Smart appliances used to be something that only featured in a Sci-Fi movie, where lights turned on with a clap, doors automatically locked, and voice assistants were something we’d scoff at - now though, a smart home is something that’s becoming easier to achieve.
Smart appliances used to be the stuff of science-fiction movies, in which voice assistants greeted you when you came home and put on some soothing music, lights turned on as you entered the room, and robots did the housework.
But in a few short years connected gadgets have become as ubiquitous as mobile phones in many homes, and, for some people, just as indispensable.
The smart home industry is set to make over $8 million/ £5.8 million in the US alone this year, while creating a ‘smart’ home has become relatively affordable, costing on average a little over $687/ £500, according to a study from Statista.com.
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I spend my days writing about all things home-related, smart and otherwise, and I’m all for more technologically advanced appliances – because why not let them make our lives easier? To me, having a video doorbell makes sense because it lets me see who’s at my door when I’m not at home (or when I’m in my pajamas and not sure I want to answer).
Lots of appliances are so much handier if they’re controlled via your phone or, better still, your voice. The best smart lights can create an instant ambiance in your home, or simply switch on when you’re out if you don’t want your home to appear empty for security reasons.
But – and it’s a big but – do we really need every appliance to be a smart one? Or do manufacturers just think we’re slightly lazier than we really are?
The issue I have is that some smart appliances still have a long way to go until they’re actually more of a help than a hassle, while others just aren’t smart enough
Take a smart air fryer, for example. These appliances let you cook crispy fries in no time at all, and because they’re smart-enabled you’ll be able to switch them on and off from your phone - sound good? Of course it does. However, we’re not quite living in an age yet where the air fryer is so smart that it can take my raw potatoes, wash and peel them, and shake them around in the air fryer so they’re cooked to perfection - now that would be impressive.
And while I can fully appreciate why smart thermostats are a real draw, enabling you to put the heating on when you’re out and fine-tune the temperature from your sofa, when it’s just as easy to switch on your air fryer by using your finger as it is to use your phone, where’s the appeal?
Why I’m not crazy about smart appliances
Don’t get me wrong – I’m a big fan of some smart appliances. My robot vacuum is a godsend when the kitchen floor needs some TLC and I’ve got better things to do (literally anything is better than vacuuming, right?), and the robot did a great job pre-Covid of sprucing up my carpets when I was expecting visitors (remember those days?). I can program the vacuum to clean up when I’m out of the house, and it’ll even charge itself too. But do we need everything in our homes to be smart?
Even coffee machine accessories like the Nespresso Barista can be turned on via your phone; but by the time you’ve launched the app, found the right setting, and switched it on, you probably could have made your coffee and been halfway through enjoying it - and you’ll pay a premium for the privilege of turning it on via your phone too.
I got lured into buying a larger smart appliance, and jumped at the chance to get a smart washing machine. What a treat to be able to switch the machine on remotely and have the companion app ping when my washing needs to be taken out of the machine, I thought. In reality though, this doesn’t save me time, and it certainly doesn’t save me any effort – although I’ll be first in the queue to buy the first washer that also loads my washing, unloads it when it’s done, and folds it.
Here’s my other problem with smart appliances: they don’t always all work together. You may, for example, have bought a smart fridge and set up a smart lighting system, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily use the same app or hub.
The best smart speakers help to bridge that gap, enabling you to control everything from one device, but not all appliances can sync up with each other, and you ages flicking from app to app trying to create an ‘ambiance’ with your smart lights and sound system to help you chill out, only to create the exact opposite effect as you get increasingly annoyed.
Probably the most frustrating thing about smart appliances is that they aren’t always right. Your smart cameras might alert you to something that isn’t really an issue, and who hasn’t found themselves getting increasingly impatient with Alexa as it tells you it can’t find the song it played just yesterday? You’ll also need to be prepared to update device software and apps regularly, otherwise you’ll find your smart appliance dates pretty quickly, and then there are the not uncommon issues with the Wi-Fi connectivity, especially if you’ve got too many devices using the same network.
I’m guilty of getting sucked into the allure of creating a smart home that saves me time and effort, but in most cases I think I’ll just stick to the tried and tested ‘dumb’ approach: “Alexa, I’ll do it myself.”
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Sophie writes about all things appliance-related and is currently the Home Editor at TechRadar's sister site, Top Ten Reviews. When she's not testing coffee machines and appliances, Sophie is thinking of eating delicious food, and asking people what they're having for dinner.