It’s that time of year again. The pandemic hasn’t prevented Santa’s helpers from sending your intrepid technology analyst a wide assortment of intriguing “smart” home products and accessories for all your holiday shopping needs. Many of these devices are particularly useful in the new world of working remotely where we all find ourselves. This column will be the first of several blogs on smart home gift ideas for the holiday season—some geared towards productivity, and others that are just plain fun. I hope you find this column (and future ones) useful in your search for the perfect gift.
Gifts for your smart office or smart home
One “smart” accessory I’ve been blown away with since receiving it about a month ago is Linedock (MSRP starting at $419), a Swiss Army-style gadget that functions as a portable power bank, docking station and external hard drive for your MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. With a sleek, laptop-shaped form factor, the device is available in different colors (Space Grey, Matte Black, and Silver) and storage sizes (256GB, 512GB, and 1TB). The Linedock is also very convenient—it provides more than 8 hours of battery life when fully charged, a 100W pass-through charging mechanism and additional SSD storage (in the increments described above). Owners of the new MacBook Pro or Air containing the new Apple Silicon (M1) models may be concerned about being limited to 2 USB-C ports, but they will rejoice when they see the device’s nine incremental connections: 3 USB 3.0, an SD Card Reader, HDMI, Mini DisplayPort and 2 USB-C interfaces. Linedock also supports an extra 4K monitor, which will thrill work-at-home users. Sturdily built and Apple-esque in design, it will quickly become indispensable in your home office.
Are you looking for inexpensive smart home accessories to control your ceiling fans and provide smart light dimming capability? Smart home accessory device makers Treatlife and Braumm are two companies you need to take a hard look at. Treatlife offers a wide assortment of smart ceiling fan controls, smart dimmers, and smart LED lights that are incredibly easy to set up and configure to your Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant device.
Most importantly, they’re inexpensive, with prices that range from $60 to $80. Braumm, on the other hand, makes a handy Smart Plug that essentially makes your outlet smarter by adding hand-free voice control, scheduling, and app control to any existing AC device like a coffee maker, floor lamp, and desk fan. Available on Amazon at $25.99 for a two-pack, it’s a great, inexpensive gift to gracefully transition someone into a smart home lifestyle.
As I’ve written about in previous columns, the ultra-wide curved monitor has come down dramatically in price over the past couple of years, and it’s become an irreplaceable part of my work-from-home setup. These monitors are convenient for video editing, content development, and other color-dependent applications. On a personal level, I love that these wide-aspect displays allow me to have numerous Windows or Mac applications open at the same time without a cluttered desktop. ViewSonic’s VP3881 monitor is an immersive 38” curved, ultra-wide WQHD+ display. Its wide dynamic range of accurate, vibrant colors (a hallmark of ViewSonic engineering) particularly stood out to me. Priced at $1,000, it’s not cheap, but it pays for itself if you desire that much screen real estate—the only other option would be purchasing a second monitor. It has a generous assortment of interface ports (including USB-C) for multi-PC or Macbook connectivity, a stylish frameless design, and even a deceivingly decent-sounding integrated speaker. It will change the way you do work in your home office.
5G is all the rage now, and has been over the past several years. Very nearly every major smartphone manufacturer (including Samsung and Apple) has introduced a 5G model in the past year. The 5G rollout from the major carriers will still require at least another year before it can provide sufficient 5G coverage to the majority of the contiguous U.S. what’s not getting a lot of attention is 5G’s potential to replace the broadband “pipe” from the local ISP. That’s where a convenient device like Netgear’s new Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot Pro (powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, the same solution found in many leading 5G smartphones) comes in. Part of an exclusive launch with AT&T, this device is the first hotspot in its class to leverage AT&T’s nationwide 5G network and WiFi 6 connectivity support. The Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot Pro is the ideal portable device, capable of sharing your 5G connection with up to 32 devices such as tablets, smartphones, and laptops. The integrated WiFi 6 support is crucial for fast surfing, streaming, and downloading for the entire family. On top of that, other technology goodness such as an integrated battery is included (should you need to take this product on the road) and a touchscreen for easy setup and management of the device. The Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot is available exclusively through AT&T for a $510 retail price of $17 per month for a 30-month installment agreement (which requires eligible wireless service).
These thoughts represent just a small sample of the smart home/smart office products that have reached my desk during the past few months. On tap for my next holiday gift column are chic hearing buds from two different companies that make great alternatives to Apple’s fabled AirPods, as well as a very cool accessory that harkens back to something you might have seen in an old Star Trek episode. Tune in over the next few weeks for a few surprises.