What is smart technology for the home?
Smart devices, hubs and voice control systems offer a range of benefits for people of all ages, but this technology could prove especially useful as you reach later life.
Smart home technology gives you control over a whole host of internet-connected devices. These can include, but are not limited to, light bulbs, plugs, thermostats and some household appliances.
Smart gadgets are connected using a wi-fi network and can be controlled using a central smart device, which can be a smart hub, a voice-controlled smart speaker or an app on your phone. By connecting up a range of smart devices, your smart speaker or the app on your phone can function as a kind of remote control system for your home.
How smart technology can help in later life
Smart technology allows you to control various features in your home without putting yourself at risk.
- You can switch off lights from your bed, meaning once you’re settled you don’t need to get up in the dark and risk falling.
- If getting up and down from a chair to switch on lights and lamps, or stooping to reach a plug socket, becomes challenging, you can do these things with the help of technology.
- You can install blinds that can be controlled from your phone or smart speaker There are even kits available that can be added to existing blinds, turning them into smart ones.
- You can control your smart devices, even when you aren’t in the house. So, you could turn on the heating to ensure you return to a warm home or set a lamp or radio to turn on at certain times of the day to make it seem as though someone is home.
How do smart hubs work?
A smart hub consolidates all the smart devices in your home, to allow you to control them by using this one hub.
The best smart hubs make controlling your devices really simple and some allow you set up routines, so you don’t need to control them at all. You could set it so that each morning:
- your smart bulbs come on at 7.30am
- the blinds in your bedroom open
- a smart speaker starts playing your favourite radio station.
Or in the evening, you could set it to:
- dim the smart bulbs by 50%
- and adjust the temperature on your smart thermostat by a few degrees.
You could set up your smart hub so your smart bulbs come on at 7.30am every morning and the blinds in your bedroom to open at the same time.
Voice-controlled smart hubs and speakers
If don’t feel confident using a smartphone, or you don’t have the dexterity to use a touchscreen, then trying to control home devices home with an app could be a daunting prospect.
Voice-controlled smart hubs and smart speakers go some way to eliminating this issue. The commands needed to control your smart devices can be spoken to the hub instead of tapped on a screen.
There are a growing number of voice-controlled smart speakers available that can be used to control smart home devices. Simply saying ‘Alexa’ (the name of Amazon’s voice assistant) followed by a command is enough to activate many of the most popular smart home devices. Google Home works the same way, but you say ‘OK, Google’ instead. While Apple devices are activated with the words ‘Hey Siri’.
The systems are very intuitive to understanding different ways of saying a range of commands. An Amazon Echo will know that you want to turn your lights off whether you say ‘switch off’, ‘turn off’ or just ‘off’.
Even if you’re not using them to control smart home products, these devices can act as a handy personal assistant, answering simple questions and providing instant information.
For example, you could ask them for the latest news or weather forecast, or the opening hours for the local post office or supermarket. You can also ask them to play music, tune into the radio or start a phone call. This can all be helpful for anyone who has difficulty using a computer or smartphone.
For more ideas on what you can use a smart speaker for, read Google Assistant, Siri and Alexa commands on Which? Technology.
Our in-house testing at Which? has found that the best speakers are capable of understanding different dialects and words. So even if your speech isn’t completely clear you might find that a Google Home or Amazon Echo can understand you.
Read Which? Technology’s advice on how to buy the best smart speaker to help you pick the right hub.
The best smart gadgets for your home
We have outlined three key smart devices that you might like to consider for your own home as a starting point.
Smart light bulbs
Smart light bulbs can slot into the same fittings that are in most lamps and ceiling lights, so you don’t need to buy new fixtures. They can be turned on and off, and dimmed even if your light didn’t allow dimming before. Popular models include Philips Hue, Ikea Tradfri and LIFX.
Read Which? Home & garden’s top smart bulbs article to find out more.
Sockets are often tucked away out of sight and if there’s anything you want to switch off at the wall, such as a radio or TV, then it can mean a lot of bending and reaching. Smart plugs can be switched on and off from an app. Popular models include Samsung SmartThings, Elgato Eve and Hive Active smart plugs.
These aren’t as simple to fit as bulbs or sockets and your boiler needs to be compatible, but they make adjusting the temperature in your home really quick and simple. You can use an app, or your voice if you have the right smart hub, to set the temperature exactly how you like it. Popular models include the Nest Thermostat, Hive Active Heating and Honeywell Lyric.
Learn more about the top tips for buying a smart thermostat in this Which? Home & garden article.
For more advice on how to choose smart home products, read the Which? Technology guide How to set up a smart home.
Smart home security
Technology is constantly developing and there are many ways that smart technology can help you to stay safe and independent in your own home for longer.
Smart home technology gives you the ability to remotely control a range of internet-connected devices around the home. This can be anything from turning on your central heating when you're out to a light that comes on whenever you open a door.
Installing a smart home security system gives you an integrated set of internet-connected security devices around the home. This can include wireless security cameras, motion detectors, alarms, door locks and sensors on windows and doors. These gadgets can all be monitored from a central hub or app, and they can be programmed to work together in clever ways.
For example, you could set lights to come on automatically or program a camera to start recording when a door is opened at certain times of the day or night. Movement sensors around the home could identify if someone in the home has been inactive for a while or detect an unexpected visitor in the home.
You can customise the system to suit your needs, adding extra cameras or sensors as needed, for example.
For more on smart home security, visit How to buy the best smart home security system.
Smart security cameras
By connecting a wireless security camera to your home’s broadband network, it can be accessed from anywhere in the world via a smartphone, tablet or PC. This makes it especially useful if you have relatives who are keen to see that you’re OK, either when you’re by yourself or if there are carers coming in.
Most smart cameras have motion-sensing abilities that trigger recording once they detect movement. Some even have face detection, so you can set ‘safe’ faces that it won’t send alerts for.
Features you might want to consider are a built-in microphone and speaker or motion sensors so a fall can be detected
Features you might want to consider are a built-in microphone and speaker so a conversation can be held, or motion sensors so a fall can be detected. You also might like to consider a model that has a zoom lens and a pan-and-tilt feature, which senses when the person is not in view, although this feature is not standard.
You can simply buy your security camera and use it as it is, but you may find there are other options to an add ongoing subscription that gives you access to extra functionality, storage, or the ability to add multiple cameras.
For more information about how to buy wireless security cameras, see the Which? wireless security cameras advice guides.
A smart doorbell does the same job as a traditional doorbell, but it also comes with a built-in camera and movement-tracking sensors.
When someone comes to your front door you can be alerted by a loud ring and/or a text message on your phone, or a relative’s phone. Most smart doorbells also allow for two-way communication, so you can talk to the caller without going to the front door.
Most models can be integrated with other smart technology in your home, but to take advantage of all available features, such as video recording and notifications, you may need to pay a monthly fee.
Read more about the pros and cons of smart doorbells on Which? Home & Garden at Are smart doorbells worth the money?
More home security
You can find more tips and advice on home security for older people in our Home security article below.
Read about how personal alarms can help older people feel safer at home and remain independent for longer.
Telecare systems make use of the latest technology to help people in later life continue to live independently at home.
There are simple mobile phones that are easier to use, and specialist models that help those with memory problems.