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Technology, in case you hadn't noticed, is all around us. Most of us have a powerful multipurpose device in our pockets at all times, keeping us in touch with what’s happening in the world – and as our day-to-day lives get smarter, so too does the world around us. That means appliances which have traditionally had just one use are becoming more diverse, and more integrated, due to what techies call the Internet of Things (IoT) – a phenomenon that gives traditional objects and devices extra features by connecting them to the internet.
This has moved into living spaces and has led to products which gives us "a truly integrated, always-on home," says Arnotts' AV manager Gareth Whitty-O'Connor. "What was once a space-age race dream is now a living reality," he says. "The smart home, which can turn on your lights, heating and send you a text message that you're almost out of milk as you leave the office... can be easily achieved for a fifth or sixth of the retail price of early systems, and no longer requires a professional installation". And the potential stretches far beyond mere convenience, he adds. "For the average user, a smart home should make their day run smoother and easier, but there will also be energy-saving prospects not previously achieved like turning the heating and lighting off when it senses no people present in the house”.
Of course, with more capabilities comes more confusion – and chances are you might already own a smart item in your home without even realising it. More to the point, if you're the sort of person who has difficulty just choosing a fridge or a pair of headphones, the sheer complexity of these connected networks may be a bit bamboozling.
But, as always, we're here to help. Let’s kick off with something fun like music. Chances are you have a Spotify or Apple Music account and want to get the full experience from each song, but you don’t want to get tangled up in the bother of plugging your phone into a speaker. If so, then a great place to start is with Bose and its Soundlink Mini II Bluetooth speakers (€189.95). Available in two colours - Pearl and Carbon - they’re designed to be brought with you anywhere you go, and the rechargeable battery can keep going for ten hours. With a range of 30ft, you can sync it up to your phone or tablet to stream your music anywhere, and if you get a call, you can take it through the speakers. For those still using a traditional MP3 player, you can still physically connect it through the auxiliary port, giving you the best of both worlds.
If that sounds nice, but you want to go a step or two further, then you can’t go wrong with the Sonos range (starting from €229.95) which manages to combine style with amazing sonic detail. As well as being wireless, it’s easy to set up and the sound quality is fantastic. If you really want the best in class, the Sonos Sub (€799.95) positions two force-cancelling speakers face-to-face to deliver crystal clear sounds.
That sound quality is perfect for banging tunes but what if you wanted to play something a little softer and set the mood for it? That’s where Philips’ motion sensor range comes into play thanks to its Hue Motion sensor (€39.95). With these, the hue motion will automatically turn on your lights when you enter a room, while you can also schedule it so they turn on or off at specific times. The latter is very handy if you tend to forget to turn off the lights before going to bed, only to wake up at 3am unable to return to your slumber. Even better, you can choose what scene or light setting you want to activate when you enter a room – or use it as an alarm, switching on when you need to get up for work. Handy for those who constantly hit the snooze button every morning (ie, everyone).
So now you’re awake and you need something to bring you from groggy to alert – a good cup of coffee is the best place to start, but making one takes time and isn’t fun when you’re still half-asleep. The solution you’re looking for is Nespresso’s own Prodigio Silver Coffee Machine (€199.99). Connecting to your smartphone, you can schedule it to make you a cup of coffee with the touch of a button. It will also keep an eye on your capsule stock levels and alert you to any maintenance issues that may arise. It can brew three coffee sizes – Ristretto, Espresso and Lungo – and a rotating water tank mean you can store it in any space you like. Just 25 seconds, and you've got yourself a barista-quality beverage.
So. You’re energised and you're off on your merry way to work – but naturally, you want to make sure your house is safe and secure while you’re away. That can be arranged thanks to Panasonic which offers a mountable outdoor camera at the highly affordable price of €122.39. Coming with a variety of features including sound, vision, nightvision, and infrared and movement sensors, this camera will be able to pick up anything happening in its view without trouble. Thankfully, it is both dustproof and waterproof - it has an IP55 rating so it can easily withstand heavy downpours - so all you need to do is set it up and livestream the footage directly to your phone or tablet.
Another great way to accompany that camera is to invest in Panasonic’s window and door sensor (€31.49). As the name suggests, it senses when a door or window is opened and can work in tandem with your alarm system. It also works perfectly between temperatures of -10°C and 40°C – on the off-chance we have a really hot summer or cold winter – and you can control them and receive alerts when one is opened.
So your home is safe, but what happens when you realised you left the baby's bottle-warmer on while you’re in work – or endure the age-old panic of "did I unplug my GHD?" The solution to that is to use Panasonic’s Smart Plug (€53.99) which lets you turn on or off a device remotely. The device in question doesn’t even need to have any smart capabilities – if it’s plugged in, then you can schedule it to turn on or off at certain times so you’re wasting less electricity. When you get home and need to make yourself something to eat, you want to make sure you have everything in the one place. The humble fridge is a cornerstone of every kitchen, but you might not realise how much smarter they can be.
We're not talking about slapping a touchscreen on it and calling it a day. Oh no. We mean something like Fisher & Paykel’s ActiveSmart Fridge Freezer (€1,679) which comes equipped with a microprocessor, numerous temperature sensors, multiple fans which can be controlled separately and numerous air ducts. What that means is it can control how it operates based on usage patterns so it only uses the energy needed to keep your food fresher for longer. As well as knowing when to defrost, if you go away on holidays, it will recognise it’s not been used as often and defrost less often, using less energy. It also has a water dispenser providing you with chilled, filtered water as well as an ice maker for your drinks. We hope you'll pardon us when we say... that's pretty cool.