CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or office chairs — 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 dozens of products to update your home — from flannel sheets to shower heads. Here are the winners in each respective category.
The best standing desks
The ApexDesk Elite Series 60” (starting at $549.99) is a sturdy, gorgeous standing desk available in two desktop sizes, both big enough to accommodate multiple monitors and devices. With a curved front, it’s more comfortable to use in both sitting and standing positions compared with the other standing desks we tried, allowing us to sit closer to the desk. It also comes standard with covered grommets to manage your wires.
The Uplift V2-Commercial Standing Desk (starting at $549.99) offers the widest breadth of customization options out of any standing desk we’ve encountered, from size to finish to keypads — in addition to being a high-quality desk that’s bound to look beautiful against any decor scheme.
The SHW Electric Height-Adjustable Computer Desk ($238.87) is a surprisingly functional, sturdy desk at an incredibly affordable price, comparatively. It comes standard with a cable management tray as well as a digital keypad featuring four memory presets, and it was a breeze to assemble.
The Flexispot Height-Adjustable Standing Desk Converter (starting at $119.99) is an excellent converter that’s available in several sizes to accommodate a range of workspaces. Both its desktop and keyboard tray provide ample space, and it adjusts with the push of a lever.
Read more from our testing of standing desks here.
The best office chairs
The Steelcase Series 1 scored among the highest overall, standing out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market. At $415, the Steelcase Series 1 beat out most of its pricier competitors across testing categories, scoring less than a single point lower than our highest-rated chair, the $1,036 Steelcase Leap, easily making it the best bang for the buck and a clear winner for our best office chair overall.
The Alera Elusion Series Multifunction Chair, priced at $162.99, 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.
Read more from our testing of office chairs here.
The best linen sheets
Well made, luxurious to the touch and with the most versatile shopping options (six sizes, nine colors and the ability to order individual sheets), the linen sheets from Parachute were, by a narrow margin, our favorite set. From the satisfying unboxing to a sumptuous sleep, with a la carte availability, Parachute set the gold standard in linen luxury.
Thick and durable but also breathable and soft, Citizenry sheets are a master class in stylish rest. Woven in a mill in Portugal from French flax and produced in a fair-trade environment, these are a socially conscious buy that feel good in more ways than one.
Truly the absolute softest, these Brooklinen sheets offered an immersive, delectable sleep experience. Simultaneously high-end and already perfectly worn in, these felt like a second skin from the first touch.
Around half the price of some of the most expensive sets we tested, the Amazon Simple&Opulence sheets held their own in comfort and design. Straight out of the box, these were soft, snuggly and welcoming.
Read more from our testing of linen sheets here.
The best flannel sheets
Luxurious without feeling overly thick or too weighty, Garnet Hill offers a delectably comfortable flannel sheet at a mid-to-high end price point, starting at $197 for a queen set (which includes two pillowcases, a fitted sheet and a flat sheet). These flannels come in lots of varieties of color and size, and instill confidence you’re getting a quality product that’ll last for years to come.
Very close to our overall favorite because it is both supremely cozy and the most lightweight of all the sets we tested is West Elm’s organic flannel sheet, which starts at $170 for a queen set. These sheets didn’t come out on top because they’re available in only two colors and cannot be ordered a la carte like Garnet Hill’s sheets.
If you’re sleeping in really cold weather and you want to feel positively bundled, L.L.Bean makes a weighty flannel sheet for you — at a competitive price point for the level of craftsmanship therein at $119 for a queen set.
Also delivering an excellent and very warm night of sleep, Pinzon by Amazon turns out a substantial flannel sheet at just $70.99 for a queen set. That’s half the price of some of the other higher-end brands, but you won’t feel like you’re sacrificing quality.
Read more from our testing of flannel sheets here.
The best humidifiers
The TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier ramped up the humidity in a room in about an hour, which was quicker than most of the options we tested. More importantly, though, it sustained those humidity levels over the longest period of time — 24 hours, to be exact. The levels were easy to check with the built-in reader (and we cross-checked that reading with an external reader to confirm accuracy). We also loved how easy this humidifier was to clean, and the nighttime mode for the LED reader eliminated any bright lights in the bedroom.
A close second, the Vicks V5100NS is a powerhouse with a larger tank than many of the other humidifiers we tested. The big tank was easy to get into the kitchen or bathroom to refill, which wasn’t the case with the other larger humidifiers we tested, and raised the humidity level up fast in a big, open space. This humidifier runs very quietly and holds enough water to keep going all day and night. The one knock: This does produce a heavy mist, so it can lead to stuffy rooms in smaller spaces. But that’s exactly what makes it ideal for larger areas.
For bedrooms (yours or the kids’), the Pure Enrichment MistAire Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier was a clear winner, as it makes virtually no noise (none of our top three were louder than a properly running refrigerator) and has a night light function that gives the cute teardrop-shaped machine a soft glow. The automatic shutoff means it’ll never be erroneously run throughout the day.
Read more from our testing of humidifiers here.
The best hand mixers
The Cuisinart HM-90BCS Plus mixer caught our eye right out of the box, with a sleek design and sturdy build that felt stable in the hand. Testing confirmed our initial impression, with the appliance scoring top marks across the board for function — easily mixing, whisking, beating and kneading — as well as ease of use and storage.
The Breville BHM800SIL is another sharp-looking little appliance. The most expensive of the hand mixers we reviewed, the Breville not only mixed ingredients the fastest out of our testing pool (making quick work of even the heaviest of ingredients), but is also equipped with features that you’d expect for a premium price, including a “headlamp” style light and rubber-coated beaters that make it the quietest of all the mixers we tested.
We really fell for the Hamilton Beach 6-Speed Electric Hand Mixer as a simple, hard-working mixer that gets the job done for less. It’s very easy to maneuver and aptly tackles all of the basic functions — mixing, whisking, beating — though it does lack a kneading attachment and was a bit slower on certain tasks compared to the higher-end hand mixers we tested. It was also the only lower-priced mixer with a storage case and attachments.
Read more from our testing of hand mixers here.
The best blenders
With 1,800 watts of motor power, the Breville Super Q features a slew of preset buttons, comes in multiple colors, includes key accessories and is touted for being quieter than other models. At $500, it does carry a steep price tag, but for those who can’t imagine a smoothie-less morning, what breaks down to about $1.30 a day over a year seems like a bargain.
We concede that $630 seems like an extreme amount of money to spend on a blender, but as a luxury option, the Vitamix Venturist V1200, with its whopping 10-year warranty and plethora of functional, durable and just plain cool features, simply rose to the top in every test performed.
Finally, when it comes to a blender priced at $100 or less, we found the Ninja Professional Plus Blender with Auto-iQ to be tops. Besides doing an admirable job at blending up creamy soups and smoothies, it comes with a number of presets, as well as low, medium and high manual settings. It doesn’t have the heft or quality materials of the high-performance blenders we tested, but for casual users, it won’t disappoint.
Read more from our testing of blenders here.
The best smart speakers
Amazon’s fourth-gen Echo is the biggest redesign to the original smart speaker. While keeping the same $99 price tag, Amazon swapped the tall cylinder design for a spherical one. Not only does this give it a more appealing aesthetic than most competing speakers, but the form factor also aids in delivering richer and clearer sound with ample access to Alexa smarts. With more room for the sound to bounce around internally, the fourth-gen Echo Dot pushes out a soundstage that’s unmatched at its price point. Alexa is constantly getting smarter and giving you more control over your information as well.
Matching the Echo stride for stride (even outpacing it in certain areas), Apple’s HomePod Mini ($99) is our runner-up due to one big caveat: You need an Apple device to use it. If you aren’t in the Apple ecosystem, it doesn’t make sense. But for those who are, it’s a no-brainer. It acts as a home hub for HomeKit devices, seamlessly integrates with Apple’s ecosystem, allows easy handoffs between devices and enables the ability to use services like iMessage and FaceTime with just your voice. For its minuscule size, it delivers the best sound in its class — and at times sounds better than the Echo.
If sound quality is the be-all and end-all for you (and you’re budget-conscious), the Sonos One ($199) is kind of the Goldilocks of smart speakers. It’s not exorbitantly expensive yet it still packs the critical hardware (two amplifiers, a woofer and a tweeter) to deliver robust sound. Instead of sound hitting you from only one angle, the Sonos One pushes sound out in every direction with a crispness that shines through in each note (low, mid and highs) while delivering booming bass.
The fourth-gen Echo Dot ($49.99), which is basically the mini version of our best overall pick, folds pretty much everything we love about the Echo (save for a few elements) into a pint-size, wallet-friendly package. For 2020, the Dot also went spherical. And, like the Echo, it’s a reliable smart speaker with access to Alexa and solid sound (especially when you consider its size).
Read more from our testing of smart speakers here.
The best TVs
With models starting at $599.99 for a 55-inch, the TCL 6-Series might give you reverse sticker shock considering everything you get for that relatively small price tag. But can a 4K smart TV with so many specification standards really deliver a good picture for $500? The short answer: a resounding yes. The TCL 6-Series produces a vibrant picture with flexible customization options and handles both HDR and Dolby Vision, optimization standards that improve the content you’re watching by adding depth to details and expanding the color spectrum.
For those willing and able to spend top dollar, the Sony A8H, a 2020 OLED TV, delivers a vibrant and strong picture with deep blacks and a sleek build. Though it starts at $1,898 for a 55-inch model (the 65-inch is $2,798), you’re getting an OLED, which means the panel is made up of pixels that individually emit a color to create a sharper image. The Sony A8H boasts a broad range of colors, from glowing brights to subtle pastels, and pitch-dark blacks. It supports an array of picture standards that automatically upscale and improve the quality of content, and the result is an exceptionally vibrant and detailed picture.
With so many sub-$500 options, the budget category was crammed with competition. Ultimately, the $379.99 (on sale for $338.99) Vizio V-Series 55-inch TV performed best in our testing. The device is 4K HDR-capable and supports easy ways to send content from your phone to the big screen (Google Cast and AirPlay 2). It’s also equipped with Dolby Vision, which will automatically increase the colors and contrast of eligible content. It beats out all lower-end TCL models and Fire TV Editions and delivers a very solid image at this price point.
Read more from our testing of TVs here.
The best streaming sticks and devices
Roku recently updated its Ultra streaming box, adding Dolby Vision HDR support and improved Wi-Fi performance. The 2020 version of the Ultra is faster, thanks to a new quad-core processor. In fact, this is the fastest streaming device Roku has released, and we can confirm that it feels faster than the Streambar or last year’s Ultra. It outpaces the many sticks and dongles from Roku as well. The newest Ultra retains all of the features we loved and enjoyed about the 2019 model, like almost zero lag time between waking it up and streaming content, leading to a hiccup-free streaming experience. On top of that, the Roku Ultra can upscale content to deliver the best picture possible on your TV — even on older-model TVs that don’t offer the latest and greatest picture quality — and supports everything from HD to 4K. While all of our top picks meet the 4K threshold, the Ultra does so at a noticeably quicker rate, so you’ll never experience content that skips or appears blurry for a few frames. At $99.99, the Roku Ultra undercuts other big hitters like the Fire TV Cube and Apple TV 4K. While it’s not as full-featured as the latter (namely, Roku doesn’t offer HBO Max), you’re not sacrificing much, if anything, in terms of everyday streaming quality. It’s the perfect cross-section of value and performance for most consumers.
For an extra $80, the Apple TV 4K takes things a bit further, as it’s the only streamer we tested that supports Peacock and HBO Max in addition to the same thousands of streaming options you get with the Roku Ultra. It similarly upscales content to 4K UHD quality with support for HDR but steps that up a few notches with support for Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, which work with supported content to increase highlights and contrast. Since it’s deeply integrated with your iPhone (and, really, any Apple-made device), it allows you to autofill logins for services, use your iOS keyboard for easier typing and cast content via AirPlay 2 to easily get photos or videos on the big screen.
At just $49.99, the Chromecast with Google TV is a full-fledged streaming stick. It has a remote, supports a ton of streaming services and presents content in up to 4K HDR (it supports Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos as well). With the addition of a dedicated remote, you’re no longer forced to share your personal phone or tablet with friends and family in order for them to stream their favorite show or movie to your TV. Loading different apps and services was quick and painless, and if you’re a YouTube TV subscriber, you can access your account, including live programming, from the new Chromecast.
Read more from our testing of streaming devices here.
The best shower heads
Hands down, the Kohler Forte Shower Head provides the best overall shower experience, offering three distinct settings. Backstory: Lots of shower heads out there feature myriad “settings” that, when tested, are pretty much indecipherable. The Forte’s three sprays, however, are each incredibly different and equally successful. There’s the drenching, full-coverage rain shower, the pulsating massage and the “silk spray” setting that is basically a super-dense mist. The Forte manages to achieve all of this while using only 1.75 gallons per minute (GPM), making it a great option for those looking to conserve water.
If water conservation is a top priority for you, look no further than the High Sierra Classic Plus Shower Head. Limiting water flow to just 1.5 GPM — that’s a full gallon below federal regulations (read more about that below) — this compact head is serious about sustainability. Switching to the High Sierra will save you 600 gallons of water per month and you’ll use way less energy, because natural gas isn’t needed to heat all that unused water. Given its small size and relatively few parts, the product’s carbon footprint is also smaller than most. And even with all that environmental friendliness, it still manages to deliver a deluge of water and a very satisfying shower.
We all love to treat ourselves every now and again, and that’s why the Moen Attract Dual Shower Head and Handheld Shower Head also made our list. The chrome version will set you back $79.98, and the brushed nickel and bronze options will cost you upward of $100. The Attract will have you feeling like you’re showering at a 5-star hotel. With an ultra-broad face and handheld shower head (with six settings, no less!), this gets you three shower heads in one: Use the main rain shower head, the hand shower or both simultaneously for a head-to-toe water immersion experience.
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s no shame in the budget shower head game either. The Wassa High-Pressure Shower Head, coming in at just under $20, is ultra compact (it’s only 3 inches wide) but delivers an intense, high-pressure stream of water out of 45 silicone jets, providing the perfect marriage of a rain shower and massage setting.
Read more from our testing of shower heads here.