Whether you want to tech up your home with a smart thermostat, coffee machine security camera or something else entirely, we’ve got the best gadgets for you here
1. Nest 3.0
Our favourite thermostat turns the heat up on its smart home rivals
Before Nest, your heating was controlled by a beige rectangle that cost about £15 and just turned your radiators up or down. That wasn’t the future! Then iPod impresario Tony Fadell arrived and executed his signature special move of adding a nice clicky digital wheel.
Thermostats became smart little internet-connected circles that people would actually notice and say things like “What’s that? Is it a small, expensive clock? A thermostat, really? Huh.”
Like the iPod, Nest’s self-teaching boilerbrain has been widely imitated but, in our opinion, it’s remained the nicest smart thermostat you can buy. The latest model is the same but, like most newer versions of most gadgets, it’s thinner, with a bigger, better screen. It also adds some useful functions.
2. Sage by Heston Blumenthal Barista Express
Time to trade that jar of muddy granulated instant for a real coffee maker
With the look of a shrink-rayed professional espresso machine, the grinning fizzog of shaven-headed culinary chemist Heston Blumenthal on the box and a price tag that puts it out of reach of all but the most well-heeled caffeine fiend, the Barista Express (branded as Breville in the US and Sage in the UK) is clearly aimed at those seeking a major step up in their home-brewed coffee.
It’s a lovely looking, all-metal thing, with even accessories like the tamper and milk jug exuding an air of quiet, understated luxury. The portafilter is reassuringly weighty and solid, locking into the group head with a satisfying twist. There are clever little touches you can’t see or immediately feel that add to the feeling of quality too: on top is a tray that warms your cups, and the 2l water tank has an integrated, changeable filter.
3. Samsung SmartThings
Samsung’s all set to invade your home… in a good way
The smart home revolution is upon us. The giants of the tech world are turning their enormous, fiery eyes towards the peaceful idyll of your home. Armies of sensors are being prepared to occupy your kitchen, your front door and your downstairs loo.
Samsung is the first to throw its mighty hat into the ring, with this ‘smart home in a box’ pack, comprised of a hub, some sensors and a power switch. Unlike old-style home automation, this tech requires no rewiring: only the hub needs plugging in, and then everything just works, controlled by the app.
4. Amazon Echo
Are you ready to hand the keys to your digital life over to Alexa? We find out just how smart Amazon’s smart speaker can be
Amazon’s smart speaker is hooked into the web, so it can do a lot more than simply control your music. Whenever Echo hears you ask for “Alexa” (60th most popular girl’s name in the US, dontcha know) an LED ring on the top flashes blue and it does its best to follow your orders.
That could be anything, from playing music from TuneIn, Amazon Music and Spotify, answering simple questions or reading out Wikipedia pages, to telling awful Dad jokes, setting timers or recording hands-free lists.
Plug it in (there’s no battery), download the Android or iOS phone app and you’ll be up and running in moments. There’s an optional voice training exercise but, to be honest, the speech recognition is at least as good as Apple’s Siri right out of the box. It’s all so quick, too – no faffing with a phone just to look up who won the first Great British Bake Off.
5. Philips Hue
A brand new app makes this the perfect time to take a fresh look at the smartest smart lighting
But no, other than a few Bluetooth bulbs and some half-cocked competitors, Hue remains essentially unrivaled.
Rather than simply sitting there, lazily bathing in the glow of its own smart lighting dominance, Philips has continued to expand and develop the Hue range and its raft of features, and with a wholly new app having just been released, we figured it’s the perfect opportunity to trip the light fantastic afresh.
6. Hive Active Heating 2
This smart thermostat is hot, hot, hot
Still waiting for your smart home of the future to arrive? Us too. The reality of life in 2016 is that we still turn on any lights via a switch on the wall, open our doors with a metal key and wearily draw our curtains each morning with our hands.
But there’s one way in which the internet of things-powered future has already infiltrated our flats, houses, castles and caravans, and that’s in the form of smart heating.
British Gas was one of the first to give it a go with its Remote Heating Control setup in 2011 and its new Hive Active Heating 2 system is its most advanced ever. And while it may not be quite as groundbreaking as some of its rivals, it is effortlessly simple to use.
7. Netatmo Welcome
The best smart home security camera
The Netatmo Welcome does the basics really well: it’s a sleek and compact unit, it has both wired and wireless network connections, and it records video at up to 1080p resolution. Thankfully, Netatmo doesn’t ask you to sign up to a subscription-based storage plan either: the Welcome comes with an 8GB microSD card, but you can store as much footage as you like to a Dropbox account or FTP server. But it’s the bonus features, such as face recognition, alarm detection and Apple Watch support, that really make the Welcome feel more advanced than its security camera rivals.