With Valentine's Day now in the rear-view mirror, I want to highlight several smart home tech products that have a special place in my heart (no pun intended) as it address real-world problems to varying degrees. While flowers or candy may be the traditional gift to give around this time of year, you'll get a lot more long-term enjoyment and value out of these solutions.
Gryphon Secure Mesh System: one of the best routers you've never heard of
The Gryphon Secure Mesh System bears no resemblance to any other router on the market that I've encountered. With its large and "twisted" design (unusual to say the least), this router does a marvelous job of integrating superior speed, security and comprehensive parental controls to guard a family's digital data footprint. It looks so cool, it's almost a shame to hide it in a closet or somewhere else out of sight.
The $399 Gryphon Tower Double Pack includes a set of identical white devices, a power adapter and the usual Ethernet cable to connect to your existing router. A single Gryphon Tower router can adequately cover 3,000 square feet; a pair of Gryphon routers should be more than sufficient for a gigantic 6,000 square foot home. The Gryphon Towers utilize 802.11ac with Tri-Band radios that support internet speeds up to 1.3Gbps—more than enough for the typical family or even the work from home user. Gryphon does offer a less expensive, apartment-friendly Guardian model ($99) which is squarish in shape and a bit larger than a hockey puck, but it’s dual-band based and has fewer internal antennas than the Tower version and supports lower Internet speeds (550bps),
I believe Gryphon’s main differentiators are its ease of setup and use and its parental controls. Gryphon exclusively uses an Apple iOS or Google Android app for product setup, thankfully avoiding the complexity and confusion that a connected browser often creates with other competing routers. I was up and running in less than 10 minutes. The Gryphon also utilizes integrated security software to supplement each device's antivirus software. This approach helps block known unsafe sites and attacks, utilizing cloud-based AI that is continually updated in real-time. Gryphon's parental controls are built around unique user profiles customized with a name, phone and age group. Using Gryphon's app, browsing history can be stored and internet-free bedtime hours can be set. Alternatively, parents can lock down the router so that children can only access specific apps needed for homework assignments. With full transparency into what websites their children are visiting, parents can easily allow or deny access to any websites they deem inappropriate.
There are numerous less expensive routers on the market, but few are more effortless to set up and use. The parental controls are well-designed, and the app is very intuitive and easy to use. Gryphon may not be the router brand that comes to mind when you consider upgrading the wireless network connectivity in your home, but you won't be disappointed.
Up your cooking IQ with Chef IQ Smart Cooker
Full disclosure before you read the following—I can't cook to save my life. My idea of cooking is warming up some cold pizza (without burning it) or making a reasonably edible sandwich (without cutting a finger off). With that disclaimer, I was a bit reticent when Chef IQ sent me its Smart Cooker. To evaluate Smart Cooker properly, I did the only logical thing I could think of: I had a friend, who I know is a fabulous cook, put the product through its paces.
Priced at $200 and available in just a single size (a 6-quart model that weighs 10 pounds), this cooker is certainly large enough to feed a family of four (or possibly even more). The cooker's exterior color is solid black, so it won't look unusual among the other appliances in your kitchen cabinet. On the front, there's a 2.83-inch LCD controlled by an underneath dial knob. The buttons surrounding the display utilize capacitive touch capability (like your smartphone), which comes in handy during cleanup.
The first cool feature that is truly easy to like is the Smart Cooker’s integrated scale. Four sensors on the bottom of the device measure weight. My friend commented that she used the scale even when she wasn’t cooking anything with the Smart Cooker itself.
On the front of the Smart Cooker, there are buttons for pressure cook, slow cook, sear/saute and steam. Even more modes are available, like ferment, sanitize and keep warm. The Chef IQ app (available for Apple iOS and Google Android) is used for various recipes, and that's one of the places where the product shines. Our test dish was turkey chile (using an old family recipe), which we chose because it would make use of the saute, pressure cook and natural release functions. The entire process took nearly 2 hours (including food prep), and I felt comfortable that the device wouldn’t undercook or overcook my creation. The result was a fantastic tasting turkey chili—delicious, with the right amount of texture. I was sold.
While I'm not sure that the Chef IQ Smart Cooker is targeted towards someone like myself who rarely cooks from scratch, my friend’s rave reviews of the device have not subsided—in fact, she refuses to give it back. In her view, just the "smart" weighing, calculating and timing capabilities are worth the $200. The easy cleanup of the non-stick pot was icing on the cake. I think that anyone remotely interested in cooking will find this to be a delightful product. For obvious reasons, the amount of home cooking has increased enormously during the pandemic, and this product has the potential to create a lot of amateur Julia Childs.
Sharp brings Alexa to the microwave oven
It was just a matter of time before the classic microwave oven joined the seemingly never-ending list of smart in the modern kitchen. Sharp’s new Stainless Steel Smart Carousel Countertop Microsoft Oven (SMC1449FS) is not only affordable at $170, but also a delight to use. I believe it is perfect for dorm rooms, office break areas and, of course, the kitchen (assuming you don’t already have a built-in unit in your kitchen).
Sharp’s Alexa-based countertop microwaves are available in two sizes: a mid-sized 1.1 cubic foot model and a larger 1.4 cubic foot family-class one. Both ovens accept the voice commands you’d expect from Alexa devices (like directives to defrost chicken or meat), and they’re also specifically tuned for Orville Redenbacher popcorn. The larger model (SMC1449FS) that I tested accepts over seventy commands and about fifty voice-only presets for food ranging from asparagus to chicken nuggets. The food selection is broad enough that I doubt anyone will have trouble finding a setting that works for them.
As there is only a $20 price difference between the 1.1 and 1.4 cubic foot models, your decision will probably be driven mainly by space considerations. There aren’t many Alexa-enabled microwave ovens on the market, but the convenience and flexibility of a voice-controlled cooking device in your kitchen should appeal to many. Regardless, if you’re replacing an existing countertop microwave, it’s an excellent way to add a voice assistant into your kitchen.
Mix things up with the millo Smart Blender
We all have an image in mind of a typical blender—the basic design hasn’t changed in generations. Unlike the classic cylindrical machine, the millo Smart Portable Blenderuses its patented Magnetic Air Drive technology, which leverages a brushless magnetic engine to provide torque to the blender’s base. The advantage of this approach is that it dramatically reduces the noise produced by allowing the blades to be housed within the cup. Millo’s built-in Smart Pulse feature recognizes the density of the food you’re trying to blend and automatically adjusts itself without losing excess energy.
After using the millo Smart Blender over the past few weeks, I can attest that it makes a significant difference from a “noise pollution” standpoint. My morning smoothie creations can often annoy others who are still sleeping. Millo isn’t noise-free, but it’s quieter than my Shark Ninja, which can wake up half of the residents on my building floor.
The millo’s charging base also stands out. It is battery-powered (charged with a USB-C cable) and can blend upwards of 10 smoothies before needing a recharge. The wireless battery requires 120 minutes to charge fully. As with other smart products, the Millo Smart Blender can be connected to your phone. The app provides charging notifications and the battery level, and can also help you track items you’ve blended in the past. It also allows you to share your blending concoctions with others.
At almost $490, the Millo Smart Blender is decidedly expensive and isn’t for everyone. But if you’re looking for a relatively quiet blender with excellent performance, mobility and the ability to track and share your smoothie recipes, this could be the solution for you.
Since the first virtual CES ended a few weeks ago, I’ve been bombarded with interesting smart home products generally targeted for kitchen use or the home office. While there are hopeful signs that the world is slowly returning to some relative sense of normalcy as we get to the other side of Covid-19, the work from home phenomenon is not changing. I expect a hybrid model to stay with us well past this year and into next. With that as a backdrop, I’ll be sharing more commentary on forthcoming products and designed to make people’s lives more productive, entertaining and fulfilling. Stay tuned!