Phil has worked as a web and software developer for 10+ years. He is passionate about sharing knowledge and promoting experiential learning.
Admittedly the title is somewhat tongue in cheek. It is no secret that we live in an age where there are probably more “solutions” looking for a problem than products that address real-world issues. That is not to say that there is nothing of use to be found here, but perhaps one might say that the use cases are a little more niche than those of smart lights and thermostats.
So, do you really need any of these devices or indeed any smart home device? Of course not, but that does not mean they cannot still be useful and serve a purpose; even if that purpose is only to entertain... or satisfy a consumerist urge.
5 Smart Home Gadgets You Didn’t Know You “Needed”
- Furbo Dog Camera
- Kérastase Smart Hairbrush
- Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator
- Robot Lawn Mower
- simplehuman Sensor Bin
1. Furbo Dog Camera
Furbo is more than just a camera to capture your dog doing funny things whilst you are away. The camera itself is capable of recording in 1080p, has infrared night vision, and sports a 160-degree wide-angle lens. Beyond the camera, it also has two-way audio, in other words, it has both a speaker and a microphone so you can hear and speak to your dog through the app on your phone. Perhaps my favourite feature though is the treat launcher, which can also be controlled from the app remotely to toss treats for your dog. It will set you back £249 or $249 in the US, although at the time of writing it appears to be heavily discounted and is selling for less than £140 or $135 US.
Perhaps you have an anxious four-legged friend who barks at every car that passes by your house, Furbo will send you notifications through the app when your dog has been barking. You can then check the live feed on the app and even start talking to your dog to try and calm them down. Or perhaps your dog likes to wreak havoc and trash your home whilst you are away, checking in on them throughout the day through the live feed and audio on the app and rewarding good behaviour with treats could help condition them into keeping calm and not destroying your sofa or favourite pair of shoes.
There is also a subscription service that offers “smart alerts” and cloud recording. With this service, it will notify you whenever it detects dog activity or when it is crying or howling. It will also send alerts when it detects person activity or everyone’s favourite when there is an opportunity for a doggie selfie, in other words when your dog is up close and facing the camera.
This is ultimately a smart product for those dog lovers (and owners) who also lead busy lives outside of the home and need the ability to check on their precious pooches whilst they're out and with over 60 million households in the US alone that have at least one dog, that is no small market.
It looks like the best time to buy is probably during typical sales such as around the holiday season. At the time of writing, it is on discount on Amazon UK and US, links below:
2. Kérastase Smart Hairbrush
“How exactly can a hairbrush be smart?” I hear you say. A valid question. Or perhaps you are asking, “what makes a smart hairbrush better than a regular one?” Once again, a valid question, particularly when concerning a product that retails near the $200 mark… I am of course referring to the L’Oreal/Kérastase smart brush.
As you have most likely come to expect from any ‘smart’ product, it has an app. It also has a microphone. Are you seeing where this is going yet? You would be forgiven for still being confused or thinking that I am about to spout conspiracy theories about how L’Oreal is planning to release a ‘Top 40’ music record comprised of their customers singing into their hairbrushes. As far as I know, that is not the case. Although the ‘truth’ is still bizarre. According to the manufacturers, the brush “captures the hair’s soundwaves.” It then analyses this data along with environmental data such as temperature and humidity to provide your hair with a “health score” on the app and provide hair care guidance. The brush handle also features haptic feedback in the handle to guide the user’s “brushing technique”.
With the first question answered (more or less), now to tackle the even more subjective issue of whether a smart hairbrush is better than a regular one or “is it worth the price?” Clearly, feel free to take everything I say with a pinch of salt, I am sure you were already though. But in this case, I encourage you more so, mainly owing to me not possessing an abundance of hair and therefore I am probably not the most qualified to be talking about it. I am going to go out on a limb though and say “no” it is probably not worth the price on the label. I do not doubt that there is at least some clever science and technology that has gone into the development of this brush. After all, it’s not at all like cosmetic companies to invent scientific-sounding words or fund ‘independent’ studies to promote their products… Before I get into any more trouble, sued for libel, or end up on the receiving end of a lecture about special ingredients in shampoo to make your hair silky and smooth, I will shut up and let you judge this one for yourselves.
3. Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator
Before the phrase “smart home revolution” was being used by consumer electronic companies to peddle their latest smart home products, I was speculating about the types of smart devices we would be seeing in the future; smart fridges always had an interesting appeal.
However, manufacturers of smart fridges, such as Samsung, likely realized that these ‘food-related’ features would never be enough to reach any sort of mass appeal and to justify the eye-watering cost of these devices. For many families, the kitchen is somewhat of a social hub in the home and it is not unusual to see fridges plastered with photos, fridge magnets, kid’s drawings, calendars, notes, and reminders. Samsung has clearly considered all this when designing the Family Hub range which on top of keeping your food fresh has a 21.5” LCD touchscreen and a smorgasbord of other food and non-food related features.
Of course, you can do the things you might expect from a ‘smart fridge’ such as order food online, track expiration dates, look up recipes and manage meal plans, and set the temperature and humidity inside. That is hardly enough to justify the eye-watering price tag, we are talking between £2700 - £3500 ($3200 - $3900) depending on the model. So, what else does it offer? Well, it effectively digitizes the family pinboard, you can easily upload photos to it from your phone or just draw right onto the screen, send notes and reminders or add events to the calendar from the phone app wherever you are (great if you're running late for dinner). It is also an entertainment system that allows you to listen to music and watch videos, not to mention that it comes with Bixby, Samsung’s voice-controlled virtual assistant which makes a lot of sense in a kitchen when you might not want to be wiping your dirty hands over the fridge. If you cannot be bothered to open the fridge then it has cameras inside which allow you to see what’s inside from the fridge screen or from your phone, which actually works well if you are out shopping and forgot to check what you needed to buy, or you can just order a takeaway right from the fridge instead.
As usual, the reality is that nobody needs this device in their home, but it does come with some useful and interesting features. For some families, that might be enough to justify the cost.
4. Robot Lawnmower
By now, you have probably heard of a robot vacuum cleaner, you might even own one. Maybe you even had the passing thought “I wonder if anyone has invented the robot lawnmower…” The thought of a robot lawnmower may trigger nightmares of a robot apocalypse, but I doubt that we will be seeing any disaster movies starring rogue robot lawnmowers as the primary antagonists any time soon.
In all seriousness, manufacturers have integrated measures to make these devices safe. They are probably far less likely to cause serious injury compared to their human-operated equivalents. For a start, the cutting blades are generally closer to the size of a razor blade that you might shave with than the large blades in traditional lawnmowers and aren't as exposed either. Any model worth considering will have at least some basic form of built-in collision detection systems to actively avoid obstacles. Even if one were to bump into you, a child, or a pet, the impact would be at such slow speed that serious injury is highly unlikely.
As with robot vacuums, these are best used for frequent light maintenance since they will only trim a short length of grass off the top in each pass. Also, like robot vacuum cleaners they will typically only cut within designated areas and find their way back to a charging station when done. So, if you want that perfect length lawn all year round without having to walk up and down it every day then perhaps a robot lawnmower sounds appealing. However, if you really want that excuse not to leave your sunlounger all summer then you will need fairly deep pockets (or an unhealthy obsession with getting the perfect tan... I mean perfect lawn) as you’ll be looking at price tags between several hundred dollars to a few thousand, depending on how much grass you want it to cut as well as any additional bells and whistles.
All that said, not everyone is physically able to maintain a lawn and those who suffer from mobility issues could certainly benefit from this. Although whether it’s worth the investment when compared to paying a gardener a few times a year, I’ll let you be the judge.
If you are interested then there are a few different brands and models available. Check out this article for some which come highly recommended: Best robot lawn mower
5. simplehuman Sensor Bin
In my opinion, this one falls into a category that is already saturated with overpriced products. You can already buy “dumb” kitchen bins for well over $100, which is simply ridiculous when considering the amount of material and simplistic form factor. That said, some companies do seem to know how to make even rubbish look good… hidden in a sleek container. If you are going to shell out for a fancy bin, you may as well get one with voice and motion control.
Smearing raw chicken juices all over your bin lid will be a thing of the past, simply wave above the simplyhuman sensor can or issue a voice command and the lid will open without you touching a thing. And, well, that is it really. It is a bin, what more do you expect? Okay, perhaps a little more for $200 but for now that is pretty much all you are getting. It does come in four different colors and looks sleek and clean, so there is that. Now if only it would take itself out on pickup day.
© 2020 Phil Hobbs