Home tech to boost your summer fun

’Tis the season to get out and stay out — but that doesn’t mean leaving your tech indoors.

While it may seem like spending time in the summer sun and playing with tech toys would be mutually exclusive pastimes, the right gadgets and gear can supersize your time in the backyard, at a park or even while camping.

From smart grills and waterproof e-readers to ruggedized speakers and projectors to splash a movie on the side of a building on a hot summer night, there’s something for all budgets and tastes.

A few suggestions as we head toward the official start of summer on June 21.

Backyard ’bots: Whether it’s vacuuming up dust bunnies and pet hair or scrubbing floors, indoor robots can free up your time for something you actually want to do.

Outdoor robots are no different.

The ECOVACS Robotics W730R Winbot Robotic Window Cleaner ($499), for example, could help you clean hard-to-reach windows outside of your home.

A robot to wash your windows? Exactly. That's what the Ecovacs Winbot cleaner ($499) can do.

Simply stick the doohickey to a window, press a button, and it’ll initiate three cleaning stages: soaking the glass with a solution-dampened pad, wiping it down with a squeegee, and then drying with a second, clean pad.

The 33.2-by-28-by-13.5-centimetre cordless Winbot can also clean mirrors and glass doors, says the company. Features include a safety pod and tether, remote control and rechargeable lithium battery.

Love gardening but hate pulling weeds? From the inventor of the Roomba, the Tertill Weeding Robot ($250 U.S.) 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.

Created by Roomba inventor Joe Jones, Tertill's weed whacking 'bot can help in the garden.

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 two- to five-minute intervals, for one to two hours a day.

As for 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) up to $5,599.99 for the Automower 435X AWD model (an all-wheel drive model for up to 3,500 square metres and slopes up to 70 degrees).

After the guidewire is installed around the perimeter of your property, these waterproof mowers with electric motors quietly cut grass then return on their own to the charging station, power up and continue mowing. They can navigate around obstacles like rocks, trees, and garden gnomes, and trek down narrow walkways. Anti, anti-theft alarms will prevent envious neighbours from lifting your ‘bot.

They have anti-theft alarms and those who own a Google or Alexa smart speaker can use their voice to start and stop the Automower.

Do the ’cue: Outdoor grills have also gone high-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 using real hardwood pellets as the fuel source. (Seriously, if you haven’t tried food from a wood pellet grill, make it a mission this summer.)

The NexGrill family of hi-tech cookware includes the Neevo-branded propane gas-based smart grills that can be controlled from a smartphone.

Traeger’s WiFIRE technology lets you monitor or control the temperature 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 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 (in North America) induction cooktop, which is ideal for frying and sautéing your sides.

If you’ve got a smaller budget and can do without the wood pellets, starting at $698 is NexGrill’s Neevo-branded propane gas-based “smart grills,” which also let you control your grilling from a smartphone.

Specifically, the NexGrill app wirelessly communicates with the SureTemp Digital Controller, which handles two cooking zones, plus the higher-end Neevo 720 Plus with Air Fryer model ($1,299) features seven cooking modes: air fry, bake, convection bake, broil, convection broil, toast or warm.

If you’re happy with your existing barbecue, the aptly-named iGrill Mini ($89.99) is a more affordable 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).

Outdoor flicks: Ideal for summer movie nights, Epson’s compact EpiqVision Mini EF12 Smart Streaming Laser Projector ($1,299) can beam an image up to 150 inches 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).

But be aware the EF12 isn’t battery powered, so you’ll need a plug nearby or a weather-resistant extension cord.

If you want something more portable but with lower resolution and image size, Samsung chose the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January to unveil its Freestyle ($1,149.99), a portable HD (1080p) projector that weighs less than two pounds. It can be used to splash a movie on a ceiling thanks to its 180-degree cradle stand, or projected onto a wall or the side of a tent, up to 100 inches.

Samsung says it also has 360-degree sound and far-field voice control, and an integrated smart TV platform to play content from many services (or wirelessly from your smartphone).

An optional battery base can be purchased separately, or you can run it off an existing power bank charger.

Other summer-ready suggestions

  • Audio lovers, listen up. JBL Charge 5 ($189) is a small but very powerful wireless speaker with exceptional lows, mids, and highs. It boasts a 30-watt subwoofer for incredible bass. It’s IP67 waterproof and dustproof. Wirelessly connect up to two smartphones or tablets simultaneously. Battery life tops 20 hours, plus it has an integrated USB port to charge up your smartphone or other high-tech items.
Take up to 12 hours of tunes to the pool, beach or backyard with the waterproof JBL Flip 5.

  • Love reading? The versatile Kobo Sage ($299), Rakuten’s latest e-reader, is a lightweight eight-inch device with a high-definition e-ink Carta 1200 display — to really give you that “ink on paper” effect — and with zero glare, it’s ideal for outdoors reading. It’s also fully waterproof (IPX8 rated), so bring this to the beach, pool or in a bubble bath. Plus, you can now download audiobooks to stream to Bluetooth wireless headphones or a nearby speaker.
Kobo Sage is a premium e-reader with support for audiobooks (wireless headphones or speaker required), and a weather-resistant design.
Marc Saltzman is based in Toronto and covers consumer technology trends. He is a freelance contributor for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @marc_saltzman


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