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5 Smart Home Devices That Won’t Break The Bank

Smart home technology is currently taking over the world. When Apple initially launched AI assistant Siri for the iPhone, they had no idea they’d be creating one of the first smart technologies that would impact the future of how we interact with all of our devices. Now, we can use these voice-interactive assistants to turn on the lights, lock our cars when we’re miles away, and answer practically any question one could have, all without having to get up from the couch. 

There’s a whole multitude of smart home devices on the market that are all unique in their own way. However, because of how advanced the technology is, they tend to be priced on the expensive side, but one device can assist the average individual on dozens of aspects of their lives. So which devices would best fit your lifestyle without completely breaking the bank?

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Ring Video Doorbell: About one third of all Americans have had packages stolen from their porches at least once in their lifetime. As online shopping continues to outgrow the traditional retail industry, it’s only a matter of time before it completely takes over, and will that come an increase in these crimes. For this reason, among others, more people are investing in the Ring Video Doorbell. Ring is powered by Amazon’s Alexa and allows its users to see, hear, and speak through their doorbells through any smart device with an Alexa app on it (which is free in any app store). 

The doorbell itself has risen in popularity because it provides a video feed that never stops recording. Users can get a livestream of their front door at any given time, as well as record videos. The device itself has already been extremely beneficial at catching porch thieves in the act, and will likely continue to ride in popularity for this reason. 

Google Home Smart Speaker: While Amazon’s Alexa may be the dominant voice for AI assisted technology, Google Home has become its biggest competitor. This is likely because the price point for Google Home Smart Speakers, and their other devices in their line of smart devices, are relatively cheaper than any other brand on the market. Additionally, these speakers obviously have the power of Google, one of the world’s largest online sources for information, within them, so users can ask practically any question to their device and expect a clear answer. 

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Roku Streaming Stick+: Streaming services for music, television, and movies has become a staple in the world of in-home entertainment. With so many platforms out there, many are turning to buy smart TV’s that have app store capabilities so that they can keep up with all of their profiles (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc.). However, spending hundreds on a brand new television may be too large of an investment for some, so instead, consider the Roku Streaming Stick+. You simply plug the device into your  existing television’s HDMI port, log into your home’s WiFi network, and you’ll automatically have access to any and all online content that you could ever dream of. The best part? It only costs about $50 with shipping. 

Nest Learning Thermostat: This device is the most expensive on the list, coming in at about $210, however, it’s focus on sustainability and savings will make it worth it in the long run in terms of your heating/electric bills. This is a “smart device” because it’s designed to learn about your specific lifestyle. It will automatically adjust the temperature of your home in moments where you may not need the heat to be on; such as when you go to work or on vacation. Reports claim that on average the Nest Learning Thermostat saves the average individual about $150 a year on their heating and cooling bills.  

Gosund Smart Plug: When it comes to our smart devices being able to work with other, normal electrical devices in our home, such as lamps, typically you need to buy smart plugs that can specifically work with your device exclusively; such as an Amazon Echo or Google Home. However, Gosund Smart Plug’s are universal, in the sense that they are compatible with either Amazon Alexa or Google Home’s voice integration. If you don’t have either, Gosund has it’s own companion app that you can download onto any smart phone and control whatever device you plug into the Gosund’s from your phone. A four pack of these plugs costs $30.

Smart Devices

Get The Most Use Out Of Your Smart Devices

Technology has become somewhat of a lifeline for most of us. It’s hard to point to anyone under the age of 55 who doesn’t own at least one smart personal device; and why would it be any different? Personal technology helps us organize our busy lives, stay connected to all of our loved ones regardless of where they are in the world, and can be an endless source of entertainment. 

It goes without saying that while technology can help us all become more organized and productive, it can also have the opposite effect to the same degree. However, making simple upgrades and adjustments to the ways in which we implement this technology in our personal and professional lives can make all the difference in terms of productivity. 

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Some of the most common struggles that we all can relate to in terms of our smart devices is either the fact that they run too slow, or don’t have enough storage. Both of these issues often come with age, meaning how long we’ve owned a particular version of a particular device. Upgrading out-of-date technology often feels unnecessary and like a scam that those who work on the retail end for these tech corporations push onto customers to get them to spend more money; and more often than not that is the case. 

However, upgrading your devices every three to five years has become somewhat of a standard practice, as it should be. Putting the aesthetics of upgraded smart phones and thin laptops aside, it’s important to buy new generations of the devices you own because of how often technology is changing now. So how do you know when it’s time to give your old phone the boot to pick up a fresh one? 

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First, do an analytical assessment of the devices you’re debating upgrading. Take note of every issue, no matter how small, that you have with the way in which your device is running. When you look back at your list, would it be more worth it to invest in repairs, or an upgrade? Getting a quote for repairs is also always an option, so if you’re unsure as to which option would give you the biggest bang for your buck in the long run, don’t hesitate to get your device checked out by a professional. 

So once you have either your new device or refurbished one, there are other ways to ensure you’re utilizing them to be the most productive individual that you can be. Distractions and an excess of communication via social media can kill productivity in a matter of milliseconds, as most of us already know. To help combat this, it’s best if you give yourself a visual for how often you’re using each application on your device.

On most smart devices, there’s a section in the settings application that allows you to see how much time you spend on your phone in a given week; beyond that, how often you spend on each particular app. Use this information as a means of creating a sort of tech use strategy for yourself. All the aspects of your phone/device that are used as a means of distraction need to be less accessible during the times you want to be productive.

Whether that means turning your device completely off, turning off the notifications, or even temporarily deleting distracting apps for the day until you get all of your work done, whatever it is, do what you need to do to be the most productive. 

Amazon Alexa App and Dot

Regulating AI Technology

As we have propelled ourselves into the future, technology is developing at an outstanding rate. Many companies and countries have had to adjust laws and regulations in order to meet the demands of the ever-changing digital world. Anti-hacking laws and cyber security have seen many amendments and adjustments to cope with the un-probed areas of the digital landscape. Recently, calls for better regulations to control the developing area of Artificial Intelligence (AI) have been issued.

AI technology is an expansive area which in essence aims to mimic human intelligence with machine learning. The areas this technology can lend itself to varies from simple tasks to complex roles. We have already begun to see the uses of which in our everyday lives, many of us have Apple’s “Siri” in our pockets or Amazon’s “Alexa” in our homes. If not, the experiences of equivalent voice recognition technology in our phones, computers, TV’s, cars and more is not unknown.

The development of driver-less cars, virtual agents, management and learning systems all utilize AI technology. Its reach can be seen in that of agriculture, marketing, security, transport, manufacturing, climate change, healthcare and beyond. Its use and autonomy in all of these areas is rapidly developing and spreading into broad and specific niches.

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It’s no wonder therefore, that there are calls for not only a more extensive look at AI regulation but a tailored approach. CEO of Alphabet, parent company of Google, recently called for such regulations. Where there are guidelines developing in both the US and EU he calls for a global standard. Writing in the Financial Times, he states that Google’s own AI regulations were outlined in 2018, the aims of which are to ensure principles such as “safety, privacy, fairness and accountability, alongside monitoring where AI should not be used, for example, where it could violate human rights.”

This call for regulation has not only been heard from Google, but other companies such as Twitter, who have recently confronted AI company Clearview, (a company used by homeland security and the FBI), to stop taking images from the site for facial recognition and thus violating Twitter’s privacy policies. Further, the European commission is considering a ban on facial recognition technology in order to catch up and address areas where the equipment could be abused and presumably prevent that. Where some countries such as China are embracing facial recognition and rolling it out rapidly, many campaigners have spoken out against the use of such technology as it infringes upon an individual’s privacy rights.

The use and development of AI technologies has exposed many challenges and considerations in ethics, safety, justice and beyond. Whilst technology companies and leaders develop Artificial Intelligence, they have the power to regulate and develop it into areas that they see fit. Therefore, without a government or a world code of conduct, how will these developers hold to a universal standard and fairly use these systems?

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The answer to this seems already underway. In 2019, countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and beyond, totaling forty-two countries, formally agreed to uphold standards in AI technology development “to ensure AI systems are designed to be robust, safe, fair and trustworthy.” Countries such as the USA, UK and many in South America, Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East came together to agree on policies. The official OECD press release summarizes objectives such as:

1. AI should benefit people and the planet by driving inclusive growth, sustainable development and well-being.
2. AI systems should be designed in a way that respects the rule of law, human rights, democratic values and diversity, and they should include appropriate safeguards – for example, enabling human intervention where necessary – to ensure a fair and just society.
3. There should be transparency and responsible disclosure around AI systems to ensure that people understand when they are engaging with them and can challenge outcomes.
4. AI systems must function in a robust, secure and safe way throughout their lifetimes, and potential risks should be continually assessed and managed.
5. Organisations and individuals developing, deploying or operating AI systems should be held accountable for their proper functioning in line with the above principles.

Where innovation and technology are rapidly developing the question is how can we foresee all of the pitfalls and downsides that the advancement of such technology will bring? The call for regulation in itself may be something that needs constant revisiting and re-writing, alongside encouraging more and more governments to agree to universal standards. Without stalling progress and allowing all of the benefits of artificial technology to permeate and advance humanity, it seems a mammoth task to envisage and pre-meditate protection against all of the potential downsides and abuses.

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2019 Holiday Tech Gift Guide

With the holiday’s right around the corner, it’s high time that we all need to start thinking about the gifts that we will be getting our friends and family, and with the next decade also coming up, it just feels fitting to get people some technology to add into their collections of smart devices. Tech gifts are often well received because of how much we all incorporate digital devices into our everyday life. It makes navigating throughout the world and it’s everyday stresses a lot more manageable, so this year, get your loved ones something that will help them manage their life a little more easily. 

A standard for tech gift giving is a good speaker system. Music and entertainment is how most of us enjoy unwinding, and more times than not is always playing the backgrounds of our day to day lives, so why not get a quality speaker to enjoy those moments to the best of their ability. One of the most popular brands for speakers on the market today is Sonos. Sonos has a myriad of options for anybody to enjoy. These speakers are bluetooth and battery powered, making them completely portable and easy to manage. If you purchase multiple Sonos speakers, you can connect to them all on the official Sonos app on your mobile device. This means you’ll have complete control over your entire home speaker system, all from your phone. So you can play one song in the living room while guests sit by the fire, and another in the kitchen while you cook your holiday turkey. Sonos speakers are available on the official Sonos website, as well as Amazon. They range in price, and do tend to lean more towards the pricier size, however, these speakers are the epitome of “you get what you pay for” in terms of advanced speaker technology. 

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Amazon also has it’s now iconic line of Alexa-powered Echo systems. There’s a vast range of Echo products, all of which range in prices, so if you want to spend a little less, you can buy an echo dot for your niece, and spend no more than $50, and the more interactive Echo Show, which has a tablet like presence, but will only cost you $80.  What’s great about the Alexa systems is that you can connect them to any smart products that you buy from Amazon, which includes plugs, light-bulbs, doorbell cameras, and more! This way, you’re able to turn off the lights upstairs and set a timer for 30 minutes, all without having to leave the couch. Browse through the many options, which also now include an Echo Glow speaker, perfect for any younger child in the family, and find the next best Smart home device for your loved ones. 

Speaking of smart homes and lighting, Philips has been a powerhouse for home lighting for years, and now, they’re dipping their toe into the Smart Home world with their brand “Philips Hue” the popular light-bulb brand that you control from your phone. Hue light-bulbs are typically much more pricier, due to the advanced technology, but also make a great gift. The newest release from Philips Hue, however, is a vintage style light-bulb that you can control either via app, or voice control, for the price of $25 per bulb. Hue also has starter kits from their original collection that is priced at $200 for a total of four bulbs and base outlet station. These light-bulbs are great for setting the mood for any occasion, whether it be a fun birthday party, or romantic dinner for two. With your hands full you can simply say “lights on blue” and you’re transported to an underwater paradise, right in your living room.

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Apple is no stranger to being one of the world’s top developers for smart technology, and this holiday season they have a whole bunch of products that would be great for any member of the family. They just released their next generation of smart watches and wristbands. As one of the original wearable tech experts, Apple’s smart watches are the perfect gift if you know anyone who’s constantly moving, to the point that even checking their phones becomes busy work. This way, they can just look at their wrist and quickly go through any emails, texts, or reminders that their phone is notifying them for. Additionally, one of the more popular Christmas gifts every year is Apple’s AirPods, and now Apple has released AirPods Pro, with noise cancelling technology, perfect for any commuters you know who dread the sound of buzzing cities and mass public transit. 

Apple also just released their next generation of iPhone, and while you may be thinking of a new phone is a pretty expensive gift, there’s a lot of parents out there who view Christmas as the perfect opportunity to upgrade their family lines. Apple also is now offering a bunch of trade in programs, which means you can get up to $300 off a new iPhone when you trade in your old one! Definitely worth it for anyone who’s constantly wanting to get the next best thing. 

Regardless of the smart gift, there’s plenty of options set at a variety of prices, making tech gift giving one of the easiest and smartest ways to get your holiday shopping done this season.