Gadgets are part of our homes more than ever, and they are getting better and better by the day. Robotic butlers may still be something for the future, but we still have some well-made and exciting gadgets that can be part of our homes in 2016/17. Home entertainment systems are growing, kitchens are seeing complete makeovers and connected devices are really making a lasting impression. Most of the gadgets produced now tend to fall into a few categories: Security, music, home automation, leisure and weird things that don’t fit into any of the above categories due to their questionable usefulness.
Starting with security, it may sound like a mundane thing to integrate into your home, but there are some truly fantastic products hitting the market as you read. When it comes to cameras, technology has really stepped up its game. Netgear has produced a new product, the Arlo. It runs solely on battery power, which lasts between 4 and 6 months, making it fully wireless. The images it captures can be accessed from your phone, or you can get a notification if the camera detects any movement. With these capabilities and the fact that it’s fully waterproof, you can place the camera anywhere and just about forget about it – until you get a notification on your phone, of course. Panasonic has taken this a step further, developing an entire monitoring and safety kit, integrating cameras, motion sensors, window and door sensors, smart plugs and even water leak sensors. So, if you’re looking to make your home safer than a supermax prison, this might be the system you’re looking for.
Perhaps what most people are interested in, music, has had plenty of innovations when it comes to the internet of things. Sonos have undoubtedly led the way with their PLAY 1, 3 & 5 speakers. They produce mighty sounds and communicate with each other, allowing you to use them as a home theatre system, add a bass speaker and use them in multiple rooms. They will also connect to your home internet connection, enabling you to play directly from your phone or, even, get music to play from them using Google’s Home or Amazon’s Alexa systems (more on these later).
Moving on, gadgets are there to make life more fun – meaning, also, that they do the things that make life not-so-fun. In the UK, we all know what a pain heating can be. It’s either too hot or too cold, the heating never comes on at the right time and when you get your bill at the end of the month… Well, we know how you feel. Google’s Nest tackles these issues fantastically. It’s a beautifully designed product that is not intrusive in the slightest. It is intuitive and can be controlled from your phone, allowing you to turn on the heating from anywhere and have your house just as you want it before you arrive. The Nest also learns from your behaviour, so even if you forget to turn the heating off, it might just do it for you at the right time, saving you energy and pennies over time.
When it comes to leisure, there are some fantastic new products on the market. The Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire Stick, Roku Streaming Stick and Apple TV have made appearances in several homes, and are only set to make more. They make streaming on your TV remarkably simple, allowing you to easily enjoy the pleasures of Netflix without faffing around with an HDMI connection and having to stand up every time you want to adjust the volume or pause the latest episode of your favourite show.
Google and Amazon have also come out with two products that have really made their mark in 2016 – Google Home and the Amazon Echo. Set to only improve into 2017 and beyond, these little devices are more than elegant speakers. More like proto-artificial intelligence, they can turn lights on for you, control your thermostat, play music independently or on speakers throughout your house, order an Uber taxi and a long (and ever increasing) list of things to do for you. Admittedly, they are in their early stages but are definitely a set of products worth looking out for as they’re set for great improvements, particularly as tech gets better and competition increases.
So, at the end of the day, you could technically aim to have a fully connected, automated home, where the shutters come down when it’s too sunny, the heating turns on as you leave work and smooth jazz begins playing as soon as you walk in after a fancy dinner. While these may not quite be possible yet, you’ll want to integrate all your systems together. The Amazon Echo and Google Home come somewhat close to this, but struggle with the tech they aren’t familiar with. Samsung’s SmartThings fills this gap nicely, bringing all your tech together. Control your doors, light bulbs, speakers and security cameras – from a range of manufacturers – from one central hub. You can control pretty much everything from a single app on your phone, seamlessly and smoothly, making this the way forward for your smart home dreams.