Artificial Intelligence (AI) was the tech buzz phrase of 2017 and it will only continue to snowball in 2018. Honor’s latest phone has a chip specifically for AI, but it’s in the home realm that AI assistants are really pushing to replace your PA, dog and family in your affections.
These are our current favourite AI products; there’s nothing artificial about our love for them.
The current range-topping device with Alexa lets you do everything from checking on relatives in the next room or the other side of the world, to keeping abreast of your daily schedule to buying pants from Amazon.
The 7-inch screen allows you to make video calls to other Show users, which is cool enough, but also to get a brief peak at, for instance, the Show of an elderly relative (with their permission, of course), without the need to disturb them. Great for peace of mind.
Amazon’s Alexa AI not only intelligently provides you with music based on a range of sophisticated voice search terms — “Play sad pop songs from the 1980s”, for instance — it also learns to understand you better, the more you use it.
One of the first truly ‘smart’ smart home devices, Nest’s stylish heat wrangler is now onto its third generation.
A breeze to set up, Nest lets you control your heating remotely. However, the real genius of it resides in the way that, over time, it reduces the need for you to control it at all. By learning when and how you use your heating, Nest’s Thermostat helps you use your heating more economically and effectively.
Allow it to use your phone’s location and Nest will also shut the heating off automatically when it knows you — and other members of your household — have left. This geofencing feature can also automatically arm your Nest camera, if you have one.
As well as working with other Nest products, the Works With Nest family includes dozens of third-party devices, from Google Home and Amazon Echo to Philips Hue.
Google’s direct rival to the Echo suite of smart speakers shares various characteristics with its Amazon rival. Home is great for music, news, weather and checking your (Google) calendar appointments.
It’s not as much use for smart home control at present (although it will probably catch up) nor can you use it for shopping for consumer durables, although it does offer a full suite of music and movies, via Chromecast.
However, it scores over its foe with the ability to tap into Google Search and Google Assistant, to answer questions from the trivial to the essential.
Google Home can also recognise more than one voice, allowing you and your partner to access your own calendars and Google Play favourite accounts, as long as you haven’t developed identical speaking voices.
Nest offers comparably smart security cameras for your home, but Netatmo is a great innovator in this field. It introduced facial recognition with its Welcome cam years ago and has been developing it ever since. This lets you know not just that there’s someone in your home, but also precisely who it is. So you know when your kids are home, when the cleaner arrives and so on. Naturally, it also notifies you when a stranger calls, and starts busily grabbing your vauables.
The Presence camera for outdoors drops facial recognition but adds the ability to discern between people, pets and vehicles, notifying you accordingly and deploying a bright spotlight as a deterrent when required.
Amazon Echo speakers are great, but they don’t have the most amazing sound quality.
Thankfully, Amazon is more than happy to licence its home AI tech to others, resulting in excellent, music-focussed speakers such as UE’s waterproof one, and Sonos’ more audiophile offering.
All of Alexa’s usual skills are included, but with greatly boosted sound quality, and compatibility with all Sonos’ other multi-room speakers.
Sony’s LF-S50G pulls a similar trick, albeit to slightly less impressive effect, with Google Home, putting the AI into an attractive speaker with better sound than Google’s own device, not to mention adding a clockface.
From what we’ve heard so far, Panasonic’s SC-GA10 may prove to be an even better option when it finally launches, but there’s no word yet on when that will be.