Around the House: Sorting out gadgets and gimmicks from the good stuff

New twists on tech turned up on everything from televisions to toilets at CES 2019, the annual consumer electronics show held in January in Las Vegas.

LG’s wow factor was it its Signature OLED TV R, which rolls up and rises at the touch of a button. There are three settings – full and partial-screen, the latter useful for clock, music and dashboard functions, and a mode in which the entire 65-inch screen is hidden – potentially transforming room design by eliminating the problem of how to deal with what’s essentially a space-hogging black rectangle.

Samsung’s show-off piece was the 98-inch Q900 QLED, as well as 2019 versions of the ground-breaking Frame, and the Serif television, the latter developed with international design team/brothers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec Its handsome I-shaped frame won awards when it debuted in 2016; this year it will roll out to a wide retail base. While Apple was not at CES, its presence was felt in apps for locks, sensors, heating, lighting, cameras, window, shades, and other functions that can be delivered through HomeKit.

Those include products I saw at a preview in New York in December 2018 hosted by Apple. Note to readers: Apple paid for my transportation and accommodation in New York. They did not review this article.

Companies that can simplify smart devices for the home may have an edge with increasingly tech-weary consumers in 2019. Good examples are Wemo’s Mini Smart Plug that uses existing home WiFi network to wirelessly control appliances and systems, and its wall dimmer switch, which embeds smart lighting technology without requiring a subscription or hub.

Canadian tech company Nanoleaf has launched Canvas, a smart, modular lighting system that reacts to gesture and touch, syncs to music in real time, and can be programmed to, for example, simulate a sunrise for a smarter way to wake up.

Coming from Eve are very slim smart LEDs strips that can go anywhere – on mouldings, or under shelves, cabinets, islands or tabletops. While extremely energy efficient, they deliver 1,800 lumens (120 watts), giving off a very bright light in both white and colour. User choose from pre-installed lighting “scenes” or create their own colours.

Weiser’s Premis is an iPhone-, iPad- or Touch-enabled touchscreen deadbolt that touts its ability to make home entry more secure, along with its well-considered square design, which is available in nickel or venetian bronze. ( $279)

Netatmo’s Video Doorbell lets users see who’s at the door, sends alerts when it detects people around the house, thwarts attempts to deactivate or remove the doorbell, and has a camera that adjusts to sudden changes in light, so faces will be clear regardless of light level.

New toilet tech unveiled at CES included Toto’s Neorest NX2, which auto opens and closes, has an integrated personal cleansing system and an in-bowl catalytic deodorizer. Kohler’s Numi 2.0 has surround-sound speakers, smart lighting, a seat warmer and Alexa voice assistant.

There’s sure to conversation about which of these new technologies actually make a house more efficient, safer, or more beautiful and which are cumbersome, unnecessary extras.

It will be an especially important discussion for those with limited mobility or who are aging, particularly those looking for tech that will allow them to remain at home longer into life.

Privacy remains another hot topic, with Apple HomeKit positioning itself as a completely private and secure, suggesting that nobody, not even Apple, knows how and when devices are used.

BONUS TRAVEL TIP: While in NYC, I discovered the Tenement Museum, which depicts the stories of immigrants living in the lower east side between the 19th and 21st centuries. Fascinating on its own, it’s also a compelling reminder of how dramatically home life has changed in just a century, and how transformative well-designed technology can be.