Smarten up your home
The latest in electronic home helps
The Ecobee4 Smart Thermostat.
Is your house lacking something? That certain je-ne-sais-quoi that puts it in a league above the run-of-the-mill homestead? Does your home do its fair share of the work, or does it just sit there all day, doing nothing until you arrive home? Maybe your house needs to get some smarts.
The concept of the smart home has been around for yonks – remember Heath Robinson’s elaborate illustrations of automated home systems that used a maze of pulleys, levers, cranks and cogs to perform simple domestic tasks like getting you out of bed or making your breakfast? Or the automated home in the 1980s’ movie Electric Dreams that turned on its owner when it became jealous of his new girlfriend?
It’s only in recent years, however, that the smart home dream has begun to be a reality, as the internet of things allows you to remotely control your home’s heating system, security, cooker and DVD recorder, all from an app on your smartphone. And with Alexa firmly ensconced in many homes, it’s the wives and girlfriends who are feeling jealous of their partner’s intimate relationship with Amazon’s digital assistant.
Here are some of the best gadgets to give your home a smart edge this autumn.
Google Home smart speaker
Amazon’s Alexa might be the smart home queen, but her domicile dominance is being challenged by Google’s new digital assistant, simply named, er, Google Assistant. You just say, “Okay Google”, and Google Home is ready to help you with whatever you need, whether that’s a number for a local takeaway, the name of that song with the lyric “homegrown alligator”, or what time the latest hurricane is expected to hit.
It can do (almost) everything Alexa can do, although, like Alexa, it can sometimes mis-hear you, so you need to speak clearly to make sure it understands you. Google Home will play your favourite Spotify playlist, or choose tracks from Google Play’s extensive library. It will tell keep track of your schedules and appointments and gives you reminders when you need it.
One thing it does that Alexa can’t do is works with Chromecast, so you can get it to find that fab Baby Shark video and cast it straight to your smart TV. Do-do-do-do-do-dooo!
€149 from store.google.com
Amazon Echo Plus
Still the ruler in the smart speaker stakes, Amazon had upgraded its Echo range, adding new models, beefing up its looks and sound, and bringing down the price. It’s also added an aux-out jack to the Echo Plus so you can connect it to your main sound system – a good idea as sometimes the Echo’s sound can struggle to fill a larger room. Although Google Assistant is doing its level best to draw level with Alexa, she’s holding her own for the moment.
€169.98 from currys.ie
Netgear Arlo Q Home security camera
This little home-security camera has some big capabilities, making it a good choice to monitor your home inside and out. The camera has strong motion detection, makes excellent-quality videos, so you can clearly identify that intruder, and it comes with a week’s free video storage on the cloud. The Arlo Pro outdoor camera, meanwhile, brings you outdoor and indoor security in a single camera. It has a six-month battery life, so you don’t need to keep charging it all the time.
€227.70 from huntoffice.ie
Ecobee4 Smart Thermostat
As the nights draw in, you need a smart way to regulate your home heating, and the Ecobee4 Smart Thermostat may just be the one you need. The follow-up to the Ecobee3 comes with the Alexa smart assistant, so it can do far more than just heat up the house – it can bring you news on all the latest hot topics, shop for the latest cool items, and play the hottest new tunes. Ecobee also makes a smart light switch, the Ecobee Switch+, which does all the Alexa stuff too, as well as keeping your lighting ambience just the way you want it. Anything that saves me having to get out of my warm bed to flick a light switch is welcome in my house.
Price TBC from ubuy.ie
Philips Hue Smart Lightbulbs
With its Hue range of smart bulbs, Philips is definitely having its lightbulb moment. In ye olde days, you used to flick a switch, and a bulb would light up the room, allowing you to get to the other side without tripping over the sofa. The Edison invention served us well for 100 years, but in this age of interconnectedness, having a lightbulb that just goes on and off is not enough anymore.
The Philips Hue is a smart lighting system that allows you to personalise your lighting, adjusting the colour and brightness to set just the right ambience and atmosphere in every room. You want a relaxing vibe in the living room, or a romantic air in the bedroom? The Philips Hue has you covered.
The bulbs are energy-efficient LED, and they’re linked to a hub which connects them to other smart devices. So you could turn your kitchen into a disco by synching the Hue system with your PC playlist. Or create mood lighting for whatever movie you’re watching on your smart TV. Hue works with Alexa and Google Home, along with a few other home systems, so you can say, “Alexa, turn on the eerie Halloween vibe”.
White and Colour Ambiance Starter Kit E27, €199.99 from did.ie
Samsung POWERbot R7070 Robot vacuum cleaner
If only the house could vacuum itself, we often ask, before humping out the Nilfisk and spend the next half hour going around the house in a fog of dust and noise. It doesn’t have to be this way. The house may not be able to vacuum itself, but the Samsung POWERbot R7070 robot vacuum cleaner can do the job while you’re not there, so you can avoid back strain or an asthma attack.
The POWERbot can get into the tightest corners, although it can’t actually go up the wall, so you’ll have to find another way to get those cobwebs on the ceiling. The POWERbot also works with Amazon and Google Home, so now, at last, you can say, “Alexa, hoover the house”.
€630 from ubuy.ie
Husqvarna Automower robot lawnmower
If you’re going to get a robot to hoover the house, you might as well go the whole way and get yourself a smart lawnmower. You’ve seen Husqvarna’s hilarious “Slope” ad for the Automower, featuring a family with a very hilly back garden. The ad’s message is that the Automower can handle a 45-degree incline and still cut the grass neatly and efficiently.
No more endlessly pulling the ignition cord while the mower sputters out black smoke into your face – the Automower 315X can be started up via an app on your phone. The app lets you monitor the mower to make sure it doesn’t miss a single tuft, and it even maps your mower’s progress around the garden.
Just don’t mix up your smart mower with your smart hoover, or you’ll end up with a bald garden and a shag carpet with a crew cut.
From €1,120 from husqvarna.com/ie/
Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide detector
Every homeowner now needs to guard against the twin killers of fire and carbon monoxide, and the Nest Protect will help protect your home – and your life. The Nest Protect has powerful sensors that can detect both fast- and slow-burning fires and can pinpoint which room the fire is located. It can also tell if your house really is on fire or if you’ve just burnt the toast.
The Nest Protect links up to your other smart home devices, so for instance, it can get Philips Hue to switch on all the lights, so you can react quickly to the emergency. Don’t connect it to your Spotify playlist, though – it wouldn’t be a good time to hear Talking Heads’ Burning Down the House.
€129 for single; €349 for three-pack, from nest.com