I know the holidays are approaching when my home office and living room begins to look a lot like a showroom at Best Buy. Many companies reach out to me this time of year with new smart tech products for the holiday selling season. With Christmas just around the corner, I plan to write several columns about the tech products I’m recommending to friends, colleagues, and family. Spanning a wide range of price points, I believe all of them would make superb holiday gifts. Without further ado, let’s jump into this week’s recommendations.
June Smart Oven: life-changing potential
While “this product will change your life” is a tired cliché that is frequently overused by marketers, in this case, I have no hesitation using it. I don’t often cook at home—my laughable definition of cooking is heating a slice of pizza in the microwave. I’ve always shied away from it due to the difficulty of preparing food for a single person, and the time it consumes. And did I mention that I’m a lousy cook?
So-called “smart” ovens are all the rage right now. The June Smart Oven is a $499 appliance that is not only a convection oven but also has the functionality of a toaster, air fryer, dehydrator, slow cooker, broiler and warming drawer. You operate the June from an easy-to-use touchscreen on the front of the device or via the June’s iOS or Android app. The real breakthrough with June is it utilizes an embedded high-resolution camera inside of the oven to automatically detectthe type of food you are preparing and cook it to your preferences. Aided by more than 200 “professionally developed” cook programs, the June individually calibrates each cooking session for the best cooking results.
While I was initially dubious about how competently and reliably the June oven could do all of this, my experience with the product over the past 60 days has been nothing short of amazing. My first two tests involved cooking a fresh 6-ounce filet mignon (which I have never done indoors with a conventional oven), a hamburger patty and a stuffed baked potato, which is difficult to cook properly in a microwave oven. In all cases, June correctly identified the food and asked me how well done I desired it (the latter of which is determined by an in-oven thermometer). The June app allowed me to monitor the cooking progress of my food in real-time via its internal camera; most importantly, the June sent alerts to my smartphone when my food was fully cooked. In each of my test cases, every meal was evenly cooked and to my exact preference.
June has a smart, modern design that looks great on a kitchen countertop, and at only 12.75” x 19.6” x 19” (HWD), it doesn’t consume a lot of space. But it also has enough capacity to accommodate enough food for 2 or 4 people at a time (it fits up to a 12” x 16” pan and can even handle a 10-pound turkey or 12” pizza). At $499 for the base model (and $699 for a “Gourmet Package” that includes additional air baskets, pans and roasting rack), it’s very easy to justify when you consider that it’s seven appliances in one. Diehard cooking aficionados may prefer a conventional oven or stove, but for me personally, the June Smart Over has been transformative.
WalkingPad: the smart treadmill for homes with tight spaces
While Peloton jolted the aerobic exercise market to life a few years ago with its interactive stationary bike, it’s an expensive solution—it costs $2,245 and requires a $40 per month subscription to utilize its library of online live streaming and on-demand cycling classes. Also, it’s relatively large, requiring you to dedicate 4’ X 2’ of space in your bedroom or den (not including any pad you might place it on).
If you’re not looking for the type of intensive workout that Peleton provides, the WalkingPad R1 Pro is an interesting, compact and affordable alternative. It’s a small, lightweight treadmill that is portable and ideal for small homes or apartments. Designed by a group of professors and electrical and mechanical engineers, WalkingPad was conceived with the notion that convenience will encourage users to exercise more frequently.
WalkingPad R1 Pro utilizes a surprisingly lightweight aluminum frame. When set up for walking, its footprint is only 56.5” in length and 21.5” wide, and there is no large “step up” to get onto the machine (something that is routine with commercial treadmills). This makes it ideal for elderly users who can get onto it with relative ease. What makes the WalkingPad R1 Pro really special, though, is that it can be easily folded, slid under a bed, or stored upright in a closet to minimize space.
WalkingPad R1 Pro has two modes. In manual mode, you control it with a small remote (that includes a wristband) which allows you to maintain a set pace. In automatic mode, the WalkingPad R1 Pro adjusts the belt speed to your space, permitting you to speed up or slow down for interval training situations. The front portion of the product has a large LED display that shows mode, time, speed and steps. The product includes a convenient smartphone app (iOS and Android) that allows you to monitor your progress and choose from several training options.
The product has some other nice touches. It has a hidden phone/tablet holder in the top handle so you can stay connected and entertained while working out. I was also impressed with the power of the motor, and I did not find the noise level irritating (certainly not higher than what you would experience on a traditional treadmill). Finally, especially given the price point, the WalkingPad R1 Pro seems highly durable and stable due to its aluminum alloy frame construction. The pad itself has an integrated anti-slip finish that nicely absorbs shock.
Since it’s essentially targeted at users who want light or moderate aerobic exercise, the WalkingPad R1 Pro only has a top speed of 3.7 MPH. I suspect, however, that a significant number of normally sedentary consumers will find this product to be appealing due to its convenience, small footprint and affordability. Normally $700, WalkingPad can be purchased for $399 via its Indiegogo campaign and is shipping in December. It’s a great value-conscious gift that might help you motivate that special someone in life to get off the couch.
Moshi: an “under the radar” brand for stylish accessories and electronics
You can’t walk into a mall or a major retailer today without being overwhelmed by the huge number of carrying cases for your smartphone, tablet or laptop. One of the brands that I believe deserves a lot more attention for its style, value and wide availability of solutions is Moshi.
Founded in 2005, Moshi believes that consumers don’t want to sacrifice style for functionality. While its in-house designs are typically aesthetically minimalist, the materials Moshi utilizes are environmentally friendly have a premium look and feel.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the company’s iGlaze ($40), SnapTo Car Mount ($37), IonGlass ($50) and Overture ($50) iPhone smartphone cases. All of their cases feature wireless charging, with a sophisticated look to them. I’m particularly fond of the Overture 2-in-1 case and detachable wallet, which can accommodate two credit cards and features a full-length pocket for receipts and cash. For those who require a simple solution to mount their smartphone in their car, I found Moshi’s SnapTo Car Mount and its companion SnapTo case to be a great one-handed solution. The mount easily attaches to the vent in your car, and utilizes very strong magnets to quickly mount and unmount your phone. Magnetic mounts for smartphones are not new, of course, but I’ve always shied away from them because the magnetic hold was not strong to survive road bumps or quick stops. This is not the case with Moshi’s solution, and I’m thrilled with the ability to mount and remove my iPhone in just a few seconds.
These items represent a small sampling of Moshi’s entire portfolio. The company also sells other accessories like hubs, chargers, portable batteries and even briefcases, to name a few. Overall I like the brand’s combination of value, panache and understated design. You can’t go wrong with a Moshi accessory as a holiday gift.
MX Keys and MX Master 3 proves why Logitech is the undisputed leader in human interface technology
With the MX Keys and MX Master 3, Logitech continues to demonstrate that it has a few things up its sleeve in the venerable key and mouse department. Mice and keyboards may not be the sexiest category in the PC peripherals area, but most users will attest that the right keyboard and mouse have a dramatic overall impact on productivity. Just ask Apple users who have expressed dissatisfaction for years with the infamous “butterfly” keyboards on the 13” and 15” MacBook lineup.
Designed and engineered for creative and engineering professionals, the MX Keys keyboard shows off Logitech’s decades-long chops in the peripheral usability area. The Bluetooth-connected MX Keys is comfortable to use and is packed with an extremely versatile library of extra features, including restrained backlighting and exceedingly long battery life (up to 5 months when backlighting is turned off). At 17” x 5.1”, the MX Keys is a sleek, full-sized keyboard that consumes very little real estate on your desk. It has a gorgeous design that is both elegant and practical. The non-mechanical design of the MX Keys is optimized for typing responsiveness and, most importantly, is virtually silent when you type—a huge benefit if you use your notebook or desktop computer in a bedroom where someone might be sleeping. Proximity sensors turn the backlighting on when your hands approach the keyboard, and it has the marvelous ability to connect up to three devices at the same time and easily switch between them. At $100, the MX Keys (which charges via USB-C) is not the least expensive keyboard, but it’s a terrific value when you consider its superior typing capability, ergonomics and innovative features.
In the same tradition, Logitech’s MX Master 3 mouse is a great (if incrementally improved) follow-up to its previous generation of MX Master “sculpting” mice. I’ve always been a big fan of the MX Master family because the natural feel of their sculped design. The most obvious improvement in the MX Master 3 is that it utilizes a new electromagnetic scroll wheel that facilitates a simulated feeling of precise “ticking” as you scroll line by line. It’s a wonderful innovation that allows for dynamic scrolling—the scroll wheel can automatically increase or decrease its resistance completely based on how quickly you roll the wheel. What’s more, the MX Master 3 includes a new software capability (for more advanced users) that accommodates specific customizations for popular apps like Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Suite, Google Chrome and Apple Safari. Like MX Keys, its $100 price point make the MX Master 3 one of the more expensive mice on the market. Still, I suspect creative professionals will easily see its value and ROI when they consider its potential for productivity improvements.
RoomMe: intelligent “occupancy sensing” home automation
Rounding out this column on the best technology gifts for this holiday season is RoomMe, an intelligent “occupancy sensing” home automation solution. While traditional motion sensors can detect motion, the irony is that they can’t determine what created the motion in the first place. In practical terms, a motion sensor can’t determine when someone is entering or leaving a room, or if anyone is left in the room.
RoomMe, which weighs 14.4 ounces and is 7.6” x 7.4” x 2” in size, could easily be mistaken for a typical smoke detector. In reality, RoomMe is a Personal Location Sensor (PLS) that is fully proficient at identifying person-specific room locations by tracking smartphones. A huge privacy benefit of RoomMe’s approach is that it doesn’t use voice, images or any biometric data and it does not send any data up to the cloud. Coupled with its easy-to-use mobile application (available in iOS or Android), it’s easy to see the impressive smart home and home automation usage models that this technology could enable.
For example, RoomMe can be used to turn lights on or off when a specific individual enters a room, and play a specific style of music. Moreover, RoomMe can provide additional customized occupancy-based automation functions like adjusting the air conditioning or heating specific to individual preferences in any room that is equipped with a RoomMe sensor. Its vacancy detection capability can be used to automatically determine when everyone has left the room, which could generate big energy savings. This feature alone should delight homeowners who manage Airbnb setups on their properties.
RoomMe takes smart home automation to an entirely new level. At $69 per room, it will cost you several hundred dollars to furnish a typical home with 5 or 6 rooms. I think that type of total cost could be justified by the potential energy savings and the sheer convenience factor. Overall, I believe RoomMe represents the future of smart home automation, and I’m confident that enterprising homeowners will come up with scores of unique usage models for this product.
Next week’s column
In the run-up to Christmas, I’ll be providing commentary on more home-related smart home technology products that touch entertainment, personal health, home safety and pet tracking. As I’ve mentioned before in prior columns, it’s hard not to be impressed by the number of truly innovative and practical smart home solutions hitting the market on almost a daily basis. Additionally, in advance of this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in January, I will be opining on what I believe is the “ultimate entertainment and productivity” setup, including the best cord-cutting and video game accessory solutions for a truly immersive experience. Stay tuned.