Smart-home technology is one of the fastest-growing tech sectors, so we were certain we’d see some brilliant and bizarre new gadgets at the IFA tech show in Berlin over the past week – and we weren’t disappointed.
While the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas tends to concentrate on TVs, and Mobile World Congress in Barcelona focuses on phones, IFA is the show that offers a good variety of products, and often some interesting surprises, too.
We’ve rounded up details of the exciting new smart-home tech coming your way this year and next.
Top-rated smart hubs – keep control of all your smart devices.
Nest Thermostat E
- What does it do? Learns your routine and adjusts the temperature in your home automatically when you’re there. It also lets you control the temperature from an app on your phone, or with your voice if you have a Google Home or Amazon Echo.
- Why should you be excited? It’s the full Nest experience, but cheaper. The glossy metal design has been replaced with a plastic ring that’s designed to feel like ceramic. The new Nest isn’t cheap-looking, though.
- How much will it cost? In the US the Nest E will set you back $169 – in the UK we expect it to cost around £150. The original Nest costs £249.
- Why is it cheaper? No metal shell means the Nest E will cost less to manufacture, but Nest said the E will be as full-featured as its metallic sibling. The E comes with fewer wire connections, though, so it’s possible it won’t work in your home. Nest said it will be compatible with about 85% of homes in the US. There’s no word on the UK yet, but you’ll be able to check whether it will work with your boiler before you buy it.
- When can you buy it? We haven’t heard about the UK release, but it’s going on sale in the US in September, and we shouldn’t be too far behind.
Want to know more? Head to our Nest Learning Thermostat review to see whether smart heating is worth your while.
Bosch X-Spect scanner
- What is it? It’s sort of like a tricorder from Star Trek. You hold the small remote against fabrics, and not only will it know what fabric it is, but it will detect the composition of stains in that fabric, too.
- Why would you want that? On its own, the X-Spect does seem pointless, but pair it with one of Bosch’s smart washing machines and its usefulness soon becomes apparent. If the X-Spect detects wool, the washing machine can recommend a cycle at the correct temperature and with the right number of spins. It can do this for any fabric.
- Can it do anything else? Not yet, but Bosch says that in future the X-Spect could be able to detect whether food has gone off, or if fruit is ripe.
- Can you buy one? We knew you’d be sold on the idea, but the handheld scanner is only a concept for now. Bosch wants to launch the device soon, though. How much it costs will be a big factor in whether it’s worth buying, and you’ll need to pair it with a smart Bosch washing machine.
Sadly, Bosch didn’t want to send us away with one of its concepts to review, but you can see what we think of Bosch washing machines.
Panasonic’s fridge on wheels
- What is it? It’s a fridge on wheels. Seriously. It responds to voice commands and brings perfectly chilled beverages straight to you as you recline on the sofa.
- How does it work? It navigates in a similar way to a robot vacuum cleaner, by scanning your home and skirting around obstacles.
- Who is it for? Panasonic isn’t making a fridge for the chronically lazy. It says it designed the fridge for elderly people or anyone with mobility issues. In future, it’s considering adding a hotplate to the top to transport meals, too.
- Want one? Well, you can’t have one – at least not yet. Like the X-Spect, Panasonic’s wheeled fridge is a concept and not ready for launch yet. There’s no word from the Japanese manufacturer about when you’ll be able to buy one.
They’re not on wheels, but these are the best fridges money can buy.
Sanbot Nano robot assistant
- Are we really ready for in-house robots? Sanbot thinks so. It’s made several, but the Nano is the first to go on sale to the general public.
- What does it do? It’s basically a moving smart hub you can control with your voice. Depending on what command you give, you can control your smart tech and order takeaways, shopping and more. It can play music, too, through the speakers attached to the side of its head.
- A Google Home can do all that – why do you need a Nano? There’s a screen on the Nano, so you can watch YouTube or Netflix and keep the kids entertained. It also has its own app store, so you can expect the Nano to get more features in future.
- What can’t it do? It’s not a robot butler by any stretch. Don’t expect it to start bringing you drinks or making your tea.
- How much does it cost? Brace yourself – the Nano costs $2,800 (£2,160) and, if you have the cash spare, you can buy one as of October.
You can get a smart hub that isn’t the size of a small child. See all our smart hub reviews.
Yamaha Clavinova smart piano
- Is it a piano that plays itself? No, but it can help you improve. It uses an app on your phone or tablet (just Apple ones for now, but there will be an Android app next year) and shows lights above the keys so you can see which one to hit next. If you can already read music, you can follow the chords on your device’s screen for any song. If you have an Echo you can talk to it, too.
- Why would you need to talk to a piano? Rather than searching through your song library for that Billy Joel or Elton John classic, you can ask Alexa to do it instead. The chords will then appear on your phone or tablet screen for you to play along with.
- How much does it cost? Clavinova pianos start at a whopping $4,000 (£3,093), and there’s a grand-piano version in the works that costs 60 grand – how many piano lessons could you buy with that?
Philips Hue smart light bulbs
- Is Philips releasing a new bulb? No, it’s making its current bulbs better.
- Wait, what are Hue light bulbs? They’re smart bulbs that fit in your normal lamps and light fittings, but you can control them with an app on your phone to dim them or change their colour. Voice commands work too if you have an Amazon Echo or Google Home.
- What’s new with Hue? Philips wants to make your living room more atmospheric by syncing your bulbs with your TV. If you’re watching a horror movie, your bulbs could turn an ominous shade of red or a deep, unnerving grey. Or imagine watching Star Wars and your room fills with green light when Luke powers up his lightsaber. The lights can act more subtly, too, by mimicking the general tone of the on-screen colour, such as blue if the film is set at sea.
- When will the bulbs get the update? December is what Philips is pushing for. If you’re on the early-access program, your bulbs will get the update in October.
We’re currently testing smart light bulbs and we’ll return our definitive verdict on Philips Hue lighting later this month.
Panasonic Sustainable Maintainer
- What is it? Can you guess? The most generic name we’ve ever seen on a tech device doesn’t give you any clues, but Panasonic’s latest innovation is an all-in-one clothes washer, dryer and folder – and it does it all in 10 minutes.
- How does it do that? The Maintainer deals with one garment at a time, but it looks as though you can deposit more in the drawer. Clever technology inside will assess each item of clothing, taking note of the fabric and how dirty it is. It then checks the label against a database, so it knows exactly which wash cycle to select. When it’s done, another drawer will pop out with your freshly washed, dried and folded garment inside.
- What are its other selling points? The suction drying means it won’t leave any creases. Panasonic says it will help your clothes last longer, since each garment is being washed at the ideal temperature and with the right concentration of detergent. It will also be energy-efficient, according to Panasonic. But, at £20,000, this is an expensive luxury. You’ve got plenty of time to save, though – Panasonic is aiming to release it in five years’ time. Hopefully it will have thought of a better name by then.
Everyone released a smart speaker
Lenovo, Harmon Kardon, Sony, Panasonic and JBL all had smart speakers to show off at IFA. Apple, Samsung and Sonos all have their own models in the works, too.
They all come with Google Assistant or Alexa installed, so you can ask them for exactly the song you want to hear. Find out more about what these speakers can do in our round-up of all the new smart speakers.