It's my second Tech Top 10 for Apartment Therapy and my list sure is different from last year's roundup. 2012 brought a lot more online shopping, streaming content, and home automation technologies integrated into my home life. I said my goodbyes to the old and outdated, and "hello" to new ones...here are the ten I've welcomed into my life.
Roku 2 XS: I took my own advice in recommending the Roku in our 2012 Apartment Therapy Tech Gift Guide and bought the Roku 2 XS as an early Christmas present for myself. It's a quick and easy way to access Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Pandora, and tons of other apps, videos, and music for a very reasonable price. Unfortunately I'm finding myself watching TV in bed more often than not, leading to my next addiction of 2012...
Netflix: I've casually watched Netflix before and even used to be a member back when they actually sent physical disks. But this year I actually sat down with friends for streaming episodes of television shows and never really got up from the couch. We watched episode after episode - nay, season after season - of every TV series we found vaguely interesting. There is just so much content there and so readily available. Must get up from couch...
Amazon Prime: I decided to try out Amazon Prime this year and it has really changed my shopping habits. While I have always comparison shopped online, I previously I would wait to bundle orders together to receive free ground shipping. This meant the exact opposite of the instant gratification that you get when buying from brick and mortar stores. I would end up just waiting and waiting and forgetting about it and never getting what I meant to get, especially the really small stuff.
Now with Amazon Prime I just order anytime I want anything at all, no matter how small (if it qualifies for Prime 2-day shipping). I'm still not high on that $79 price point but at $39 for the student option it's a great deal, especially with the included Prime Instant Video and Kindle Library access.
Lutron Spacer System: It took a whole lot of planning and cost a whole lot more than was originally budgeted for the electrical portion of my home renovation (tech tour pending), but I'm absolutely loving the Lutron Spacer System. With several different sets of lights on my first floor, I can push a single button to turn everything on or off or to different levels of light (programmable scenes). If I'm heading out the door I just push the "all off" button and what do you know, everything turns off. No more traipsing across the room to shut off the one light switch in the corner I forgot to flick on my way out.
The scenes are really useful too as I've got them programmed into my Logitech Harmony 900 to turn off all the lights during a movie and back on when I'm done. I can program lighting settings for romantic dinners, dim lights when I'm just grabbing a snack, and any scenario imaginable (up to 4). How much fun it is to control all the lights at the touch of a button!
Sure I'm a little bitter that they upgraded the Nest a month after I bought the original, but hey that's technology for you (see iPhone). It's great to be able to use my smartphone to change the temperature if I'm cold underneath my covers in bed, or not even worry about it at all since the Nest learns my habits and settings and adjusts the temperature automatically to match my preferences.
So far our energy costs have been lower than before and while it might take a while to recoup the expensive $250 purchase price, it's a fun piece of kit that we're very much enjoying.
• Nest: The Thermostat that Learns Your Habits
• It's Easier To Get A New iPhone 4S Than A Nest Thermostat!
• Nest Learning Thermostat Goes Version 2.0
Donating/Recycling/Purging Old Tech: This isn't a traditional tech top 10 item, but it's been a big one for me. I finally got over my hoarding mentality and decided that enough was enough. When's the next time I'm going to use these extra monitors and printers that have been sitting in the closet for 4 years? Or the old massive Windows NT PCs (see above) that use to be crazy expensive and fast but now acts as home to many spiders based on all the cobwebs inside. Whether it was donating to a good cause or recycling still-useful tech that I just haven't touched for years and probably won't for another decade to come, I decided it was time to purge and I feel much lighter (and my home more spacious) for it.
• When Re-Gifting Is Good: Where to Recycle and Donate Tech
LG Front Load Washer & Dryer: It might not sound as glamorous as a shiny new HDTV but we're super psyched about our new LG front load washer and dryer. Compared to all the washer/dryers we've used in the past, these new models are super quiet, energy efficient, and do a great job of actually cleaning and drying our clothes. We can actually run them while we're sleeping and it's not much more noise than the air purifier we run now and again.
Monoprice Ceiling Recessed Tab-Tensioned Motorized Projection Screen: Watching movies on a large screen makes such a big difference, and being a movie fanatic I was excited to add a projector and screen to my new renovation. I decided on a 106" model from Monoprice and I know there are cheaper screens (even from Monoprice) but the options just sounded so good I kept upgrading. This model sits nicely within my joists hidden out of view, provided tab tensioning for a flatter screen, and has IR remote capabilities. My only regret? I should have gone bigger!!! Please forgive the crappy photo and ignore the Chinese food, Sriracha, and Magic Hat. Oh and the partial installation as you can see the wiring still hanging loose.
Repurposing A Wireless Router As An Access Point
The WiFi signal is just a tad too weak to properly reach our guest house so we needed to come up with a new solution. Fortunately I had run Ethernet cables underground when we added the gas line and I followed these simple instructions on how to use an existing extra wireless router (who doesn't have several laying around) as an access point. My internet speeds are blazing fast with the access point so close, and that makes watching streaming videos in HD so much better.
Suncast Aquawinder Auto-Rewind Hose Reel: It's extremely low tech but one of the best investments I made all year. Finally having a yard of my own after years of living in townhouses and apartments, I went out to buy the essentials. Hose reels ran around $25 for basic ones but this $100 marvel caught my eye. It uses water pressure to automatically rewind the hose reel. I actually show it off to everyone I can. I'm sounding like a canned ad / written testimonial but really without this thing my hose would lay in the grass every day, that's how lazy I am.
(Images: Jason Yang; drewgstephens licensed for use under Creative Commons; as linked above)