More Smart Home Products For The Holiday Season

By Mark Vena - November 14, 2018

Many consumers don’t consider themselves to be tech-savvy, and it can be particularly challenging to find a great tech gift for a family member in this rapidly changing product landscape. It is my ongoing mission to shed light on some of the best smart solutions on the market. A few weeks ago, I detailed five smart home solutions worth consideration this holiday season (see here). Today, I continue my coverage with another round of great tech gift ideas.

Ooma Butterfleye stands out from other security cameras The Ooma Butterfleye smart security camera.   MARK N. VENA As I’ve mentioned before, there are dozens of smart security video cameras on the market—most of them not terribly different from each other. While Wi-Fi-based security cameras are growing in popularity, they are vulnerable to the AC power getting cut off (by a storm or other culprit). The Ooma Butterfleye alleviates this issue with an internal battery capable of providing power for roughly 30 days (under normal usage conditions). Additionally, it has integrated storage, which allows users to upload their video files to the cloud once an Internet connection is reestablished. Available in black or white, the Butterfleye’s design is decidedly modern and doesn’t look like a traditional surveillance camera. The camera’s 1080p resolution is augmented with a lens that features a 120-degree field of view. Most importantly, the camera provides 2-way audio and sound detection. It can distinguish between pets and humans, known faces and strangers, and loud noises and subtle sounds. A 16GB model is available at $200 with a 32GB model priced at $250. For consumers with large properties, Ooma provides three-camera packages. Consistent with the vast majority of surveillance cameras on the market that have a cloud component, Ooma requires a cloud subscription to utilize the facial recognition and duplex audio features. This subscription is also required to take advantage of the smartphone’s integrated GPS, which lets Butterfleye know when you’re home or away. Ooma’s Home Secure option gives you 30 days of storage for $10 a month ($120 per year), which is admittedly a bit expensive in my view. I was pleased with the design and usability of the iOS app (which is apparently identical to the Android version). I found the app’s video feed to be extremely sharp and distortion-free. The 120-degree lens gives you a very wide perspective and though you can’t pan the camera, you can zoom in on a specific area of the video by pinching. Like the Lighthouse solution that I am quite fond of, Ooma utilizes “smart alerts” to make determinations on what it believes is happening in its field of vision. In my weekend testing, it successfully determined different faces in my homes (categorizing them as “Familiar” and “Unfamiliar”), and it also alerted me when a pet was detected. The Butterfleye stands out in the market, with its integrated back-up battery and smart alerts. The product looks sharp, provides excellent video quality, and is easy to use. The cloud subscription is a bit on the expensive side, but overall Butterfleye is one of the best “smart” video surveillance cameras on the market. YEELIGHT Lightstrip Plus will brighten up your home Looking for a smart light strip for your home? The YEELIGHT Lightstrip Plus may be just the ticket. LED light strips have recently gained popularity with consumers because they are safe, easy to use, and extremely energy-efficient. Selling at $39.99, the 6.5 foot YEELIGHT Lightstrip Plus is more expensive than a conventional light strip (available for as low as $10 on Amazon). However, the smart functionality that is embedded in the YEELIGHT solution is where the fun really begins. The YEELIGHT LED Lightstrip features integrated voice control and works with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. You can choose any color from its 16 million color palette, turn it on and off, and even adjust brightness. You can also use its Google Android or Apple iOS app to select preset “scenes” (for example, blue to orange or night light to high brightness). The 6.5-foot strip can be extended up to 33 feet via 3 feet extension kits (priced at $9.99 each). I was impressed with the build quality of the light strip. It has adhesive tape on the back, making it very easy to install on furniture, desks, or any smooth surface. It also features IP65 water resistance. Its voice control functionality is incredibly useful for dressing up a room or providing mood lighting. I didn’t find the YEELIGHT smart app difficult to use and I appreciated the ability to adjust brightness, color temperature, flow mode, continuous color change, and timer settings. At $39.99, it’s an affordable and fun solution that will liven up anyone’s holiday decorations. CZUR Aura is not your typical scanner CZUR Aura scanner.  CZUR Scanner functionality has been available to consumers for over 20 years and is often taken for granted in today’s popular multi-function printers. One problem with typical flatbed or document feeder-based scanners, though, is the difficulty they have scanning oversized documents (larger than 11” X 17”) and books. The CZUR Aura (priced at $179) aims to addresses this niche demand. It is an upright scanner, so it takes up less space than a conventional flatbed scanner. You will need space for the large scanning mat when you need to scan, but it can be folded and put away when not in use. The CZUR Aura is mainly made out of high-quality plastic, with a rubber bottom.  It has an industrial, sleek look to it, featuring a single button/dial on its base with LED lights. The Aura looks a bit like a regular desk lamp, and it actually functions as one when not being used for its scanner functionality. Since most consumers will be using this scanner to scan multiple pages from a bound book, it includes a USB foot pedal to accelerate the scanning process. The Azur also features side lights that assist with reducing glare on glossy materials. I found the Aura’s included software suite to be extremely useful, intuitive, and flexible. The application can not only scan flat documents, photos, books, and drawings but 3D objects as well (though you do need to instruct the app what’s being scanned). The software has automatic edge detection, crooked scan correction, and the ability to “flatten” pages from a book (all very helpful features that result in a better scanning experience). The software also has 5 different color modes, an integrated editor for image fine-tuning, and the ability to save files in a consolidated PDF. While the CZUR Aura is not something I would recommend for a typical consumer, it will find a useful spot in law offices, small businesses, schools, government offices, and other places where book and oversized document scanning is a real need. It’s worth checking out. Stay tuned for more great smart home recommendations We still have a few more weeks before the holidays. I’ll be publishing another round of product recommendations, including one of the best affordable smart TVs I’ve had the opportunity to evaluate, and a new, cutting-edge home printer. Stay tuned!  
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