in love with him. Especially now you can finally pick up multiple versions, both plush and plastic, to keep in your own home.
Whether you like Star Wars or not, we can all agree Baby Yoda is the best and there better be more of him on the way. — Tom Pritchard
A great year for gaming
It seems almost churlish to point out that 2020 was great for a luxury leisure activity, but it’s true. Gamers had a lot to celebrate in 2020, in terms of both software and hardware. March alone gave us Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Doom Eternal, Half-Life: Alyx, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, and Persona 5 Royal.Since then, we’ve had the Final Fantasy VII Remake, The Last of Us Part II, Ghost of Tsushima, Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout, Hades, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Spider-Man: Miles Morales — and that’s about as many as I can rattle off without turning this whole piece into a “best games of 2020” list.
On the console front, we got not two, but three new consoles: the PS5, the Xbox Series X and the Xbox Series S. Each one of them is excellent, and while they’re not easy to find, we think they’ll provide beautiful, ambitious games for years to come.
PC gamers had a lot to celebrate, too, with the release of Nvidia’s incredibly powerful RTX 3000 series of GPUs, and AMD’s competing Big Navi series. Which is to say nothing of 2020’s slew of fantastic PC-only titles, from Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition to Microsoft Flight Simulator (the latter of which is also coming to Xbox — yet more good news).
Video games might be cold comfort, since we’re all stuck inside anyway, and what else are we going to do? But at least we can go somewhere fun in the digital world. — Marshall Honorof
Affordable smart TVs got really good
A lot of us have got much better-acquainted with our living rooms this year, with smart TV and streaming use way up as lockdowns and social distancing have largely kept people at home all year. Which makes it especially nice that 2020 saw affordable TVs get better in almost every way.
We’ve seen super-affordable smart TVs, like the Insignia 55-inch 4K Ultra HD Fire TV Edition NS-55DF710NA21, which sells for less than $500 (and less than that when sales events roll around), offering a solid 4K TV with basic HDR support and built-in Amazon Alexa, all for very little money. The Hisense H9G Quantum Android TV was part of a wave of QLED TVs from makers other than Samsung, and they all benefited greatly from the boosted color and brightness quantum dot brings.
But the best value of all was the TCL 6-Series Roku TV (R635), which not only had QLED, it also introduced miniLED backlighting at a seriously affordable price point, offering premium picture quality for well under $1,000. It’s been pretty astonishing to see how well these TVs performed, given their prices, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. — Brian Westover
Google returned to its smartphone roots
Google’s smartphone division has produced some stellar Pixel handsets, but they’ve also been following the wider trend of allowing flagship prices to creep up. Seeing the Pixel 4 launch at $799 brought back what are now bittersweet memories of the $499 Nexus 6P, a bonafide high-end phone which Google nonetheless sold for considerably less than its contemporaries.
This year, however, the Pixel 4a and Pixel 4a 5G reversed course. By forgoing the more outlandish luxuries of rival handsets, Google re-adopted the Nexus way of simply making solid, reliable smartphones at prices more of us could afford. To some extent the same is also true of the Pixel 5, but even with the lower $699 price tag it’s not the same killer bargain as the Pixel 4a. You simply won’t find a better smartphone camera for less money, and a big part of that is Google returning to what made them a big smartphone player in the first place. — James Archer
Ted Lasso is the hit everyone — including Apple TV Plus — needed
The success of one Theodore “Ted” Lasso doesn’t make sense in the show, or as a show, but it managed to be one of the best shows of 2020 — and gave Apple TV Plus its first big win. For starters, it’s a show based on a commercial promoting NBC Sports’ Premier League soccer, which comes from Warner Bros. and NBCUniversal, both of which have their own streaming services, HBO Max and Peacock. But instead Apple, which hadn’t had a big hit, wound up with it instead.
But then once you watch the first episode of Ted Lasso, you’ll see why “The Lasso Way” is as engrossing as any other show of 2020. Jason Suidekis is amazing in the lead role, as the titular American football coach who’s taken a job coaching the other kind of football — a sport he knows nothing about, but brings an incredibly positive spirit to.
In a year filled with negativity, Lasso’s wholesome joy was entirely needed, and it’s hilarious to watch as he faces negativity from every corner of the AFC Richmond office and fans. Add on a stellar supporting cast, and a 10 episode arc that sends Coach Lasso through joy, pride, sadness and an awkward one-night-stand, you end up with a series you can binge in a day. The only issue is you’ll want more, but thankfully Apple has already greenlit Ted Lasso seasons 2 and 3. — Henry T. Casey
The year of cheaper Apple products, with one exception
Apple has a reputation for premium priced products, but this year it delivered some pretty amazing values across several categories. The $399 iPhone SE remains the fastest and most capable phone for the money, thanks to its A13 Bionic chip, and the Apple Watch SE gives you pretty much everything you need in a smartwatch for just $279. Apple also unveiled the iPhone 12 mini for $699, which is a fantastic 5G phone for the money, with one of the best smartphone cameras around.
Even though the price for the new MacBook Air with M1 stayed the same, you could also make the case that it delivers Pro performance for less money. Yes, Apple still sells some very expensive hardware, and the $549 AirPods Max is the quintessential example. The headphones are designed to deliver supreme comfort along with unmatched noise cancelling and audio performance, hence the big number, but overall Apple still did an excellent job reading the room in 2020. — Mark Spoonauer