Articles

Smart Home Gifts for the Non-Techie

Monday, December 23, 2019

It’s hard to believe that today’s young adults cannot remember a time before the internet. Their five-paragraph themes were “researched” with the help of Google (not to mention spell-checked instantly). School supplies were “picked up” on Amazon. By the time they were in high school, “watching TV” meant the NFL on Fox or Arrested Development on Netflix, the over-the-top subscription platform. This is the “internet” they grew up with, and they can’t imagine a world without it.

Now, neither can the rest of us. As we approach holiday gift-giving, we would do well to remember that our youngest family members may clamor for new technology but our oldest need smart home gifts the most. More than one in three Americans is 50 or older, and according to an AARP survey released earlier this year, adoption of home assistants (Amazon “Alexa,” Google Home and others) has grown significantly, to one in seven. 

As broadband internet is no longer a “high-tech” option, not even for the most rural Americans, Windstream is carrying high-speed, reliable Kinetic Internet to every home in its footprint. It’s not for five-paragraph themes or even Netflix — not exclusively. The best smart home gifts enhance our lives, even prolong our independence. It’s not for “techies” anymore.

Best gifts for seniors, pt 1

According to a survey published this year by Voicebot, smart speaker ownership increased by 40% in 2018 alone; today, one in four Americans owns a smart speaker. 

Last year new smart speakers and screens from Google and Facebook joined Amazon and dominated commercial ad buys for the best tech-savvy gifts segment. Here’s the comparative advantages for each of the three, according to CNET:

  • Amazon Echo — best overall and best “starter” smart speaker if for no other reason than $$$ ($50 and up). Want it louder? It acts as a music player and plugs into external speakers.
  • Google Nest Mini — best for personalized assistance, and also at $50, price comparable. The biggest advantage, reviewers said, is Google has the edge in AI. “Assistant” is more deft at handling diverse commands. It’s more flexible if, for instance, you can’t exactly remember your other connected and interfacing devices by name.
  • Apple HomePod — Siri’s first dedicated device has the best sound, and because it’s Apple, you know it’s awesome at handling incoming phone calls. On the other hand, no Spotify or Pandora, and systems interactivity is limited to Apple’s HomeKit. That’s a lot of limitations for a $300 speaker!
  • Facebook Portal — … is not a smart speaker. It’s video calling technology with Facebook’s own voice activation (“Hey, Portal, call …”). That means calling is limited to your Facebook friends. But with built-in Amazon Alexa functionality, it operates indistinguishably from an Echo device, and now you can hook up the AI to your TV. Given its primary value proposition — quick voice and video connectedness — it might prove one of the best gifts for seniors, especially. $150, approximately. 

There’s still more. The Sonos One has great sound and gives you a choice between Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant, while the JBL Link 20 also channels Assistant and is lightweight and portable like other JBL wireless speakers. Either is $200.

Secure the perimeter

Smart speakers aren’t the only street fight Amazon and Google have going. The popular Ring (Amazon) and Google Nest Hello video doorbells are two of the hottest-selling home security installs of the year, and for indoor surveillance there’s Canary products. Get the Canary Pro security camera with a one year premium service included on sale now at Kinetic retail locations.

The good news, according to PC Mag, is that there are worthy competitors beyond these that have driven the price down to roughly $150-$200 — a Canary All-In-One Indoor starts at $47.90 — which makes the category the best smart home gifts on a budget after speakers. 

These cameras are battery powered and as easy to hang as a picture frame. They’re WiFi-enabled and interface with a smartphone or tablet. All of them have night vision.

Triggered by motion and pairable with other cameras, these devices are part of a wider trend toward heightened home security that’s actually being deployed in local crime solving efforts.

Home Hub

Smart speakers’ greatest utility may not be as entertainment devices, aural shoppers or reminder minders. As smart home gifts, now and in the future, they serve as voice-directed home “hubs” you employ as you add devices.

Two standard home systems most intuitive to this next frontier are lighting and temperature control.

Smart lighting not only can be turned on and off remotely or by voice command, but it can also be dimmed or timed, connected to security systems (some) and even geofenced (synced with your location by way of smartphone GPS). Within this category, Phillips Hue is the technology leader, but some upstarts are attracting a following by offering broad functionality at a lower entry price.

At the thermostat, it’s Google’s Nest, though here again competition and choice makes this segment one of the best from which to pick a gift.

A smart thermostat offers all the same control and programming as smart lighting. Imagine intelligent home heating that raises the temperature when you’re within a few miles a home, then drops it for efficiency when you leave in the morning, then raises it again when you’re a few miles from home — whether you get off on time or work late. 

Installation? OK, replacing your old thermostat isn’t exactly like screwing in a lightbulb, but as any short tutorial demonstrates, it’s far less complicated than wiring a ceiling fan.  

Appliances, et al.

The next frontier of smart devices will be appliances. These are some of the best smart home gifts … that you may want to go in on with a sibling.

This autumn Amazon released a 4-in-1 Smart Oven that’s Alexa-enabled and features convection cooking, microwave, air fryer and food warmer. It’s “Certified for Humans.” (Without an attendant food prep assistant, not much labor is saved with a smart oven, though the “Scan-to-cook” app feature may save Alexa the trouble of setting a timer.)

According to data gleaned by PC Mag of a Google Survey of more than 2,000 U.S. consumers, the leading request of new smart technology is that it integrates into existing appliances. Thirty percent of consumers say they want this. The four most popular alternatives?

  • A clothes-folding machine, 17% — Given the substantial outlay of both robotics and software R&D, it may not surprise you to learn a clothes folding machine is price-prohibitive for any house not distinguished by greek letters, but they do exist.
  • Lawn mower, 17% — This technology, on the other hand, is comparatively affordable ($1,000-$2,000), though depending on how much you loathe mowing, you may be steered away from the investment by Consumer Reports.
  • Bed, 15% — It may sound silly, but with the surge in interest around optimal Zzz’s (such as wearable biofeedback monitors), smart beds boast sensors that monitor and pneumatics that adjust firmness, tilt, even temperature.

Surveys show that smartphone adoption over the last few years has seen the greatest growth among new phone plan purchases (first phones) and older Americans. Greater “tech” control of our homes is no longer for digital early-adopters — smart home gifts and additions will increasingly keep our parents or grandparents, maybe even us, in our homes longer.

Diving into internet-enabled intelligent home systems or just sticking with a laptop and streaming services, the draw on bandwidth is an ever-rising tide. You need speed and reliability from your internet connection.

You can do a speed check at Speedtest.Windstream.net. If you or your loved one is getting Kinetic Internet 100 megabits per second (Mbps) or more, then add another smart device to your wishlist, and happy holidays!