During the best of times, many of us feel a need to slow down, calm down and reconnect with our loved ones.
These days, with the coronavirus keeping us confined and isolated, cut off from our usual haunts, activities and loved ones, the need for comfort and calm is greater than ever. Fortunately, the evolving nature of technology means that there is a wealth of gadgets and systems available to help.
Technology for comfort
Rose Edwards, 27, of Port Orchard, loves “creating a cozy atmosphere” with her smart lighting system. She uses LIFX’s color-changing bulbs in her home and says she has no desire to go back to run-of-the-mill lightbulbs.
“My favorite thing about the lights is how much control I now have over my mood lighting,” Edwards says. “And they’ve just been so much fun to use.”
There are a range of smart lightbulbs available that let you adjust brightness and colors remotely. More advanced systems let you create schedules and lighting scenes (think “movie viewing” or “cozy bedroom”).
LIFX bulbs use standard light fittings and connect to your Wi-Fi system, which lets you control them via the LIFX app or voice controls (Edwards uses Apple’s HomeKit, but they also work with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant products).
Another popular choice is the Philips Hue smart lighting system, which boasts a wide range of color-changing and white bulbs. Most bulbs in the Philips system require the Hue Bridge hub to run them, while LIFX bulbs do not require a hub.
Make your Netflix binges and stress-relieving dance parties more enjoyable by adding big sound. Sonos speakers can be combined to create a wireless system that runs throughout your home, controlled by an app or Alexa or Assistant voice commands. And you’re not limited to playing a single piece of music at a time; the Sonos system can play different offerings simultaneously in multiple areas of the house.
If you’re looking for a high-end smart speaker that’s easy to move around, check out the Bose Portable Home Speaker. It weighs less than 2.5 pounds, can be voice controlled, is Bluetooth and Wi-Fi enabled and is water-resistant.
WHITE NOISE MACHINES
It’s hard to deal with daily life if you don’t sleep well at night. Having a soothing sound machine in your bedroom can help calm your brain and ease you into slumber via the sounds of white noise, the whoosh of ocean waves or the patter of rainfall.
Petra Baylon, 45, of Magnolia, has invested in multiple sound machines for her family, which includes her husband and children, ages 3, 7 and 13. “There is now one in everybody’s bedroom,” Baylon says. The machines create a space of quiet, she says, and serve as an “especially good auditory cue,” signaling that it’s time for rest.
The Hatch Rest+ is an all-in-one sound machine, clock, night light and noise monitor that can be controlled with an app or Alexa. If you prefer the traditional white noise of a fan, try the compact and chic Snooz, which contains an enclosed fan that does not blow air. Bluetooth-enabled, it can be controlled by app or a simple tap of a button.
Technology for connection
As the stay-at-home order wears on, there’s a good chance you’re craving human contact, even if it’s of the virtual variety. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of video- and audio-chat options to keep you connected to family and friends.
While Zoom, with its user-friendly interface, has become almost a generic term for videoconferencing software, it’s not the only service out there. Other good video-chat options include Apple’s FaceTime (for Apple users only), Google’s Duo and Skype. Note: Privacy is an issue with many of these systems, as seen with recent incidents of “Zoombombing.” With any online communication service, make sure to adjust your settings and monitor use when kids are online.
Another option is to use the free Discord app to create an online space for audio and text chats. Created for gamers but now being used more widely, the app provides a personal server space you can invite people into. It’s especially nice for people who are uncomfortable on video or who want to post thoughts or videos throughout the day, not just in a live chat session.
Video and audio chatting work best if you have a good headset. Wired headsets tend to provide the best connection, but wireless versions make it easier to move around. Jabra’s Evolve line features well-regarded headsets in both wired and wireless models, including earbuds and noise-canceling headphones, with basic models starting under $100.
When you think of smart home tech, what likely comes to mind are voice assistants, such as Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Assistant. These hands-free helpers can now be found in scores of devices to aid you in performing tasks and finding information.
The things they can do are almost unlimited: You can ask them to play your favorite song, tell you the time, turn off the lights, add broccoli to the shopping list or call your grandchildren.
Both Alexa and Assistant are highly rated and can be found in a wide variety of speakers, display panels and other devices. It’s a particularly good time to invest in a display panel, such as the Amazon Echo Show, which can be used to make video calls, watch media, control other smart devices and surf the internet. Importantly, it includes a camera shutter and simple controls to disconnect the microphone and camera for enhanced privacy.
Technology for safety
With the current need for social distancing, many people are getting more items delivered. And even though we’re home more, there’s a chance that items can be stolen off our doorstep.
Enter the door camera.
“I’ve never liked security cameras,” says Kevin Eng, 43, citing what he calls their “Big Brother” factor. But he eventually installed an Arlo Video Doorbell on his family’s Shoreline home, and now he’s a fan.
“It’s kind of nice peace of mind,” Eng says, noting that the camera is good for seeing when drivers make deliveries — or if someone swipes an item from his porch.
Eng particularly likes the camera’s simplicity. “It’s wireless, so installation is easy — you just stick it to the wall,” he says.
He notes that there’s a lag of about three seconds, so it’s not ideal for, say, talking with someone on your porch while you’re elsewhere. For that, you may want to try the Ring Video Doorbell.
For interior protection, security systems from Vivint (installation required) and SimpliSafe (DIY) are highly regarded. Both feature 24/7 monitoring and can be controlled from your smartphone. Vivint is more expensive, but works better as part of a whole smart home system and offers more bells and whistles, such as smart door locks. SimpliSafe takes the honors for affordability and ease of use.
While we’re all focused on staying well, don’t forget that smart technology can help safeguard our health and well-being. Smart smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors can integrate with a smart home setup, alerting your phone to emergencies, turning on your smart lighting and emitting sirens.
Google’s Nest Protect is a top option, providing voice alerts and allowing you to quiet the alarm via your phone. Also good is First Alert’s Onelink series, which has Alexa built in and offers voice alerts and app notifications.