Technology to the Rescue!
This year's tech guide helps you solve real-life problems, big and small
En español | Sometimes you just want to push a button to make a problem go away. Increasingly, you can! Technology companies are moving past creating products that are "smart" and "leading edge" and focusing on what matters most: being "useful." We set out to find tech products that do just that—solve real problems. Here’s a selection.
The BrewGenie ($68) may look like a regular coffeemaker, but from inside your house, you can control it with your smartphone, turning it on remotely or setting your brew time in advance. The “Aroma release” setting provides extra wafting scent.
The Behmor Connected ($190) lets you practice some coffee chemistry. In addition to allowing you to program specific water temperatures and a presoaking time for grounds, it has automatic brewing features — all controllable from your phone.
I am so tired of asking "Is that gluten-free?"
The next time you’re at the neighborhood potluck, instead of asking, just load a food sample into the Nima ($230, plus about $5 per capsule for each test). In two minutes, you’ll know if that casserole is sans gluten. The device fits inside a purse or bag, so toting it to restaurants is no problem. Within two years, the company also plans to produce units to detect the presence of peanuts, tree nuts or milk ingredients.
Winter cold cuts right through me
Sure, you can turn an Ikea rug into a winter cape — that’s what a costume designer came up with for Game of Thrones. An alternative is to try heated clothing. Toast up your tootsies by wearing some ActionHeat battery-powered socks (AA powered: $40; rechargeable: $130). The heat lasts between six and 10 hours. Shoveling snow never felt so good. Another option (not pictured): Polar Seal battery-heated shirts ($180) are available for both men and women. Buttons on sleeve control the temperature.
The QardioArm ($99) is an upper-arm monitor that goes on easily and works with a phone app to track blood pressure and send reminders to take a reading. Another option (not pictured): The Omron Evolv ($100) can track readings, check trends and share info with family or a health care provider.
Ditch that pine tree hanging from the rearview mirror. Instead, plug an air purifier by Frieq ($20) into the power outlet (what we used to call the cigarette lighter) to improve air quality by neutralizing bacteria, dust and pollen.
If you have a large vehicle, the powerful Philips GoPure Compact ($144) uses a filtration system that eliminates smoke, pollen, harmful gases and other irritants. It’s a slim device — less than three pounds — that attaches to the seatback or onto the dashboard, with a filter that lasts for about a year.
My 2 a.m. potty break is dark and cold
Your toilet seat— yes, your toilet seat —can light the way. And give you a warm feeling, too. The LumaWarm Heated Nightlight Toilet Seat ($160) has a blue night-light that illuminates the bowl; its seat warmer has three settings for optimum comfort. Another option (not pictured): If you don’t want to install a tricked out toilet seat, consider the IllumiBowl Toilet Nightlight ($13), which clips onto the side of the toilet and is motion activated.
This barking is driving me nuts
Buddy may need hours of therapy. Music therapy. New music players — mini speakers that play preloaded music (iCalmDog: $90) — provide “psychoacoustically designed” sounds for dogs. The music, Through a Dog’s Ear, offers classical piano in versions that are slower, simplified and in a lower key, which helps to soothe the sensitive canine. Of course, felines get their music, too: Through a Cat’s Ear (iCalmCat: $70). Another option (not pictured): Canine Lullabies (CDs, starting at $16) feature vocals set against the rhythmic beat of the human heart.
My wheelchair doesn't get me where I need to go
The Whill power wheelchair ($10,000; your health insurance may reimburse part of the cost) is compact, with a tight turning radius, so it can get through tight fits. But the real appeal is how it navigates open spaces. All-wheel drive lets you travel over gravel, grass, light snow and obstacles three inches high. Other options (not pictured): The Pride Jazzy Air (starting at $5,800) has a seat that elevates to standing height. The lightweight and foldable RoScooter ($1,500) is a low-tech option that glides with a gentle push and pull of the handlebar.
Wait, is it apples and milk we need?
Stop relying on tattered lists and random family texts ,and go straight to the source. Some new refrigerators tell you, via your phone, which supplies are low. New Samsung Family Hub models feature a touch screen that displays recipes, plays cooking videos and serves as a shared grocery list. Everyone inputs what he or she needs; the list displays on your phone. But be aware that these appliances can be twice the cost of a regular fridge. A cheaper option: The Hiku ($50) is a device you use at home to scan the bar codes of products when they’re running low. Or you can talk into the unit (“Need more bananas”), then access the list on your phone.
So many lights to turn off and on, so little time
Clap on clap off — just kidding. A new breed of bulb can be operated with your phone: off-on, plus brightness and even color. Philips, Ikea and Lifx, among other manufacturers, make smart bulbs ($12 and up; most also require a one- time purchase of a control kit: $10 to $70). In addition, smart lamps, such as the Philips Hue White Ambiance Wellness Table Lamp ($100), are available. You can control it remotely, and it will detect your phone as you approach your front door. Presto, the light turns on.
How do I close my umbrella while juggling everything?
Yep, the little parts on an umbrella are not friendly to older hands. Even if you have a model that opens with a button, it’s up to you to close the sucker. ShedRain makes a motorized umbrella called e-Motion (from $99) that both opens and closes by touch. It comes in compact and golf-size models.
Tossing trash is so messy and germy
Motion sensor trash cans that open with the wave of a hand aren’t new. But companies are updating their features. The Simplehuman can ($200) uses infrared technology to sense a hand. Also, the bin recognizes commands such as “Open can.” The lid won’t close until all debris is tossed in. Another option (not pictured): The Nine Stars DZT-50-28 ($90) opens with a hand wave, then closes automatically a few seconds later.
Love him, but his snoring is killing me
First step: Get your partner to admit the problem. The SnoreLab app (free to download; $8 for the premium version) records the racket for proof. Then it tracks snoring patterns, so as you try preventive techniques (a shower before bed or using nasal strips, for instance) or partake in potential trigger behaviors (such as drinking alcohol), you can analyze the results. Another option: The Smart Nora ($300) is a pillow insert with a bedside microphone that detects snores. The insert then inflates to move the head and open airways.
WiseWear’s smart bracelets ($295-$345) have no display screens, so they blend in with fashionable outfits. But in times of distress — such as an accident or break-in-the wearer can just tap on the bracelet a few times to activate a signal. The message and GPS coordinates get sent to designated contacts. Bonus: The bracelet doubles as a fitness tracker, monitoring steps for the day, and also buzzes to report a received call, text or email.
Another option: The V.ALRT personal alert button ($40) is a waterproof black device the size of a silver dollar. It can be worn in a rubber wristband, as a pendant or popped into a clip — and similarly contacts family or friends in moments of distress, sending them your location via GPS. Plus, it uses a watch battery that lasts for up to a year.