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7 Ways New Technology Can Make Your Life Easier

Our sampling of interesting products can help solve your problems

spinner image left to right plegium smart pepper spray then s k k siren and night light then typecase keyboard for tablets
A pepper spray canister can call for help during an attack, one home security system doesn't need an electrical outlet to work and a keyboard that includes a stand can make your tablet feel almost like a laptop.
Plegium / ZEGOAL / Typecase

While you might say no to many of the new, gee-whiz devices that you see online and in stores, some are worth a second look.

Four journalists who specialize in technology reporting looked at new products that could offer legitimate benefits to users age 50 and older. They personally tried the products and offer their impressions.

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Please note that AARP does not endorse products or companies. So consider this a sampler that shows you a slice of what’s out there.

spinner image left to right keyboard for ipad then call blocker then personal wrap around neck speaker
A keyboard for your tablet makes life easier, a call blocker for landlines has a satisfying big red button to push, and a Bluetooth speaker for your TV sits on your shoulders, looking a bit like a neck pillow.
Apple / Panasonic / Sony Electronics

1. Lightweight tablets get benefits of a laptop

The right stand can make using a tablet feel almost like you’re on a laptop. The Magic Keyboard, starting at $300, from Apple is a prime companion for the iPad Pro or iPad Air. The tablet snaps into place and the stand features a built-in trackpad. Still, with the added cost and extra weight, you’re close to just owning a laptop.

While many Apple enthusiasts prefer to buy only Apple accessories, a much less expensive product with many of the same features is the Typecase Touch from $70. The keys aren’t as sleek, but they are backlit. I won’t be giving up my laptop yet, but I can see a future where I might.

— Lexi Pandell

2. A device to block phone scammers

If you have a landline phone, it can be tough to block spam and robocalls. The Panasonic Call Blocker, $110, connects to your phone and comes with a pre-blocked database of 14,000 robocall and telemarketing numbers.

When a suspicious call does get through, hit the big red button to block it forever. Another option is AT&T’s cordless answering system with smart call blocker, $45, which allows you to blacklist numbers. These are not perfect solutions — robocallers often mask their true numbers and location  — but I found that the big red button makes it satisfying to reject calls.

— Risha Gotlieb

3. TV sound that’s tailored to your ears

If you jack up your TV volume to hear the dialogue better and revel in surround sound but annoy your family or even your condo neighbor, one solution is a wireless neckband speaker.

These connect to the optical output of your TV, which means the audio syncs to the video with no lag. And they can be comfortably used while wearing hearing aids.

Sony’s SRS-NS7 Wireless Neckband Speaker, $300, has tweeters pointed up but also includes twin subwoofer-like speakers pointed down that stimulate your clavicles during tense television moments. Another option is BeHear’s Proxy and its HearLink Plus wireless audio transmitter, from $200, which is designed as a PSAP — or personal sound amplification product — for those with mild to moderate hearing loss.

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Both of these neck speakers can pair with your smartphone for listening to music or talking on the phone. And they are so comfortable I even forgot I was wearing one.

— Stewart Wolpin

spinner image home security applied not just at a house but also at outdoor sheds barns or gates
Now it's possible for you to install a security system that will work for the farthest reaches of your land without having to worry about where to plug in the base station.
Steve Sanford

4. Safety without Wi-Fi, electricity worries

If you live in a rural area, your security needs might be at a distant gate or shed door — places your home’s Wi-Fi signal can’t reach. A new type of battery-powered security sensor that works with a cellular signal can ease that concern.

These sensors hook up to gates, doors or windows and alert you electronically when a breach occurs. Flex IO sensors from start at $160, plus activation and service fees. I found these worked so well that I began wondering what else around my home needed security.

If the Wi-Fi signal isn’t a concern, another inconvenience can be a lack of power outlets for some sensors. Some products, such as the $80 SKK Home Security System 2nd Gen, have battery-powered sensors, and its base unit with up to eight hours of battery backup connects with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant system without monthly subscription fees. 

— Risha Gotlieb

spinner image left to right air tag then gps key tag then light up security camera then smart pepper spray
Tiny Bluetooth and GPS trackers can do big work, a light for your porch also is a video camera and pepper spray that pinpoints your location can help law enforcement when you're under attack.
Apple / Chipolo / Symynelec / Sabre

5. Trackers, not new but very handy

GPS or Bluetooth trackers, little devices that attach to just about anything and signal their location via a phone app, have been around for nearly a decade. But 2021’s release of Apple’s AirTags in particular has heightened interest in these products.

Bluetooth trackers, such as an AirTag, Chipolo One Spot or Tile, cost $30 or less. When a Bluetooth tracker is in range, it communicates directly with your phone. When out of range, the tracker relays its signal through other people’s compatible devices, creating a network effect to reach you and show its location.

Bluetooth trackers may not work well in remote areas. GPS trackers, a variant, can be better because they use cellular signals instead.

— Lexi Pandell

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6. Dual-purpose protection at your door

Just screw one of these into the light socket on your porch. It’s a light bulb with a built-in security camera.

They can cost as little as $43, like one option from Arulis. Some models, including one from Symynelec, $69, have communication functions, so you can talk with a delivery person using your phone or computer.

But be advised, you will discover trade-offs. I tried one bulb, and the light emitted was more like a wide beam than the full glow of a light bulb. And turning the light on and off requires using the app.

— Risha Gotlieb

7. Stop a robber, summon help simultaneously

The pepper spray you carry as protection has gotten an upgrade. Now when you press the nozzle, not only will it dispense protectant, it will call for help.

Smart pepper sprays, starting at $30, from such companies as Plegium, Sabre and Fazer Defense, include technology that can automatically deliver texts and phone calls with your GPS location to specified contacts. It’s all set up through a phone app. Some pepper spray canisters are also equipped with an audio alarm and an LED strobe light.

— Craig Rosen

Lexi Pandell is a contributing writer who covers technology. Her work also appears in Wired, The New York Times, The Atlantic and other publications.

Risha Gotlieb is a contributing writer who covers technology. Her work also has appeared on MarketWatch and PBS’ Next Avenue as well as in the Toronto Star and Reader’s Digest.

Stewart Wolpin is a contributing writer who covers technology. His work also appears on Techlicious and in Popular Mechanics, U.S. News & World Report and tech trade publications.

Craig Rosen is a contributing writer who often covers entertainment. His work has appeared in Billboard, Men’s Health and Rolling Stone magazines. He is the author of R.E.M Inside Out: The Story Behind Every Song and the Billboard Book of Number One Albums.

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