Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to spend a fortune on making to create a smart home! There are now loads of great products out there which don’t cost a packet. Here are some that I regularly use and enjoy. By Chris Price
I came to the joys of Amazon’s ‘voice assistant’ Alexa relatively late, only getting the entry level Echo Dot a few months ago. But I must admit it’s great fun and remarkably cheap. After asking all the usual questions ‘which came first the chicken or the egg?’ and ‘how much wood would a wood chuck chuck?’ we now use Alexa mainly for telling us the weather and for playing music.
You can easily hook it up to a hi-fi via the line input or Bluetooth as well as link it to your Spotify or Amazon Prime account. It will even connect automatically to services like Tune In so you can use it to play digital radio stations, such as one of my faves Absolute Radio 80s.
Blink home security camera system £199 (for two camera system)
I’m kind of obsessed with home security so the idea of a small, easy to install camera that enables you to keep an eye on your property from anywhere in the world via an app is my idea of a useful gadget.
Sitting by the pool in Croatia this summer, I was able to see what the weather was doing in London as well as check who was coming to the front door – thankfully only postmen and not burglars!
I’ve got several installed inside the house too, mainly for keeping an eye on the dog when I’m out! Footage is stored in the cloud (for free) and you can choose how long you want to record clips for (30 seconds is usually more than enough). See our full review of the Blink system here.
Developed by British Gas, this intelligent heating system has been around a number of years (I first got it in 2013 so really it was my first smart home product). However, it’s only over the last couple of years we’ve seen some real improvements, especially in terms of design (largely I suspect in order to compete with Google-owned rival Nest).
There are two main control options. Either you can adjust the heating and hot water using the rotary dial on the front of the thermostat or you can use the app to control it remotely via the app – handy if you want to make sure there’s enough hot water for a bath when you come home.
It’s also now possible to control the heating via Alexa although we haven’t use it for this yet. Speaking to your heating system just feels too weird! You can read our review of the latest Hive heating system here.
Like the Blink security camera, Ring enables you to see who is at the front door, via a quite wide angle lens. However, the really clever bit is that you can talk to them too.
As soon as someone presses the front door bell you can talk to them via your app, no matter where you are in the world. It’s great, for example, if you want to talk to a courier and tell them to leave a parcel with a neighbour rather than on your doorstep to get stolen!
You also use Ring as a motion detector and record footage if there’s movement within certain zones. The only downsides are that it’s quite bulky, much bigger than a standard doorbell, and the coloured fascias aren’t the most attractive (I’ve got the satin nickel finish, but there are others including one in bronze).
Also you will have to pay for cloud storage if you want to view video clips. Recently Ring has introduced a new model, called imaginatively enough the Ring Doorbell 2, which features improved 1080p video recording as well as better nightvision. You can read my full review of the Ring Doorbell I here.
OK I admit it. I could probably live without Furbo’s treat tossing gadget, as could the dog most likely. But it’s fun for a while.
Using the app you can press a button which will throw a treat out out of the well designed unit towards the dog at some force. However, the noise this makes does tend to freak Poppy, my Springer Spaniel puppy, out. So instead I tend to use the Furbo mainly just for keeping an eye on here when she’s lying in her cage as the camera is just about the right height.
What’s particularly useful is having two-way audio so I can talk to her if she seems unsettled and is barking. You even get bark alerts sent to your phone, although I do sometimes find these are triggered if people are having an argument in the house or even if someone is singing! You can see our review on YouTube here.
And here’s one that I want to get next… Evapolar evaSMART personal air conditioner £272
I love the idea of your own personal smart air conditioner. This one from Evapolar looks like a small sub-woofer for a hi-fi system. Available in multiple colours (Opaque White, Coal Black and Stormy Grey), the device’s LED lighting means you can change the look to match your home or office’s interior design.
Following on from the evaLIGHT™ EV-1000, this new model also offers connected home functionality including integration with Amazon Alexa. What’s more, with software updates it will soon be able to link to Google Home, Apple Home Kit and Samsung Smarter Things too.
Available to purchase in the UK for €306 (£272) direct from the Evapolar website, it allows you to create your own ‘comfort’ zone up to four square metres in size. I can’t wait to test one out – although maybe I’ll leave it to the summer now when it’s just a tad warmer!