20 May 2019

FEATURE: SmartHome 2019

Modern living

We've covered many kinds of smarthome products over the years, and are pretty sure that Test Pit Towers must be one of the smartest homes on the planet. But... things keep changing and new products keep being released. So we've gathered together a whole hoard of smart kit that might be finding its way into your house this year.

Hive Hub 360

We reviewed the Hive Home heating system when it was first released years ago. We loved it, as you'll read, but the older Hive hub needed to be plugged directly into the broadband router (and really didn't do anything else). Hive have sorted that with the Hub 360; a smart device that not only connects all your Hive kit, such as lights and heating, but also acts as a useful thing in its own right.

The Hive Hub 360 can detect strange sounds, such as a dog barking and glass breaking, then sends alerts direct to your phone. It'll also sniff out carbon monoxide, which offers great peace of mind. We tested it with a few of Hive's smart bulbs which have to be some of easiest to set up we've ever reviewed. You can control everything via the Hive app, or link it via Google or Alexa. As a base upon which to build a smarthome infrastructure, the Hive Hub 360 is great.

£99 from www.amazon.co.uk

EZVIZ 1080p WiFI Security Camera

What would a modern smarthome be without a decent security camera? This effort from EZVIZ ticked all our boxes by being of a high picture quality, and coming packed with useful features. The main shooter produces very clear and bright footage at 1080p Full HD while the whole thing can pan and tilt, as controlled by your finger in the partner app.

In terms of security you can set it to record any motion it sees, either all the time or at certain times via the scheduling function. The night vision is good, with a max usable range of ten metres, while EZVIZ offer a great cloud storage service to keep all your recordings safe (but the cam does have a Micro SD card slot for local storage - also very handy). It has two-way audio, and also a fun feature which lets you watch back all your clips in time-lapse setting. We really do love this thing, and as the image can be flipped it can very easily be mounted on the ceiling, keeping it out of the way.

£59.99 from www.amazon.co.uk

iRobot Roomba i7+

It was only a couple of months ago that we were lamenting the fact that robot vacuum cleaners couldn't empty themselves. Clearly iRobot heard us, as they rushed to send us their latest in clever cleaning gadgets. The Roomba i7+ is a robot vacuum cleaner that, like many others, will happily wander around your home, sucking up dirt. BUT... once finished, the plucky little thing will drive back to its charging station...AND EMPTY ITSELF! YEE GADS, MAN!

Seriously. The iRobot Roomba i7+ features a unique base station with a built-in vacuum cleaner of its own. Once connected, you'll hear a few seconds of a mighty woooooosh as all the picked up dirt is sucked out of the robot and into the base. There's a enough space in there for several loads, meaning you don't have to worry about emptying your Roomba after every clean-up. Swish.

However, because of this, the base station is pretty chunky, being rather tall. It's also upped the cost quite dramatically, meaning the i7+ is iRobot's costliest robot. But, just as we wished for, this is a cleaning robot that does not require emptying after every use, which is definitely the direction to go in. If you have the cash, this is the way forward!

£1199 from shop.irobot.co.uk

SimpliSafe Home Security 

Only recently landed upon these Britannic shores is this smart security company from the States. SimpliSafe offers varies packages of security kit for the home, based upon a few excellent bits of tech. We we sent the Starter Kit which includes a camera (two, if you buy now), motion sensor, door contact, entry keypad and SimpliSafe's very cool looking wireless base station.

The biggest selling point of the SimpliSafe system is that the base station can connect to one of the firm's calling centres, which in turn contact the police in the event of a break in. Furthermore, SimpliSafe have doubled down on the durability of the base station by giving it an internal battery in case of power outage.

SimpliSafe isn't cheap, but it is very good. The camera is 1080p with night vision, while the likes of the entry keypad are top quality. The best thing about it, however, is that they've clearly identified the types of homes people tend to have, and sorted their product range accordingly. The Starter kit is great for small flats, while the larger, more expensive 'Bamburgh' set has been designed for bigger houses. Also, buy now and get a discount and free extra cam with most kits.

Starter Kit £238 (at time of pub., plus £12.99 per month for monitoring) from simplisafe.co.uk

mydlink smart plug

Setting up a smarthome needn't be an expensive endeavour. Essentially all you need is one or two useful devices that connect to the internet, to control via your phone. So a great (and affordable) way to start is with some smart plugs, and those offered by D-Link are some of the best.

Compatible with both Alexa and Google Assistant, the smart plugs are quick and simply to set up, and offer a simple on/off functionality once active. Connecting with the likes of Google is great with these, as you can then control them vocally, and the plugs don't require a base station, as with the Hive products. They're awesome, so start right here.

£17.99 from www.amazon.co.uk

Simplehuman 58 litre Voice Control Bin

Yes, now even your trash can is smart! Well, kinda. You see, this chunky beast of a bin from Simplehuman is not only a dual-compartment waste sorter, coated with silver to keep it germ-free, but it will also open via vocal command. Simply utter 'open can' and the can will, as you'd expect, open. Magic!

Which is handy, as it means you never have to touch the bin itself. And should your mouth be full, you can always just wave your hand in front on the lid sensor to make it open silently. We like. The smaller compartment features a pull-out bucket, good for recycling, while the larger section has a liner dispenser inside, meaning you'll always have quick access when you swap it out.

It might not connect to the internet (not sure why you'd want that, anyway) but this is the smartest bin out there and a worthy addition to any smarthome kitchen.

£249.99 from www2.simplehuman.com

Libratone ZIPP 2

And... music. We're big fans of the Google Assistant here at Test Pit Towers, with most of our smart gadgets linked to it. However, Amazon's Prime Music is awesome, so we always have an Alexa-compatible speaker on the go. Previously it was this one, but we're happy to replace that with the Libratone ZIPP 2.

This smart speaker, with Alexa built-in by default, blasts out sound in glorious 360 degrees and features a built-in battery so you can carry it about the house - unlike an Amazon Echo device. It features touch controls on top, can be used as a stand-alone Bluetooth speaker, and produces a very rich and clear sound that defies it's compact size and relative light weight. As the name suggests there is indeed a zip, and you can use it to switch the coloured mesh material should you ever fancy a different look. Nice idea.

We love the sound, think it looks the business, and the portability might save you having to buy another Alexa-compatible speaker for elsewhere in the home. Many wins here.

£279 from www.amazon.co.uk

Bosch GlassVAC

Here's another cleaning gadget ideal for the modern smarthome. The Bosch GlassVAC might not possess internet connectivity, but is the kind of tool you'll discover you can't live without. As the name suggests, this is a handheld vacuum cleaner designed especially for cleaning glass; windows, doors, and tables.

Just like the Karcher and Vorwerk models before it, the GlassVAC is essentially a 'wet vac' on a miniature scale, allowing you to suck up all the soapy suds when washing your windows, resulting in smear-free glass. It comes with a few choices of wiper blades, for different sized windows, and the all-important spray bottle with mop head built in. A great cleaning set at a great price.

Around £70 from www.amazon.co.uk

HiMirror Mini Premium mirror

Yep, it's 2019 so of course you now need a smart mirror. The HiMirror Mini Premium is a make-up mirror with a very crucial difference. With built-in bright lights, camera, and internet connectivity, this will scan your gorgeous face for lines, wrinkles, dark spots and clogged pores. That allows you to actively track your use of skincare products, to see which are actually working for you.

You can take advice from the mirror ("mirror, mirror on the wall...") about what products you should be using, and suggestions are drawn from the likes of Amazon and SkinSAFE. Basically, you can sort everything to do with how beautiful you are right there at your make-up station.

We were also sent the additional gadget HiSkin which works in conjunction with the HiMirror. This external sensor can measure the level of hydration in your skin, as well as your pigmentation. It does what the camera on the mirror can't, and seems like a great addition if your facial health is of great importance. Check them both out.

HiMirror £230 from www.amazon.co.uk
HiSkin £49 from www.amazon.co.uk

Drayton Wiser Smart Heating

We mentioned above the previous review of the Hive heating system, which you've probably heard of. You might not have heard of Drayton, however, and their new Wiser system of smart home gadgets. They kindly supplied us with the Starter Home heating kit and also a Wiser Smart Plug.

First off, this stuff looks slick. The Wiser smart plug is small and compact, and comes compatible with both Google and Alexa. Done deal. The heater system consists of a smart thermostat, two individual and wireless radiator valves, and of course the app. With the smart valves you can actively control the temperature in two separate rooms, as opposed to the heating being simply on or off.

We love this as this is Drayton's base kit - they mean you to start here. As with other heating systems you tend to only get the thermostat (for pretty much the same price), so being able to begin with room control is great. The app is intuitive, the tech looks great, and seriously - that smart plug lacks the annoying 'chunkiness' most other brands produce. Check it all out.

Heating Kit £219 from www.amazon.co.uk
Smart Plug £41.99 from www.amazon.co.uk

Cello 50inch Superfast Smart 4K HDR TV

Telly time! No smarthome would be complete without a f**cking massive TV on which to watch the likes of Netflix, Prime, and YouTube. Smart TVs are pretty much everywhere these days, with most on the market being capable of automatic internet connection. But not many look as good as this beefy effort from Cello (sorry, cello).

Featuring a crystal clear 4K screen, it measures up to a very usable 50 inches in diameter. It runs Android 7 OS, so all your online streaming content can be viewed via downloaded apps, as with your phone. The Cello 50inch Superfast Smart 4K HDR TV is therefore controlled by the 'Air Remote', a traditional looking remote control that is also a wireless 'Wii'-like mouse. With a 9-axis gyroscope, the remote is very sensitive and accurate, giving you an intuitive 'grab and drag' function to navigate screens.

The sound on this thing is also very impressive, despite being only four inches at the thickest point. You get four HDMI ports, a few powered USB ports, and the option to either wall mount of set on the included legs. This beast is a perfect centre-piece to any smart living room, and clearly Cello have completely nailed this to bring it in at such an affordable price.

Around £400 from www.amazon.co.uk

Roku Streaming Stick +

If the above 400 quid sounds a bit too pricey to watch YouTube on a big screen, how about 40 quid? The Roku Streaming Stick + can be plugged into any normal TV with an HDMI port and used to connect to the net to stream all your favourite shows.

We're big fans of Roku here at TTP, having tested everything they've released over the last six years. But the Streaming Stick + represents the apex of their tech, being the fastest and slickest of all the streamers to date. It even features a WiFi extender built into the USB power cable, to better pick up on your wireless network to help increase streaming speeds. Oh, and the remote is both functional and pretty iconic.

£44.99 from www.amazon.co.uk

Tile Mate

What? Something that helps you find your keys on a list of smarthome devices? Why? Well, we've decided to include the new Tile Mate on this list for a very important reason. Should you purchase the above awesome TV and eventually misplace your remote, you'll be stuffed. You'll wish you had clipped a Tile Mate to it when you first bought it.

Over the years we've reviewed pretty much every Bluetooth tracker out there, and discovered they are just as useful in the home as they are out in the wild. Remotes, keypads for security systems, even the kids' tablets - they all benefit from being traceable to save you hours of your life hunting under the sofa for them. What's more, the new Tile Mate has something to make the money-conscious amongst you take note: a replaceable battery. So no more having to buy a whole new Tile every year. Winner.

£19.99 each from www.amazon.co.uk

Neos SmartCam

The above camera from EZVIZ is pretty pricey, we know. So how about a budget security cam that operates in a very un-budget like way? The SmartCam from Neos costs only £25 at time of publication, but comes with features and extras that often out-class those of cameras two or three times the cost.

This tiny cube-like cam can be surface or wall-mounted, streams to your phone in 1080p, can record motion clips at night as well as day, as features 14 day free (yes, free!) cloud storage of those clips. Free cloud storage is pretty unheard of these days, so the fact that you're also getting an Alexa-compatible WiFi camera, in a tiny, good-looking package, for only 25 quid, is unbelievable. And there really isn't a catch. This is the type of product that makes building your first smarthome so very easy, but be sure to click here for more pro tips about assembling your own.

Seriously, this thing is great. The picture quality is fine and very usable, and it's small enough to blend into most domestic backgrounds. And by God, it's only...

£24.99 from www.amazon.co.uk

Master Lock Smart Bluetooth Padlock

Now onto a smart gadget that will help protect your smarthome from the outside, too. This tough and durable outdoor padlock is unique in that it does not require a key or combination code to open. Instead, you simply use your phone, with the Master Lock app installed, and walk right up to it.

Just like key-less entry on modern cars, simply being near to the Master Lock Smart is enough to pop it open with a single press of the button. This means no messing about with combo codes, and no more lost keys. We of course decided to use it to lock up a bike, with an additionally sourced chain. And we loved it.

Being able to simply press a button to open the lock saves so much time, and actually encouraged us to lock up the bike up, especially when popping quickly into a shop. Perfect also for shed doors and outside gates, this clever thing is a great addition to your clever home.

£70 from www.amazon.co.uk

Bonus: Silentnight Alexa-Enabled Electric Blanket

Yes, this is a thing - a smart heated blanket. Well, kinda... You see our friends at Silentnight have realised that by very simply bundling an Alexa-compatible smartplug in with one of their priciest electric blankets... hey presto... smart blanket!

To be fair, this is actually a great combo, giving you far better control of the electric blanket - something you'll want to pre-heat prior to getting into bed. Doing so via a few words to Alexa is great, and could also help older people who tend to prefer using this kind of thing. So it gets a bonus mention, for sheer simplicity.

Around £50 from www.amazon.co.uk

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