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20 gadgets for the ultimate connected home


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OFFLINE   sincity

sincity

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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… this is the complete list of all the smart gadgets we're loving right now.

Around £35.50 / $46 / AU$89.95

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.

£169 / $199 / AU$299+

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.

£99 / $99 / AU$171.99+

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.

£79.99 / $99.95 / AU$149.95

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 growing 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.

£23.45 / $88.61 / AU$298

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.

£39.95 / $39.99 / AU$89.57+

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.

£281.80 / $289.95 / AU$1,012.99

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.

£152.42 / $195.70 / AU$327.49

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.

£249 / $247.99 / AU$275

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.

£30 / $35 / AU$38.30

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.

Powered by Amazon’s assistant, Alexa, Amazon Echo is one of the smartest things you can have in your home right now. Its voice recognition is intuitive, and improves as you use it. You feel like you’re actually talking to Alexa rather than selecting from a list of commands.

It’s easy to set up and connect to other smart tech in your home, and the ever-expanding list of possible synergies includes Amazon Music and Fire TV, naturally, but also Nest, Netatmo, Philips Hue, Sonos, and more.

And if you’ve got your own speaker set-up, then the Echo Dot offers all the voice functions without the audio. Both are incredible devices.

Google’s smart home assistant is rapidly improving, and is a real contender to Alexa’s crown. Provided you use the voice command it can understand it will change the temperature of your thermostat, switch on your lamp connected to a smart plug, or call up a clip from your favourite show on Chromecast.

Google Home looks good too, with a customisable colour base, and although its speakers aren’t the best quality they’ll tap into an unparalleled music library. With a growing ecosystem of hardware connections that includes Nest thermostats, Philips Hue lightbulbs and Samsung’s SmartThings platform, it’s a good bet for the centre of your smart home.

A smart, sturdy smoke and carbon dioxide alarm that sends alerts directly to your phone. It removes the annoyances of most smoke alarms: it will automatically test its batteries regularly and alert you when they need replacing, and if you accidentally set it off while cooking you can stop an alarm from your phone or a simple wave of the hand (no more cushion wafting).

At night it will light up if you walk underneath it on the way to the kitchen, which is handy. It also syncs with Nest Cam to send video of any hazards to your phone and Nest’s thermostat to turn off the heating if Carbon Monoxide is detected. It’s a bit of kit that gives you peace of mind.

BeOn’s smart bulbs will light up a room well but their standout features focus on keeping your home secure. They’ll learn your normal lighting pattern and play it back when you leave the house to put off would-be burglars. 

The bulbs  switch on when a burglar alarm sounds or the doorbell rings. And, thanks to integrated backup batteries, they’ll stay shining even if the power is cut.

You control them through your phone via Bluetooth, and although they currently lack proper integration with other home tech they’re a good bet if you want to keep your home safe.

Smart cameras for inside your home are fine, but what about tech that prevents break-ins? August is the pick of the bunch for smart locks – it’s a study lock that attaches to your existing deadbolt, which means it works in most setups. Plus, it looks good on your front door.

Using low-energy Bluetooth it will automatically detect when you’re nearby and open up, and you can set it to let your friends in as well. It pairs with Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple HomeKit and Nest, but if you want remote unlocking (for a plumber, for example) you’ll need to buy a separate WiFi hub.

If you’re looking for a smart vacuum you’ve got good options on the market at the moment, such as Dyson’s 360 Eye or Neato’s Botvac Connected – we prefer the Neato because it’s slightly cheaper and can hook up with Alexa and Google Assistant. 

It’s Wi-Fi enabled, so you can control it from your phone wherever you are – just tell it when and where to clean and let it suck up the dust.

It’ll map out its route for you so you can see exactly where it’s cleaned, and because of its low profile it can reach tight spaces. It’s quite noisy and it’s not the best looking, but if you can look past that then your smart home will get a thorough hands-free spring clean. 

Sous vide cooking just got even more fancy. The Anova Prevision cooker will cook meat in a water bath, which means you get a constant, precise temperature and tender meat at the end of it. 

You control it all through your phone with Anova’s slick app or via your Amazon Echo or Google Home.

With the W-iFi version (you can buy a Bluetooth-only version too) you can start cooks from wherever you are, and you’ll be able to check the status of your meat and receive a notification when it’s done so you can run back home for dinner. 

The only caveat is that you need to vacuum pack the food in a plastic bag first – but that’s easy enough to do.

A great-looking bathroom scale that measures your weight, BMI and body fat percentage and then uploads it all to the cloud via Wi-Fi. In the FitBit app you can track your weight, set goals, and record your diet – especially useful if you’re trying to slim down.

It works best for those already plugged into the Fitbit ecosystem (the Charge 2’s step and heart-rate measurements will work nicely alongside it, for example), but even if this is your first Fitbit product you’ll get a lot out of it. It costs a fair amount but it’s worth it if you’re up for using the full range of functions to get fitter.

Smart plugs can really bring your home into the future – they mean that you can switch on appliances like lamps, slow cookers, or mains heaters just by talking to Alexa or Google Assistant. TP-Link’s Wi-Fi Smart Plug is about the best you can get.

Through its app you can turn the plugs off or on remotely, schedule their cycles or activate “away mode”, which turns things on periodically to make it look like you’re home.

If you spend a touch more you can get energy monitoring too, so you’ll know just how much electricity you’re using. 

Samsung’s Family Hub has all the bits you’re looking for in a food-storing, cold-making fridge: it’s spacious, stable, and has a small FlexZone compartment that you set at any temperature you want. 

But it offers a lot more, primarily through its generous  21.5-inch touchscreen display, running Tizen OS. 

It’s also packed full of useful apps. If you want to mirror your Samsung TV, you can do that, or simply pull up a whiteboard app for doodling. It can also take photos of the inside of your fridge, which you can view on your phone when you’re out shopping.

You can’t delete any of its apps that you don’t need, and there’s sadly no SmartThings integration yet. But it’s still one of the most interesting smart fridges around right now. 






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