Even More Smart Home Products For The Holiday Season

By Mark Vena - December 7, 2018

With about a month left before Christmas, I’d like to provide another round of great tech products worth consideration when doing your holiday shopping. In my opinion, you can’t go wrong with any of these unique, affordable products.

TCL 6 Series 65” Smart TV (Model 65R617) stands out in a crowded market
TCL 6 Series 65” Smart TV (Model 65R617). TCL
Over the past few years, it’s been hard for me to get excited about a TV. There are simply too many good choices, for reasonable prices. You could walk into a store with a blindfold on and randomly point at a model, and you probably wouldn’t be disappointed with what you selected.  At least that’s how I felt until I spent some time with the 65” TCL 6 Series. With an MSRP of $999, the 6 Series is one of the best affordable 65” LED TVs with 4K resolution (and you certainly will see holiday bargains for the TV on Amazon and other retailers during the Christmas season). The TV’s display boasts 1.07 billion colors, and it features a 178-degree viewing angle—perfect for when the entire family is gathered around the living room television. The 6 Series also has Dolby Vision HDR, which provides outstanding contrast and a more lifelike display. I watched several NFL football games over the last couple weekends, and the benefits of Dolby Vision HDR were evident. I can’t say enough about the overall image quality. It has deep black levels, robust contrast, and accurate color (watching premium content on HBO and Showtime was particularly delightful).  Where the 6 Series really shines, though, is its embedded Roku functionality. This allows it to operate as one of the easiest and most intuitive “smart” TVs on the market. During my testing, the familiar Roku interface was snappy and provided what is likely the best range of apps (including 4K HDR apps) of any smart TV system on the market. Though the 6 Series is affordable, TCL did not skimp on the industrial design. The TV is encased in a modern if unassuming, textured metal frame with a metallic finish. While the 6 Series is certainly not the thinnest model on the market, its angular legs give it a sleek presence when observed from the front. I had the TV set up in less than 15 minutes (from unboxing to plugging in the cable box). The Roku functionality includes voice control, which is integrated in the Roku remote control. It certainly won’t replace an Amazon Alexa, but you can use different search phrases like actor name, movie title, director, etc. to discover new, interesting video content.  The last thing worth mentioning is that the TCL 6 Series includes 802.11ac wireless support for extremely fast streaming. My gut tells me that the TCL 6 Series will be among the most popular smart TVs sold this holiday season. Sure, there are more expensive OLED TVs that you can purchase at double the price or more if you’re looking for the best possible TV image. But for most, the TCL 6 Series is an outstanding choice that the entire family will appreciate for years to come. Kobo Forma is a great alternative to an Amazon Kindle
The Kobo Forma reader. KOBO
It wasn’t too long ago that Amazon popularized the dedicated “reader” category with the original Kindle. There are a significant number of consumers that simply do not require the broad versatility and horsepower of a conventional iOS or Android-based tablet—they only need a device for reading. While Amazon has maintained a very basic (some might even say conventional) product design for its Kindle models over the past seven years, Kobo has pursued a much more aggressive approach.
The Kobo Forma features an 8” display with 300 PPI resolution. From a size standpoint, it’s comparable to your average paperback book, but it provides stunning clarity (even in bright, sunlit environments). This makes it incredibly easy to read for long periods of time. At 7 ounces, it’s also light enough to hold in one hand. Additionally, it features a perforated surface on the back to help you grip it properly. On the edge, it has two large buttons that are used for cycling through pages. In some ways, these are easier to use than the touchscreen on the unit, though the screen is quite speedy and responsive. It can be used in portrait or landscape mode. Unlike the iPad, the display is E-ink based—everything is in black and white, but the image is much clearer than an average book. The Forma is also fully waterproof, which makes it ideal for use by the poolside or while on vacation at the beach. The Kobo user interface is easy to use and navigate. For older users, my suspicion is that the interface will be more intuitive than iOS on an iPad because the Kobo Forma is solely focused on consuming written content. Users shouldn’t be overwhelmed with the “app overload” that afflicts traditional tablets. Battery life is where the Forma shines—the company estimates that you’ll get six weeks of battery life on a fully charged model. For comparison, the new iPad Pro models provide about 10 hours of battery life. If you’re a ravenous reader who is only interested in using an electronic device to consume print media, the $279 Forma may be just the product for you. The outstanding battery life and clarity of the display makes it great for reading for long periods of time. The only minor limitation I should point out is that the Kobo Store is not as expansive as the Amazon Kindle Store. I don’t think this is a deal breaker, though, as I suspect most users will find more than 95% of the books they want in the Kobo Store or other non-Amazon eBook sources. Remo+ DoorCam shines with its setup convenience
The Remo+ DoorCam. MARK VENA
The market is flooded with video security cameras with very little differentiation between them. Ring offers one of the more popular models, but it can be a bit cumbersome to remove the existing doorbell on your home (or office) and perform the wiring needed to install it. While it’s not the most difficult installation for a consumer to perform, it’s challenging enough that you’re probably not going to want to replace it any time soon unless it fails. The Remo+ DoorCam offers a more convenient solution: it is a camera that hangs from the top of the door, detects visitors, and allows you to see who is at your door. It records all video in 720p resolution. You can even use the device to speak to visitors without opening the door. This design approach will be especially appealing to users looking to protect an office inside a building that has a single door entrance without a legacy doorbell. The adjustable metal of the DoorCam solution hangs over doors of any thickness. A compartment located on the “inside” contains three D-cell batteries, the Wi-Fi electronics, and an antenna which seeks to allay the connectivity issues that outdoors Wi-Fi cameras sometimes experience. I experienced no major set up or installation issues with the DoorCam. It includes an Allen wrench for adjusting and sliding the bracket away from the DoorCam unit so it fits tightly on the top of your door. The embedded PIR sensor on the camera detects infrared light from objects in its field of view, records 20-second video clips, and pushes notifications to your smartphone with an audio chime. You can use the app to activate the DoorCam’s speaker and microphone so you can talk to your visitor. I was extremely impressed with the overall capability of the DoorCam. I did not experience significant false alerts and the audio fidelity of conversations was clear. Because the camera is mounted at the top of the door, the video footage does have a bit of a fisheye look to it (exacerbated further if you have a high home or office door), but the video quality was extremely sharp. The DoorCam’s night vision capability makes it useful as an after-hours security camera device, and it sufficiently brightens up video images without outside lightning turned on. Remo+ also offers a conventional Ring-like doorbell called the Remobell, but the $199 MSRP DoorCam stands out as a solution for those who don’t want to deal with the headache of replacing their doorbell. It’s a completely wireless and weatherproof solution (Remo+ claims that the 3 D-cell batteries will last up to 12 months) and it has the added advantage of being easily removed and placed on another door if so desired. I highly recommend it. iHEARtest is an excellent  solution for testing hearing loss at home
iHEARtest home hearing testing kit. MARK VENA
Several months ago, I wrote glowingly of Eargo, a high-quality and affordable over-the-counter hearing aid that is disrupting the $20 billion hearing health market. Eargo is aimed at helping consumers with low to moderate hearing loss. This begs the question, how does a person know if they have a moderate hearing loss problem? Low or moderate hearing loss is often extremely subtle and not easily detectable.  iHEARtest offers a low-cost alternative to visiting an audiologist if you suspect that you might have minor hearing loss. This small home testing device connects to your computer via USB, and using wired earbuds, performs a series of audio tests to determine if you suffer from hearing loss and could benefit from a hearing aid. The solution comes with multiple ear tips for the earbuds to fit snugly in virtually any size of ear. iHEARtest actively monitors for ambient room noise to certify measurement accuracy and it will “pause” iHEARtest when noise level interferes. The earbuds are calibrated for accurate assessment and the test automatically recalibrates itself for continuous precision. The $69 MSRP includes five credits—enough for five users or a few repeated screenings. I found iHEARtest easy to use. After testing, the software generates a very easy to understand “score” for each ear, ranging from a 5 (good hearing ability) to 1 (profound poor hearing ability). Products like this don’t mean that you'll never have to visit an audiologist again, but it is a helpful solution that will help you and your family monitor hearing ability over periods of time, when you suspect that a hearing loss problem might be developing. The product is FDA-cleared and its testing algorithms adhere to World Health Organization guidelines. Final thoughts All these “smart” products are excellent gifts for the entire family.  As we’re just days away from Black Friday and Cyber Monday, many (if not all) of these products may be heavily promoted or discounted—do some online investigating before you buy anything. In fact, if you’re a Chrome browser user, I encourage you to download the Honey extension that automatically detects the best online promos on popular items when you’re shopping in cyberspace. Honey has saved me a bundle over the past few holiday shopping seasons. Happy holidays!
+ posts