Technology for technology's sake? Not for us. To be of benefit, a technology needs to solve common problems, save energy and money, and help us be efficient with our time. Because many home products are longer-term purchases, an innovation should have value and newness, but also popularity so as to avoid being a flash in the pan. Oh, and it should be well styled, too. The products on our Editors' Choice list meet those criteria while remaining simple to use and easy to incorporate into our daily routines.
Dishwasher features can leave you spinning, but this one won't. Samsung's WaterWall system uses a bar of vertical jets to sweep water back and forth rather than spinning in a circle, meaning dishes in every corner get clean. A Zone Booster also lets you target areas for a higher pressure, higher temperature wash. "Finally, a solution for loads that mix sticky pans and delicate glassware," says Jill Waage, executive editor of the Better Homes and Gardens brand. "Plus, a flexible silicone top tray holds hard-to-fit items like microplanes and spatulas."
This dryer uses heat pump technology to capture and recycle energy, saving up to 50 percent more than conventional electric dryers. "Another drain is the cost of dry cleaning. EcoHybrid's TrueSteam feature reduces wrinkles and odors so you can freshen clothes right at home," says Shelly Palmer, technology and digital media expert. Something on the fritz? Smart Diagnosis lets you troubleshoot the appliance without scheduling a service call. Savings all around.
Taking photos and videos today is all about sharing on social media. The Galaxy Camera 2 makes that simple by combining a point-and-shoot camera with an Android mini tablet. Built-in Wi-Fi makes sharing a snap while its 16.3-megapixel images and a 21x zoom produce quality photos and videos worth sharing (and saving) -- no computer download required.
Home security doesn’t have to be complicated. Pella’s Insynctive platform, which debuts in January, has sensors that assure you windows, doors, and the garage door are closed, the deadbolt is locked, and window shades are down. Forget to lower blinds on a hot day? Insynctive’s Bridge is compatible with several home automation systems, so you can tap an app to lower them and save energy while away. “This is a simple entry into home monitoring. Plus, the sensors are affordable and can be retrofitted to almost any window and door,” Waage says.
If you're sick of your clunky cable box and befuddling remotes, it might be time to try a Smart TV. The Samsung H6350 series offers HD quality picture and the most used features. Its thin profile looks high-end, and a super-simple Smart Hub makes sense of apps and content, so you can easily search the web, stream movies, check social media, watch TV, or play video games. "Overwhelmed by more complicated features and prices? Then don't go there yet; start here," Palmer says.
A new healthy habit can take weeks to adopt. Misfit Shine can help. It monitors daily physical activity, lets you set and check fitness goals, and easily shares results. Plus, it’s disc shape looks cool, not clunky, worn in a watch, pendant, or pin. “Syncing couldn’t be easier,” Palmer says, “and it's waterproof!”
Total wellness involves lots of readings, so getting four at once equals time saved. Compatible with the iPhone and Android devices, this sleek scale provides a daily snapshot into weight, BMI, heart rate, and even ambient air quality. The companion app helps you easily set goals, track progress, and stay motivated. Simply sync to your smartphone via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.
No more digging for keys? Yes, please! The Kevo turns any Bluetooth 4.0-enabled device into a key that senses you’re in the proximity, and unlocks its deadbolt at a touch of your finger. Send temporary or permanent eKeys to guests or neighbors, too. “How reassuring is it to let a kindly neighbor tuck a package inside the door for you?” Waage says.
Check-engine lights can be serious or nothing at all. Learn without a trip to the shop using the Dash app. Hailed as the "Fitbit for Cars," the app helps drivers know what's going on under the hood. Available in the Google Play Store, and requiring an inexpensive OBD port adapter, Dash offers vehicle diagnostics plus real-time feedback on your driving style. "It's also helpful even when nothing's wrong with your vehicle, as it offers fuel efficiency suggestions, trip logs, and directions to local gas stations," Palmer says.
The LG G3 takes reminders to the next level. This 5.5-inch phone is built around a personal assistant feature called Smart Notice that reminds you to return phone calls, points out unused apps to delete, and tracks weather in real-time so you can grab that umbrella.
Sometimes it's the little things and sometimes it’s the big (or bigger) things. Offered in 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch sizes, the latest iPhone features make enthusiasts and converts gleeful: HD retina display, autofocus and slow-motion video upgrades, a super-fast processor to soothe impatience, and improved battery life. What’s not to love? "The 6 Plus may be too big for your hand," Palmer says. "It is a two-handed device for almost everyone, so if you're used to one-handing your iPhone, consider the 6 instead."
The Galaxy Note 4's massive 5.7-inch screen puts it in true "phablet" territory. A great choice for entertainment junkies by its size alone, the Note 4 also has the S Pen, a stylus with higher sensitivity levels that offers an elegant way to take notes, sign documents, or navigate the screen without leaving messy fingerprints. "While the screen is bigger than an iPhone 6 Plus, because of the smaller bezel, you can one-hand a Note 4. It's a fantastic device," Palmer says.
Light quality meets LED energy efficiency with Hue web-enabled lightbulbs. For each bulb, that screws into a regular socket, you can set warm colors for relaxation or cool, clear light for a project. “The ability to adjust each bulb’s light quality and brightness to a task makes every room more livable and every lamp more functional,” Waage says.
In today's world, most people don't stick to a schedule. Neither does the Nest Learning Thermostat. It's smart enough to know when you're away and lower the temperature after you leave. It can also nudge you to make seasonal changes for additional energy savings -- all while offering monitoring and control via your smart device. "It's a great product that is only going to get more interesting as Nest develops," Palmer says.
Like other streaming media devices, Apple TV offers access to streaming networks such as Netflix, Hulu, GameCenter, and YouTube. But if iTunes is your primary way of purchasing and renting video and listening to music, AppleTV is the only box that can stream it. Plus it navigates like iTunes, which is something you’ve already mastered.
The Roku 3 has 1,800 channels plus streaming capability. The possibilities are mind-blowing. But if you want to watch "Sleepless in Seattle," where is it? Type in a title, actor, or director and Roku 3 will let you know where it is available. We also like the remote’s built-in headphone jack, so one person can watch TV without disturbing the rest of the family.
The possibilities of in-home 3-D printing excite us. And Makerbot’s Replicator Mini is starting to put it in the attainable range. “Our consumers are so creative and hands-on. Replacement parts, action figures, home crafts and jewelry -- and even food -- could just be the beginning as this technology becomes even more affordable,” Waage says.
There's a lot going on in the home automation category, with pros and cons to each system. But the Wink stands out as an affordable DIY option for mainstream homeowners with its ability to use the homeowners' proximity to trigger actions, like turning on lights or adjusting the thermostat, instead of relying on a schedule or behavior patterns. Can it be a little buggy right now? Yes, but they have the right idea.