The Tom’s Guide Awards 2022 have come to a close, with an exciting lineup of winners across categories from phones, TVs and computers to home appliances, fitness equipment, cars and more. We received hundreds of nominations, and our team of experts combed through them all to name the best of the best products and services of the year.
But there’s also a group of extra special winners, and those are our Hero Awards recipients. The Hero Awards recognize big-picture innovation — the things that made a huge impact in the tech space. We’re talking about the best brand of the year, amazing efforts in diversity and sustainability, and more.
It was incredibly rewarding for Tom’s Guide as a team to select the winners of the Hero Awards. Better yet, we had the chance to speak with a number of the recipients about what made their company, product or services stand out. Take a look at this year’s esteemed winners to help us celebrate their contributions, and check out our full Tom’s Guide Awards 2022 list to see all the best new products and services.
Innovator Award: Matter
If you’ve been following the smart home space, you’ve probably heard of Matter, or the effort put forth by the Connectivity Standards Alliance, or CSA, to unite connected devices. It’s actually a connectivity protocol that is poised to make all your smart home gadgets work together seamlessly, even if they’re made by different brands. Ask anyone who uses or works with smart home devices — getting all your devices to play nice together is rarely easy.
“This is the first protocol that is unifying the industry’s biggest players, to address what are the biggest challenges for the IoT, specifically for consumers’ interoperability and choice,” said Michelle Mindala-Freeman, head of marketing and member services, CSA. “Standards don’t usually come to mind when you think of innovation; however, this isn’t just a technical standard for engineers. Matter is going to be more tangible and more real to consumers, faster than any other technology standard I’ve ever seen.”
At launch, there will be an upgradable base of Matter-capable devices that are already in homes, meaning you won’t need to replace a number of products you already own. There won’t need to be a “lag time” between launching the standard and having the hardware out there. Still, according to ABI research, 5.5 billion Matter-compliant devices will ship between 2022 and 2030 from both major and smaller smart home companies involved.
“This isn’t just the big ecosystem players, this isn’t just Google, Apple and Amazon,” said Mindala-Freeman. “This is something that is not just a Silicon Valley innovation. This is something that’s going to impact consumers with household brands everyday, in every way.”
There are over 250 “members” that are committed to the CSA’s standard. Testing is in its final stages with the official roll out on pace for fall 2022. Despite some delays, Matter is in its last leg of validation work to ensure as seamless a transition as possible for consumers and companies to the active protocol.
“You’re going to see a lot of companies talking about Matter embedded in devices, and Matter being upgradable to devices that are in homes,” Mindala-Freeman said. “I believe that people will start seeing Matter in the holiday selling season, and definitely at CES and beyond in 2023.”
Brand of the Year
Brand of the Year: Belkin
Belkin might not be a household name, but we can’t speak highly enough about this company. Though it’s best known for its high-quality charging and mobile accessories, there’s a lot more to recognize when it comes to Belkin’s approach to products, diverse division portfolio, sustainability efforts and community outreach.
“For decades we have called ourselves a people-inspired company, and that’s because of how we make our products,” said Jen Wei, vice president of global communications and corporate development at Belkin. “Using deep consumer insights on how people interact with their tech, we uncover the spine-tingling solutions that take the guesswork out of consumers’ hands to create a seamless, innovative user experience.”
Belkin is the parent company of two sub-brands we’re familiar with at Tom’s Guide, Wemo and Phyn. Wemo saw the launch of its first video doorbell this year while Phyn’s smart water management devices are preventing house floods and even helping customers limit water waste in areas faced with drought. As for Belkin brand-products, it worked with Apple on the new Continuity Camera Mount that lets you turn your iPhone into a webcam for a Macbook in macOS Ventura.
Throughout its offerings, the company practices start-to-finish sustainability efforts. “In the last 12 months, we’ve achieved key milestones in our journey to reduce our carbon emissions, eliminate single-use plastics and drive towards a circular economy,” said Wei.
Beyond what Belkin can offer consumers, the brand also supports an initiative called Portal Schools. Portal Schools is a diverse and personalized high school/early college education program catering to the community surrounding Belkin’s California campus.
“Creating accessible, individualized education for all runs deep in the company’s DNA. Our founder saw flaws in the traditional education system and set out to change things in our community,” Wei said. “Having a direct input into the future generations of the workforce is not only inspiring for Belkin employees but it’s a solid reminder of why we do the work we do — to be truly people-inspired we have to consider ALL people.”
Product of the Year
Product of the Year: Alienware 34 QD-OLED gaming monitor
We review a lot of monitors at Tom’s Guide. As such, we can confidently say that the Alienware 34 QD-OLED is the most amazing gaming monitor we’ve ever seen. That may sound like an exaggeration, but this device is astonishing to behold. Its curved ultra-widescreen display and sharp, vibrant picture quality help deliver a truly immersive gaming experience that puts you right in the middle of the action. Though its current $1,299 asking price is steep, the Alienware 34 is worth every penny.
Like may other Alienware products, it looks like something from the future. It has a sleek 1800R curved display with a black and white chassis accented with the company’s Legend 2 AlienFX lighting. Given its dimensions, the monitor takes up considerable space on your desk. Luckily, it has VESA mounting holes, you can mount the Alienware 34 to your wall.
The Quantum-Dot OLED display is bright and colorful, making everything seemingly pop off the screen. Games like Far Cry 6 and Red Dead Redemption 2, which each contain a ton of graphical detail, come to life on this screen — with every little detail being clearly visible. The high 175Hz refresh rate, Nvidia G-Sync Ultimate support and 1ms response time make games run buttery smooth. Streaming content also looks brilliant on the Alienware 34.
“What’s more, they [users] get all those next level features wrapped in the iconic Alienware design language,” said Yoon Lee, Vice President, Monitors, Dell Technologies. “This is what defines cutting-edge technology and it’s something gamers can continue to expect from Alienware.”
Like we said in our review, photos and reviews can’t do the Alienware 34 QD-OLED gaming monitor justice. You have to see this display in person to truly appreciate it. If you’re a passionate gamer who wants to fully immerse yourself in whatever title you’re playing, then you need this incredible monitor in your home. We can’t stress enough how awesome games look on the Alienware 34.
Diversity in Tech Award
Diversity in Tech Award: Real Tone on Google Pixel 6
Technology should be the great equalizer, giving everyone the same opportunity to create. But that hasn’t always been the case with cameras.
“Historically, camera technology has excluded people of color, especially those with darker complexions,” a Google spokesperson told us when we spoke to them about the company’s efforts with its Real Tone project. “A lack of diverse testing meant that modern camera technology carried biases, and delivered unflattering photos for people of color.”
Real Tone looks to undo that. It was first announced at Google I/O 2021, but really emerged with the release of the Google Pixel 6 and Google Pixel 6 Pro last fall when Google built Real Tone into the cameras of its latest flagship phones.
Essentially, Google worked with photographers and image experts to study the Pixel Camera app to see how it could be improved to more accurately capture skin tones for everyone, including different ethnicities and complexions.
“We recruited dozens of study participants to work with these image experts, and they helped us discover and prioritize the top goals of an equitable camera,” the Google spokesperson told us. “Our team then tweaked and adjusted our auto-white balance, auto-exposure, face detection, and stray light algorithms to ensure that Google’s camera and imagery products work for people of every skin tone.”
That’s led to Real Tone being built into Google’s core camera algorithms while also being able to account for different lighting conditions and different skin tones in the same shot. The auto enhance feature in Google Photos reflects Real Tone and the contributions of imaging experts as well, in the form of Real Tone filters. The recent Pixel 6a release also supports Real Tone.
The work continues with Google using its developer conference in May to showcase the Monk Skin Tone scale developed with Harvard professor and sociologist Dr. Elis Monk. The hope is that this skin tone scale can be used to build more inclusive datasets that can train AI models to be more inclusive. “We know that there’s still work to be done to validate the scale globally and better understand how different skin tones affect perception and applicability of the MST Scale,” Google told us. “This research is already underway as we continue to refine our algorithms.”
It may still be a work in progress, but it’s impressive work, nevertheless, and it merits recognition for its attempt to make our technology reflect the diversity of our world. “Ultimately, we feel that photos are an important part of preserving our memories and capturing who we are, so it is critical for us to create a camera and imaging experiences that work equitably for everyone,” Google’s spokesperson said.
Sustainability in Tech Award
Sustainability in Tech Award: Too Good to Go
Our Sustainability in Tech Award was perhaps the most difficult to decide, and for the best possible reason. Companies took their environmental efforts more seriously than ever this year — we’ve seen dozens of products shipping in new plastic-free or recycled packaging, for example. But there is one company that caught our attention: Too Good To Go.
We first learned of Too Good To Go as an app looking to combat food waste. Available in select cities, restaurants can sell grab-bags for pickup of uneaten or unsold products at the end of the day via Too Good To Go. For just a few dollars people get fed and food doesn’t get tossed.
“We’re really proud of what we’ve accomplished in the U.S. in such a short time, and it wouldn’t have been possible without our incredible partners and app users who were ready to join us in the fight against food waste,” said Lucie Basch, Too Good To Go co-founder. “Out of all the countries we’ve expanded into, the speed in response and excitement from Americans has been unmatched. We can’t wait for what’s to come as we continue expanding and bringing our food waste solution to more parts of the country.”
Too Good To Go saved its first meal in Copenhagen in March 2016. The self-proclaimed “Waste Warriors” have expanded their efforts globally to approach the issue of food waste as a joint effort. It’s demonstrated how restaurants, communities, individual homes, businesses and schools can all address food waste with Too Good To Go’s solutions.
“Using the Too Good To Go app is a great solution for consumers seeking quality food options at wallet friendly price points, and it’s food that our app users can feel great about eating,” said Gaeleen Quinn, U.S. Head of Impact at Too Good to Go. “Many people don’t realize that food waste is a huge contributor to climate change and is responsible for 10% of global greenhouse gasses. Our app gives consumers a fun, easy way to save money, support local businesses and ultimately help the planet by preventing surplus food from turning into waste — it’s a win-win-win.”
It’s especially important to highlight companies excelling in sustainability like Too Good To Go, as we might recognize ways other brands and organizations can address or improve their environmental contributions.
“It’s time for businesses to prioritize company purpose over profit,” Quinn said. “As a B Corp, we’re leading the way to a more sustainable, inclusive, equitable, and regenerative economy, and we take our responsibility as a social impact company very seriously.”
Best Value Award
Best Value Award: Apple TV Plus
We called Apple TV Plus the best cheap streaming service earlier this year for a good reason. For $5 per month, you can dip your toe into Apple’s increasingly fantastic selection of original programming. The other $5 per month services wish they had a show on par with Pachinko or The Afterparty, and those aren’t even the shows that Apple TV Plus is most well-known for.
Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore, agrees, telling Tom’s Guide that “Apple TV Plus+ really hit its stride this past year and delivered amazing shows featuring great talent in front of and behind the camera to the delight of audiences, critics and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.”
Paul continues, “From Ted Lasso to Severance and a host of other star driven, thought provoking, funny and entertaining original content, Apple TV Plus took some time to develop its strong lineup of content and audiences likewise took their time to get on board and for both it was clearly worth the wait and worth every penny of the price of admission.”
Sure, Apple TV Plus doesn’t offer the big back catalog of old shows and movies that you’ll get on a Peacock or Paramount Plus, but these days we put exclusive original programming above all else when it comes to streaming. Apple even added a double-header of MLB games every Friday.
It may not have the most shows, but when it comes to offering a selective rotation of content that keeps getting interesting new original shows — Black Bird already has us hooked — Apple TV Plus earned this one. And the value proposition can get better when you have an Apple One deal.
Best Design: Samsung The Frame (2022)
We’re not afraid to admit we appreciate things that look nice. But of course, form can’t sacrifice function — and that’s something Samsung’s The Frame fully embodies. The Frame, Samsung’s long-time Lifestyle TV set that doubles as a framed art gallery, received a key design upgrade this year that made a tangible difference.
“The Frame was designed to turn your TV into artwork when not in use, helping it blend into your décor,” said Stephen Coppola, senior director, lifestyle TV product marketing at Samsung Electronics America. “This year’s new Matte Display feature gives The Frame an anti-glare, anti-reflective screen that drastically reduces light reflections, giving your favorite art a realistic texture in any room in any lighting. The Frame also takes personalization to the next level by providing colored bezels (sold separately) to suit any home interior style.”
In the past, Samsung’s The Frame was a step behind Samsung’s other great QLED TVs. For example, it didn’t get a Quantum dot filter until a year after Samsung’s other 4K TVs. Now, Samsung The Frame 2022 has all the perks of our favorite Samsung TVs, but with a new anti-reflective coating that manages to keep colors and brightness vivid, even in direct sunlight.
Then, in art mode, the TV takes on a paper texture that’s better than all The Frame models before, and we saw it side by side with the previous one, so we can attest to the upgrade. It’s an undeniable improvement in design that left a lasting impact.