CES Treasures

Top Finds from the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show


HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE congregate in Las Vegas each year in early January to experience the latest in smart home technology. From completely new generations of TVs and surround-sound systems to wearable technology and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, there was a treasure trove of new, innovative, and ground-breaking electronic products and systems at CES 2016. Some of my favorites are highlighted here. These smart home devices may not be as high-tech as some of the other products exhibited on the show floor, but they spoke to me on a personal level.


I’ve always thought about hiring a professional to install a security system into my home, but could never completely justify the cost of paying a monthly monitoring fee. I live in an area that’s virtually crime free, where dogs with a solid bark are all you need to scare people—usually bored teenagers wielding rolls of toilet paper—off your property. However, there are times, like when my family and I are on vacation—when I’d like the extra assurance of having someone watch over my house and belongings 24/7. ADT must have been reading my mind—and likely those of other frugal homeowners—when it created its Canopy program. Officially launched at CES, Canopy lets homeowners pay for professional monitoring on a monthly basis, with no long-term contract—a great plan for people who only want or need professional monitoring during vacations, while the kids are home alone, etc.

One of the first products to be offered as part of the Canopy program is the LG Smart Security device, an unassuming, black, dish-shaped device featuring a built-in surveillance camera and motion sensor. Through a companion app, users can access the LG Smart Security device to monitor conditions remotely and receive alerts when motion is detected; when necessary, they can pay for professional monitoring of the device. Other products unveiled as part of ADT’s Canopy ecosystem, which can be integrated easily with ADT’s Pulse security system, include the Nest Thermostat, August Smart Lock, and Ring Doorbell.


If you’ve ever mounted a flat-panel TV to the wall, you know that it’s an exercise in patience—finding the studs, installing anchors, and hoping you’re measurements are spot on. Thanks to the development of a revolutionary new kind of drywall called Habito, your wall-mounting headaches may finally be over. Totally removing studs and anchors out of the equation, the wall material itself is strong enough for a single screw to hold as much as 30 pounds. The ½-inch wallboard is more expensive than standard drywall, but is intended for use in spaces like media rooms and home offices—rather than as a solution for the entire home. It’s also a product that may give the manufacturers of wall anchors a run for their money, said a Habito spokesperson at CES. I think she may be right.


When I walked past the display of Halo+ at the Lowe’s exhibit at CES (the product was developed by Halo Smart Labs), I thought for a second that the home improvement superstore had added cologne to its product portfolio. Packaged in an attractive, square-shaped, cologne-esque box, the beautiful presentation of the Halo+ promises something special inside. And there is. At its core, the Halo+ is a smoke detector, but with a really innovative twist. In addition to sniffing out and alerting homeowners to smoke, it receives updates from your local weather station. Why? So it can warn you of impending severe conditions like tornadoes and hurricanes. You won’t be blasted with a loud alarm; rather the Halo+ flashes its built-in light and emits a verbal advisory. Another bonus: It’s compatible with the Lowe’s Iris smart home system, which means it could ostensibly connect with and report conditions from other Iris-compatible products like flood detectors, motion sensors, and other home monitoring devices.


My 18-year-old son is notorious for taking really long showers. When I say “really long,” I’m talking close to 30 minutes. That’s precious water and money down the drain. How much water and money, exactly? I’ve never really taken the time to investigate, but I’m sure it’s more—much more—than is reasonable. With the addition of the Hydrao showerhead from Smart & Blue, I could finally have the ammunition to convince my kid that these marathon showers are detrimental to his college fund and the environment. The Hydrao attaches to any standard shower, and comes equipped with LED lights that change color to notify users of their current water consumption. For example, green could signify that 5 gallons of water have been used, yellow for 7 gallons, and red for 10 gallons (according to Smart & Blue a 7-10-minute shower requires a minimum of 20 gallons of water). Using a companion smartphone app, personalized showering thresholds can be set for as many four people, and the app converts the usage into dollars and cents, so each person knows how much money they’ve spent to take a shower. Even if you exceed your set threshold, the water continues to flow, making this more of an educational tool than a strict regulator of water use.


When Vivint Smart Home released its Doorbell Camera last year, something quite unexpected happened. Matt Eyring, chief strategy and innovation office at Vivint Smart Home explains, “Younger children, specifically those without cellphones, were ringing our doorbell to talk to their parents.” This observation led to the development of Vivint Ping—the first indoor camera that enables two-way talk with the ability to both call in and call out so families can easily connect and communicate. “The idea behind the product is connection rather than surveillance,” said a Vivint spokesperson at CES. For example, a child could ping a parent to ask for help finding soccer cleats before practice, or an elderly parent could press a button on the unit to talk to a family member or caregiver. The Ping can also send an alert to your smartphone when it detects that someone has walked into the room, and 45-days’-worth of video footage can be stored in and retrieved from the cloud via Vivint’s Smart Clips service. There may very well be more in store for the Ping, as well as other devices (thermostats, smart door locks, smart light switches, security system, and more) in Vivint’s product portfolio. The company announced at CES that it is working with Amazon to connect its products with Amazon Echo, a technology that enables Vivint users to control devices via voice commands.


The Sideclick from True Bloom earns my “Why didn’t I think of that” award. The brand-new, family owned startup, annoyed with using one remote to operate their streaming set-top box (like Roku and Apple TV) and another remote to control the TV, devised a simple, affordable solution that combines two remotes into one handheld unit. The Sideclick is a super-slim universal remote that snaps onto your existing streaming remote and learns the codes of your existing TV remote in seconds, with no programming involved. To cater to all modes of streaming, True Bloom offers Sideclicks for Roku, Apple TV, Google Nexus Player, and Amazon Fire TV devices. Cord-cutters, rejoice, the Sideclick remote can be had for just $30. Should you switch from one brand of streaming set-top box to another, you can simply buy an adapter for $10.


Often, it’s the simple stuff that makes the most sense. Case in point: the Connect- Sense Smart Outlet from Grid Connect. On the surface, the Wi-Fi device, which plugs into a standard electrical outlet, looks very vanilla—featuring just a couple of wall sockets and a USB charging port. The port itself frees up the outlets for other purposes, which is cool. But what makes the ConnectSense something to get excited about is its ability to respond to voice commands. Because it’s compatible with Apple HomeKit, anything that’s plugged into the ConnectSense—like a floorlamp—can be controlled through Siri. Plus, the ConnectSense will be able to communicate with other HomeKit devices, which means, for example, when a HomeKit-enabled garage door opener activates, the ConnectSense could turn on the entertainment system that’s plugged into it. Fun, easy, practical, and priced at less than $100, it’s an affordable way to start automating your home.


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