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The Best Things We Paid Real Money for in 2020

Illustration for article titled The Best Things We Paid Real Money for in 2020
Photo: Evie S. (Unsplash), Graphic: Gabe Carey
Holiday 2020Holiday 2020Whether you're celebrating with your loved ones in person or from a distance, The Inventory staff is dedicated to spreading holiday cheer with the top gifts to ring in the season—and maybe a few good deals to snatch up for yourself. It's okay, your secret's safe with us.

For better or for worse, in many ways, 2020 was defined by capitalism, a system unprepared to provide as many hospital beds as there are sick people during a pandemic. Or PPE gear to health care workers exposed to those sick people. Or even face masks to those ordinary people just trying to shop for groceries who are most susceptible to contracting a highly contagious, sometimes deadly virus. Despite its shortcomings, in these tough times, capitalism was somehow still capable of bringing us the products we spent our hard-earned, paltry stimulus checks on. Of course, due to fulfillment issues affecting most, if not all retailers in the e-commerce space, even those arrived much later than usual.

By now, it’s trite to say 2020 wasn’t a usual year. It’s a year that’s impossible to parody, no matter how hard the Black Mirror creators tried, because it was mostly a melancholy year for self-reflection, for those of us fortunate enough to have our health. And there’s nothing funny about that. Apart from spending most of our time at home, whether we were typing deals articles from our couches or coming home from work every night to engage in the same activities on loop until we lost track of the days, one thing we all had in common was our urge to buy stuff. Not the same stuff as we would’ve bought in 2019, 2018, or 2017 either.

We bought so many laptops they sold out across the board. Printers, too. Guilty as charged. 2020 was also the year everyone decided to become a gamer, leading not only to a shortage of new-gen PS5 and Xbox Series X|S consoles but the nearly 4-year-old Nintendo Switch as well. You could always buy it on StockX, but don’t you dare write an article about it unless you like getting death threats in the comments from readers. If you were transitioning from office to home, depending on the degree to which you had your life together, you might have also bought a more comfortable gaming chair or ergonomic desk. I know I did, and it only took 10 months of obliterating my spine in a cheap Ikea dining chair. Back in the spring, VPNs were in such high demand on Kinja Deals we ran a Co-op about it, then eventually Gizmodo ran its first-ever VPN buyer’s guide. And who can forget the great vibrator surge? Thanks to social distancing rules, there was a notable lack of sexy times happening in the lives of bachelors and bachelorettes around the world.

However 2020 impacted you, personally, I think we can all agree the anxiety spurred a uniquely shared desire to buy new things, either to entertain us or improve our quality of life. Or, much like myself, perhaps you took for granted the amenities supplied by your employer back at the office, that you had to buy for yourself out of pocket while working from home. In any case, you can rest assured you’re not alone. Out of the multitude of things we bought this year (and, in many instances, G/O Media likely earned a commission from), these were our favorites, some of which to much surprise.

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Buy a thing you’re loving in 2020? Shout it out for the world to hear in the comments section below.


Gabe Carey, Content & Strategy Manager

Illustration for article titled The Best Things We Paid Real Money for in 2020
Photo: Gabe Carey

Nintendo Switch Lite | $199 | Amazon

Originally, the Switch Lite was supposed to be for my wife, that is until we learned her Animal Crossing save data wouldn’t transfer over. In the interim, we agreed I could hold onto it as my secondary system as we waited for a patch to arrive. Months and months passed, and by the time save transfers were added, her obsession with New Horizons waned, and I’d fallen in love with the Spongebob-yellow handheld—to the point where I ended up selling my day one Switch proper. Seeing as my Xbox, PlayStation, PC, and Apple TV share the same TV, I can’t say I miss having one too many HDMI cables to plug in. What I did miss, after the demise of the Vita, was a lightweight, dedicated handheld that doesn’t make my hands cramp.

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My wife reviewed this one for Gizmodo and asked me to test it out for gaming. You can’t say no to that. After months of “testing,” I have to say, if you’re still using your TV’s built-in speakers, you’re doing it wrong. We live in a 550-square foot studio apartment, so when I say the Vizio Elevate barely takes up more space than your regular, everyday soundbar, you know I’m spitting truth. I’ve had to “test” a lot of games with different soundbars recently—many of which appear on next-gen consoles, even if I’m playing them on PC—and from what I can tell, the Elevate is the only one that convinced me going from integrated TV speakers to a 5.1(.4) home theater system with Dolby Atmos is more of an upgrade than either the PS5 or Xbox Series X|S over their predecessors. If you can’t snag the latest systems, this might just whet your appetite.

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Illustration for article titled The Best Things We Paid Real Money for in 2020
Photo: Gabe Carey

AirPods Pro | $199 | Amazon

I could wax poetic all day about the AirPods Pro, and I’m sure if you site search theinventory.com next to my name, you’re bound to find results. So I’ll keep this one short. Don’t buy AirPods if they’re not AirPods Pro. You’ll find plenty of better true wireless earbuds in that price range, including the Anker Soundcore Liberty Pro 2 and the TaoTronics SoundLiberty 79. AirPods Pro are in another league altogether. The seamless switching between device (even the non-Apple kind, believe it or not) paired with cushy rubberized tips and top-notch active noise canceling? Yes please.

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Illustration for article titled The Best Things We Paid Real Money for in 2020
Graphic: Gabe Carey

Dyson V7 | $200 | Newegg

It’s an older model, I think, but making the move from an upright vacuum cleaner that has to be tethered to my wall to a cordless stick vac was one of the better decisions I made this year. I bought one of the Dyson V7 variants back in the spring when it was on sale at Newegg (guess what, it still is!) and haven’t regretted it. Not only did it replace the ol’ Black & Decker, but it makes a decent car vac as well. In addition to its compact form factor, the reason I bought it considering the size of our apartment, the Dyson V7 is versatile, reaching even the tightest spaces thanks to its articulated design, and powerful enough to keep our floors spotless with a little help from the Swiffer.

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Sheilah Villari, Morning Writer

Illustration for article titled The Best Things We Paid Real Money for in 2020
Graphic: Gabe Carey
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I noticed this year my senior dog was having a little trouble getting up in the morning and seemed to be stirring more in the middle of the night. The bed he had was probably a little too firm for his old bones. Since sleeping in the Orthocomfort he’s gotten a bit of his pep back. He’s cozier and honestly looks happy snuggled up in this pet bed’s higher walls. This is definitely the best bed for a pet who needs more support or just loves feeling more sequestered than they would with a mat or blanket.

Illustration for article titled The Best Things We Paid Real Money for in 2020
Graphic: Gabe Carey
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Too Faced Mini Palettes | $27 | Too Faced

Too Faced’s palettes are coveted for a reason. They’re highly pigmented, have long wear, and are easy to blend for intense beautiful looks. These new mini versions take their best-selling lines down to the perfect size for travel, making touch-ups on the go the easiest it’s ever been. And, as with all their palettes, each is delightfully scented. I’m in love with each design, but Kitty Likes to Scratch is my new main.

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Illustration for article titled The Best Things We Paid Real Money for in 2020
Image: Ravensburger

Ravensburger Marvel Villainous: Infinite Power | $28 | Amazon

2020 became the year of the board game, or at least it did in my home. For me and my small circle, game night was a great way to pass the time in lockdown. I love this Marvel Villains one. It’s a great twist on the Villainous Game System. Of course, I play as Taskmaster to battle against Black Widow. It’s nice to be the bad guy sometimes. This game takes up a good hour and has the opportunity for replays if desired. A huge plus. It’s beautifully designed and easy to learn. There’s a YouTube video if you get stumped with the manual. Battle against your assigned Avenger for World domination while trying to edge out your opponent’s villains. This is a strategy game that up to four people can play.

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Illustration for article titled The Best Things We Paid Real Money for in 2020
Graphic: Gabe Carey

Diskreet Air by Bellesa | $49 | Bellesa Boutique

This is the sneaky version of the company’s fan-favorite Air. It uses the same kinetic suction tech as the original and is the smallest, quietest, and most inconspicuous form this toy has ever taken. Don’t be fooled by its compact size, however: the Diskreet Air packs a lot of power for such a small vibe. Plus its design is pretty, just so pretty, like a Polly Pocket for adults. This one quickly took my number one spot for vibrators this year and I know you’ll love it too.

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Andrew Hayward, Contributing Editor & Producer

Illustration for article titled The Best Things We Paid Real Money for in 2020
Graphic: Gabe Carey
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iPhone 12 Pro Max | $1,100 | Verizon
iPhone 12 Pro Max | $1,100 | AT&T

I’ve tested loads of 2020 smartphones in recent months due to review work elsewhere, and while there are Android phones that I would happily wield, I keep buying myself iPhones year after year. In 2020, the core iPhone 12 is best for most buyers, delivering power and polish in a well-priced package—but I went with the massive iPhone 12 Pro Max (Verizon, AT&T), myself. Truth be told, I love a big, beautiful smartphone, and the new Pro Max checks all of the boxes with a gorgeous screen, speedy 5G, an alluring new design, and brilliant cameras. It’s a beast.

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Illustration for article titled The Best Things We Paid Real Money for in 2020
Image: Kotaku

Spider-Man: Miles Morales | $50 | Amazon
Spider-Man: Miles Morales | $50 | Amazon

I have a bad habit of buying large-scale games and then barely (or never) touching them, so much so that I’ve mostly stopped buying open-world games these days—sorry, Cyberpunk 2077, maybe when you’re all fixed up. But Insomniac’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales (PS5, PS4) is a more compact open-world adventure, packing in fantastic action, relatable characters and interactions, and dreamy PlayStation 5 visuals into a game that doesn’t feel quite as sprawling and endless. It’s the first campaign I’ve finished in ages and I loved it.

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Illustration for article titled The Best Things We Paid Real Money for in 2020
Image: Marvel
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Last year’s House of X/Powers of X miniseries rebooted the X-Men in powerful fashion, with the mutants establishing the island nation of Krakoa and using leverage to force most of the world to recognize their sovereignty. From those books came six series representing the ongoing Dawn of X, with the new core X-Men book joined by New Mutants, Marauders, and others. Not every series feels essential (I dipped out of Excalibur and Fallen Angels myself), but this Dawn of X Vol. 1 graphic novel gives you the first issue of each as a starting point to the wider modern world of X-Men comics.

Jordan McMahon, Tech Editor

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Apple Magic Keyboard for iPad Air and iPad Pro 11" | $290 | Amazon
Apple Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro 12.9" | $330 | Amazon

It’s long been debated whether the iPad can be considered a true computer, or if it’s simply a tablet with some nifty features. Earlier this year, Apple released the Magic Keyboard (11", 12.9"), an accessory for the iPad Pro and new iPad Air. Unlike the Smart Keyboard before it, the Magic Keyboard has an adjustable hinge that better replicates that of a laptop. There’s still all the limitations of iPadOS, but if those aren’t a burden for you, the Magic Keyboard can take your tablet from a couch surfer and doodle pad to a full-fledged workstation for crunching the numbers or knocking out a few drafts.

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MacBook Air With Apple M1 Chip | $1,250 | Amazon

Earlier this year, Apple announced a 2-year transition from Intel processors to its own ARM-based silicon. We’ve started to see the fruits of that transition in the new MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, both of which are powered by the company’s new M1 chip, which gives ‘em the strength to do things even the base model Air can’t handle with ease. Unless your needs stretch into serious pro territory, the new entry-level MacBook Air offers better performance and battery life than anything else on the market without costing a fortune.

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Giovanni Colantonio, Associate Gaming Editor

Illustration for article titled The Best Things We Paid Real Money for in 2020
Image: Kotaku
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Final Fantasy VII Remake | $30 | Amazon

Final Fantasy VII Remake is everything good about video games rolled into one buck wild package. Rather than trying to be grim and serious like The Last of Us Part II, Square Enix’s ambitious remake understands that games are inherently a playful medium. It’s a game that’s completely comfortable with being dumb, while still boasting an effective central theme about the burden of expectation that comes with revisiting the things we love. On top of all that, it features an excellent action RPG combat system that’s fast-paced, but still kindly gives players space to take a breather when they need it.

Illustration for article titled The Best Things We Paid Real Money for in 2020
Image: Microsoft
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Xbox Series X | Amazon | Currently Unavailable
Xbox Series X | StockX | $640

If you had asked me what the best console of the year was 2 weeks ago, I would have said the PS5, full stop. However, the Xbox Series X has become more ingrained in my daily gaming life as time goes on, while the PS5 occupies a more niche space that requires big first-party games to take full advantage of. The Series X is a powerhouse and Game Pass Ultimate connects it to the devices I already own, making it feel like the natural centerpiece of my apartment. While it lacks exciting exclusives, it’s becoming the place where I play my third-party games, indies, and streaming services alike.

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Illustration for article titled The Best Things We Paid Real Money for in 2020
Image: Razer

Razer Kishi | $100 | Amazon

I’ve always loved mobile gaming experiences and was genuinely bummed to lose those light commute games when lockdown started. I didn’t get back into playing on my phone until I grabbed a Kishi, Razer’s controller add-on for mobile devices. My phone quickly became like a second Switch thanks to the easy-to-set-up accessory. In recent months, I’ve resubscribed to Apple Arcade and discovered fantastic games like Alba: A Wildlife Adventure just because I wanted a good reason to play around with the Kishi more.

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Head chef serving up content and strategy at The Inventory and Kinja Deals. Video game liker. I miss Modern Baseball.

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