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From Smartphones to smart homes

You might be a tech enthusiast, or you might be a sci-fi fan trying to live the fantasy, but a sleek, modern home covered with gadgets can be very satisfying for some.

With smartphones so commonplace, the evolution into smart homes should have been expected. The technology is constantly evolving and soon it will be the norm for a home to be completely automated or remotely controlled from your phone, even when you’re away. Take a look at these household must-haves that will make your home more The Jetsons and less The Flintstones.

Nest Thermostat

The Nest thermostat in is its third generation and already in millions of homes around the world – for good reason. Once you’ve set it up and used it for a few days, the device will learn your habits and program itself to your house_and_home. It can turn itself off when you leave for work, and program itself to turn on when you’re about to get home. And with the added benefit of not having to get up or even be home to use it: using the app you can operate the Nest from your smartphone or other device.

That’s not to say it’s for everyone. Futuristic and cool it may be, but for a £249 price tag some people might prefer to simply open a window or get a hot water bottle. That said, the company themselves claim that with the energy you save, it will pay for itself in no time. The device even gives you a guide for the most efficient settings to save energy, and provides feedback on your energy consumption to recommend how you can save more. This is based on the assumption that you already use a lot of energy in your home, of course, but if you do and are looking to modernise perhaps Nest is for you?

USB Wall Plugs

These have been around for a while to be fair. They might seem like an odd addition to an article about futuristic tech, but it had to go in this list simply because it’s not standard practice to include them everywhere, and they totally should be. I mean it’s just so obvious! It could even mean the end of having to carry around a plug adapter to charge your phone in a foreign country. All the old plug sockets look ridiculous by comparison now.

Smart Lights

Smart lights are a way to have absolute control over the lighting in your house without having to get up. Just set up your lights and hub, download the app and you can have control of up to 50 lights. You also have the option of programming your lights to come on or turn off automatically, so perhaps you want a well-lit house to come home to, need a little extra help waking up in the morning or want to deter would-be burglars while you’re away from home. You can also check if you left any lights on to help you save energy and, depending on your mood, adjust the brightness for a relaxing atmosphere or an energetic one.

The general consensus from customer reviews is that everyone is impressed with the automation and customisation of their house lights, but it is pricey. The potential savings may offset these costs over the years. In the US a company called emberlight has developed a product that will allow any light to become a smart light, potentially saving hundreds of pounds. It’s not available here just yet, so the choice to invest in smart lights is entirely up to you.

‘Things’ Hub

Now this is for the modern smart house – The Samsung SmartThings hub allows you to connect all your smart devices to one app. This includes lights, as above, but also smart locks (you can unlock your door for visitors without getting up), motion sensors in the house, water leaks, cameras, thermostat and even set your kettle/coffee maker to start working on your drink before you get home. It’s fairly compatible with many other smart devices that you can add to the hub, but there are also products specifically designed for the hub. For instance, you can set up cameras and motion sensors to track any unexpected movement in your house. If someone enters your house and sets off the motion sensor, you’ll get a notification on your phone, and then you can turn on the camera to see what’s happening.

Critical response to SmartThings has been very warm, especially if you’re a beginner in the world of smart homes. While it’s not especially cheap (£200) there’s no subscription or wiring. It could be worth your while if you’re planning on having a lot of ‘Things’ (as Samsung call them) around your house, but many functions are not included in the hub, such as watering plants or blinds control. It’s definitely a bit expensive if you’re just using it for a glorified light switch.

What might be more appealing to you for a discount option is Thington, which claimed to be able to control the ‘Things’ in your home with just an app – no hardware necessary. In their announcement blog, co-founder Tom Coates said, “When we look around today at what people are calling ‘The Internet of Things’ we see a world of silos, where things can’t talk to each other, let alone talk to the people who use them.” There are a finite number of devices that you can add to Thington but the current list of supported devices is quite long, and the company assures it is adding more all the time.

Weather Station

A weather station is basically a way for you to skip that whole scene where you open the door, hold your hand out and wait to adjust to the temperature before you go out. It’ll also save some of us a lot of time deciding what to wear in the morning! Exterior modules can measure environmental factors like temperature, humidity, precipitation and air quality.

Meanwhile an indoor module measures your indoor air quality and humidity and well as things like CO2 levels and sound monitoring. A colour coded light signal displays the air quality and when you need to bring down the air pollution levels. Think of it like a technical augmentation to your house that expands your vice-grip-like potence to the weather.

Voice Controlled Home Assistant

Ivee Voice is the first multi-room voice controlled home assistant or anything thinking their home wasn’t Iron Man enough. Essentially it’s a hub in much the same way as SmartThings is, except this one is entirely voice controlled. No need to sift through your smartphone to command your house to do whatever you need; now you can simply say what room temperature you want, how bright you want the room or what music you’d like playing in the house.

That’s not all though, because it’ll keep your schedule and give you reminders, order pizza for you or even keep an eye on any elderly or sick friends/relatives. At time of writing the ivee Voice is only available for pre-order with release apparently imminent. Hopefully by the time you read this it’ll be available for order should you be interested.

Technology for the home is always upgrading, so if you’re looking to remodel into something Picard would be at home at in the Starship Enterprise, be sure to know what’s coming out soon so you never miss an opportunity!