12 Handy Smarthome Gadgets for Your Home Office

A MacBook, an ecobee sensor, a smart plug, and a Google Home Hub on a desk.
Josh Hendrickson

One of the benefits of working from home is you can make changes you can’t in a corporate office. This includes adding smarthome gadgets to improve your workspace. These devices can help your workflow and make you more comfortable.

When you choose smarthome devices for your home office, you want the same convenience you’d want for any other room. And when it comes to work, smarthome devices can increase your productivity because you can do so much without leaving the room.

After all, if you work from home, one of the hardest things is to get back into a workflow after an interruption. Here are a few smarthome gadgets that can help you remain focused.

Start with a Smart Display

A Google Nest Hub and Amazon Echo Show.
Google, Amazon

A smart speaker with a voice assistant, like Amazon Echo or Google Home, is normally a good starting point for a smarthome. However, for a Home Office, we recommend you step up to a Smart Display. It gives you extra features, like visual weather forecasts, and video feeds from cameras and smart doorbells. And, of course, Smart Displays include all the usual features a smart speaker has.

Here are the two best smart displays to consider:

  • Google Nest Hub: Unless you already own Amazon Echo devices, we recommend the Google Nest Hub (formerly, Home Hub) as the best pick for a smart display. This is partly due to the ambient mode, which adds all your family photos to your office and gives you a taste of home while you’re…at home.
  • Amazon Echo Show: If you have an Amazon home, you can get the Echo Show. It doesn’t have an ambient screen mode, but you still get better weather forecasts and video feeds.

Add a Video Doorbell

A Nest Hello Video Doorbell and Ring Video doorbell.
Google, Amazon

We think Video Doorbells are one of the best smarthome gadgets you can own. When you combine them with a smart display, their value only goes up, especially for your home office. The last thing you need is another interruption—especially, from solicitors. A video doorbell and smart display enable you to ignore salespeople while keeping an eye out for packages.

Given their advantages when coupled with a Smart Display, there are two main video doorbells worth your consideration:

  • Nest Hello Video Doorbell: If you have a Google Nest Hub, then the video doorbell from Nest is a no-brainer. When someone rings your doorbell, the video feed appears almost instantly on the Nest Hub. Then, you can talk to the person, ignore them, or send a preselected message. Nest Hello provides high-quality video, and it’s the only doorbell that offers 24/7 recording. The downsides are you need doorbell wiring that works, and a Nest Aware subscription to get the best features.
  • Ring Video Doorbell: If you’re already in the Amazon Echo system, or your doorbell wiring doesn’t work, the Ring Video Doorbell is a great option. They come in both wired and battery-powered versions. Ring also offers a Door Cam that doubles as a peephole. This video doorbell doesn’t record 24/7 but, with a subscription, you can access the video of any motion or doorbell presses.

Smart Bulbs Light Your Office and Keep People Out

Philips Hue and Wyze Smart Bulbs.
Philips, Wyze

Want to control the lights in your office without rewiring your switches? If so, smart bulbs are for you! And, if you purchase colored bulbs, not only can you change the ambiance of the room, but you can also create a warning system.

The most significant source of interruptions when you work from home is the other people who live there. When a closed door isn’t enough (and it often isn’t), a light system might make all the difference.

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How to Make Nearly Any Dumb Appliance Smart

A fan, a smart switch, and Google Home and Amazon Echo devices.
Josh Hendrickson

Smart appliances offer voice control, smartphone apps, and powerful automations. But why spend hundreds of dollars on the latest models? With some inexpensive smart plugs, you can give your dumb devices the same features for a fraction of the cost.

Dumb Devices Are Best

A mechanical switch on a fan.
Josh Hendrickson

Smart plugs work on a pretty simple principle. You insert one into an outlet and plug in something. It cuts power to turn off devices and restores it to turn them back on. If you control any outlets in your home with a light switch, the principle is essentially the same. But that same principle also limits the types of appliances a smart plug can control.

Appliances and fixtures either have a mechanical or electronic switch. A mechanical switch physically cuts power. An electronic switch stores the current state and toggles to the opposite state when you push the power button.

The latter presents a problem because the “current state” is stored using power. If you lose power in your home, the device defaults to “off” with the next toggle set to “on.”

RELATED: Not All Appliances Work with Smart Outlets. Here’s How to Know

Mechanical switches tend to be a toggle or rocker switch, while electronic switches tend to be a soft push button. If you aren’t sure if your fixture has a mechanical or electrical switch, you can test it in just a few seconds. First, turn the device on, and then unplug it. Count to five, and then plug it back in. If the fixture turns on, it’s compatible with a smart plug. If you had to press a button to turn it on after plugging it in, a smart plug won’t work with that device.

Smart plugs are an excellent option for some window or portable A/C units, fans and heaters, curling irons and straighteners, Christmas lights, lamps, humidifiers and dehumidifiers, and more.

RELATED: How to Make Your Dumb Window Air Conditioner Smart

What You’ll Need

A Z-Wave Wi-Fi and outdoor smart outlet.
Josh Hendrickson

To get started, you need a smart plug. They come in many shapes and sizes, and prices vary. Some have extra features, like energy monitoring, but most offer compatibility with Alexa, Google Home, or both. Unless you have a specific need for energy monitoring, you can skip that feature and save money.

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Netflix’s Parental Controls Are Terrible

Children watching a film on an iPad.
Netflix

Netflix has a parental control problem. You can create “Kids” profiles, but kids can easily escape them. You can set a PIN to block content, but Netflix still bombards kids with mature trailers. Netflix’s parental controls need to be better.

Kid Profiles Aren’t Parental Controls

The fact that Netflix is so easy to share with friends and family is fantastic. Everyone can have an individual profile (your account can have up to five), which means your suggestions won’t include Magic School Bus or StoryBots.

And setting your young children up with a kid’s profile should keep them from seeing the mature shows. It should, but it won’t. Unfortunately, with Netflix’s current system, your child can switch to your profile anytime he wants. That’s why Netflix calls these “soft controls.”

Netflix doesn’t lock kids into their profiles. So, if your child already figured out how to switch profiles, he can easily switch from his to yours. The only thing stopping him is the realization he can get to someone else’s profile, and that he’s not supposed to do that. “Parental security” that relies on the innocence and honesty of a child isn’t security at all.

What do you do when your children switch profiles and check out content you don’t want them to watch? Unfortunately, right now, you can’t keep them out of your profile. The only thing you can do is set a PIN to prevent them from playing that Rated R movie Netflix added last week. But even that is problematic because the PIN system is counterintuitive and doesn’t block everything.

PINs Are Counterintuitive

Netflix "Parental Controls" screen.
My PIN is the price of a cheese pizza and a large soda where I used to work.

The real parental control feature is the PIN system, which Netflix calls “hard controls.” If you set a PIN on your account, you can set Netflix to require it before playing mature content in any profile.

You access Netflix’s parental control PIN system from account settings. Any change you make applies to every profile. The first problem, though, is that the PIN system is counterintuitive.

To access the parental controls, you have to go to Netflix’s website. You can’t access it from an iPad, smartphone, or any other device. If you try, the app points you to the site.

When you access the parental controls, the first step is to provide a four-digit PIN. Choose this carefully, as you have to give it to any friends or family members who use your Netflix account. If you don’t feel comfortable handing out your debit card PIN, don’t use that.

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How to Protect Your Smarthome from Attack

Smart home security and protection symbol.Aleksandra Sova/Shutterstock

Every new device you introduce into your smarthome is another device that can be attacked. You can secure your smarthome with simple steps like locking down your router and taking proper care of the gadgets in your smarthome.

Start with Your Router

Modern wireless wi-fi router close upProxima Studio/Shutterstock

Most smarthome devices require access to the internet to work correctly. While not all devices connect directly to the internet (like z-wave bulbs), those that don’t typically connect to a hub or other device to gain internet access. So in many ways, the single most significant point of vulnerability is your router.

And securing your router should be your first step. You should change your default admin password used access the router. Update the router’s firmware if it’s out of date, and enable encryption. Always use a complicated password unique to your Wi-Fi router. With a standard (not-Mesh) router, you can accomplish all of this from the router’s web interface. All you need is to find your router’s IP address. Mesh routers, on the other hand, don’t have a web interface. You’ll make the changes from an app.

If your router’s manufacturer isn’t offering new firmware anymore, you should consider replacing it. While we usually say most people don’t need a Mesh router for their homes, smarthomes do benefit from them. You gain better coverage for all your Wi-Fi devices, and most Mesh routers automatically update the firmware and offer additional protection services as a subscription.

RELATED: Secure Your Wireless Router: 8 Things You Can Do Right Now

Use Unique Passwords for Every Device

Dashlane interface, showing password health.
Password managers aren’t just for websites; they have other useful features too. Dashlane

Many smarthome devices require a password when you set them up. Usually, that involves downloading an app and creating a user account. In some cases, like Z-wave light bulbs, you’ll create a single account for a Hub to use with several devices.

Every device you create an account for should have a unique, complicated password. If you reuse passwords across services and smarthome devices, you run the risk of a single compromised unit leading to additional points of vulnerabilities across your home.

If you don’t already, consider using a password manager. Services like LastPass or Dashlane can help you create and keep track of long and complicated passwords. You might think password managers are only for saving website credentials, but you can save any kind of password in them. Additionally, you can store secure notes, files, bookmarks, and more in a password manager.

RELATED: Why You Should Use a Password Manager, and How to Get Started

Turn on Two-Factor Authentication Wherever Available

An open padlock with key inserted.dnd_project/Shutterstock

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Daily News Roundup: Amazon Dashed Your Dash Button

Amazon stopped selling Dash buttons, saying Alexa shopping killed any need for them. But if you already owned a Dash button, it still worked. But that’s changing as Amazon will stop fulfilling Dash orders after August.

When Amazon discontinued Dash button sales earlier this year, the company promised to continue supporting existing buttons so long as customers used them. It may come as a surprise then to hear that Amazon has changed course and will stop taking Dash orders after August 31st.

An Amazon spokesperson told CNET that Dash orders have “significantly slowed” which led to the decision to shut down the service. That’s no surprise in some ways; Dash buttons proved to be inconvenient since you couldn’t be sure of the price of an order, and the company stopped pushing the service.

In the meantime, Alexa shopping took over as Amazon’s face of instant shopping. You benefit because Alexa can confirm the price of an item before you order and can add a variety of different items to your cart, unlike Dash buttons. Amazon also benefits because Alexa gives the company a better foothold in your home. [CNET]

In Other News:

  • StockX resets user passwords after suspicious activity: StockX, a site for buying and selling sneaker apparel, sent out password-reset emails after it received notification of suspicious activity on its systems. The cautious move wouldn’t be so unusual if it hadn’t initially told users the password reset was due to “system upgrades.” Upfront transparency is always better. [TechCrunch]
  • Pixel Phones will talk to 911 for you: One of the main issues with 911 is the system relies on your ability to talk. If you are too injured to speak, problems ensue. Pixel and other select Android phones will soon be able to contact 911 and speak simple messages for you (such as fire, medical, etc.). Additionally, it can share more information about your location. [Geek.com]
  • Apple will stop sending Siri audio to contractors for grading: Like Amazon and Google, Apple had been sending audio recorded by Siri to human contractors. The humans would listen and submit feedback on whether Siri understood correctly or corrections if Siri failed to understand. Sometimes that included audio recordings when no one spoke to Siri. Apple says it is suspending the program, will reexamine the process, and introduce a feature to opt-out later. [9to5Mac]
  • Some Windows 10 users are stuck in S Mode: If you buy a Surface Go or some other laptops, your device will initially start on Windows 10 S. That OS can’t install programs outside the Microsoft Store. Switching to Windows 10 is supposed to be easy, but users have been unable to change for several days now. Microsoft says it is investigating. [How-To Geek]

RELATED: Alexa, Why Are Employees Looking at My Data?

Once they’ve grown in, children typically have 20 teeth while adults usually have 32. The use of the words “typically” and “usually” is apt here because, in India, a young boy’s dental x-rays revealed he had 526 teeth. That’s not a typo; he had over 500 teeth. A sac buried in his jaw contained the vast majority of the teeth. The extra teeth were also tiny, ranging in size between 0.1 mm and 0.3 mm.

Shockingly, the boy wasn’t in much pain, only complaining of the occasional toothache. Surgeons removed the sac, and now the boy has just 21 teeth. All of this really gives you something to chew on the next time you visit the dentist, doesn’t it? [The Guardian]