What gadgets have you got at home? A smartphone? Maybe an Amazon Echo? We’re here to tell you about some of the lesser-known bits of kit that are worth tricking out your home with—covering everything from home security to data storage, put these on your shopping list the next time you’re working through your electronics budget.
1) Network Attached Drive (NAS)
A Network Attached Drive, or NAS, is a box holding one or more hard drives that connects directly to your router, either through an Ethernet cable or wifi. That means transfer speeds are slower than they are with the drives fitted right into your computers—but it also means you can get at your data from any computer or even from anywhere on the web. As an added bonus, they can automatically create backup copies of entire disks, too.
You could make your iTunes music library, or your family photo album, or your lifetime of important academic papers available to every device on your home network and even get at these files when you’re away from home. NAS drives come with software to help you set up and secure access, and they work well with a lot of third-party software too, such as Dropbox or Plex (for serving up music and video all around the home).
NAS drives can quickly get expensive, thanks to all the extra smarts built in (and remember to factor in the cost of the hard drives if they aren’t included), but they’re investments that will last you a long time. You can pick up a diskless 2-bay NAS from Synology for £175, for instance, or a 2-bay NAS from WD for £248, complete with 4TB of storage.
2) Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS)
The main job of a Uninterruptible Power Supply or UPS is to keep your computers, NAS drives (see above) and other gadgets running in the case of a power cut—not the most disastrous scenario that could ever befall you, you might think, but if you’re in the middle of a critical OS update or you’ve got half-a-dozen unsaved files open then you’ll be glad you invested in one of these boxes.
Your UPS will also protect against power surges—keeping your hardware safe from harm. It’s essentially a huge battery that gives you a small additional window of power, and while these devices are most often used in businesses and data centres, there’s plenty of reason for you to add one to your home setup.
UPS boxes don’t have to be expensive, though it does depend on how much reserve power you want and how much equipment you’re trying to save from harm. A compact 600 volt amps/330W UPS from APC will set you back £50, for example, while a more robust and capable 1500VA/900W UPS from CyberPower is going to cost you £162 at the time of writing. The higher the volt amps and wattage the larger the battery. So if you need it to power a big desktop, and a NAS, and a router, and still have juice for you phone you might be better off investing in the larger UPS.
3) Mesh wifi routers
You may be perfectly happy with your standard wifi router, pumping out precious wireless internet around the house and keeping you connected, but one router can only do so much—why not have a whole network of them dotted around the home, blitzing dead zones and blanketing your entire home with wifi?
The main benefit of having a mesh network is, as we’ve mentioned, getting wireless internet coverage into every corner of your house. There are side advantages too though, including advanced traffic management to give extra bandwidth to the devices that need it, and (usually) cool management apps you can run on your phone. Mesh networks aren’t for everyone and every scenario, but they can make a real difference to your coverage.
Mesh routers aren’t the cheapest solution though. One of the biggest names in the business is Eero, and you’ll pay something like $500 (£380) for a pack of 3 second-generation wireless mesh routers. Google is also in this particular market, and will sell you a 3-pack for $280 (£213) if you buy direct. Just make sure the hardware is going to be compatible with your setup at home before you buy.
4) Document scanner
To begin with, a document scanner sounds like one of the most boring ways to spend hundreds of pounds of your hard-earned cash—but even if it is dull, it’s very practical. In just a few minutes you can be freeing up whole filing cabinets of room in your house by getting all your old paper documents scanned, digitised, and saved into a suitable folder or cloud locker.
You can use flatbed scanners and even your phone’s camera to digitise paper documents of course, but a dedicated document scanner is so much easier and quicker: It can scan both sides of multiple pages in an instant, then get them all collated and saved in a common format. As an added bonus, all your dusty files become instantly searchable if you save them to an app with OCR (optical character recognition) capabilities (like Google Drive).
There aren’t a huge number of devices out there to do the job, but there are enough. Doxie has a nice line in portable scanners—you can pick up the Doxie Go SE for £152 for instance—and for something a bit more substantial the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 does just about everything you could possibly want from a document scanner for £395.
5) Monitor or laptop riser
However you’ve got your computer set up at home, desktop or laptop, chances are you’re hunching too much for too many hours of the day. Get your monitor or your laptop screen up off the desk and closer to eye level with the help of a monitor riser, or a stand that lifts your entire laptop where you can see it properly.
This is going to require some tweaking and customization depending on the computers you have and the type of desk they’re sitting on, but the end goal is to get everything in a position where you can sit up straight, with a straight back and neck, and look directly ahead. If you need to set up a separate Bluetooth keyboard and mouse for your laptop, then so be it.
The good news is you don’t have to spend too much for this one: The Roost Laptop Stand, for example, comes highly recommended, is portable, and will set you back $75 (£57). If you’ve got a monitor you need to lift up a few inches, then you can get away with spending even less—one such riser is the Halter Acrylic Monitor Stand, yours for $37 (£28), but you’ve got plenty of options to pick from (you could even make your own).