10 top devices for the modern, connected home
Homewares are a tried-and-true gift avenue, but candelabras and doormats can be pretty dull. That's why we've rounded up some of the coolest home gadgets and gifts to help your friends and family (or yourself) relax and make the most of the holiday season.
Amazon Dash Buttons
Amazon's Dash Buttons are very simple: when you're running low on a household item, just push the button, and a few days later a fresh supply shows up at your door.
How does it work? First, the user pairs it to their Amazon account, and through the app, sets up exactly which product should be ordered when the button is pressed. Each one is branded, and they cover the essentials like washing powder or toilet paper, and less-essential luxuries like Coke or Pop Tarts. And don't worry: to keep multiples presses from sending a truckload of detergent to your door, the button will only register one order at a time.
Dash Buttons are available for under US$5 each, making them a great little stocking stuffer, and that amount is credited back to an Amazon account after the first order, so they pay for themselves.
Memento Smart Frame
The Memento Smart Frame is the first digital picture frame we've been comfortable recommending in years, since it finally feels like what the devices have long promised: a customizable piece of art for the home. And it does so without the low resolution screen and tacky feel of those you might have gifted Grandma back in 2007.
The Memento packs a glorious 4K screen with a reactive backlight that makes it look more like a printed photo and less like a big TV. Around 3,000 pictures can fit on the internal storage, and with an app and a Wi-Fi connection, photos can be swapped, timed and organized into playlists.
The Memento costs $600 for a 25-in (64-cm) frame, and $900 for the 35-in (89-cm) model. That might be a bit steep for some Santas, but it's not a bad deal when you consider it covers pretty much every single photo and artwork in existence.
Jellyfish Cylinder Nano
Lava lamps may have been reduced to the tacky realm of 99-cent store gifts, but watching one is no less calming than it was in the '70s. Luckily, there's a new trend going around that's just as relaxing and eye-catching: live jellyfish tanks.
The Jellyfish Cylinder Nano from Jellyfish Art comes with everything you need to set up the tank, including a three-month supply of food and a filter system that's been specially designed to look after these fragile creatures. Their hypnotic swimming and pulsing will be made even more entrancing by the color-changing LEDs embedded in the bottom, which can be set and cycled through via remote control.
The Jellyfish Cylinder Nano is available for $280.
Philips Hue Lights starter kit
Light bulbs are usually a set-and-forget deal, but systems like Philips Hue are making them more fun to play with. These smart bulbs boast 16 million colors, plus 50,000 shades of white designed to provide the right light for reading, waking up or winding down.
Like most Internet of Things devices, the Philips Hue system is controlled through an app, which allows users to set their lights to a schedule, change color and brightness, and sync the lights to music and movies. If you don't want to get up and the phone's not within reach, the system can also be controlled with voice commands, via Alexa and Siri.
The system is expandable, but the Philips Hue Lights starter kit is a good introduction. For $180 you get three full color bulbs and a bridge, which acts as the conduit between the globes, the internet and other devices on your Wi-Fi network.
Roku streaming devices
While Chromecast is a solid choice, Roku's lineup provides more options to cover every type of content consumer. For those who just want an easy way to watch the latest Game of Thrones week-to-week, the Roku Express is a nice entry-level device that provides HD streaming for under $30, making it cheaper than the Chromecast. Up a notch, the Roku Premiere can stream in 4K at 60 fps for $79, and perched at the top of the range, at $129, is the Roku Ultra, which can output audio to home theater systems and lets users play their own content through a USB port.
Whichever option you choose, all of the Roku dongles provide access to channels like YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Google Play, HBO Now, ESPN and Sky News.
Digital Personal Assistants
Many of the items on this list are designed to be hooked into the Internet of Things, and voice-activated assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home are looking to claim the early ground as the gateway for the various IoT devices strewn around the home.
Amazon Echo is available for $180, while Google Home comes in at $130.
Neato Botvac Connected
When it comes to gifts, nothing beats the gift of free time, which is exactly what a robotic vacuum cleaner can provide. The Neato Botvac Connected is Wi-Fi-enabled and controlled by an app, allowing users to set the robovac's cleaning schedule or drive it remotely to an area that needs attention. Instead of just blindly pinballing its way around the house, Neato's bot scans a room with lasers to plot the best course for a methodical clean in a choice of two modes. In Eco mode, the Botvac will patrol the premises more quietly and for longer, while Turbo mode will boost its ability to pluck hair and debris off the floor. And it's now voice-activated too, through Amazon Alexa.
The Neato Botvac Connected is available for $629.
August Smart Lock
A house full of gadgets is a prime target for a burglar, so why not extend that gadgetry to the lock itself? Rather than using a primitive metal key, the August Smart Lock communicates with a user's smartphone via Bluetooth Low Energy to authorize entry.
Using secure encryption technology, the lock recognizes when a user is nearby and will unlock the door as you walk up to it, removing the need to fumble for the key – although the key will still work, too – and it automatically locks up as you leave. Through a social media-style app, multiple users can be granted access, and temporary or timed permissions can be set for guests or service people.
The August Smart Lock can be retrofitted onto most existing deadbolts, and runs on its own AA batteries, so power outages won't lock everybody out. It's available for $196.
Nest Learning Thermostat
Nest was one of the first smart home devices to strike a chord with the mainstream market, and it's still one of the most useful. The system replaces a current thermostat on the wall and allows a home's heating and cooling system to be controlled remotely, via an app or Alexa voice commands.
Nest senses when people are home or not and will makes adjustments accordingly – over time it even learns and will begin to automatically make temperature adjustments based on the habits of the members of the household. A big, clear screen will light up with the time, temperature or the weather when it spots a user, and it keeps track of the household's energy history, to let you know how much you're saving (or could be saving).
Nest is available for $215.
Beddi smart alarm clock
Gifting someone a device that wakes them up every morning almost seems mean, but we're sure they'll thank you later. The Beddi makes the worst part of the day a little more tolerable by waking you up with a gentle sunrise-simulating light, accompanied by your favorite music, and weather or traffic updates.
Beddi gets those smarts by plugging into your phone, charging it at the same time. Through the app, the alarm can be customized for specific days of the week to play different sounds and music at different volumes. It integrates with Spotify and can stream from Apple Music and Google Music as an alarm or just as a regular old Bluetooth speaker.
The Beddi Smart alarm clock is available for $99.