’Tis the season of maxed out credit cards. Fa-la-la-la-la…
The season of holiday gift shopping is upon us. And in this era of Pinterest boards and e-commerce and advertising on every platform imaginable, we’re faced with an anxiety-inducing amount of choice. This year, our recommendation is to explore a world once thought to be a fantasy of ‘90s Disney Channel movies and futuristic cartoons: smart home devices. Most of us only consider buying gadgets for our techie loved ones, but thanks to the variety of accessible devices currently on the market we can find something special for every type of person in our lives.
For the friend who needs a personal assistant: Smart Speakers
If you’ve been paying attention over the past couple of years, you have probably heard of or read about smart speakers. The top contenders at the moment are Amazon’s Echo (newer generations being the Echo Dot, Echo Plus, and Echo Show), the Sonos Wireless Speakers System, and Google Home (as well as the Home Mini and Home Max). These devices combine voice recognition and virtual assistant technology — e.g. Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant — with wi-fi or bluetooth access to enable you to make to-do lists, set timers and alarms, play music, podcasts, and audiobooks, and gain news and weather updates completely hands-free. Purchasing a smart speaker is often the first foray into home automation, as they can be used to control other smart home devices.
For the introverted artist and serial party-hoster alike: Smart Light Bulbs
Light bulbs that are internet-capable, customizable, and controllable are as fun as they are practical. Philips has developed an array of products under its Hue label, ranging from starter kits to add-ons like lightstrips, lamps, and additional controls. We’d recommend one of their starter kits, which include a set of white and/or colored bulbs as well as what’s called a “bridge.” The bridge is a small device that acts as a hub for all of the lights and allows you to control them as desired via an app on your mobile phone. You can do things like set a certain brightness, change colors, and save your lighting preferences for later use. Via the the app, you’re able to control your lights remotely if, say, you forgot to turn the lights off before you left your apartment, or you realized you’ll be out late and want lights on when you get home. Even cooler is that you can sync your Philips Hue system to your virtual assistant of choice — Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple’s HomeKit are a few of the options.
For the self-professed green thumb: Smart Indoor Gardens
Indoor gardening has undergone a serious makeover in recent years, so this one is for any millennials in your life who consider themselves — or want to be — plant parents. Click and Grow has harnessed this trend along with the growing consumption of organic, locally produced food to build intuitive and affordable indoor gardening tools. Their products range from a $30 starter kit to a $1,300 wall farm, but all share the goal of allowing anyone to grow fresh herbs, small vegetables, and vibrant flowers in their homes. Our recommendation is to start with their $60 or $100 Smart Garden models, which are equipped with Smart Soil, built in sensors to monitor water, oxygen, and nutrient levels, and eco-friendly LED lights.
For the eco-conscious (and/or penny pincher): Smart Plugs
We all know that person who invites us over on a hot summer day but then refuses to turn on the AC to save a few extra dollars on their electric bill. As irritating as that can be, they’ve got a point. We spend hundreds of dollars on inefficient cooling, heating, and lighting systems in our apartments and homes, yet we don’t become fully aware of this until we see the amount we owe each month. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could track our energy consumption in real time so that we can make better use of our appliances before it’s too late? The Belkin WeMo product line offers a few different types of smart plugs that not only allow you to monitor your apartment’s energy use via a mobile app, but also enable you to remotely control switches in your home and schedule your appliances. You can also connect these with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa to use voice control. Our suggestion would be to try out the WeMo Insight Smart Plug, which is currently listed at a price of just $30 a pop. Keep in mind, you’ll likely need multiple plugs to get a comprehensive view across the home.
For the friend who can’t live without their creature comforts: Smart Thermostats
Not too hot, not too cold, juuust right. Sound familiar? For the Goldilocks in your circle, consider purchasing a wifi-enabled thermostat that can help regulate temperatures throughout the home. These devices contain sensors that can control heating and cooling systems to ensure they are always running at optimal levels. Our top picks are the Nest Learning Thermostat and the Ecobee4, both of which retail at $249. Both devices have iOS and Android apps, allow you to remotely adjust the temperature, set temperature schedules, choose preferences, and integrate with certain smart speaker systems like Amazon’s and Google’s. There are slight differences, however. Nest is focused more on its ability to automatically adjust based on your behaviors. It gradually learns your schedule, adapts to it, and adjusts its own settings in real time. Ecobee doesn’t have this capability, but is a smart choice if you’re an Amazon Echo owner. You can seamlessly and easily speak to your Ecobee4 the same way you would with Alexa. Both are equally useful products that help you reduce energy costs and live more comfortably.
For the cousin who watches too many horror movies: Smart Locks
Most people have experienced the panic of realizing you left your apartment without locking the front door at one time or another. Smart locks are the perfect solution, as they allow you to lock (or unlock, when your roommates forget their keys) your door remotely via your mobile phone. The August Smart Lock is a bestseller that works with your existing lock and keys and enables you to track who comes and goes, know when your door is closed and locked, and provide keyless access to family and friends remotely. It locks as you leave, unlocks when you get home, and even works with your Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, and Google Assistant.
This is just a snapshot of some of the home automation devices that are out there right now — with a bit of extra research you can find anything from a robot vacuum like the Roomba to a universal remote such as the Logitech Harmony. Hopefully we’ve convinced you that these can be great gifts for anyone, not just the tech-obsessed. The widespread success of smart home devices shows that the world of consumer electronics is headed in an exciting direction. So don’t be afraid — shop smart.