The Christmas holiday may be over, but the cavalcade of smart home products continues unabated. Here's my round-up of yet another group of innovative products, ranging from a cool "smart" kitchen appliance, new earbuds that won't bust your budget, a standalone science fiction-inspired speech translation device and a new widescreen monitor that might be just what the doctor ordered for you remote home setup. Let's get started.
The "Revolution" arrives in your kitchen
"Smart" cooking products have been invading the kitchen for several years now. I wrote enthusiastically about the June Smart Oven last holiday season, and it's become a staple of my weekly cooking regimen, particularly during the pandemic. If you don't have the countertop real estate or don't need the versatility of a large oven for full-blown meals, the Revolution Cooking R180 2-Slice High-Speed Smart Toaster may be just for you. While it's certainly not inexpensive at $299, it will quickly and evenly toast just about anything you throw at it. Stylish, with chrome accents and a brushed metal design, it has a touchscreen for selecting the perfect toasting level. Instead of utilizing a lever like a traditional toaster, you simply drop the food items in, select what type of food you want to toast (regardless of whether its frozen or fresh), and you're off to the races. The touch screen shows how your food is currently toasting, and when it nears the end of its cycle, it displays a countdown and a pleasant sound when finished. In my experience, it toasted food items incredibly fast (generally less than 2 minutes), even bagels, which are notoriously challenging to toast without burning correctly. It's effortless to clean via a button that ejects a small crumb tray. At $299, it's not an impulse purchase for most consumers. Still, if you have a large family that toasts multiple items daily for breakfast, the Revolution Cooking toaster could be a boon to save time without wasting food items.
A speech translation device that James T. Kirk would love
Fans of the original Star Trek series will recall the ubiquitous Universal Translator, which allowed the Starship Enterprise crew to communicate to aliens in its native language seamlessly. That more or less sums up the CheetahTALK Plus AI Portable Translator. This diminutive 1.4-ounce device fits in the palm of your hand. It provides two-way translation utilizing 42 languages, an AI translation engine from Microsoft's Azure Cognitive Services and OrionStar's speech recognition technology. With a rechargeable battery that lasts 180 days in standby or 24 hours of continuous usage, the $160 device allows you to select the two languages you want dynamically translated on its small LCD touchscreen. When the initial party is about to speak the language displayed on the touchscreen, you merely press the button located below the screen and hold it down while the person talks. When the button is released, the CheetahTALK Plus Translator rapidly translates what was spoken. The translation is played on the device's speaker and displays what precisely was said in both languages on the LCD screen. In my experience (translating Italian), the device performed reasonably well, indeed sufficient enough for use on a business or vacation trip. However, all languages have its nuances, and I experienced the occasional odd translation of a phrase that I knew wasn't intended. Since the device utilizes Wi-Fi for real-time language and firmware updates, I assume that it gets "smarter" over time, reducing the "odd translation" phenomenon I observed. While smartphone apps in the Apple and Google ecosystems perform the same functionality level, this device may be appealing for users who don't wish to use its smartphone to perform this translation capability regularly and desire a dedicated product.
Sennheiser and Creative counter Apple's AirPods Max
Several weeks ago, Apple made a big splash with its announcement of the AirPods Max, its first over-the-ear headphones designed in-house. The reviews have been mostly strong, except for the included Smart Case—one of Apple's rare sillier products, that resembles a bra and provides the bare minimum of protection. However, the $550 MSRP gave sticker shock to many consumers. If you’re looking for a substantially more affordable solution, consider the Creative Outlier Air v2 and Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 earbuds. If you're on a budget, it's tough to beat the $70 Outlier Air—it fits well, offers 34 hours of playtime, sounds excellent due to its graphene-coated driver diaphragm and has easy to use touch controls.
If you're looking for an in-ear solution that comes very close to Apple AirPods Max, check out Sennheiser's MOMENTUM True Wireless 2. At $270, it is less than half the price of the AirPods Max. The MOMENTUM True Wireless 2 share all the virtues of the Outlier Air v2, but with the best noise cancellation that I've experienced with an in-ear solution. And, of course, it features the kind of premium audio quality that you'd expect from a legendary brand like Sennheiser. Like Apple's AirPods 2, both products include a convenient carrying case for storage and charging.
Is it crazy to fall in love with a new wide-screen monitor?
Covid-19 has not only turbo-charged laptop sales to levels not seen in 10 years—it has boosted widescreen monitor sales. This makes sense, considering many remote workers want to use multiple apps at the same time without having to purchase a second display. Dell's recently announced Alienware 38" UltraWide Monitor (AW3821DW) is not only great for gaming with its super-smooth refresh rate of 144Hz, but it is also NVIDIA G-SYNC ULTIMATE certified. This is particularly handy when used with the new GeForce RTX 3080 graphics card. It has quickly become my favorite monitor in my home office setup; I use it with my new Apple M1-based Mac Mini, Dell's latest (and superb) 2-in-1 13.4" XPS laptop and, during non-work times, the new Microsoft XBOX Series X. This curved 38" display creates an incredibly immersive visual experience for both work and entertainment applications, and its integrated ambient light sensor automatically adjusts brightness, depending on the lighting. With cool lighting effects controlled by the user, it will look spectacular in your home without consuming as much desk space as you might think. At $1,530, it's a significant purchase, but considering its premium performance and its ability to replace a couple of monitors on your desk, it’s not so unreasonable.
I want to conclude this blog with some non-product commentary on a no-brainer service that more consumers should take advantage of when purchasing items online. Amazon has been posting record sales month after month due to the unprecedented amounts of online shopping during the pandemic. People turn to Amazon for its sheer convenience, so it makes sense that many people place their orders without going to the effort of price checking. One of the best ways to get great deals on virtually anything (but especially electronics), though, is to take advantage of Honey. This free plug-in scans over 30,000 Web sites and intelligently determines the best deals for the items in your shopping cart, applying the discounts in seconds. Not only will you avoid wasting time searching for coupon codes, you can save significant dollars. Honey reports that the average member saves $126 annually, with an average discount of nearly 18%. Wouldn't you have liked to save a few bucks on your holiday shopping this year? Honey works on all major browsers, including Apple Safari, Google Chrome, Firefox and Microsoft Edge. Install it before you go shopping for my latest smart home recommendations!