Smart but simple
The dream of having the ultimate connected home can sometimes turn into a nightmare. A complicated set-up process, iffy apps and a disconnected infrastructure can mean you spending hours just trying to get a light switch connected to your router.
As with many tech advancements, the true innovations are often ‘one-offs’ that can also work as part of a wider setup, and we’ve selected 10 of the best such devices.
These gadgets are powerful, yet generally easy to use and easy to connect to your phone or computer. Lights, appliances, and even plant care are just a tap away…
1. Parrot Flower Power Wireless Plant Monitor
When we think of the connected home plants aren’t typically the first things that come to mind, but they too can go smart with the help of a monitoring device like the Parrot Flower Power.
Stick this in a pot or in the ground next to your plant and it can monitor sunlight, temperature, fertiliser and moisture, and send alerts to an app on your smartphone when one of these things needs attention – for example when the plant needs watering – to ensure you have healthier, happier, and altogether smarter plants.
Sonos probably needs no introduction, as it’s long dominated the world of multi-room music streaming, enabling you to wirelessly control your music with an app and send it to anywhere and everywhere in your house.
It’s pricey, but as is so often the case you get what you pay for, with easy set-up and a range of high-quality speakers suitable for different-sized rooms. So you can pump out big sounds in the living room with a Sonos Play:5, and background music in the kitchen with a Sonos Play:1.
The cost can be mitigated somewhat by building up your system over time, but once you’ve added one or two smart speakers you might be loath to go back to dumb drivers.
3. Samsung SmartThings
With so many different companies making connected-home devices you can end up using about 16 different apps to control them all – and given that these things are supposed to make your life easier, that’s not ideal.
Thankfully there are ways to harmonise your system, and Samsung SmartThings is one option. You can link many different smart devices to the SmartThings hub, enabling you to control of all of them via a single hub.
While the system works with devices from other manufacturers, Samsung has of course created a range of SmartThings devices too, including sensors. Among other things, these can tell when you’ve entered or left a room, enabling you to automate lights to turn on and off.
4. Drop Kitchen Scale
Looking to make your kitchen fit for 2016? You’re probably thinking about smart fridges and connected coffee makers, but the Drop Kitchen Scale is just as worthy of your attention.
It’s much more than just a scale – which is a good thing given the price tag. The Drop Scale also has a beautiful app with a huge recipe book, which connects to the scales and guides you through recipes, even adjusting the ingredient amounts if you find you don’t have enough of something.
It makes baking far less daunting for newbies, and even if you’re an old hand it can save you time and help you get your quantities exactly right.
5. Kohler Moxie Showerhead + Wireless Speaker
We’ve covered the kitchen, the living room and even the garden. But what about the bathroom? This Bluetooth shower head connects to your smartphone or tablet to stream music.
The speaker snaps into the shower head using a magnet, so it’s easy to install and remove for charging. You can also remove the speaker to use it in other rooms.
Smart lights are many people’s first foray into the world of the connected home, and while Philips Hue is the biggest name in this space, LIFX is a worthy rival with some advantages.
For one thing it doesn’t need a bridge, so you can start with just an individual bulb and build the system from there. It can also output brighter light than Hue.
With the ability to light a room up in millions of different colours, an ever-improving app, and compatibility with a range of third-party apps and services, including Nest and SmartThings, LIFX is a strong smart lighting option.
7. Ambient Weather WS-1001-WiFi Observer
If it’s crucial for your work or travel plans that you have precise weather information for a particular area you’re not going to want to rely on a general forecast – and with the Ambient Weather WS-1001-WiFi Observer you don’t have to.
With the ability to track temperature, humidity, wind speed, wind direction, rainfall, UV, solar radiation, barometric pressure, dew point and rainfall rate, there’s not much the WS-1001 can’t tell you.
There’s a built-in screen, or you can pair it with the Weather Underground app and view all its readings there. Cleverly, it also adds your Ambient Weather Observer’s readings to the app’s network of weather stations, so others in the area can get accurate localised weather reports.
8. Piper Classic Smart Home Security Camera
There’s a lot more to home security than alarms and ‘Beware of The Dog’ signs. You can now get a fairly high-tech setup without spending a great deal, and the Piper Classic Camera is a good start.
A 180-degree HD camera gives you access to live video at any time from an app. It can also send you alerts when rooms are entered or doors are opened, offers two-way audio, and can be linked to other home automation products, such as smart lights and alarms.
Keep it somewhere visible and it will act as a deterrent to would-be burglars – and if the worst happens and someone does break in to your home, at least you’ll have high-quality video of them.
9. Nest Learning Thermostat
Building a smart home can be expensive, but in the long run it can save you money. Take the Nest Learning Thermostat for example. Sure, it’s pricey, but it turns the heating down when there’s no-one home, and pushes you towards maintaining energy-saving temperatures.
It’s convenient and it’s largely automated, learning what temperatures you like and programming itself, but if you want to take control yourself a simple app gives you all the management tools you need.
Sonos has your music needs covered, but for video the incredibly affordable Chromecast is one of the best, and certainly best-value, options.
Once it’s plugged into your TV you can cast almost anything from your phone or tablet to it in just a couple of taps, turning a dumb screen into a smart one.
Even if you already have a smart TV Chromecast is worth considering, given that it works with a huge range of content, enables you to cast your phone screen, and works without a remote.
And it’s now better than ever – version two of the device recently launched, with faster streaming and a stylish new design.