Give your home a smart makeover with some clever appliances
Sit back and relax by letting technology work its magic in your home
It’s time to let technology do the home work. Photograph: iStock
Imagine your home appliances could work with you to make your life easier. We’re not talking about in the normal way – washing your clothes, or cooking your food with minimal intervention – we’re talking about added smart features that could make it even easier to run your house.
For example, what if your oven could automatically adjust the temperature according to a specific recipe, your fridge could warn you of your food about to expire or your vacuum cleaner could clean a specific part of the room at your command?
That’s not future technology. That is available today. If you want to make your home a little smarter, we have some suggestions.
The quickest, easiest and cheapest way to make your appliances smarter is to invest in some wifi plugs. These allow you to turn them on and off through an app, thereby controlling the power to any appliance plugged into it, or by setting a schedule for each plug.
They have always come in handy for the Christmas tree lights, so you don’t have to crawl in under the tree to turn off the lights at night, but they are also good for turning off power to TVs and other awkwardly placed appliances.
Lamps are also another option here; you simply leave the lamp turned on and use the smart plug’s app to turn the lights on and off. It can be a security measure, too, if linked to your smart home security system, by switching on lights if someone is detected walking up your driveway. Smart plugs start from about €20 (TP Link Kasa Smart plug, €20).
Perhaps you want to go a little further though. There are plenty of small appliances that have smart technology built into them, that could help make your life a little easier.
For example, the Ember 2 coffee mug (€119, Apple.com) could help keep your coffee hot at home or (when we finally get back there) at work. You set the temperature you prefer your beverage at through the accompanying app – yes, there’s an app for that – and the mug will make sure your tea, coffee or other hot drink stays at that temperature. If you are on the move, it will work for an hour and a half. If you are at your desk, you can use the charging coaster to keep that temperature all day.
If spending almost €120 on a mug seems a little profligate, perhaps a smart kettle might be a better option. I’m not entirely convinced that I need a smart kettle to make my life easier, but some people rave about them. The iKettle (€99, mintplus.ie) can be boiled remotely, linked to Google Assistant or Alexa for voice control, and set to heat to a specific temperature of your choosing. That is handy if, for example, you like to drink green tea, or want water at a set temperature so your coffee isn’t likely to burn your mouth.
Coffee makers have also improved considerably in recent years. Depending on how you feel about pod-based coffee machines, the Krups Expert XN600840 Smart Coffee Machine (€250) could be an option. It uses Nespresso pods and has a hot-water function for herbal tea.
How exactly can a coffee machine be smart? In the Krups Expert case, you can get the machine to make a coffee while you are in the living room, or have a schedule to make sure you have a coffee waiting for you first thing in the morning. You can also reorder capsules from your phone when you are running low, or – more importantly – keep an eye on your machine’s health with descaling alerts and assistance. Think of it like a more high-tech version of the old Teasmaid machines.
There is one caveat to all this: you need to have the machine prepped before you can remotely order your coffee.
If pods aren’t really your thing – a lot of people prefer grinding their own beans – Krups also has a bean-to-cup coffee machine with some connected features, the Evidence Connected EA893D40 (€1,219.99, Currys). Again, there are maintenance elements to this, but you can also customise it for your favourite drinks.
A few years ago at the annual CES exhibition, there were plenty of connected kitchen appliances on display, from ovens to fridges to smaller appliances such as microwaves. Some of them have already gone on sale to the public.
For example, if you want an oven that has a touch screen, you can splash out on the Hoover Vision (€1,500, HarveyNorman.ie). It has a 19 inch touch screen on the front and a single on/off button. Using that touch screen, you can access different cooking modes, with pre-set recipes and even video recipes on offer. There is an integrated high-definition camera in the oven that will ensure you can keep an eye on what is going on without having to open the door.
Whirlpool has made some strides here, too, with a wifi connected oven that will help you cook dishes to perfection (W11I OM1 4MS2 H, €1,000, Powercity.ie). The 6th Sense Live app makes an appearance here, so you can tell the oven what you want to cook and it will adjust the temperature and cooking time accordingly.
How many times have you stood at the bus stop (or in a supermarket) and wondered exactly what was in the fridge? The more organised among us have meal plans and shopping lists, but some of the time we are just winging it.
The cheapest solution is a fridge camera. The Smarter SFC01 FridgeCam (€200, Currys.ie) can be fitted to any fridge and will give you eyes inside your fridge. It’s pitched as a less expensive alternative to a smart fridge. You can see if you have any milk left or if you need to pick up some cheese for lunch. It will also learn the longer you use it, recognising food items and adding them to your fridge inventory, and reminding you when food is about to expire.
If your budget is a little larger, you can shell out for the full smart fridge. Samsung’s Family Hub smart fridge (€3,249, HarveyNorman.ie) has an external screen that functions as a high-tech noticeboard of sorts, as well as a way to look up recipes for the food that is in your fridge and order groceries.
It can also be an entertainment hub, if you have the right smart TV, and play your music.
Cameras inside the fridge keep an eye on what food you already have, and if you have tagged items inside the fridge with expiry dates, you will get reminders of when they will expire.
When it comes to getting the dishes done, anything that helps make it easier is very welcome.
The Hoover D360PX dishwasher, for example, comes with additional smart features enabled through Bluetooth and wifi, such as the ability to turn it on or off through the app. You don’t need a smart dishwasher but you could make that argument for anything that has evolved over the years to make our lives easier, such as TV remote controls or wifi-enabled heating thermostats. But if you could turn your dishwasher on or off remotely, wouldn’t it make your life a little bit easier? Not to mention that you can turn the appliance off if you forget and leave the house with it still running, which is a fire risk.
All hail the robot vacuum. These nifty little machines do the worst job (in my opinion) in the home: making sure that the floor is dust and dirt free, ensuring a crunch-free path in the room every day.
Dyson’s 360 Heurist robot vacuum cleaner (€886, Dyson.ie) is one of the smartest out there. Not only does it map your home and allow you to name each zone or room, you can instruct the cleaner what to do room by room. For example, if you have a thick rug in the living room, you can tell the Heurist not to use the brush bar in that room.
It will also work in the dark, with an LED on top that will kick in should it make its way into a dark place – under the kitchen table, for example – and help guide it around. When the cleaner has done its entire run, it will make its way back to the dock to recharge itself. Should something go wrong, such as it eats a sock left on the floor, or your post, the machine will send an alert through the app asking for help.
The iRobot Roomba is another option. The original robot vacuum cleaner has a range of options, some cheaper than others. The cheapest is the Roomba 606 (€250, Irobot.ie), which will work off a schedule you programme into the machine. An extra €50 will get you the wifi-enabled Roomba 698, which allows you to control the cleaner through an app on your phone. Unlike the Dyson, the Roomba 698 has small brushes that loosen and sweep the dirt into the machine’s path. The only area you may have problems with – apart from stairs, of course – is the corners of the room.
If you shell out almost €1,200 for the S9, you get a cleaner that will not only respond to commands via the app, but will also listen to your voice commands through Google Assistant or Alexa. So you can instruct it to clear under the table, in front of the sofa and so on.
In an ideal world, smart washing machines and tumble dryers would know exactly what was being washed and dried with zero input from us, and just take care of everything. But we aren’t quite there yet.
Washing machines have become increasingly smarter over the years, with sensors to detect the laundry load and adjust water use accordingly, automatic detergent dispensers and so on. But there are some machines with additional features, such as the Samsung QuickDrive WW80M645OPM (€900, DID.ie), which links in with the company’s app so you can tell the machine what type of clothing you are washing, when you want it to start, and keep an eye on use and maintenance.
Whirlpool offers something similar with the Whirlpool FSCR12441 (€999, Did.ie). The washing machine connects to the 6th Sense Live app to control the washing cycle.
How much do you hate ironing? And how much would you pay to never have to pick up an iron again? People generally fall into two categories: those who claim to never iron, and can get away without wrinkled, creased clothes; and those who would like to get away with never ironing, but find their clothes dry in a mass of creases. I fall into the latter. If I bin the iron, I’ll look like I’ve slept in my clothes overnight.
There is something coming down the line though. Effie is not quite there yet but if it ever goes on sale – you can register your interest – you can hang up to 12 items at once inside it, and it will dry and iron them for you. You hang them straight from the washing machine, press a button and leave it to do its work. With an estimated price of £699-£999 (€770-€1,100), you’d have to really hate ironing though (Helloeffie.com).
Foldimate, meanwhile, is an expensive toy for those who can’t deal with having to fold clothes, even if they have perfected the art of crease-free, non-ironed clothing. You clip the clothes in, Foldimate folds them. Two catches: you have to keep clipping, you can’t just throw a basket in and leave it to get on with things; and it is on a pre-order wait list only at the moment.