Words: Vanessa Salvia
Photo: Morsa Images
Do you ever feel like you’re surrounded by devices? Phones, computers, laptops, tablets, etc., all taking up our time, our space, and our electricity to keep them charged. They’re all useful in their own ways, but there may be some devices that would actually help you even more. Not to mention, there may be a way to get more use out of the devices you already have.
There’s no question that tech rules our lives, especially now, that homes have become workspaces, schools, gyms, and movie theaters. The most useful devices now are the ones that let us access our work tools, communicate with loved ones and colleagues, and keep us entertained (so we don’t lose our minds). Here are some of our recommendations.
Staying connected to our out-of-town relatives got a lot more important over the past few months, as the world learned how to shelter in place. Sure, our older relatives were always just a phone call away, but when you can’t take a road trip or airplane to visit them, and in many cases, you can’t just go across town to visit them, being able to see each other’s faces became crucial. There are a lot of ways to do this, from iPhones capable of video calls and Zoom, but not everyone is tech-savvy enough to set these up.
The Facebook Portal is an easy solution to that problem. It’s a smart camera with an Alexa speaker built-in, so you can activate it by saying “Hey Portal.” Once it’s set up, which is super easy for anyone who already has Facebook, you can easily video call friends and family on their smartphones and tablets, even if they don’t have Portal. You can also start or join calls of up to 50 people with the all-new Messenger Rooms. This would be easy to set up and then send to someone as a gift if you don’t think they could set it up themselves. Because it also has a built-in smart speaker, users can listen to music, play games, hear riddles, control their smart lighting, or just about anything else. The Portal Mini is $129. The Portal Plus with a 15.6-inch high-definition display is $279.
The iPad is super useful, even if you already have other devices. It can easily be a backup computer if you attach a keyboard to it (try the $100 Logitech Slim Folio keyboard) and is easy for watching movies on Netflix in bed when you don’t want to hold a full-size laptop. It’s good for composing emails or documents on the go and has a longer battery life than a laptop, which means your Zoom calls won’t erode the battery. Starts at $329.
As we all know, smartwatches are always much more than just a watch. The new Apple Watch is unique because it has the ability to measure your blood’s oxygen saturation, which is a good indicator of your overall wellness. You can also use it to take a test that delivers results similar to an ECG, or electrocardiogram. The new Sleep app helps you establish and keep regular bedtime routines and tracks your sleep data. What can it do that’s not related to fitness you ask? Play music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Get stargazing information. Use it as a compass. Make phone calls. Check and send messages. Basically everything your phone can do, but it’s on your wrist. Series 6 Apple Watch starts at $399.
Oculus Quest 2 Headset
We’re all watching a lot more Netflix lately than we used to. Keep yourself from getting bored with the same old view of your living room and couch by watching Netflix in VR with an Oculus Quest 2 all-in-one virtual reality headset. Is it practical? Not really. But it is fun, and you can pretend you’re watching Netflix in your own private Swiss chalet with the Oculus Netflix app. You can also explore the world through virtual reality, such as a tour of Notre Dame. Of course, there are lots of other virtual experiences, such as underwater adventures, games, and more. A lower-priced experience would be to get your hands on a Google Daydream View VR Headset (check Amazon). This device lets you insert your smartphone into a headset so you can watch Netflix through the headset on your phone. Oculus Quest 2 starts at $299.
Smart Home Devices
Every major player has its own version of a home assistant. The one you get is up to you. If you use an Android phone, you might like the Google Nest devices. The Echo Dot uses Alexa, Amazon’s assistant, which is a very versatile voice assistant that can control smart home devices, answer questions, play music, and so on. Alexa can also do a few unique things, like listen for break-ins and notify you of the delivery of Amazon Prime packages. Unlike Alexa, Google Assistant works well with Google services and platforms like Calendar, Gmail, and more, and it can work with Chromecast devices. Alexa works with Fire TV devices. Google Nest Mini is $30. Amazon Echo Dot is $50.
In today’s telecommuting world a good pair of wireless headphones or a headset that lets you walk around the house while taking calls is critical. A good pair of work-at-home headphones combine sound quality and comfort. If you work with tools such as Skype for Business, look for headsets or headphones that are designed to work with Unified Communications applications. Apple Airpods, which snuggle earbuds into your ears, can work for a lot of people for this. If you’re looking for a more traditional over-the-ear style, try the Jabra Elite 85h, which are comfortable, sound great, and are good at making calls. The Jabra Elite 85h starts at $300. Apple Airpods start at $249.
Tech fatigue is real, and you may need time to unplug from devices. Don’t feel bad if that’s the case. There are plenty of tools that can help you remember that you need to do that. Move is a free app that reminds you to stand up and move around for a few minutes. You can set the frequency of the reminders, but once an hour is a good rate. Forest ($1.99) is an app that motivates you to stay off your phone by planting virtual trees that grow when you disconnect for a certain period of time. Once users earn enough coins, they can spend them to help plant real trees around the world. Calm (free or premium subscription) is a popular app that provides meditation programs, nature sounds or calming music, stories to guide you to sleep, and other features.