Better Homes and Gardens Editors' Choice 2017 Innovation Awards
Home innovation is like fashion: It's always changing. But with technology, how do you identify a worthwhile trend versus a flash-in-the-pan gadget? We compared our notes with tech guru Shelly Palmer to put together 20 important trends you should follow -- and paired them with a product that combines style and smarts.
Everything In This Slideshow
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Caseta from Lutron is a lighting-centric control system that will work perfectly with your existing lights. There are both physical and app-base controls, which means you can operate your lights even if you left your smartphone in another room. That also means guests won't be left in the dark. Even better, if you've got Siri or Alexa, you can talk to your lights and tell them what you want them to do. "I'm a huge fan of the entire Caseta system," says Shelly Palmer. "If you're looking for a light-control system that absolutely everyone will know how to use, look no further."
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Savant Remote + Host is a media-centric home-control system. If you're looking for a powerful universal remote with features previously only available in professionally installed systems, this is the one. It controls over 380,000 entertainment devices (streaming, speakers, gaming consoles, DVD players, cable, satellite, and more), plus a super simple set of lamp controllers so you can set the mood for watching TV or listening to music. "It has an exceptional built-in screen, and it's really easy to use. Gone are the dozens of tiny buttons we didn't understand," says Better Homes and Gardens Editor-in-Chief Stephen Orr.
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Mobile Storage for Media
Dropbox works the way you do. Get to all your files from anywhere, on any device, and share them with anyone, even if they don't have a Dropbox account. Save files on your computer, then access them on your phone from the road. Everything you keep in Dropbox is synced automatically to all your devices. Send your entire wedding video to family with a simple link. Back up vacation photos automatically from your phone or computer. That way, memories are safe as soon as you make them, and you can retrieve them from any device.
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Countless high-profile hacks show that anytime you transmit information digitally, it's exposed to outside threats. With Virtru, you have total control over everything you share. It works seamlessly with Gmail in Chrome or Firefox and integrates perfectly with most versions of Outlook. Protect your e-mail like a pro.
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Things Talking Back to You
The Amazon Echo Dot does everything the Amazon Echo does plus a bit more. The main difference is the smaller speaker. But -- and this is important -- the Echo Dot has a 3.5-mm audio output jack so you can attach an external speaker to it. This gives the Dot the ability to send its output to any audio system you have (it also can transmit sound wirelessly over Bluetooth). "At half the price of a full-size Echo, the Dot is not only a better buy, it's a more flexible and powerful way to speak to Alexa," Palmer says.
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Augmented, Virtual, and Mixed Reality
Curious about what virtual reality actually looks like? Gaming is a great place to start. The PlayStation VR takes gaming to the next level by putting you in the middle of all the action. It turns amazing games into immersive experiences. Intense? Yes. A mere glimpse at what's yet to come with virtual, augmented, and mixed reality applications? Let's just say you'd better buckle your seat belt.
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Home Security Systems
When it detects motion, the Canary records HD video and sends an alert to your phone. It's a great way to know (and see) when your child comes home. But if there's an intruder, you can sound a siren and call local police. With a 147-degree camera span and night vision, you can always take a peek at what's going on at home, day or night. It also monitors temperature and humidity.
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One membership. Available everywhere. Apple Music features world premieres of songs, original shows, and exclusive releases. Gain access to the songs you already own, plus unlimited access to millions more, as well as recommendations and playlists from music experts. Download songs for offline listening, and store up to 100,000 songs in your iCloud Music Library, available on all your devices. Enjoy Beats 1: Innovative radio and on-demand shows hosted by top DJs and artists, plus curated radio stations for every genre and mood.
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Serious runners need more than just a fitness tracker. With 24/7 wrist-base heart-rate monitoring, GPS, built-in activity tracking, and connected features, Garmin's Forerunner 235 is a device built with athletes in mind. Track your distance, pace, time, heart rate, and more, and view all the data in real time. Download workouts and training plans that work best for you, track your progress with the Garmin Connect network, then compare and share with friends and family. It's everything you need in a convenient watch-size package. Not a serious runner? Try the Forerunner 35 for similar, but simpler, features.
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360-Degree Camera Systems
There are a bunch of new camera, smartphone, viewer ecosystems that you can put together to create amazing virtual-reality and 360-degree stills and videos. You can post them on Facebook 360 or YouTube 360, or watch them with a VR headset. You can assemble your own excellent, affordable, high-quality 360 still and video ecosystem with three great devices from Samsung. First you'll want the Samsung Gear 360 camera, then either a Samsung s7 or s7 Edge smartphone (plus the free app), and finally a Samsung Gear VR headset. "Put it all together and you'll be taking great 360 stills and videos in seconds," Palmer says.
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Great TVs are made even better with amazing content. To truly show off your 4K HDR TV, you'll want the Chromecast Ultra, which streams picture quality up to 4K Ultra HD and HDR. Mirror your phone, tablet, or laptop to your TV, or stream live sporting events, movies, or music. Don't have a 4K TV yet? The Chromecast Ultra will automatically optimize its content for your TV's best resolution.
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While it may be a couple of years in the future, Uber has started testing self-driving cars. So far it's just experimental. But soon (possibly before 2021) you'll be able to request an Uber and have the car drive you to your destination. Will you have to tip the car? Probably not.
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Ordering preplanned meals online isn't new, but getting preplanned fresh ingredients on demand or by subscription is newly relevant, mostly because more and more people are doing it, many through Blue Apron. Maybe we have less time, maybe we want to eat healthier food, maybe we're tired of the same ol', same ol' -- and maybe it's all of the above.
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Television with Even Better Picture Quality
The biggest trend in TVs is 4K HDR (high-dynamic range). Not only do these new ultra high-definition sets -- such as this 55-inch Android TV by Sony -- give you whiter whites and blacker blacks, they also offer 10-bit color, which displays almost infinite color space. To put it another way, the picture quality is amazing, and you can really see the difference.
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You don't have to buy an expensive sports sedan to get state-of-the-art semiautonomous features. The Ford Fusion will practically drive itself in stop-and-go traffic, and it has adaptive cruise control, precollision assist, and pedestrian detection. "If you're wondering how you say all that in English, one word comes to mind: awesome!" Palmer says.
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Higher Bandwidth in the House
If you suffer with weak Wi-Fi or a dead zone in your home, your Wi-Fi may need a boost. The Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 EX7000 Wi-Fi booster will give you maximum coverage in every corner of your home. "So you can stream music out in the yard or movies in the farthest guest room with maximum Wi-Fi performance," Orr says.
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Small (but Mighty) Appliances
The slow cooker has always been a simple, convenient workhorse. And now is the time for an upgrade to features you'll love even more. The All-Clad 5-quart slow cooker has an in-pot browning feature for a deep, caramelized flavor without dirtying a separate pot. It's also handy as a vegetable steamer or rice cooker. And the copper-color pot is so good-looking, you can use it as a serving piece. Available online mid-November and in stores December 26.
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Say good-bye to a dysfunctional fridge and hello to pantry-style organization with Whirlpool's Smart French Door refrigerator. Its Infinity Shelves retract in the center to make room for tall items (wine bottles) while leaving half-shelves around the perimeter (no more lost yogurts) clearly visible. You'll also get grab-a-snack sections, a produce drawer that fits a lettuce tub, and freezer dividers that hold frozen foods upright. An app alerts you to power outages and servicing needs. "Every inch of this refrigerator is designed with convenience in mind," Orr says.
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The LG 24-inch Signature combo TWINWash system reinvents laundry day in several ways. First, it's a washer and dryer in one unit, making it a super space-saver. New washing technology shaves up to 30 minutes off a cycle, and heat-pump technology cuts energy. Additionally, the Sidekick pedestal under the main machine provides a second washer to run smaller loads or delicate items simultaneously. Automatic detergent dosing and smartphone controls let you go about your day less tethered. "Anything that makes laundry go faster and more efficiently is a win," Orr says. Available in the U.S. in early 2017.
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We constantly learn more about the ways sleep (or lack of it) affects health. Here's how to learn more about your zzz's. The it bed by Sleep Number is an adjustable foam-and-air mattress with wireless sensors that relay heart rate, breathing, and movement -- indicators of your sleep quality -- to your smartphone. When the SleepIQ app is paired with an activity tracker and Nest thermostat, it identifies optimal room temperatures as well as times to eat, exercise, and go to bed that result in your best night's sleep. "Sleep is so important. This bed helps us be smarter about how we improve it," Orr says.