As the country takes steps to reduce the impact of coronavirus, you might find that you’re going to be spending a lot more time indoors. Thankfully, there’s a whole load of tech that can help you pass the time and try to take your mind off the reality.
Whether you’re pondering a TV streaming service or thinking about a budget-priced tablet for video calling your loved ones, our expert reviews can help you find trusty devices and stress-free services.
- You can keep up to date with our latest advice on the coronavirus outbreak over on our coronavirus advice hub.
- Which? technology – expert lab tests and reviews of the latest tech
1. Relax on the sofa with a TV streaming service
Signing up to a streaming service gives you access to thousands of films and shows at the press of a remote, but which is the best option?
Even if you aren’t yet a subscriber, you’ve probably heard of Netflix. It’s one of the most popular on-demand streaming services around, offering access to thousands of TV shows, films and Netflix original titles. And its library continues to grow.
Netflix is available on smart TVs, smartphones and tablets. If you’re looking to enjoy it on a big screen, note that the Netflix app might even already be installed on your TV. If not, you can download it from your TV’s app store or play Netflix content on your TV using an internet streaming stick (we’ll get to that later).
Being able to set up multiple user accounts under a single subscription means the whole family can get involved. You can configure profiles for younger viewers to only offer access to kids’ content.
The cheapest Netflix plan (Basic) will set you back £5.99 a month. You’ll still get unrestricted access to the entire Netflix library, but the content can only be viewed in standard definition.
Here’s a look at the different pricing packages:
For more details on the Netflix library, see our guide on everything you need to know about Netflix.
Amazon Prime Video
You can enjoy Amazon Prime Video as a standalone service or as part of an Amazon Prime membership. Like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video is a pay-monthly service that lets you stream TV shows and films on lots of different devices.
You can take Prime Video for a spin for 30 days free of charge. After that a monthly Prime Video membership is £5.99 for new customers, or you can get an annual Amazon Prime membership for £79.
If you buy Prime Video as part of the full Amazon Prime package, you’ll be treated to some other perks. The list includes unlimited one-day delivery, unlimited photo storage through Amazon Cloud Drive and access to Prime Reading for borrowing digital books and magazines.
Should Amazon Prime Video be your new go-to streaming service? See what it has to offer with our guide on Amazon Prime Video.
Owned by Sky, Now TV is another subscription-based TV service battling against Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. It works using a ‘Pass’ system, with each Pass themed around the type of content, such as movies and sport.
- Entertainment Month Pass (£8.99) – the latest TV shows
- Sky Cinema Month Pass (£11.99) – unlimited movie access
- Sky Sports Month Pass (£33.99) – access to 11 Sky Sports channels
- Kids Month Pass (£3.99) – kids’ TV on demand
- hayu Month Pass (£3.99) – thousands of reality TV episodes
For more on this subscription TV service, check out our expert Now TV guide.
Free catch-up TV services
If you don’t fancy paying a monthly fee, many popular UK TV channels offer their own on-demand apps that are free to download and use.
The BBC has iPlayer (with a valid TV licence), ITV has ITV Hub, Channel 4 has All 4 and Channel 5 has My5. All of these apps are also available on both Android and Apple gadgets.
Use our Film Finder tool
Want to see which films and shows are available digitally and where? Use our free Film Finder tool:
Unsure about which TV and broadband provider to choose? Discover our full selection of TV and broadband provider reviews.
2. Make your standard TV smarter with an internet TV box
If your living room TV doesn’t support TV streaming apps out of the box, you might want to invest in an internet TV box (or streaming stick) to get access to services including Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and Now TV.
Streaming sticks are generally quite cheap, with the majority of popular picks costing under £50. These mini but mighty gadgets plug into an empty HDMI port on your TV and communicate with your internet router.
We’ve tested a range of budget-priced streaming sticks in our lab, including:
- Roku Streaming Stick+ (£50) – the first Roku streaming stick to offer 4K and comes with a Bluetooth remote.
- Amazon Fire TV Stick with 4K and Alexa (£35) – a 4K-capable streaming stick that supports a range of services including Amazon Video. It comes bundled with a remote that you can use for voice commands.
- Google Chromecast 3rd Gen (£30) – Google’s popular streaming stick continues to evolve. This 3rd-generation model will let you mirror the screen from your laptop or phone right to your TV.
To see which internet TV boxes scoring top marks for picture quality, see our internet TV box reviews.
3. Make video calls with a tablet or smart display
A tablet can come in handy if you want to escape the living room and watch your favourite shows in peace. These portable devices will also let you browse the web, flick through emails and calendar events, play games and make calls through services such as Google Hangouts and Skype. They’re ideal for keeping the kids occupied, too.
If you’re shopping for a tablet, here are three options with varying screen sizes:
- Amazon Fire HD 8 (£80) – this tablet has a small yet high-definition 8-inch display. It comes with 16GB of internal storage, but you can build on that using a micro-SD card if you run out of space. There are two cameras on this Alexa-equipped tablet.
- Apple iPad 2019 (£319) – the iconic iPad comes in various different shapes and sizes. This model will keep you entertained using its 10.2-inch display. A three-pin magnetic connector on the side means you can attach one of Apple’s clip-on keyboards for easier typing.
- Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e (£379) – this member of the Galaxy Tab family has a 10.5-inch screen and 64GB of storage out of the box. It’s one of the lightest 10-inch tablets to make its way through the Which? test lab.
Whether you’re team Android or team Apple, don’t buy a tablet without reading our expert tablet reviews.
If you need to catch up with family but can’t leave home (or just don’t fancy it), smart displays are also great for video calls. These dedicated displays can sit on the kitchen counter and let you ring up your loved ones through services including Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts and Skype.
Here are just a handful to have gone through our expert test lab:
- Amazon Echo Show 5 (£50) – one of the cheapest smart displays on the market. It’s an Alexa-controlled device with a 5.5-inch screen.
- Google Nest Hub (£120) – formerly known as the Google Home Hub, this display has the power to control other smart products in your home.
- LG WK9 XBOOM AI ThinQ (£250) – the XBOOM has an 8-inch screen and handles voice commands through Google Assistant. It’s marketed as being a great all-rounder for home entertainment.
If you’re after a standalone display to control your smart products, see all of our smart display reviews.
4. Borrow an ebook over wi-fi
While an ebook reader can keep you company on the morning commute, it will also come in handy if you’re unable to leave the house. By stocking up on digital page-turners, you can carry around your own personal library.
We’ve tested a wide selection of ebook readers in our lab from the two biggest brands – Amazon and Kobo.
Borrow library books with a Kobo ebook reader
Every Kobo ebook reader comes with a service called OverDrive. This is a free add-on that allows users to borrow ebooks from libraries without having to leave the house. To borrow a book on your home wi-fi network, run through the following steps:
- Go to your Home screen
- Tap the Menu icon in the top-left corner of the screen
- Tap Settings > OverDrive > Get started
- Select Create account to select your nearest library and sign in with your library card
- Head to the Kobo Store, tap a book you’d like to borrow and select Borrow with OverDrive
Borrow library books with an Amazon Kindle ebook reader
If you own an Amazon ebook reader, you can borrow library books and audiobooks using the OverDrive Kindle app. To download this app, just head to the Kindle Store on your device.
Of course, if you don’t have a local library account, both Kindle and Kobo have their own stores which enable you to buy and download thousands upon thousands of ebooks.
Our expert tests uncover the ebook readers that last the longest on a single charge. See our ebook reader reviews.
5. Sign up to a music streaming service
Signing up with a top-notch music streaming service will give you some escapism and help you discover new artists while you’re at it. Depending on the streaming service you end up with, you’ll also be able to download tracks to listen to offline.
With more than 170 million users around the world and a library of over 30 million songs, Spotify is one to consider. You can download it today free of charge, but you’ll have to put up with the occasional advert interrupting your playlist. A premium account, which is ad-free and lets you skip tunes as many times as you like, starts at £9.99 a month.
Spotify’s Family plan is better-suited if you’re treating the whole household. It lets you have up to six accounts and provides access to Spotify Kids, which blocks explicit music that might not be suitable for little ears.
With around 2 million curated tracks available to stream, Amazon Prime Music doesn’t have as many songs as Spotify.
On the plus side, it’s free if you already have an Amazon Prime membership, so you might as well give it a go. Amazon Prime Music supports offline streaming and is entirely ad-free.
Discover how customers rate everything from Deezer to Spotify in our guide to the best music streaming services.
6. Play some games with your smart speaker
You might use your smart speaker to check the headlines, your schedule and tomorrow’s weather, but did you know there are some voice-activated games to try? Both Google Assistant and Alexa-enabled smart speakers have some boredom-busting experiences to enjoy.
To download a game to an Alexa smart speaker, you need to head to the Amazon website or app, explore the Games & Trivia section and then activate a new game, or ‘Skill’. With the new Skill enabled, make a note of the activation phrase and then say it back to your speaker.
There is a whole range of Alexa-compatible games listed on the Amazon site, ranging from quiz games to interactive stories. The free-to-download Song Quiz game, for example, will play a short snippet of a tune and quiz you on your music knowledge.
But even if you don’t want to manually search for and download a new game for your Alexa device, you can still play around. Try saying ‘Alexa, play True or False’.
Google Assistant users have plenty of games to try out, too. A popular one is called ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’, which sees your Google Assistant speaker become the host of a fast-paced trivia game that you can play with up to four other people. Just say ‘OK, Google, I’m Feeling Lucky’ to get started.
What about the Apple HomePod?
If you’re a fan of Apple’s voice assistant, Siri, then you might want to forget about Alexa and Google Assistant altogether, especially as it’s reduced down to £199 at John Lewis right now. Along with saving £80 on the usual list price, you’ll also get an included two-year guarantee.
The Apple HomePod is designed to output great audio quality and promises powerful bass. See how it performed in our audio lab test for an expert verdict.
Make the most of your smart speaker with our guide on Google Assistant, Siri and Alexa commands.