I love smart devices, probably more than anyone you know. But sometimes it feels like we’re only asking whether we can, when we might want to occasionally also ask ourselves whether we should. While so many seemingly ridiculous smart products might open doors of independence to people with disabilities and other challenges, the average person probably won’t see significant benefits from these crazy gadgets. The following is a list of 10 smart products that nobody asked for, yet they somehow exist.
1. Baby Monitors
OK, hear me out. I personally use and love my Nanit smart baby monitor (it's the best smart baby monitor) to check in from anywhere and stay on top of my toddler’s sleep habits. However, I also think smart parenting products can have a negative effect on us, as they basically make us feel like we can or should ignore our instincts. (That’s a symptom of a broader issue in this age of Google, but that’s another article for another day.) Most smart monitors rely on a good internet connection in your home and on your mobile device to function properly. They rely on your phone’s ability to prevent apps from crashing. They rely on power to your modem and router. There are a lot of ways these high-tech monitors can malfunction, and until smart baby monitors become as stable and reliable as the standard baby monitor, I won’t feel completely at ease using one. Also, moms are known for having dog-like hearing… if we don’t use it, do we lose it?
As with baby monitors, I feel it’s best to keep the tools we rely on most free of excessive tech unless it brings a whole lot of value. Because tech breaks—electronics short out and malfunction and overheat and need replacing. That’s the beauty of the modern toilet: so simple, so low maintenance. There are several smart toilets coming to the market with varying degrees of usefulness, and for some (especially in the disabled and aging communities), these toilets might be life-changing. But generally speaking, smart toilets are an example of taking something almost perfect in its simplicity and “upgrading” it to be something that’s way more complex than it needs to be.
The HAPIfork smart fork is designed to help people have a little more self-control at the dinner table. It records how long it takes you to eat your meal, how many bites you’re taking per minute, and the length of intervals between bites. It even vibrates when you’re eating too fast. Okay, yeah, eating slower is healthy for a number of reasons… but a fork has one job to do. I am literally shoveling spaghetti into my face as I write this, and I’m very happy to be doing so with a “dumb” fork that can’t judge me. While the Hapifork was big news in the smart home world about six months ago, it seems demand was low, as they appear to be out of stock everywhere. Either they stopped producing the Hapifork, or they're selling so fast that the manufacturer can't keep up. I find the latter unlikely.
If you’ve ever scrubbed a dried-up drip of honey or syrup off the tile floor, you know mopping isn’t a job for the faint of heart. Gunk finds its way into the tiniest crevices, and grooves between tiles collect debris that many mops just can’t handle. While I trust my carpet floors to my Neato robotic vacuums (yes, one upstairs and one downstairs), I find that my hard floors need a little more attention. Several smart mops exist that can clean hard floors with solution and spinning scrub pads, but sometimes a scrub brush and some elbow grease are the bare minimum it takes to get my kitchen floor clean. Unfortunately, even the coolest smart mops aren't equipped with elbows.
5. Egg Cartons
If you find yourself spending a lot of time fretting over the number of eggs you have in the refrigerator and whether they are still good, perhaps the Quirky Egg Minder could improve your quality of life. But honestly, I’ve never heard anybody say that this is an ongoing problem for them. In my house, if there’s any doubt about how many eggs we have, we just go ahead and buy more. They’re like a dollar. And they tend to last weeks past the date on the egg carton from the store anyway.
As obsessed as I am with smart products, even I feel like a smart belt is crossing the line. I need my belt to be smart enough to hold my pants up. Full stop. But the Belty smart belt handles far more than your ill-fitting trousers: The rather large buckle is a rechargeable power bank, so when your phone is running low on juice, you can just plug it into Belty. The power bank is 2,000 mAh, which won't give you much charge. There are some great power banks out there—this isn't one. Don’t spend $95 on a belt that will end up getting ruined when it's accidentally thrown into the wash.
Nobody likes to perform the sniff test, but is it really that hard to tell if the baby needs a new diaper? Do we need a smart diaper? Just change the kid every two or three hours unless you have some reason to think it needs to happen sooner. Plus, I’m sure there are instances when my baby wets her diaper five seconds after I changed her, and honestly, 99% percent of the time I would rather not know. (Don’t @ me. I have three healthy, happy children.)
Despite its name, the i.Con Smart Condom is not actually a condom. It’s a ring worn over your condom of choice, and it’s loaded with sensors that can track number and speed of thrusts, session length and frequency, calories burned, skin temperature, positions used, and even girth. The i.Con can last six to eight hours on a charge, and after it collects the session data, it feeds your stats to the accompanying app via Bluetooth. Your info can be kept private, or you can share/compare with other users. (Because who wouldn’t want to know that about you?) If you do find yourself eyeing a smart condom purchase, at least check out our tips on how to keep your smart devices from getting hacked. Safety first!
I totally get the need for toothbrushes that guide you to switch sections of your mouth every 30 seconds. I wasted years of my life brushing my teeth willy-nilly and I’ve found the electric toothbrush to be totally life-changing. But a smart toothbrush? This one has a tiny camera built in that allows you to see the inside of your mouth as you brush it. Um, gross.
10. Salt Shakers
If you thought the humble salt shaker couldn’t be improved upon, you were right—it can’t. But it can be loaded up with all manner of unnecessary bells and whistles that will be sure to elicit surprise and confusion from unsuspecting dinner guests. Not only can this smart salt shaker dispense salt when you shake your phone, it can also light up and stream music. I will admit, however, that it’s pretty cool that Smalt can dispense exact amounts of salt via a dial on the dispenser, the app, or Alexa command. That would definitely come in handy while cooking.
But not all smart home products are so ridiculous—many effectively make life tons easier So, what smart home products are worth your time?
The best baby monitor: Panasonic Video Baby Monitor
Our favorite baby monitor has smart motion and noise alerts, but it doesn't rely on internet connectivity. It's the perfect combination of smart tech and reliability.
My favorite robot vacuum: Neato
I've been using robotic vacuums for about eight years, and though their suction power doesn't really compare to the best uprights, I love that mine run nightly while I'm sleeping. They pick up all the little debris and crumbs my kids drop throughout the day, and a nightly once-over by my Neato probably does as much good as a weekly manual vacuuming. Neato didn't come out on top in our testing, but I'm personally in love with them and feel they're a great combination of function and affordability.
The best smart water leak detector: Lyric WiFi Leak & Freeze Detector
Water leaks can happen in corners of your home you just don't frequent often, and a leak not caught immediately can equal huge amounts of damage. (We had to replace all of our basement carpet last summer for this exact reason.) A smart water leak detector placed in a leak-prone place can ping you the moment the first drips emerge.
The best smart sprinkler controller: Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller
A smart water sprinkler controller sounds like it would be a nice fit for the above list of ridiculous smart things, but how and when you should water the lawn depends greatly on several factors like the local weather and humidity. A smart sprinkler controller can take all the guesswork out of the timing and length of watering sessions by pulling local weather information from the internet.
The best smart plug: iDevices Switch
A good smart plug can smarten just about anything that plugs into the wall. One of my favorite uses is with the stand fan in my bedroom. When I wake up freezing in the night, I don't have to peel my covers back and get up to turn it off. A few taps on my phone or an, "Alexa, turn off the fan," is all it takes. But, of course, the possible uses of a smart plug are endless.
Prices were accurate at the time of publication but may change over time.