Backyard bytes

Fresh and fun summer tech for the home, cottage

By Marc Saltzman

Summer is in full swing, which means more time in the great outdoors, perhaps barbecuing on a backyard deck, lounging by the pool, camping (or glamping) with the family, or away with friends at a lakefront cottage.

Hey, in a country with four distinct seasons, we’ve earned this, folks. Don’t let these few fleeting summer months go to waste.

And while you might think enjoying the fresh air and playing around with gadgets are mutually exclusive pastimes, the two actually go hand in hand – if you’ve got the right tech by your side.

From high-tech grills and robotic lawnmowers to outdoor-ready projectors and waterproof speakers, here are several of my summer-ready considerations to enhance your R&R this season. A few ideas:

Books n’ beats
There are three issues with trying to read ebooks in a hammock, by the pool, or at the beach: tablets are virtually impossible to see because of its glary, illuminated screen; battery life isn’t great to begin with, and even worse in the hot sun; and don’t even think about getting a tablet wet.

Instead, look at ebook readers, like the Kobo Sage ($299) which offer a glare-free e-ink screen, battery life that’s measured in weeks, and is completely waterproof (IPX8 rated), in case you want to read on a floatie or slip into a bubble bath at the end of the day.

Kobo Sage also works with Kobo Stylus, an optional pen to jot down notes, lists, or annotate on ebooks and PDFs. It can convert your handwriting to digital text, and then sync to other devices via Dropbox, if desired. Plus, you can now download audiobooks to listen to, when streamed to Bluetooth wireless headphones or a nearby speaker.

Speaking of which, the Sony XP500 Splashproof Bluetooth Portable Party Speaker ($449) delivers loud and balanced audio, regardless of the content it’s wirelessly connected to, thanks to a pair of stereo cones, premium drivers, and a wide 13.3cm (5.24”) design.

(Also included is a 3.5mm male-to-male stereo audio cable for non-Bluetooth devices.)

Battery life tops 20 hours, plus the speaker lights up with the music to liven up the atmosphere.

Heads up!
If you’re in search of premium headphones, audiophiles should happily slip on a pair of thinksound ov21 ($494) high-fidelity over-ear wired headphones.

Designed by sound engineers, the expertly crafted 45mm dynamic drivers help deliver crisp acoustic performance, complemented by a strikingly wide soundstage, so nothing comes between you and your music.

Quality components in and outside the ov21s—including a sustainably-sourced walnut housing cover on each earcup—complete the overall package. 

In the box are two detachable, nylon braided, and tangle-resistant cables, including one with a handy inline mic in the event a call comes in while you’re listening.

Bites vs. bytes
Interested in some tasty tech?
Starting at $1799, Traeger’s Wi-Fi connected wood pellet grills allow you to grill a steak and veggies, smoke a brisket or bake an apple pie—all in the same machine—and using 100 percent real hardwood pellets as the fuel source.

As for where the technology comes in, Traeger’s WiFIRE technology lets you monitor or control the temperature (even from inside your home) through a companion app on a smartphone or tablet (which includes access to more than 1,600 recipes), an Apple Watch on your wrist, or by using voice commands through a Google or Amazon smart speaker.

Its latest and top-of-the-line models, the Timberline ($3,499) and larger Timberline XL ($3,799), offer up to a whopping 1,320 square feet of cooking space; a new SmartCombustion system to help avoid flare-ups; full-colour touchscreen display; and a first-of-its-kind (well, in North America) induction cooktop, which is ideal for frying and sautéing your sides.

Happy with your existing barbeque? The aptly-named iGrill Mini ($89.99) is a more affordable solution, as it’s Bluetooth-enabled meat thermometer and accompanying app. Stick the silver probe into your beef, poultry, pork or lamb, and the temperature of the meat is displayed both on the tabletop unit connected to the probe as well as the free app (up to 200 feet away).

Available in black or white, the iGrill also includes a timer, alerts, a smoker option and coloured graph to see BBQ history.

Lights, camera, action
It’s amazing what a difference mood lighting can make at nighttime.

For example, the Philips Hue Amarant White and Colour Ambiance linear outdoor light ($199.99) is weatherproof LED lighting that can wash a large swath of your property—such as hedges, fences, and walls—with customizable lighting for added ambience (up to 16 million colours). Part of the safe and easy-to-install LowVolt system, this Philips Hue Amarant spotlight connects to a power supply unit, allowing you to connect multiple linear spotlights, if desired, for a daisy chain setup.

This set up requires a Philips Hue bridge ($69.99) plugged into your router, which then lets you control your lights from your smartphone or tablet, your voice through a smart speaker, or via the dimmer indoor switch. Or set schedules and timers, if you like, and change up the lighting to suit the time of year, such as reds and greens for Christmas or a spooky scene for Halloween.

When it comes to watching flicks outside—perhaps summer movie nights in the backyard—outdoor TVs are growing in popularity, sure, but portable projectors are more ideal since you can bring them in and out of the home, or from a home to a cottage, and back again.

For example, Epson’s compact EpiqVision Mini EF12 Smart Streaming Laser Projector ($1,299) can beam an image up to 150 inches—even up against the side of a home or an outdoor screen—in up to 4K resolution (with High Dynamic Range), and an integrated Android TV platform that let you access popular streaming services right out of the box (or wirelessly sync your smartphone to play videos).

On the audio front, Epson has partnered with Yamaha to create a powerful soundscape.

Robots, too
Just like a floor-vacuuming robot for the inside your home, outdoor ‘bots can help free up your time.

Hate pulling up weeds? From the inventor of the Roomba, the Tertill Weeding Robot ($250 USD) runs on solar power and navigates around your garden (up to 200 square feet) to kill emerging weeds with its string trimmer (similar to a weed whacker) and specially designed wheels.

No programming or mapping is necessary, as it uses height to tell plants from weeds, plus it ships with plant and row guards to protect small plants. Push a button and it’ll attack weeds in 2- to 5-minute intervals, for 1 to 2 hours a day. 

As for robots cutting your lawn, the Husqvarna Automower robotic lawnmower family ranges in price from $1,499.99 for the Automower 115H model (for up 1,600 square metres of grass) to $5,599.99 for the Automower 435X AWD model (an all-wheel drive model for up to 3,500 square metres and handles slopes as steep as 70 degrees).

After the guidewire is installed around the perimeter of your property, this waterproof mower can quietly cut your grass with its electric motor and will return on its own to the charging station, power up and then continue mowing. It can navigate around obstacles (like rocks, trees, and garden gnomes) and trek down narrow walkways, while anti-theft alarms will prevent envious neighbours from lifting your ‘bot.

Along with setting schedules or starting and stopping with the app, those who own a Google or Alexa smart speaker can use their voice to start and stop the Automower. 

For the past 25 years, Marc Saltzman has been a recognized expert in consumer electronics, business tech, social media, and automotive trends. You can see him on CTV, Global TV, and as a keynote speaker across North America. Follow him on Twitter @ marc_saltzman.

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