For years, he told you to shut off the lights and turn the heat down. Now, for Father’s Day, you could make sure he’s covered with these easy-to-use smart home products and other connected devices.
The best part: These items can be picked up from Best Buy, Staples, Walmart, Target, Apple Stores and other brick-and-mortar retailers, so even last-minute shoppers can still wow dear old dad.
Nest Learning Thermostat
Whether Dad’s environmentally conscious or just tired of high energy costs, chances are good that a smart thermostat would be right up his alley. The Wi-Fi-enabled Nest is controllable via both smartphone and in person using the physical dial. This means he can set just the right temperature while he’s home or, if he forgets to adjust it before he leaves, turn it down while he’s away.
Even better, it’s a learning thermostat. Nest will pick up on the household’s heating and cooling preferences over time, and even manage them on its own, so he won’t have to fuss with programming that newfangled doohickey. $250.
Philips Hue Smart Lightbulbs
Shutting off the lights when not in use could do a lot to save electricity. Mobile app-controlled Philips Hue could help that cause. The smart lightbulbs are rated for 10-year life, which means Dad won’t have to climb ladders up to the ceiling lights all the time.
The lights also change color, which would make for a fun poker night or a relaxing nap time atmosphere. If Dad’s elderly, those fancy features could even mean more. Studies indicate that lighting can help seniors with mood disorders, and some even suggest color therapy can have an impact on people with dementia.
There are plenty of smart bulbs these days, but few can boast the deep integration Philips Hue has. It works with different platforms, so if your father winds up enjoying the connected life, he could graduate into a whole smart home later on. $200 (for a pack of three Hue lightbulbs and hub).
(Note: If a belated gift is okay, and Dad has no need for multi-colored lights, you might wait for Philips Hue Lux. The mono-colored white bulb should be available soon, and the kit sells for half the price.)
Sonos Play:1 Wireless Speaker
If your father’s anything like mine, the first thing he turns on in the morning is the news. Sonos makes that easy using a smartphone to pipe music, Internet radio and newscasts. Like Hue, this wireless speaker is also compatible with several different types of smart home platforms. That means it could automatically play news in the morning, or soothing slow jams when he walks into the house.
Even if he’s content with a “dumb home,” the product’s excellent sound quality makes it worthwhile as a standalone speaker. It’s also expandable—if he adds other Sonos speakers later on, they can work together to play different things in different rooms, or the same playlist everywhere at once. Because the action’s controlled by his iPhone or Android device, he never has to get up to change tracks, stations or volume.
Sonos can be a bit pricey, but its latest Play:1 compact speaker still delivers great sound for a smaller price tag. And right now, the company is offering 6 months of Google Play Music free with purchase.) $199 (for Play:1; others $299 to $399).
DropCam Pro Smart Camera
I’ve been having fun with the DropCam Pro, using it to look in on my cats and even mew at them through the microphone and speaker. But connected cameras can offer some peace of mind. They can act like security surveillance devices or, if your dad’s elderly, a way of checking in on him to make sure he’s okay. DropCam offers a wide 130-degree field of view, 8x zoom, night vision and even cloud recording features that will capture and save footage (via subscription). It also sends notifications to the phone, if it detects unusual movement.
Of course, Dad can keep watch over his home himself, if he wants. The mobile app’s interface is simple, and location features can even shut the camera off when he gets home, so he never has to remember to power it down. Later, he could add in the new DropCam Tabs, a set of multi-functional movement sensors. With those, he could know if or when his front door opens, whether the front gate is closed, and when he opened his medicine chest, to keep tabs on medication schedules. $200 ($29 for DropCam Tabs; $9.95 per month for cloud recording).
Jawbone UP24 Fitness Band
Step trackers can be very useful for older people, and Jawbone UP24 is one of the easiest to use. The smartphone app is streamlined, and the vibration alerts can remind Dad to get up and walk around periodically (or take his pills). Beyond steps, it also tracks sleep and features a nap timer, as well as a meal log with a big database of food entries. The Bluetooth band’s built-in social features means that, if you have an UP band too, you can see his activity levels and keeps tabs on that.
Step trackers are fairly commonplace now, but I think Jawbone’s ability to plug into connected homes sets it apart from others. The company has told me it has a deep interest in smart homes, and UP24 works with platforms like SmartThings so users can turn on lights or trigger other actions from the wrist.
If Bluetooth pairing is too much for Dad, though, the previous version offers a physical jack for plug-in syncing instead. $80 (last-gen Jawbone UP) to $150 (Jawbone UP24 with Bluetooth).
iGrill Bluetooth Meat Thermometer
I genuinely loved my previous generation iGrill meat thermometer, because barbecue! Meat thermometers are handy things to have in the kitchen or by the backyard Webber, so why not go for a smart one?
If Dad likes tackling roast beast, this Bluetooth Smart device can make sure he doesn’t overcook his precious entree. It can be set for time or to send notifications when it hits the perfect medium rare, shooting the alert over to his iPhone (or Android device, depending on the model). The app can also handle multiple timers and thermometers.
The mobile app offers recipes with built-in timers for the phone—which is perfect if he has some cuts he’s not quite sure what to do with. $40 to $100.
Roku Streaming Stick
I was tempted to recommend Chromecast, which is a solid (and cheap) option for streaming online videos and music to televisions. But the casting device’s lack of remote control made me turn to the Roku streaming stick instead. The company, which is known for its hockey puck-like set-top boxes, now offers a smaller streaming dongle that comes with Roku’s standard remote control.
The company makes great remotes that even feature a dedicated Netflix button right on the front. It also has directional buttons for bouncing between Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO GO and many other streaming options. Roku has a clean TV interface, offers YouTube casting to the TV and M-GO movie rentals. There are a variety of Roku boxes, but I like the stick because it takes up virtually no space. That means there’s no clutter—which should also make Mom really happy. $50.
Eyefi Mobi Wireless SD Memory Card
If Dad snaps a lot of pics with a digital camera, then he might love an Eyefi Mobi. The Eyefi sends images from his camera to his smartphone wirelessly, while he’s still shooting or afterward. Recently, the company also launched the Eyefi Cloud service. With this, the phone can push those photos to an online account, for viewing on a computer.
If your father has the basic skills to connect to a hotspot, he should be able to work this. I tested both the card and the cloud service, and they worked well for a single user. (Things got a little more complicated when our staff tried to use a single account for multiple people.) I also found that it works as a traditional SD card, so it can be popped into a memory card reader.
The more I used this, the more I liked it. And now, I consider it a must-have for my DSLR and my point-and-shooter. $50 to $100. ($49 per year for Eyefi Cloud.)
SanDisk Connect Wireless Flash Drive
Connectivity can be powerful, but when it fails, it can be extremely frustrating. Fortunately, there are ways people can carry their own cloud in their pocket.
The SanDisk Connect Wireless Flash Drive is a small USB drive that doubles as wireless storage. It plugs into a computer, for easy file transfer, offers a microSD card slot and can create a Wi-Fi Direct network, so other gadgets can connect to it wirelessly. I’ve found it handy for accessing important work files when no cellular signal or or other network is available. It can even stream videos or music to mobile devices directly.
The tiny size makes it a great gift for travelers. So if Dad tends to go on a lot of trips, he can still access his videos, photos, music or other files—whether he’s stuck on a plane or a hotel room with lousy Wi-Fi. $100.
When you’re mulling over gifts for older recipients, ease-of-use has to be a primary concern. A gadget with lots of splashy features does no good when the user can’t work them. Depending on your father’s relative tech-savvy, you may have to help with the setup. But that’s a small price to pay to make sure he can enjoy the connected life for years to come.