The 52 best work from home essentials we tested in 2021

The 52 best work from home essentials we tested in 2021


CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or headphones — to find the absolute best in each respective category.

Our testing process is rigorous, consisting of hours of research (consulting experts, reading editorial reviews and perusing user ratings) to find the top products in each category. Once we settle on a testing pool, we spend weeks — if not months — testing and retesting each product multiple times in real-world settings. All this in an effort to settle on the absolute best products.

This year, we tested a number of categories — from big purchases like standing desks to peripherals like USB hubs — that make setting up the ideal home office a bit easier.

Steelcase

The Steelcase Series 1 stood out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market, beating out chairs double the price — making it the best bang for the buck.

The Alera Elusion Series Multifunction Chair emerged as our best budget pick, standing up to (and in some cases far surpassing) office chairs that retail for more than five times its price point, particularly in the comfort and adjustability categories.

Standing desks

Best overall standing desk: Branch Adjustable Standing Desk ($699; branchfurniture.com)

The Branch Adjustable Standing Desk is a near-perfect desk that can handle multiple monitors, dual laptops and a plethora of knickknacks. It’s also incredibly sturdy, with one of the best builds we’ve encountered.

Best custom standing desk: Uplift V2-Commercial Standing Desk (starting at $549.99, originally $599.99 for 42×30; upliftdesk.com)

The Uplift V2-Commercial Standing Desk offers the widest breadth of customization out of any standing desk we’ve encountered, from size to finish to keypads — in addition to being a high-quality desk.

Best budget electric standing desk: SHW Electric Height-Adjustable Computer Desk ($228.87; amazon.com)

The SHW Electric Height-Adjustable Computer Desk is a surprisingly functional, sturdy desk at an incredibly affordable price, comparatively. It was a breeze to assemble, comes with a cable management tray and features a digital keypad with memory presets. ​

Best standing desk converter: Flexispot Height-Adjustable Standing Desk Converter (starting at $169.99 for 28” or 31”; amazon.com)

The Flexispot Height-Adjustable Standing Desk Converter is an excellent converter that’s available in several sizes. Both its desktop and keyboard tray provide ample space, and it adjusts with the push of a lever.

Headphones and earbuds

If you’re looking for the most functionality and features, the Galaxy Buds Pro are a no-brainer. The highlight: class-leading noise cancellation that blocks out all distractions for the times you seriously need to focus. And, since the Galaxy Buds Pro earbuds also feature an ambient noise mode — which intelligently lets external noises in — you won’t miss anything important, like your spouse or the doorbell. And if you’re the type to listen to music or podcasts while you work, the Buds Pro deliver exceptional sound quality (on par with the AirPods Pro) and a customizable EQ mix courtesy of the buds’ companion app. On top of it all, these are some of the most comfortable earbuds (even edging out the AirPods, to a degree) we’ve ever worn, and we easily wore them for a full workday.

After countless calls and general use, the EarFun Air earbuds proved to deliver a lot with only a few compromises. The light, plastic build and four included ear tips ensure all-day comfort. With four microphones in total, they’re excellent at picking up your voice while ignoring other elements in the background (so your co-workers won’t hear the barking dog or other random household noises). Sure, there are some downsides — noise cancellation is nonexistent and the built-in controls are finicky — but if you’re looking for a cheap pair of earbuds perfect for use while working, the Earbuds Air are a sure bet.

Should headphones be more your jam, you need not look further than Sony’s WH-100XM4 headphones ($348; amazon.com). While not the most affordable, they were in a different stratosphere compared to other headphones we tested. They deliver best-in-class noise cancelation that puts you in your own bubble, while transparency mode ensures that you can still hear a knock on the door. With five microphones, it also dramatically improves the voice pickup over other headphones we tested — only being bested by a pair that’s $200 more — and produced clear audio in a number of tests.

While we’d love to highlight a budget pair of headphones, we found that the options around $100 or less muffled our voice and at times confused it with background sounds, making them far from ideal for use while working.

Mike Andronico/CNN

While we tried out tons of great microphones, the Blue Yeti managed to outclass them all. This microphone delivered the best combination of sound quality and features for the money, producing warm, natural-sounding voice recordings complete with handy onboard controls and four useful recording modes. There’s a reason you see lots of your favorite YouTubers using this mic — it really is that good.

If you’re not looking to spend as much, the FIFINE K669B is a ridiculously good value. We tested lots of high-quality mics under $60, but this $35 model outshined some rivals nearly twice the price, thanks to its superior controls, highly flexible design and impressive volume and clarity. There are some trade-offs for this low price — the K669B’s voice quality isn’t as refined as that of the Blue Yeti, and it picks up much more background noise. You’ll also have to live without multiple sound modes and a headphone jack. But in terms of sheer value, this small but mighty microphone can’t be beat.

For those who are serious about their Twitch streaming, the Elgato Wave:3 is made specifically for you. On top of being one of the best-sounding mics we tested, the Wave:3 has an excellent companion app that makes it easy to manage multiple audio sources when broadcasting out to the world. While the Yeti has solid controls for adjusting how loudly you get picked up, the Wave:3 goes a step further with an onboard mixer that lets you balance your voice and whatever you’re broadcasting with a quick turn of a knob.

Laptops, tablets and monitors

At $999, the MacBook Air with M1 is a budget laptop that can take on any task — from web browsing to productivity to 4K video editing. And if you’re in the Apple ecosystem, it will work perfectly with other Apple devices.

The Dell XPS 13 packs a gorgeous, lightweight, slim and highly portable design for working anywhere, a nearly borderless display that makes content pop and a powerful 11th Gen Intel processor that can burn through most workloads with ease.

The 14-inch MacBook Pro offers beastly performance for serious power users, as well as the best ports, display and speakers on a MacBook.

The Surface Pro 8 delivers fast performance, a vivid display and an excellent keyboard within a versatile, detachable design.

Jacob Krol/CNN

The 9th Gen iPad stood out as the best overall option in our testing thanks to a faster processor that crushes everyday tasks with ease. It mixes performance and value in a way that no other tablet can, and tosses in support for core iPad accessories.

The 2021 iPad Pro is the fastest tablet we’ve ever tested and it runs effortlessly through all sorts of tasks — Photoshop exports, video renders, gaming, productivity tasks and streaming all happen without a hitch.

Best Android tablet: Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 Wi-Fi (starting at $649.99; amazon.com or samsung.com)

The Tab S7 is a clear winner, with enough power to keep up with whatever you can throw at it and plenty of battery life. While Android isn’t quite on par with iPad OS, Samsung DeX brings Windows-like multitasking to the Tab.

The Fire HD 8 Plus can handle a host of everyday tasks and access Amazon’s library of content, including streaming movies and TV shows, e-reading and even some light gaming. For $109.99, it can do a lot, but know that the Amazon App Store is limited.

Jacob Krol

This 23.8-inch QHD monitor has the chops to handle whatever you need it to, from Word docs to gaming. The Lenovo’s super slim bezels don’t distract the eye from its vibrant panel, and a blue light filter also helps decrease eye strain, making it ideal for longer workdays.

For those constantly working with visual tasks like photo or video editing, Dell’s 27-inch UltraSharp 4K monitor is a no-brainer, bursting with vibrancy and a level of detail that was unmatched by other flat displays we tested.

If you have enough desk real estate, Samsung’s CJ791 affords the most space with a curved, ultra-wide 34-inch display. No matter how many different tasks and apps you’re juggling at once, you can neatly arrange them and spread them out in front of you.

Mice, keyboards, printers, speakers and peripherals

Jake Krol/CNN

The HP Envy Pro 6455 is a feature-filled and reliable unit that proves you don’t need to spend a ton for great performance. As an all-in-one unit it offers quality prints across text and visually heavy tasks alike, while also being able to scan and copy with ease.

The Logitech MX Master 3 is the perfect blend of traditional ergonomic design, intelligent workflow features and portability. At $100, it’s ideal for anyone looking for a workhorse mouse that can get them through years of productivity across multiple devices.

The Logitech M510 punches above its weight class. At $25, it’s a budget-friendly mouse that still offers a comfortable design, several programmable buttons and impressively long battery life.

The Logitech MX Master 3 is an unequivocally comfortable mouse. It’s shaped to perfection, with special attention to the fingers that do the clicking. Using it felt like our fingers were lounging — with a sculpted ergonomic groove for nearly every finger.

The Logitech Z407 computer speakers offer a sleek design, tons of connectivity options and a cool puck-shaped controller that you can put anywhere you want. Anyone who wants reasonably priced computer speakers will love what they have to offer.

The Cyber Acoustics CA3090 speakers are extremely inexpensive, but they’re a serious upgrade over your built-in computer speakers. These come with a subwoofer for extended bass response, and have a wired remote for easy control.

If you want to prioritize audio quality and have a bit of extra space and cash, the PreSonus Eris 3.5 BT speakers are the way to go. These speakers offer both wired and Bluetooth connections, but they also offer a more detailed audio quality and decent bass.

The THX-certified Logitech Z625 speakers not only support immersive audio standards for compatible games, but they also sound great, come with a subwoofer to augment that bass and offer plenty of connectivity options, including an optical port for integration.

Eric Ravenscraft/CNN

The full-size, full featured Logitech MX Keys offers a terrific typing experience, easy device switching, and simple customization.

The compact, portable K380 offers a typing experience that compares to keyboards twice its price, plus two years of battery life and pairing with three devices. Best ergonomic keyboard: Logitech Ergo K860We found the Logitech Ergo K860 to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its split-keyboard build coupled with a wave-like curvature across the body allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eased the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard.

We found the Logitech Ergo K860 to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its split-keyboard build coupled with a wave-like curvature across the body allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eased the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard.

The Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard compromises little despite its affordability. It’s built similarly to the K860: a split keyboard, curvature that brings the center of the keyboard off your desk and a palm rest along the bottom edge. Unlike the K860, this one is wired, so it isn’t nearly as easy to swap between devices.

CNN

My Passport has enough space to store all your files — packing close to 100,000 photo files, or in our case, two backups of our entire library. All that in a stylish yet rugged package.

The premium pick: SanDisk Extreme Pro Portable SSD (Starting at $209, originally $309.99; amazon.com)

The durable build (with protection from drops of 6.5 feet) is perfect for on-the-go use. It may come at a premium, but for those searching for a top-of-the-line hard drive, the SanDisk will not disappoint.

Anker’s Powerline II is a basic cable that does everything well, without any bells and whistles that increase the cost. The 6-foot cable does come in three colors, though: white, green and black — alongside a 3-foot version that comes in white and black. We stress tested the cables with some hard tugs and some tight bends, and it felt like it would hold up well over time, where other cables might break down and fray at the ends.

Best mesh Wi-Fi router: Eero 6 and two extenders ($181, originally $279; amazon.com)

With its foolproof setup process, nearly unrivaled speeds and coverage areas, Eero 6 is your best bet when opting for a mesh router. It’s an investment but one that will last for several years, thanks to the latest standards being supported inside.

iStock

With tons of lighting and placement adjustments, the EMart ring light gives you the flexibility to get great, consistent lighting for video calls, streaming, selfies or any content creation need.

Small enough to put in a pocket or purse, the Whellen ring light gives you great video call and selfie lighting you can take anywhere. The convenient clip mounting fits on your phone or laptop, and won’t scratch your screen.

iStock

Anker’s Powerline + USB-C cable is durable and functional, with a braided jacket, robust connectors, and handles up to 60 watts of power for fast charging. And its backed by a lifetime warranty.

The Nomad USB-C to USB-C cable is wrapped in a thick, roadworthy Kevlar jacket with and supports up to 100 watts of power, enough to charge laptops. A five year warranty keeps you covered should anything go wrong.

Michael Berk/CNN Underscored

With 45 watts of power, support for all the major fast-charging standards, cool-running GaN circuitry and a slim design that makes it easy to plug in anywhere, the PowerPort Atom III was the most versatile single-port charger we tested.

If you’re looking for a compact charger with modern fast-charging support to go with a new phone that ships without one, the PowerPort Nano Pro 511 does a great job at an affordable price.

Best higher-wattage USB-C charger for laptops and multiple devices: Anker PowerPort Atom PD 4 ($129.99, amazon.com)

Supplying 100 watts of power across two USB-C and two USB-A ports, the PowerPort Atom PD 4 distributed power the most intelligently of the multi-device chargers we tested it, making it a great choice if you need to keep several devices ready to go.

CNN

The Satechi USB-C hub delivered some of the fastest data transfer speeds in our testing pool, while packing Ethernet and 60W power pass-through in a slim, pocketable form factor that we found to be an ideal go-anywhere companion to a 13-inch laptop.

The Totu 9-in-1 triple display USB-C hub offers more ports and 100W power delivery while providing solid overall speeds on file transfer tests. It allowed us to use two external monitors with our laptop without any lag or stutters (and can handle up to three displays), making it a good fit for expanding the connectivity of more powerful 15-inch notebooks.

Razer

The $69 Logitech C920S is the best webcam for most people, delivering excellent picture quality in both bright and dim lighting conditions. Its design is sturdy and versatile, and it has some handy companion software for customizing your shots.

The Microsoft LifeCam HD-3000 offers very impressive performance for a relatively low cost. This lightweight camera is ideal for laptop users, and it delivers natural colors and a field of view that rival its more pricey competitors in some areas.

For content creators it doesn’t get much better than the $169 Logitech StreamCam. This attractive camera delivers 1080p video at 60 frames per second (fps) for extra-smooth Twitch streams, and has the unique ability to be positioned in portrait mode for when you’re trying to shoot the next viral TikTok hit.

The $199 Razer Kiyo Pro delivers the best video quality and flexibility of all the cameras we tested. It shoots at 1080p at up to 60 fps, but it really stands out with an advanced light sensor that made us look great even in poorly lit environments.

TP-Link

Easy to configure and use, the Wi-Fi 6 compatible TP-Link RE605X gave us consistent high performance and provided the best wireless signal over the widest area of all the extenders we tested.

If you’re looking to spend as little as you can and still get solid performance (and only need Wi-Fi 5 support), the TP-Link RE315 gave us better coverage in all of our tests than any other inexpensive option.



Share:

Facebook
Twitter
Pinterest
LinkedIn
Rachel Meadows

Rachel Meadows

Trending topics news writer who enjoys cooking, walking her dog and travel.