The Best Smart Home Devices For 2021
You love cool gadgets, right? Of course you do, that’s why you’re here. Or maybe you’re looking for a gift idea for a loved one who does.
Luckily for you, we’ve put together a list of all the most exciting new tech that you’re sure to love.
If you’re a keen audiophile, we have speakers and headphones that will take your listening to the next level. If you’re into fitness, you can take your pick of smart watches and hi-tech trainers to shave seconds off your next run. And, of course, there’s plenty for people who just like new gadgets, whether it’s a smart home device, an accessory for your games console, or a swish laptop.
1. Le Feu Bioethanol Fireplace
Although it’s hard to deny the charm of a log burner, it looks like their days are numbered as the government looks set to ban the most polluting fuels used in them to curb emissions.
There is a greener alternative – a biofuel burner. These fireplaces from Danish company Le Feu burn bioethanol, an alcohol produced from biomass like plant waste or straw. This burns cleanly, while providing enough heat to warm a room of 20m2, the company claims.
You don’t need a chimney to install one, although Le Feu recommends cracking a door open to maintain airflow. Unlike your old log burner, you can move this eco-burner around and get it to face you or take it outside. We trust our readers are smart enough not to do that while the fire’s on!
2. Wyze Night Light
These night lights have built-in motion sensors so that they light up when you walk past. They’ve got light sensors too, so they’ll sense when it’s dawn and shut down. They’re lightweight, battery-powered and magnetically snap to a frame that attaches to the wall with sticky tape, so they’re a doddle to install and ideal for anyone renting a home.
Plus, a series of lights can be cleverly linked up so that when you pass the first light, the rest of them illuminate the way.
From $19.99 (£17.19 approx)
3. Apple iMac 24-inch
11.5mm, that’s how thin Apple’s new iMac is. This slender frame is made possible by Apple’s new M1 chip. Previously, Apple put Intel tech at its core and connected it to various components to build its Macs. Now the company has channelled its work on smartphone and iPad chipsets to build a complete “system on a chip”.
Like having a neatly tidied desk, building the computer’s processing units on one piece of architecture means the new iMacs are able work more efficiently and quickly than their predecessors.
There’s also 4K Retina display onboard, with a six-speaker sound system squeezed in behind it. Plus, the iMac now has Touch ID so you can unlock your computer, log in and pay for shopping with your fingerprint.
4. Fujifilm Instax Mini 40 Camera
Generally speaking, we tend to look forwards here at Science Focus, but this retro, instant camera from Fujifilm is too cute to ignore. There are two modes and two buttons: one for selfies and one for normal shooting. A button beneath the lens pops the lens out so it can get up close and personal for selfies.
There’s even a teeny tiny mirror embedded into the body so you can get a sense of what you’re framing in your shot. Then you just click the shutter button and wait 90 seconds for the AA-battery-powered printer to process your photo.
5. DJI FPV Drone
Fancy yourself as a drone pilot? DJI’s new drone beams the view from its camera straight to a headset back on terra firma. You see what the drone sees.
It’s a user-friendly version of what drone-racing pilots use in competitions. The drone itself can move at a max speed of 140km/h (87mph) and can reach 0-60mph in just two seconds. It has a max range of 10km (6 miles), but you’ll need a spotter who can keep an eye out for people or obstructions below while you fly.
The tech is pretty power hungry, so you’ll get a maximum of 25 minutes out of a flight, but it will be one helluva ride.
6. Simba Hybrid Luxe Mattress
A good night’s sleep is one of the most important things you can do for your health and wellbeing.
Memory foam mattresses are fashionable, but their spongy embrace isn’t for everyone. Simba’s patented hybrid solution pairs springs with open-cell foam, a memory foam-like material with internal pockets that allow the mattress to disperse heat. This creates a mattress that’s firm, ensures two people sleeping in a bed won’t feel each other move around, and is cooler than memory foam.
The company’s latest upgrade, the Hybrid Luxe, adds a second set of springs to provide extra support and remove any chance of sore joints for side sleepers. Plus, Simba has added a breathable bamboo wool layer just beneath the top layer, to help regulate your temperature and fend off a sweaty night’s sleep.
7. Beosound Emerge Smart Speaker
This might just be the best-looking smart speaker money can buy. Beneath the bookish disguise, the Beosound Emerge is equipped with Google Assistant so it can control any compatible connected home tech.
The audio is powered by a separate tweeter, mid-range driver and subwoofer so it will create room-filling, detailed sound, despite its size. And if you somehow have enough spare cash to buy two, you can pair it with a second speaker to create stereo sound.
8. Dyson Purifier Hot+Cool Formaldehyde
While many of us know air pollution harms our health, we may have overlooked what’s happening inside our homes. It turns out that cooking and cleaning are filling our homes with pollutants at higher concentrations than those outside. Even our furniture is off-gassing formaldehyde – a chemical used in its production.
So what can you do? Well, you could just reject society and retreat to the woods (we’ve considered it a few times this year), but if that’s not an option, you may want to consider an air purifier.
The latest version of Dyson’s Purifier Hot+Cool is kitted out with filters to tackle the particles invading our home’s air, including formaldehyde. It also has loads of sensors to provide insight into what’s generating the most pollution (cooking, in our case, made the air quality ‘severe’), and it doubles as an effective fan or heater.
9. Transparent Speakers
Apart from public toilets, there are few things in life that aren’t made better by being see-through. Case in point, this speaker that replaces its housing with tempered glass.
Its creator, the Swedish design studio Transparent, says that its speakers use durable, recyclable materials. Each of the devices can be used alone as a Bluetooth speaker, paired together as a stereo sound system, or plugged into existing audio equipment.
It’s upgradeable too, with a compartment at the rear that can hold and power various modules – a voice assistant, for example, or new wireless tech.
10. Helly Hansen Odin Minimalist Infinity Jacket
Conventionally speaking, waterproof coats are sprayed with a water-repellent chemical that makes rain bead up and roll off the coat, instead of soaking in. The coating also means the material beneath it can be breathable, stopping from you getting too hot underneath.
Unfortunately, those chemicals have a habit of washing off, shortening the coat’s life and polluting the environment.
Now, Helly Hansen is using a new kind of material that has small enough pores to keep water from coming in, but lets hot vapour (sweat) out. This potentially means the coat could stay waterproof for its entire life, with no need for extra coatings, or the pollution that comes with the process.
11. Carol Exercise Bike
“Get fit and healthy in 26 minutes a week.” That’s the bold claim made by the creators of this exercise bike, which combines high-intensity training with an algorithm that learns your fitness level and creates a training regime.
The bike is built on the idea that energetic bursts of exercise are effective at making you healthier. Research seems to support this idea, with several studies showing that periods of high-energy activity interspersed with more sedate intervals seem to push your body out of its comfort zone, improving heart health, lung capacity, fat-burning potential and more.
If you’re serious about training, the bike plugs into the growing market of online classes, including Peloton Digital and Apple Fitness+.
12. Vaonis Vespera Smart Telescope
The notion of a telescope without an eyepiece to look through could inspire a few strongly worded letters from our readers, but we can’t help but lust after this beautiful new telescope from Italian company Vaonis (even if it does cost around £1,300).
The Vespera takes the work out of stargazing. The scope takes the images hitting its sensors and sends a live-view to your smartphone or tablet via Wi-Fi. This means you can set up the telescope outside (it has a four-hour battery life), jump under the covers and tour the Universe.
The app presents a list of cosmic points of interest to point the telescope towards, like the birth of a star, and the motors and GPS aboard the telescope point the lens in the right direction. From there you can watch the view live, take stacks of photos to reveal more detail and share what you’re seeing with friends.
You can even schedule observations if you want to capture something while you’re asleep. Right now you’ll have to wait til 2022 to get your hands on a ‘scope, but it’s bigger sibling, the Stellina, is on sale now.
From €1499 (£1327 approx)
13. Dyson Corrale Hair Straightener
Dyson, the company that’s perhaps best-known for its futuristic vacuum cleaners, has spent the last few years branching out into the world of haircare.
Its most recent launch is the Corrale straightener, which joins a hairdryer and the Airwrap styler in the line-up. Unlike the solid plates on other straighteners, Dyson claims that the Corrale’s patented flexing copper plates gather the hair while styling, allowing less heat to be used to get desired results. As hair-styling aficionados will be aware, lots of heat leads to damaged and frazzled tresses.
The straightener takes mere seconds to warm up, and has three heat settings: 165°C, 185°C and 210°C, with an OLED screen and a chirpy chime telling you when it’s reached the desired temperature. It is suitable for all hair types, with the hotter temperatures recommended for curly or coily hair.
The Corrale would suit straightener addicts: it can be stashed in a (large) bag to take on a night out, and even comes with a flight-safe tag, so you can pop it in your hand luggage when flying. But at its hefty price, it’s probably best for people who will get regular use from it.
14. Samsung Smart Monitor M7 Series
This new ultra-HD display from Samsung ticks every box. The M7 is essentially a hybrid between a monitor for a Mac or PC and a smart TV.
By day it can connect to your laptop via a single USB-C cable, which will power it too; there’s no need to plug it into the wall. And by night, it can pull a stream from your smartphone via Wi-Fi or access your streaming service of choice via the built-in Smart Hub software.
The M7 comes with a TV remote too and built-in speakers for some reasonable sound (though you might want to add a soundbar to the equation). All this means is that if you decide to invest in improving your home workspace, the monitor needn’t go back into the cupboard when it’s safe to go outside again.
15. Grado GT220 Wireless Earbuds
Building great earphones is a bit of a dark art. The goal is to create the illusion of a big, spacious sound out of something very small. Most of the time, earbuds can’t quite pull off this trick, so you end up with audio that can lack bass, sound tinny or seem distant (or in some cases all three).
The GT220 wireless earbuds from the Brooklyn-based, family-run Grado avoids all of these pitfalls to make the most out of your music. The earbuds handle the big bassy electronic beats of Run the Jewels just as well as they delicate, breathy vocals of Nick Hakim. All the highs and lows have room to be heard.
I suspect half the reason they sound so good is down to the fit. The earbuds twist into place with ease and sit there comfortably for hours, without any danger of falling out. There’s six hours of listening time between charges and another 30 hours of charge held in the case. There are plenty of extra features too, like wireless charging, touch controls and a degree of waterproofing.
16. Withing ScanWatch
Studies show fitness watches can make it easier to keep fit. Health tech company Withings has been making great-looking, fitness monitoring gadgets for years and their latest watch is no exception.
The ScanWatch’s traditional clockface hides some of the most advanced tech we’ve seen in a smartwatch yet. The medical grade ECG and oximeter take continual readings to provide a measure of the health of your heart and respiratory system. It’s looking for signals that might suggest you suffer from arrhythmia or apnoea, conditions that affect millions of Brits and for a large number of people go undiagnosed.
It’s also got automatic activity detection on board, that’ll spot what type of exercise you’re doing and GPS to log the routes you take for apps like Strava. Withings say its watch is water resistant up to 50 metres deep and so it’ll handle a dip in the pool or, in our case, the sink.
Our favourite thing about the watch by far though is its battery life which, though your mileage may vary, will last around 30 days between charges. We’re also particularly fond of the vibrating, silent alarm too which gets you out of bed without waking the other half.
17. Oral B IO Toothbrush
Ok, let’s be honest, we’re not totally sold on the idea of a gadget that winks and smiles at you when you put it in your mouth.
That aside, this toothbrush is crammed with an almost implausible amount of tech. Sensors inside will track the brush’s movement as you clean your teeth and map out areas you’ve missed.
There are separate modes depending on your mood, like “Intense Clean” after a particularly sweary day or something gentler for those with sensitive gums. A new pressure sensor inside will also warn you if you’re brushing technique starts to verge into self-flagellation.
18. Philips 558M1RY Display
If you end up using your TV for gaming more than, well, watching TV, then you might want to consider one of a new breed of displays built for consoles. This model from Phillips boasts an ultra-fast response time (4ms) at ultra-HD resolution, which means you’ll have no excuses left when you’re sniped by an energy-drink-riddled 12-year-old from the other side of the map.
If Animal Crossing is more your pace, then this model is also kitted out with a rather neat speaker system along the base built by British Hi-Fi stalwarts Bowers and Wilkins, which will make the game’s lilting trumpet melody all the more soothing for your soul. Philips’ Ambiglow tech is on board too, which extends the picture beyond the frame of the display via LEDS along the edges of the panel.
19. Superstrata Bike
Send Superstrata your dimensions, riding style and preferences, and they’ll 3D print you a carbon fibre bike frame made to fit. Prefer a stiffer ride? A bike for commuting, or for touring? Superstrata claim to have over 500,000 possible combinations.
There are two versions available: the traditional Terra bike and the Ion e-bike. The Ion has a sleek in-tube battery (no bulky black boxes in sight), takes two hours to charge and lasts for up to 55 miles.
20. Apple AirPods Pro
True to form, it’s taken Apple a couple of iterations to deliver a pair of wireless earbuds that justify the hefty price tag. In fact, it’s our pick for the best wireless earbuds.
The AirPods are still all-white, but a smarter, stubbier design means that you don’t look like you’ve stuck a pair of electric toothbrush heads in your ears anymore.
Unsurprisingly, The AirPods play best with Apple hardware with a setup that’s mercifully painless thanks to the new chip tech. Pull them out of the case and if your device is nearby, it will pair them up, giving you a quick glance at the battery status of the buds too.
Sound quality has stepped up a notch as far as offering something that’s more balanced. It’s not heavy handed with the bass and there’s a nicer sense of detail here. The headline grabber is the addition of active noise cancellation that will help drown out the world. Apple uses outward microphones to detect the noise from outside and an inward-facing one to deal with sound that makes it through the seal.
There’s even room to squeeze on controls into the stem and a very pocket-friendly case will quickly give them a battery boost. More features are on the way too, including surround sound support and the welcome addition of a smart switching mode to pair to the device you’re currently using, giving you more reason to keep them in.
21. Arlo Video Doorbell
Offering a good balance between price, premium features, and usability, Arlo’s Video Doorbell is our top choice for the best video doorbell if you want a high-quality smart doorbell that works reliably without being annoying.
Its standout feature – telling the difference between people, animals, vehicles, and packages, and only sending you the notifications you want – means you don’t get an alert every time a strong breeze sends a plastic bag down the street.
Being able to create motion zones – so you get alerted only when someone (or the neighbour’s cat) is in them – and the option to turn off all alerts when you are home (using the location of your phone to figure this out) ensures a smart doorbell doesn’t become just another electronic annoyance but a useful security tool.
Along with some of the best quality video we tested and a nice square video shape that shows you more of your doorstep than most, we like that it has a built-in siren you can set off from the app if you spot someone suspicious.
Another thing that sets it on top of the pile is an answering machine option. While no one ever left us a message outside of testing – possibly because most people aren’t used to talking to a doorbell – we can see potential here as smart doorbells gain popularity.
22. EZVIZ C3N Outdoor Smart Wi-Fi Camera
The tennis ball size EZVIZ C3N security camera is a solid bit of kit. It has to be. Within the first week of it being up, and in typical British style, it was battered by hail, rain and storms, before being roasted on the hottest day of the year.
Installation is easy enough, so long as you have a drill to fix it to your wall, and the EZVIZ app is refreshingly straightforward. You can toggle a full-screen live stream and hitting record will save the footage neatly to your camera roll, as well as in the app itself.
This live view feature is ideal if you want to use the camera for other reasons, like keeping an eye on the kids while you work from home, or even as a nature-cam, and usefully, you can also hook up multiple cameras on the one system and share devices among users.
But what we know you’re really here for is to find out whether this is really a good security camera. Well, it doesn’t disappoint. As for the video quality, daylight vision is exceptionally sharp, and the colours are true to life thanks to the full HD 1080p resolution.
But it’s the colour night vision where this camera really comes into its own. It has an embedded algorithm that allows intelligent sensing, so it knows the difference between humans and the neighbourhood cat out for a prowl.
And it’s surprisingly sensitive too. The smart night-vision mode uses two infrared LEDs that can see as far as 30 metres automatically and switches to colour monitoring when it detects human movement. That, along with powerful spotlights, any would-be thief is almost guaranteed to show their face on camera. You’ll get a real-time alert, without needing to be glued to your feed.
Video history storage is via CloudPlay, for which you get a 30-day free trial, or via Micro SD card for local storage.
23. Ember Mug2 and Travel Mug²
Nothing stirs the soul of a Brit more than the thought of a piping hot cup of tea. However, a cold and forgotten cuppa is practically an insult to Queen and country. The Ember Mug2 is a very elegant (if expensive), solution to this distinctly British problem.
By connecting the Ember mug to your smartphone via the accompanying app, you get a notification when your brew has reached your perfect temperature, and a heating element in the bottom of the mug keeps it toasty warm until you have finished every last drop.
Weirdly, when we tested it out we found you had to use two teabags to get a good strong brew and were a little disappointed that it can’t be charged via USB (something to do with it drawing a lot of power means it needs its own plug socket), but that is a small price to pay for a sizable 414ml mug of perfectly temperate tea. Milk, no sugar (and two bags) please.
You can also now pick up the Ember Travel Mug², which is great for warm drinks on the go.
24. Theragun Prime Massage Gun
Recently you might have noticed that social media is filled with deeply satisfying slow-mo videos of people pummelling their legs with massage guns, but what exactly is going on? Well rather than having to fork out on physiotherapy, massage guns are like having a private masseur on hand for a quick post-workout session – the Theragun is the one such gadget.
It looks like a cross between a weapon and a power tool (and actually when you switch it on you could be forgiven for thinking it’s both) but in reality, the Theragun Prime is a percussive therapy device, designed to massage your muscles by rapidly applying pressure to your body up to 40 times per second.
It claims to get 60 per cent deeper into your muscles than other massagers, increasing blood flow and reducing inflammation, muscle tension, and working out any knots that have developed.
The triangular handle makes it easy to hold from any angle, allowing you to really pick out problem areas without having to bend at all angles to get at it, and while it’s far from silent, it’s definitely not as loud as something beating at 2,400 percussions a minute in your hand should be.
The documentation for how to use the Theragun could do with a little work, and the app isn’t super helpful either, offering only a few routines and a guide as to how much pressure you’re applying. In fact, it was two weeks before I discovered you could switch it on without even needing to go through the app, however, once I worked out this now very obvious feature, I was using it daily.
It was a revelation to be able to pick it up and work on knotted muscles I didn’t even know existed and massage specific parts of my body that were feeling sorry for themselves after working out all day (read that as standing at my desk).
I’ve mostly been using it at the beginning of the day to get the blood flowing and at night before bed, and it definitely releases some of the muscle tension that has built up over the day. This being said, I’m no medical expert, so it’s worth researching online to find out exactly how to use it safely.
25. Asus Chromebook Flip C436
Ok, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first, this is by no means a cheap Chromebook. If you’re looking for a budget laptop, Chromebooks are great, but not this one. If, on the other hand, you are looking for one of the best Chromebooks out there, well then that is a different story altogether.
To justify the thrifty appeal of most Chromebooks, corners are inevitably cut in the build quality, but for just under £1,000 of your hard-earned pennies, the Asus Flip is a beautifully crafted piece of kit that holds its own against the likes of Apple and other premium Windows machines. I’m not a huge fan of white devices as they tend to show up marks a little easier, but the one I tested had a subtle sheen to it that changes colour when you look at it from a different angle. Very classy.
The Flip part of the name comes from the fact you can twist the 14-inch touchscreen over itself and use it as a tablet or in tent mode, which along with the tiny bezel and four harman/kardon powered speakers make it an excellent multimedia device.
Under the hood is 10th-generation i5 processor, 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD, which are pretty ludicrous specs for a Chromebook, possibly too much if you don’t intend to do much more than a bit of web browsing, watching videos and getting past the first chapter of that novel you’ve been working on. However, as one of the first Chromebooks on Google and Intel’s Project Athena programme, it should be optimised enough to handle whatever you throw at it well into the future.
At 1.1kg, magnesium alloy body keeps things exceptionally light, the keys are backlit for nighttime typing, and another cool feature is the fingerprint reader, which works remarkably well, despite the fact that at first, I thought it was the power button.
Of course, being a Chromebook you’re limited to what apps are available on Android and not all of them are compatible, but that is more of a problem with ChromeOS than the laptop itself, and everything I did boot up worked like a charm.
26. MiniBrew CRAFT Home Brewing Kit
Anyone who has ever tried making homebrew beer will know that it’s one heck of a messy job, so anything that can take out the graft and cut straight to the tasty bit will be sweet nectar to any budding brewmaster’s ear.
The MiniBrew CRAFT is an all-in-one worktop home brewing machine, which takes you from raw ingredients to a keg of around five litres of freshly poured beer in around 10 days. Ok, that’s not a quick as popping down to the local off licence, but in these strange times anything that’ll keep you safely out of the open is welcome.
Beginners can pick the type of beer they want to make using brew kits, which cost between £17 and £30, but more experienced brewers can use the app to create their own liquid masterpieces. We’ll cheers to that!
27. Ultion SMART lock
Got a house stacked with cool gadgets? Great, but how secure is it – specifically, the door? With that in mind, the gateway to your veritable Aladdin’s Cave of goodies should not only be safe, but also smart.
If you’re into ‘lock stats’, you’ll be pleased to hear the Ultion SMART lock features an 11 pin internal system and a potential 294,970 key combinations, as well as a lockdown mode if it gets attacked. For the non lock-aficionados out there, Ultion has stuck a £1,000 guarantee on it, which sounds like they’re pretty confident of its security credentials.
If turning a key is too much for you, the motorised lock will turn with but a gentle tap, and for the seriously lazy you can ask Apple or Amazon’s voice assistants Siri and Alexa to do it for you, hands-free. Similarly, it can automatically lock or unlock when a trusted person is near using GPS and Bluetooth.
The whole thing is battery operated (and should last well over a year) and doesn’t require any cables or drill to install, just a screwdriver. And on top of all that, as far as door locks go, it looks rather fetching too.
28. Grado SR80x Headphones
We love the build and design of Grado’s headphones. They sound warm, lively and full of bass, while looking both retro and minimal. They’ve recently updated their award-winning range and our pick of the lot is the SR80x.
They’re open-backed, which means the audio will bleed out a little, so you may not want to take these on the train. But it does make them lighter and more comfortable to use at home for long periods and it’ll make the audio sound roomier than a closed-back pair. The new headphones have upgraded drivers too, improving the bass and mid-range. Certainly one of the best sets we’ve worn under the £150 mark.
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