Around this time last year, this column featured the latest toys and tech that had captured the hearts of children for the holiday season. Lists like that are a dime a dozen. A quick online search revealed pages of links with children’s gift lists floating around already this year. I say we focus on the other half of the equation: the parents! Let’s look at some tech-based gifts that will bring you cheer all year round!
Upgrade Your Wireless
Upgrading your wireless, in my humble opinion, is one of the best home improvements you can make. The wireless network in your home has increasingly become the backbone of many aspects of your daily life. Smartphones, smart TVs, streaming devices, gaming systems and, in some cases, your doorbell all require reliable wifi to handle the demands of your family. There are quite a few good options out there, but Eero stands above them all due to its ease of use, scalability and features.
For starters, it is incredibly easy to get set up. Wireless routers can be a bit complicated for the average consumer. Eero uses an app on a smartphone or tablet to walk you through the setup. It took me less than 10 minutes to complete the process in my home. The Eero system uses a scalable model to ensure you get the coverage you need, regardless of the size of your home. Owners of smaller homes can get by on a single Eero base station, while larger homes can utilize additional beacon units to carry the wireless signal throughout.
The most impressive is Eero’s feature set that you manage from an app on your smartphone. Parents can set up profiles for a group of devices to do things like pause Internet access during dinner or enable Internet content filtering to help keep children safe online. To be clear, Eero will greatly increase the signal strength and features of your existing network, but it will not upgrade the speed of the connection. You can learn more at eero.com.
Upgrade Your Security
A home security system provides peace of mind. I investigated various solutions this year as we looked to add an additional layer of protection to our home. The installation fees and recurring monthly cost of a professional system quickly ruled those out. There are several do-it-yourself options in this space, as well. The reviews online indicated that setup on these could be time-consuming and frustrating for a result that is less than ideal.
We determined the best fit for our family was a few strategically placed security cameras. Arlo has created affordable, high-quality cameras that come in wired or wireless models. We didn’t want to pay someone to install the system, and my wife didn’t want me wrecking the house in the process, so the wireless models were the big selling point for us. You simply use a few screws to attach the base to the outside of your home in the area you are looking to have coverage.
The Arlo camera uses a highly powerful magnet to connect to the base. The camera relies on a battery and a wireless internet connection to do the rest. The Arlo app allows you to access the cameras from anywhere at any time. Alerts can be set up to notify you, record video, and even contact the police when motion is detected. Arlo is customizable to fit every family’s needs and budget. Learn more at arlo.com.
Other Upgrades to Consider
There are so many opportunities for grown-ups to upgrade different aspects of everyday life through the IoT (“Internet of Things”). It is the overarching term for devices that have become “smart” through the addition of technology.
- Streaming Music — Consider purchasing a subscription to Spotify or Apple Music. The cost is minimal at only $7.99/$9.99 per month. Exercising, driving to work, even entertaining my kids is so much more enjoyable having access to so many songs at my fingertips.
- Garage Door — Connecting your garage door to the Internet is pointless, right? I’d argue the opposite. Adding a MyQ device to your existing garage door provides a significant advantage. The app allows you to close (or open) the door from anywhere in the world. This is a great feature when you want to let someone into the house when you’re not home. It also really comes in handy when you’re 15 minutes into your commute, and you can’t remember if you closed the door or not. The MyQ device retails for $30 and works with most garage door openers installed in the last 10 years or so.
- Smoke Detector — The Nest Protect is a digital smoke and carbon monoxide detector. The device operates like a traditional detector, alerting the homeowners when either is detected. Protect also connects to your smartphone to run a monthly diagnostic and to let you know when the battery needs replaced. This is another peace of mind upgrade. I like knowing that this aspect of my house is covered, and it is communicating that safety to my family monthly.
- Locks — Nest also makes a smart lock system for your front door. The Nest x Yale Lock is designed for keyless entry into your home. One reviewer stated, “Until you have keyless entry, you really don’t know what you are missing.” Some of the features include codes for guests instead of giving them keys, and locking or unlocking the door from anywhere. The lock is tamper-proof and will work in most standard doors.
- Light Bulbs — Internet-connected light bulbs are a nice upgrade, as well. The lights can be programmed to turn on or off through a schedule. The more expensive color bulbs allow you to change the color through a sliding color palette on your smartphone. These are fantastic for entertaining, dimming at night for watching movies, and ensuring that exterior lights are always on. Check out Philips Hue or Yeelight.
All of the items mentioned above work in conjunction with a smart speaker such as an Amazon Alexa, Google Home, or Apple HomePod. You can say things like “Alexa, close the garage door” or “Siri, turn the front porch light on.”
The holidays are all about the children, but that doesn’t mean parents should be left out in the cold. If you are though, simply use your smartphone to unlock your new smart locked door and get back in the house!
Mike Daugherty is a husband, father of three young children, author, speaker, Google Innovator, and possible Starbucks addict. He is a certified educational technology leader who has served in a variety of roles through his 18-year career in public education. Currently, Mike is the director of technology for the Chagrin Falls Exempted Village School district in Northeast Ohio. His blog, More Than A Tech, offers advice and ideas for parenting in a digital world.