Subscribing to our award-winning Hub enables readers to receive regular emails with the top articles most likely to interest them

As our homes head towards being “smart” and we are bombarded with a plethora of different home devices to add to our Christmas presents list, Ellina Webb looks into what’s on offer to help her boost her smart home credentials. 

Hello Alexa?

As a new homeowner I’ve become obsessed with all things home this year, from wall paint to lighting, but as more and more “smart” home and lifestyle products hit the market I wonder what’s really suitable for me and mi casa. 

Smart voice activated speakers

It’s hard to switch the TV on at the moment without seeing a variety of (Christmas themed) adverts selling these techy items. Google and Amazon both have an option of voice controlled smart speaker available this year, in fact they seem to be “mini” versions of those popularised last year.

The Google Home Mini and the Amazon Echo Dot bring voice activation into the home environment allowing users to request weather updates, music to be played and immediate answers to seemingly trivial questions.

For me however, the device seems potentially void in a world where most people have their smartphones less than a metre from their hands at all times. And with voice activation like Siri, which Apple launched in 2011, I can demand answers out loud as much as I like, and Siri always attempts to answer (even if she mostly miss-hears me!).

My other issue with the device is that you need other smart devices and software to really reap the benefits. Both the Google and Amazon devices are compatible with certain music streaming services (all of which you have to pay for) as well as smart TV services which again incur a cost. Finally, for what would be the biggest benefit to me – controlling my heating with voice control requires not only a compatible and expensive smart thermostat but also an installation charge.

It’s clearly a luxury item but at for a fairly reasonable upfront cost you have the ability to make it what you can afford – whether that is a simple voice controlled speaker or an all-round voice controlled entertainment and home management system.

So will I be getting one this year? I’m still undecided.

Smart heating controls

Talking about smart thermostats, as the temperature drops and we plunge further into the depths of winter, heating and energy services have gone smart control crazy as devices like Nest and Hive continue to flood the market.

If you haven’t heard of a smart heating controller, essentially the selling point is the ability to save costs on your bills as well as the option of being able to control and monitor your heating remotely – allowing you to turn it on before you get home via a smartphone app.

So what’s available and what are the benefits?

At a hefty cost, a Nest Thermostat (3rd Gen) looks amazing and boasts benefits like “slashing” your energy bills and saving over 4 billion kWh of energy in homes around the world. It also connects with your smartphone and, much like with the Google and Amazon voice activated speaker, you can pay more to integrate it with other smart devices like the Nest security camera and Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide alarm.

A Hive smart control system also looks like a nice addition to a home (I hear with the new version you can even change the fascia’s to match your décor), and again it boasts benefits to help you efficiently control your heating and save money. Unlike Nest however, Hive is not compatible with all heating systems which I’d assume is because it falls under being a British Gas innovation so for the best compatibility it’s ideal for gas boilers.

If you’re thinking of opting for a smart heating controller/thermostat this year, also bear in mind that both require installation which will cost you so you really need to think about whether the cost is worth the potential benefits.

So will I be thinking of getting one this Christmas? I’m seriously considering it.

If my home was suitable for a heat pump though I would be looking at what the manufacturers offer as smart controls for their system as these modern ways of heating the home should really be way ahead of the ‘traditional’ methods shouldn’t they?

Smart lighting

From the looks of things Phillips appear to be leading the way in smart lighting with a range of portable lamps that can connect to your smartphone and a range of bulbs/starter kits that you can dim and programme to “set the mood”. Again this comes at a premium cost and I think if you aspire to have a smart home, the addition makes perfect sense.

Personally I won’t be putting this on my Christmas list as I feel the expense would have no benefit to me. I am a fan however of LED lights due to the energy saving potentials and much like the move to LEDs, I can imagine at some point in the future smart bulbs will lead the way. 

Smart toothbrushes

On Black Friday it’s almost customary for all electric toothbrushes to be discounted and this year it was the Oral B Genius range that caught my eye. While electric toothbrushes have been popular for decades now, the recent technology update to this health device is smartphone compatibility, making it another lust-after component of the smarty-pants home.

While this compatibility might seem like a gimmick, the benefits include focusing the user on properly cleaning their teeth which by the sounds of many toothbrush and toothpaste adverts on TV, we still get wrong. In fact the app times how long you take to brush, gives you tips on how to improve your style and sets goals for better cleaning next time.

In my opinion however, I feel confused as to who these devices are targeted at. The app interface is very simple but probably not suited to a child (who would mostly likely enjoy this feature) and the other in-app features such as changing the LED colours on the brush itself are rather random…

But I’m not ashamed to admit that I bought it – mainly because I wanted an electric toothbrush and the smartphone connection was an added interest (were they targeting me all along?).

As for my Christmas list, I might as well add those very expensive brush heads that will now be an extra monthly expense.

Smart fridges

I’ve yet to see the promised ‘smart’ fridge which will automatically order milk for you when you’re running low, but no doubt they will be here in the not too distant future.  I know my colleague Graham could have done with a smart app recently, to tell him that the freezer in his parent’s empty house had switched off over 10 days ago, leaving him with a pile of indescribable ‘mush’ of unfrozen meat and veg to deal with before his parents got back from holiday!

One for a future Christmas list perhaps … and a bigger home!

Smart laundry

Believe it or not smart laundry is happening. You can now buy a washing machine which allows you to control and monitor the cycles remotely via your smartphone. Expensive, yes, pointless, yes, do I want one? YES.

Ellina Webb is a Senior Marketing Executive at Mitsubishi Electric