What makes a smart home? Well, you've probably already got the smart TV in the living room, maybe a smart speaker in the lounge too. If you're really invested you'll have the smart lighting and smart thermostat too. But what makes for a smart kitchen?
Since the smart home category exploded onto the tech scene, countless manufacturers have jumped on the bandwagon to the point that we’re now spoilt for choice, and that quickly expanded to include smart kitchenware, too. But which smart home products are worth buying? Which ones are actually useful, affordable, and compatible with the things you use every day?
This is the first article in our series on the best smart home products available right now. We’re starting in the kitchen, because - as we’ve said before - this is one of the trickiest areas to get right.
These are the 11 products that we think are worth a space on your worktop.
Anova Precision Cooker
Few things are as divisive as sous vide cookery these days, and it has been made to seem far more complex than it is. By sealing food in an airtight plastic bag and cooking it in a water bath, you can apply very gentle heat, letting you slow cook things to scientific precision.
Dedicated water baths are bulky old things, and often consigned to the attic after a brief spell of optimism. Anova’s nifty immersion circulator is eminently cupboard-sized, and it’ll clip onto the side of any old pan, bringing the water up to your chosen temperature and cooking your food to perfection.
If you’re thinking that sous vide might be for you, go for the WiFi-enabled device – it’ll let you control your Precision Cooker from afar, so you can drop dinner into your water bath in the morning, and set it cooking from work, and come home to a nice juicy steak. The app isn’t just a remote control either – there’s loads of video tutorials, genuinely excellent recipes, and even some cookery guidance from the wonderful J. Kenji Lopez-Alt of The Food Lab fame.
Nespresso Prodigio coffee machine
The humble coffee machine is one of the few categories of smart kitchen products where we’re almost spoilt for choice, but this is undoubtedly the best. Nespresso is already a household name in home barista-bots, and the connected edition of the machine uses the same capsule system, making it easy to find refills.
The Prodigio does what you’d want from a smart coffeemaker: lets you make cups remotely via your phone or tablet (iOS and Android), schedule brewing and reorder capsules.
As for the coffee itself, it’s excellent. Nespresso capsules are very well regarded in the hospitality industry for their consistency and high quality, and they offer a huge range of different roasts and coffees from around the world. Feed the Prodigio with a capsule, and it gives you a lovely rich espresso in return, with a mouth feel worthy of Clooney himself.
Many of us enjoy a cheeky glass of red of an evening, but have you ever tried aerating your wines before guzzling them down? Some wines – particularly robust reds – really benefit from a bit of breathing time, as the oxidation helps to soften the tannins, whilst undesirable compounds will evaporate, making your wine smell and taste better.
Aeration by normal methods takes a bit of time, and it’s more art than science, but iFavine's iSommelier brings some smart tech to the table to speed up your drinking. The iSommelier pulls air through a multi-layered molecular filtration system, refining it into 90% pure oxygen that it gently pumps through the wine. Instead of taking hours, your wine aeration takes mere minutes, leaving you with lots of time to read up on your wine vocabulary.
Download the iFavine app too – it’ll give you advice on how long to aerate certain wines for, and a nice little progress update bar whilst it goes to work on your tipple of choice.
Smart Garden 3
A handful of herbs in a sauce or a salad can transform a dish, but how often do you find them limp and festering at the bottom of your salad drawer? Growing your own makes so much more sense – it’ll save you a few pennies and you can take what you need when you need it.
Not everyone has the time to nurture their herbs from seed to stir fry, and the beauty of Click and Grow’s Smart Garden 3 is that the intelligent planter looks after all the hard work, like a nanny for your sproutlings. The water tank holds enough water for a whole month of growing, the LED lamps emit an ‘enhanced light spectra’ to encourage growth, and the smart soil packs employ NASA-inspired nanomembranes to dose your little plants with nutrients on a regular basis.
There are plenty of seed packets available, and even if you’re not a herbivore, you can grow tomatoes, chilies, peppers and lots more in your Smart Garden. There’s even an accompanying app that’ll let you keep tabs on your little plants from afar.
This might be a slightly controversial choice because spending a hundred quid on a wireless camera for your fridge seems a bit ridiculous - but when you compare it with the cost of a proper smart fridge, often in the thousands, it seems much more reasonable.
Fridgecam is designed to let you look in your fridge while you’re out. So you can check if you need to buy butter, for instance, and how much wine’s left. It also claims to be able to recognise food items and expiry dates, sending notifications when you need to finish up the bacon (hallelujah).
It solves a very first world problem, yes. But its creators, Smarter (who also make the well-regarded iKettle, now available in its third generation product complete with improved app), say it should save you hundreds a year - so even if that’s wildly inflated, it should pay for itself. if you’ve been considering a smart fridge, start with this and see if you still want to spend thousands more.
The Nest Protect is an all-round well-designed product. It looks considerably better on your ceiling than most yellowing smoke boxes, acts as a nightlight for your hallway when you pass under it, and has a beautifully simple app featuring the soothing line “Everything is OK” (assuming it’s not on fire, obviously).
Nest Protect uses voice alarms and phone alerts to let you know if there’s a problem, including low battery as well as smoke and carbon monoxide. You can turn the alarm off from your phone (handy when you’ve burnt dinner and don’t feel like getting on a chair) and if you have several, it’ll tell you where the issue is. Nest products are also some of the best for working with other smart home ecosystems.
This is the long-life battery-powered version, but there’s an equally-priced one that can be wired into your mains supply. Having attempted this ourselves we would strongly recommend you use Nest's installation service unless you’re an electrician. Or cop out, like we did, and return it for the battery one.
Amazon Dash buttons and Dash Wand
Amazon Dash buttons are effectively free, because although you pay five bucks upfront, you get a discount of the same amount on your first order using the button.
If you often use Amazon to order stuff for the kitchen, you might find a Dash button really handy. They’re internet-connected one-push buttons that automatically order a product from Amazon. Dash buttons are battery-powered, so you can stick them next to whatever the product is and push it as soon as you run out. There’s an indicator light to tell you if the order was successful.
The buttons are mostly branded and you have a limited choice of products that can be ordered, but Amazon Dash Wand helps to fill the void, letting you order items via a barcode scanner, or by asking for them with your out-loud talky words. It doesn’t buy them off the bat, mind you – it just sticks them in your basket ready for purchase. But still, if you order from Amazon regularly or use Amazon Fresh, it’s a real time-saver.
Tefal Cook4Me Connect cooker
Like the coffee machine, this is a good product with useful smart features added - which means even if you rarely use the app, you won’t regret getting one. Cook4Me is basically a fancy pressure cooker, preparing meals for up to 6 people and keeping them warm until you’re ready. It comes with recipes on the machine, and you can send (many!) more directly to your cooker from the iOS/Android app.
Strictly speaking, it doesn’t handle the whole process for you. You’ll still need to chop your own onions and prep everything that’s going into the meal, but Cook4Me certainly handles the actual cooking process, and as it’s a pressure cooker, it speeds things up quite considerably compared to a standard braise in the oven.
Cook4Me seems designed for the YouTube generation - it really holds your hand through the cooking process, even if you’ve no idea what you’re doing, and you can monitor your dish from the app so nothing overcooks or goes cold. It’s big, it’s expensive, but for the lazy chef, it’s a godsend.
Drop Connected Scale
Although no one really needs their kitchen scales to connect to the internet, the way the Drop scale does it makes cooking more fun. Your iPhone or iPad becomes the screen (it’s not on Android yet), showing step-by-step visual recipes and helping you measure the right amounts. If you want to scale the recipe up or down, or it turns out you’ve run out of something, Drop can handily adjust the other ingredients for you and suggest alternatives.
The scale itself is attractive and durable, with a wipe-clean finish and no cables. The latest update to the app also adds cocktail mixology in the same easy, fun format as the many food recipes. It’s a little expensive for scales, but if you’re buying some anyway, Drop is worth the extra.
Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant can’t lend a pair of hands in the kitchen, but she can save you having to use yours – a lifesaver if you’re in the middle of a particularly sticky bread session. Talk to her with voice commands (takes a bit of getting used to - especially if you’re British) to set multiple timers, check on how long’s left on them, set alarms for specific times, and convert recipe book measurements – like infuriating US cup measurements – into proper metric units, maths-free.
You can add items to your shopping list by asking her, reorder things from Amazon (handy if you run out of clingfilm mid-cook, for instance), and best of all, take advantage of her huge set of Skills (like apps) to get recipes and drinks pairing ideas. Latest and greatest of those, Amazon Alexa now supports Sonos, so you can request music via Echo and send it anywhere around the house. Brown Sugar by The Rolling Stones? American Pie, Don Maclean? Red Red Wine UB- I’ll stop now.
What did, and didn’t, make the cut
It’s easy to get caught up in the hype and excitement of the smart home - and goodness knows, brands have. Tech manufacturers seem to be playing an ongoing, rising-stakes game of “Will It Wi-Fi” with the contents of our houses, but that’s not the question they should be asking. You can put a chip in pretty much anything, it’s just whether you should.
We could have written this list by finding the best available product in each category - best connected dishwasher, best connected fridge and so on. But for many products, even the manufacturers seem at a loss to explain why their product is connected.
That’s why we’re sticking to products where the addition of smart functionality is actually useful, more useful than the non-smart alternative, and more than just “it has an app.”
As a category, the smart home has a long way to go. Thankfully, so does our series on the products that have nailed it so far.
Next up, we’ll be heading into the bedroom - see you there.