Best Smart Home Devices for a Connected New Year

 Like many of you, I spent a lot of time at home this year, but it came with an unexpected upside: an excuse to upgrade all my home tech! With so many great new products on the market, from 5G devices to smart TVs, cameras, and more, there’s a lot to choose from this holiday season, and into the New Year.

In fact, the smart home market is set to grow by nearly 12% over the next five years, to $135 billion, so I’m sure even more devices are coming. But for now, here are the devices on my wish list, and how to protect them once they’re unboxed.

Smart Thermostats—These have been around for a while, but the newest additions include features that keep your home comfortable, and eco-friendly, by giving you greater control over your energy use. Some thermostats can detect your habits, and heat or cool different areas of your home, depending on which rooms you are using. And others now connect to smart speakers, allowing you to stream your favorite music and podcasts, or receive calendar alerts.

Bluetooth Speakers—Speaking of high-tech speakers, this category has taken off in recent years, but now there are more options for different types of users. While some people like the voice command features that turn their speakers into personal assistants, other users just want portable speakers with great sound quality and a sleek style. Now you can find a variety of different designs, sizes, and price points.

Smart TVs—With the explosion of streaming content services, and the demand for more in-home entertainment during the pandemic, smart TVs have become a must-have item for many. The latest offer 4K streaming video, which gives you higher resolution, although you need to stream 4K content to get the benefit. It may be worth the investment for other new features, however, such as a faster user interface, and a built-in universal search engine that will allow you to easily locate a favorite movie, actor, or genre.

IP Cameras— Internet-connected cameras can be an affordable security option, and the latest versions offer extra surveillance with wide-angle lenses, night vision, and wireless options for outdoors. Some cameras even do motion tracking, and offer facial recognition, in case you want to know right away if the person on your property is a known entity or a stranger. Just keep in mind that to get the advanced features you usually need to sign up for a subscription service as well.

Gaming Router—As the father of two school-aged children, I know a lot of parents are wary of online gaming, but here’s why a gaming router may be a great gift, even if there are no hardcore gamers in the house. These routers aim to give you a more reliable internet connection, while allowing multiple devices to simultaneously receive data streams, which could be a game changer if your whole family is trying to work and learn online from home.

Some routers even offer Wi-Fi 6, which is a huge jump in potential speed to 9.6 Gbps from the current 3.5 Gbps. This also means that all the devices connected to your network could see a significant speed increase, but only if you have devices that can take advantage of it.

Here are a few more great holiday gifts ideas:

  • Smart locks and doorbells
  • Smart lightbulbs
  • Intelligent air purifiers

How To Secure Your Smart Home Devices?

While the best smart home devices can certainly make your home more convenient, safe, and fun, they do open the door to some risk. You may have read about IP cameras being hacked, or other ways in which home networks are vulnerable to attacks. This is because most Internet of Things (IoT) devices come with little built-in security, making them an easy target for hackers.

Here’s how to secure both your network and your devices so you can enjoy them without worry.

  • Buy from reputable brands—Try to choose products from brands you trust, and who have a good reputation when it comes to support and built-in security features.
  • Change the Default Username & Passwords—Default names and passwords are often available on the dark web, allowing cybercriminals to login to your devices. Once logged in, they could potentially use the connection to distribute malware aimed at infecting the computers or smartphones connected to the same network.
  • Setup A Guest Network—To further protect your content-rich devices, set up a guest network on your router that is exclusively for your home IoT. With a guest network, you can also make sure that devices are only connected during the right times, and with the right permissions. Follow the instruction in your router manual or look them up online.
  • Practice Good Password Hygiene —Since you need to change the default passwords anyway, make each password unique and change them regularly. To make life even easier, use a password manager to generate and track your complex passwords for you.
  • Secure Your Network—Since your router is the central hub for all the connected devices, make it as secure as possible by checking to see that it uses encryption to scramble your data so that no one else can see it. A solution like McAfee Secure Home Platform makes it easy to protect your connected home.
  • Use Powerful Security Software—Invest in comprehensive security software that can detect and block a variety of threats, and make sure it includes a firewall so all the computers and devices on your home network are protected. A product like McAfee® Total Protection has the added benefit of including a password manager, multi-device compatibility, device security, and a Virtual Private Network (VPN), which ensures that you can safely connect to the internet no matter where you go. Importantly, it also includes dark web monitoring to help protect your personal and financial information by alerting you if your data is lost or stolen.

 

By taking these precautions as soon as you unwrap your smart home devices, you’re setting yourself up for a fun, and safe, tech-filled New Year.

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