Better Homes and Gardens Editors' Choice 2016 Innovation Awards
Personal and home technology products play an increasingly large role in our daily lives, but which ones are truly worthwhile? We set our sights on the ones that combine style, safety, and smarts, then compared notes with tech expert Shelly Palmer. Here's what made our list.
Everything In This Slideshow
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"Alexa, how high is Mt. Everest?" If you are the type of person who constantly looks stuff up, the Amazon Echo likely has the answer. You can ask it almost anything! This voice-activated, cloud-connected wireless personal assistant responds to voice commands and lets you control all kinds of connected devices. The Echo is compatible with select Belkin WeMo, Philips Hue, SmartThings, and Wink connected devices to control lights and switches with your voice. It also plays music from Amazon Music, Prime Music, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and more. "You may think this is a parlor trick," says Palmer. "But once you plug it in, you'll use it all the time."
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Smartphones are getting bigger, and laptops are learning to play Twister -- so where does that leave tablets? Right here: The Galaxy Tab S2, Samsung's flagship tablet. It's not only a beautiful and powerful Android tablet, but also the thinnest on the market. The display is fantastic, and the faster processor is a big help. If you're an "Android person" and a "tablet person," this is the tablet you've been waiting for.
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If you're looking for a sturdy, stylish Android smartphone with an outstanding camera, excellent day-to-day performance, and preinstalled software that you can really use, the Samsung Galaxy S6 is for you. It has a fingerprint sensor for added security and a screen that will take your breath away. The S6 Edge has unique curved edges that are stylish and useful. If you think it looks a little like an iPhone, you're right -- but the S6 is Android through and through.
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Canon's 5D Mk III changed the way Hollywood shoots video. Now you can get most of its legendary features in an affordable package: The T5 1200D is a great DSLR at an amazing price. The 18 megapixel camera has enough resolution to make poster-size prints and shoots full HD video so home movies will look like they were shot in Hollywood. The T5 kits come with an 18-55mm lens. Consider purchasing a 75-300mm as well for extraordinary telephoto pics. Are you ready for your closeup?
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What's going on in your house when you're not there? Nest Cam is a great way to find out. This 1080p video camera has a magnetic base, clear night vision, and a great app. You choose the activity zones to concentrate on, and with a subscription, you can see video from 10 to 30 days past. Setup is a breeze. Plug it in, take a picture of the QR code with the free iOS or Android app, and you're ready to spy on your living room, stake out your home office in the dark of night, or simply monitor the baby's room.
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You have a smartphone, you have a PC, you probably even have a tablet somewhere and you're thinking, Why do I need a dedicated eReader? Once you pick up a Kindle, you'll know. It weighs almost nothing, is more rugged than a smartphone or tablet, holds thousands of books, and the battery lasts for weeks. Kindle's best feature? The display reads like real paper and can be seen in absolutely every lighting condition without glare. Most important, it won't impact your ability to get to sleep.
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Single-serve coffee and tea just got easier. GE's Café French door refrigerators have a Keurig built right into the door. That means filtered water, increased counter space, and no more reservoir refilling. What could be smarter? This: You can preset the brew time from a smartphone app so the water is hot and ready. No more waiting for the blue blinking light.
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Waiting for water to boil can be painfully slow, unless you have a high-heat burner. And those typically come only on big cooktops. Until now! Bosch is the first to put 11,500 BTUs of cooking power in a 24-inch cooktop. Now even tiny kitchens can claim pro status.
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Pro-grade ranges are best known for their 36- and 48-inch widths, but sometimes a 30-inch range offers the best fit. Now you can get that size and feel like you're "cooking large." Thermador has packed professional cooking power and capacity into the dual-fuel Pro Harmony, the first of its size to incorporate a fifth burner. Bonus? It requires zero clearance so you can tile that backsplash right up behind the range.
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Waterproof Point & Shoot Camera
The Olympus TG-4 is the world's first truly rugged, waterproof compact camera featuring RAW file format capability (the file format that gives you all of the megapixels you're paying for). This camera can go where smartphones can't -- camping in the rain, swimming at the beach, boating, even snorkeling (to 50 feet deep). You can capture night scenes, cityscapes, and even long exposure star trail shots all in-camera and all in real-time. "Dedicated hardware is always best," says Palmer, "and the TG-4 is an industry first. It's a point and shoot with pro features, and it's practically indestructible."
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Bose has done it again with the remarkable SoundLink Mini Bluetooth Speaker II. The bass response is awesome for a speaker that's only 2 by 7.1 by 2.3 inches (HWD). The highs are well defined, and the midrange is smooth. All in all, this 1.5-pound Bluetooth speaker makes a great smartphone or tablet companion. You'll even like it for small gatherings around a table. And, as with all Bose products, you're guaranteed to love the sound or you can bring it back.
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The Hero4 Session is the smallest, lightest waterproof camera in the GoPro line. Its sleek, versatile design weighs just 2.6 ounces and operates by a single button, making it incomparably mountable and wearable in any condition -- from snow to surf. Tech cred? It shoots 8 MP stills or full 1080p60 HD video. Best of all, you can access every shooting mode from its free smartphone app or a GoPro Smart Remote.
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The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is a tablet designed to replace your laptop -- and even your desktop -- computer. It’s thin (and lighter than the Surface Pro 3), has the same proportions as a sheet of paper, and converts from tablet-mode to laptop-mode in a literal snap! The screen is high contrast and low glare so pictures look amazing. The Surface Pro 4 will run the full office suite, which makes it the most productive “real world” compatible working environment you can find on tablet.
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The Garmin Vivoactive is a dedicated GPS-equipped sports watch that you'll love! It is thin, has good battery life, and features an always-on color display that you can actually see when outdoors. It will connect to your smartphone for notifications and activity tracking. Whether you're a runner or just counting steps, with its built-in GPS and compatibility with a host of fitness tracking and training apps, the Vivoactive is a performance watch that will actually help you improve your performance. Because it is truly waterproof, you can wear it in the shower and swim with it, too.
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If you want a full-featured activity tracker that can communicate with your smartphone, monitor your sleep, and give you up-to-the-minute stats about your day, the Fitbit Charge is for you. We love the design, the features, and the functionality: All-day tracking of activity and progress; time and data in OLED display; a vibrating alarm to wake gently; caller ID and wireless syncing; plus long battery life -- all in one wristband. While the Charge doesn't break new ground, it's priced right and is a best-in-class option for anyone who wants to live a healthier lifestyle.
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A better camera, a better processor, a more powerful touchscreen, and an improved fingerprint sensor -- the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus are not only better than their predecessors, they're the best iPhones Apple has ever made. They come in your choice of gold, silver, or space gray. Apple recently introduced the iPhone Upgrade Plan that lets you pay for your iPhone in monthly installments, and guarantees you a new iPhone every year.
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"If you're looking for a great flat-screen TV (as opposed to one of those curved screens), the 55-inch Samsung JS8500 is our favorite. You get amazing colors and stunning contrast for a true-to-life picture plus a Smart Hub to access any type of content. It has all the features you need in a Smart TV without the tricks you don't -- all for a reasonable price.
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The Withings Aura Total Sleep System is a revolution in sleep monitoring and wellness. It helps you set up and monitor the perfect environment for the perfect night's sleep. The free app helps you learn about your sleep habits and fine-tune your room and your schedule for the best, most healthful night's rest.
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There's a speaker in my lightbulb! That's not something you hear every day. The Sengled Pulse is a combination LED lightbulb and Bluetooth speaker in one. Each kit comes with two bulbs (a master and a satellite) and a free app to control the light and sound. They use Bluetooth so your audio source needs to be close by and the bulbs need to be in Bluetooth range as well. That said, you get 600 lumens of brightness and a 1.75-inch JBL loudspeaker driven by a 13-watt amplifier in each bulb.
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A smart TV for $35? Really? Yep! Plug Chromecast 2 into the HDMI port of an HDTV, connect to WIFI, then stream anything you access via your smartphone, tablet, or laptop. Streaming free content, as well as apps like Netflix, YouTube, Google Play, and Pandora, means you have access to 200,000 movies and TV shows plus 30 million songs (and counting). It's completely portable, so you can plug it into a hotel TV when traveling or take it to a friend's house for a movie or gaming night.