Tech Support: 5 Problem-Solving Gadgets That Make Life Easier

Photo: Alexsl/Getty Images

If technology is supposed to make our lives easier, why does it seem we wrestle with our gadgets more often than not?

From clunky interfaces to incompatibility challenges to frequent software “patches” to fix various issues, today’s tech seems plagued with problems.

Fortunately, there are a few devices that can simplify our lives, whether it’s adding convenience and cost-savings around the home or helping you stay connected on the go.

The following are five examples of stellar products that can make a difference.

A romba on a hardwood floor.
Photo: Roomba

1. Clean Sweep

Why vacuum when you can have a robot do the dirty work for you? While the models vary — ranging from the entry-level Roomba 675 to the top-of-the-line Roomba i7+ — all these Wi-Fi–enabled robotic vacuum cleaners make it a breeze to schedule and clean your home from anywhere via the iRobot Home app.

Or while at home, simply press the large Clean button in the centre of this disc-based robot or use your voice through Google Home or an Amazon Alexa device to start and stop a job. The patented three-stage cleaning system has been engineered to loosen, lift and suction everything from small particles and pet hair to larger debris, whether it’s on carpet, tile or hardwood. Regardless of the model, it will navigate back to its base to charge itself up when it detects the battery is running low. In some higher-end Roombas, it will even continue the job and empty its dirt container for you. iRobot Roomba, from $329

An iPhone in a yellow case.
Photo: Apple

2. Smarter Phone

If you’re itching for a smartphone upgrade and one that’s likely easier to use than your existing device, Apple’s iPhone XR (pronounced “10 R”) features a 6.1-inch Liquid Retina display for vivid colours and crisp text, several rear- and front-facing cameras that snap clear photos and video, plus you can log into your device by simply looking at it.

And you don’t need to worry about bringing this iPhone wherever life takes you as it’s IP67 water and dust resistant, which can be submerged up to one metre (about 3.3 feet) for up to 30 minutes.

Available in six colours, other features include the longest battery life ever in an iPhone, an integrated and intuitive Siri assistant and support for more than two million downloads from the App Store. ­iPhone XR, from $129 on two-year plan

Three google homes in grey, black and peach.
Photo: Google Home

3. Personal Assistant

Your phone has a built-in personal assistant you can talk to, but it’s easy and affordable to add one to your home, too.

Available in chalk, aqua, coral or charcoal, Google Home Mini is a small speaker you can place in, say, a kitchen or family room, and then wake it up by simply saying “Okay Google” or “Hey Google,” followed by a question or command. Ask it to tell you the weather forecast over the next few days; set a timer for something you’re cooking in the oven; get real-time sports scores; or turn on your coffee maker, lights or other compatible devices.

Google Home Mini can also play music, make free phone calls and even find your missing phone stuck between couch cushions — by making it ring loudly, even if it’s on silent.

Seriously, it’s a game changer. ­Google Home Mini, $79

A Printer with a colourful photo printed in the tray.
Photo: Epson

4. Fit to Print

Stop me if this sounds familiar: you want to print something out ­— only to discover your ink has run dry.

You don’t have a spare cartridge and, oh, the stores are closed. Sigh.

This scenario might be a thing of the past with the new Epson EcoTank family of products — such as the Epson Expression ET-2750 EcoTank All-in-One Printer — as they let you print for up to two years before you need to refill the ink tanks (and as low as $18 a bottle per colour).

In other words, this Wi-Fi–enabled printer/scanner/copier has an ink yield of up to 6,500 black and 5,200 colour pages and can print up to 10.5 pages per minute for black and five pages for colour. ­Epson EcoTank, from $299

A smart Wi-Fi thermostat and sensor.
Photo: Ecobee

5. Temp Control

Using an app or your voice, smart thermostats can help you save up to 23 per cent on your annual heating and cooling bills, but some — like Toronto-based ecobee4 — can automatically optimize settings per room.

By sensing occupancy, this smart Wi-Fi thermostat works with room sensors to manage hot or cold spots in your home, detecting if someone is there and delivering the optimal temperature to individual rooms. You get one sensor in the box, along with the thermostat, but it supports up to
32 sensors.

There’s also built-in Amazon Alexa support, so you can ask it to read you the news, plan a drive somewhere, and, of course, adjust the temperature.

Ecobee4 also sends you free monthly reports to see how much energy you’ve saved. ­Ecobee4 Wi-Fi Smart Thermostat, $329

A version of this article appeared in the April 2019 issue with the headline, “Life Simplified: Tech,” p. 76.