I work from home, and there are many days when I spend as much as 23 hours without stepping over my property line — with the only outings for the day being dropping my son at school in the morning and an afternoon jog. Given how much time I spend here — and how much extra time I have on my hands since I don’t commute — it only makes sense that I’ve smartened my home.
The other thing is, I’m also a sucker for cool gadgets. And if they save a minute or two by simplifying a process, I’m for it. Why open an app and tap at your phone when you can turn on a Wi-Fi speaker or a smart enabled overhead light with the push of a button, right? And why crawl out from under the sheets on a cold winter morning and shiver your way to the thermostat when you can just use your voice to raise the temperature thanks to an Amazon Alexa–paired unit?
For the record, yes, Amazon’s Echo is arguably the ultimate smart-home control product, but as tens of millions of American households already shout at the Echo’s Alexa every day of their lives, we’re leaving that one as the elephant in the room. Or the omniscient little smart speaker, that is. These are five smart-home products that make controlling your home easier than ever.
The Circle was developed to be a parental control unit that helps adults monitor and manage the way their kids are using devices that connect to the home’s Wi-Fi. Here’s the funny thing, though: I use ours mainly to limit myself. I’ll get to that in a second. The Circle works as a filter between any device connected to the web via your home’s router, and the parent (or other caregiver) with control over the Circle’s settings can manage the access of all other hardware, from smartphones to tablets to computers to gaming consoles. Using the Circle app, you can establish time limits, an access schedule (bedtime and wake-up, for example), age-related content filters, and more, and you can tailor the control and filtration profile by device and/or user.
Now, being an adult in his mid-30s with one infant daughter and a 5-year-old son whose only devices have Wi-Fi access turned off most of the time anyway, why do I love Circle? Because of that work/life balance thing I mentioned earlier. At a certain point in the day, I leave my office, go upstairs, and switch into husband/dad mode. Literally blocking my own access to workflow platforms for an hour or two helps make that transition so much easier. Once the kids are down, most nights it’s time for an hour or two of actual adult conversation or a game or show with my wife. Other nights, I can regrant access and slink back down to work. I am an adult, after all.
For starters, it’s next-level awesome to wake up on a cold morning, call out to your thermostat to warm the place up, then tuck back under the sheets until it’s warm and toasty beyond the bed. But you know what’s even cooler (so to speak) than that? Saving almost a quarter of the cost of heating and cooling your home each year. To be specific, using the Ecobee4 Smart Thermostat saves most people about 23 percent off annual HVAC costs, and Ecobee estimates that, in most cases, that means their thermostat will pay for itself in less than two years of use. Don’t trust Ecobee? Redditors report their smart thermostats saving them $40 to $100 a month on heating and air-conditioning costs, and that doesn’t even factor in the discounts and rebates that some home insurance and energy companies will provide to homes with smart thermostats.
The Ecobee4 doesn’t save you money by using less energy during the heating or cooling of your home; your existing furnace and condensers and air handlers will still operate as per standard when running. What the system does is use multiple sensors and superior customization and control settings to make the most efficient possible use of your home’s HVAC hardware. You can place sensors that detect room occupancy and hot or cold spots around the residence and then run the system as needed based on where you are in your home and which rooms are too warm or cold. You can also control the Ecobee4 Smart Thermostat with your phone from anywhere. Going to be home later than you thought? Change the programmed start of a heat cycle remotely to save energy. Out for a shorter run than usual? Start up the AC on the sooner side to enjoy a nice cool return. And, yes, you can always just use your voice, too, because the system is Alexa-enabled.
As I mentioned, I work in an office in my basement. I used to miss the doorbell all the time, which often meant missing deliveries that needed signatures, which was at times a real problem, given that much of my work is reviewing products and no delivery meant nothing to test out on time. The other issue is that, often, when I did hear the doorbell and went running upstairs, it was only to find a package that had already been left, or to have an impromptu conversation with someone trying to sell me solar panels or convince me to convert to a religion., a.k.a. time not well-spent.
The Ring Video Doorbell 2 installs outside your door and connects not to a ringer box permanently placed somewhere in your home, but rather to your phone or tablet via an app. When someone rings the bell, you get an audio notice, and you can access the built-in video camera to see who’s at the door. You can also talk to said person via two-way intercom (think: “Hey, do you need a signature or can you leave the package there?” or “Hey, are you spreading the word about some religion? Just leave your pamphlet, please, I’m too busy for saving just right now”).
And while I’m not all that concerned about home invasion, I nonetheless love the fact that the Ring can also be set to detect motion an alert you when it does so. Few potential burglars will press ahead with a break-in when the doorbell speaker suddenly says: “Yeah, I totally see you there, buddy.” No need for the bad guys to know you might well be two states away at the time.
Not all of the “smart” devices in my home need to be paired with an app to work. My AUKEY Aura light is the perfect example. This handsome, minimalist light can be controlled in myriad ways, from the brightness level to the light color to the lighting effects (think pulsating, for example) using an included remote control, and it can store as many as 16 customized presets. When it’s the middle of the day, I go for bright white light that matches the crispness of a sunny day. In the mornings and evenings, I use a softer, more yellow hue.
And as a night-light, I opt for a dim orange glow. Controlling and customizing the light is easy, and even when the Aura isn’t illuminated, it still looks great thanks to the unique circular design of this energy-efficient LED lamp. Use it on your desk like I do, on a nightstand, bookshelf, or anywhere else; it will meld with almost any décor scheme.
I’m continually amazed at the technology available these days and often frustrated by the ways in which it must be managed. I don’t want to pull out my iPhone every time I want to turn on a light or listen to some music, frankly. That’s why I love the Nuimo Click from Senic. This compact, elegantly simple little device can be programmed to take on the primary functions of a Philips Hue light bulb or a Sonos speaker, allowing you to turn on, off, or dim your light or control your music’s volume, pause feature, and even pull up a preset favorite playlist with the push of a button, so use of any apps involved.
Setting up the Nuimo Click takes just a few minutes using an app and its paired Hub unit, and once you have the system connected to your lighting and audio hardware, you’ll never need to worry about the Nuimo Click again. (At least until you want to change playlists.) And I mean never again: The control panel will never require charging thanks to a brilliant power-harvesting feature. Every press of a button on the compact panel generates a bit of energy the unit stores for later use.
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