Summertime living is – well, pretty much what it’s been for the past year and a half. Mostly home-centric, though things are slowly reopening. And that means we could use some new toys to keep us amused during those long summer days. Here’s a selection to suit any taste, be it for vigorous exercise or vegging with a good book. All prices are in Canadian dollars unless otherwise specified.
Read a good book
Kobo’s latest e-reader, the Elipsa, is a monster: a 10.3-inch premium model that comes in a $499.99 bundle with the Kobo SleepCover (which puts the reader to sleep when it’s closed, brings you back where you left off when you open it, and provides a dock for the stylus) and a stylus. It offers all of the goodies that previous models boast – eye-friendly e-Ink displays, the ability to borrow e-books directly from your public library, battery life measured in weeks, 15 supported file formats, a ton of fonts and text sizes, and handy front lighting so you can read anywhere. Connectivity is via WiFi or USB-C, and you can import files from Pocket or Dropbox. New to this model is a stylus that lets you mark up books and documents or create notes (which can be exported) in the Elipsa notepad. Its handwriting recognition is pretty good too, even faced with my scrawl. It weighs 383 grams (13.5 ounces), a bit heavy for long sessions unless you prop it up on something.
Strike up the Band
Huawei’s newest fitness tracker, the Huawei Band 6, is a budget-priced device whose $99 pricetag belies its quite respectable functionality. It isn’t a smartwatch, but for many it’ll do close to the same job at a significantly lower price, and with a daintier form factor. It only weighs 18 grams, despite its generous 1.47 inch colour AMOLED display and whopping 14 day battery life. Five minutes on its magnetic charger gets you two days of use.
On top of the 96 workout modes, it offers SpO2 monitoring, heartrate, stress, and sleep monitoring, notifications of email, messages and phone calls, and stopwatch, timer, alarm, flashlight, and a Find My Phone mode. Did I forget the breathing exercises and music controls? Oh, and if it’s connected to a Huawei phone, you get a couple of other goodies like a shutter control for your phone’s camera. It will talk to any Android or iOS device (minimum versions 6.0 and 9.1, respectively) via the Huawei Health app; I can leave my phone in my purse upstairs without losing connectivity anywhere in the house, wonderful in a world where women’s clothes rarely have pockets.
Sound and fury, Part 1
Streaming video is rapidly becoming the way to go, and Roku’s devices are market leaders. If your TV’s audio is not up to scratch, the Roku Streambar, normally $189.99 but on sale until July 2 for $149.99, streams 1080p HD, 4K, or HDR like a standard Roku device but adds a compact enclosure containing four speakers offering crisp, clear Dolby Audio. It comes with a Roku remote that include voice control.
At about 14 inches wide by 4 inches deep, it tucks easily under the TV, or can be wall-mounted. There are no extras to buy – all cables, a power adapter, and batteries for the remote are all in the box.
Sound and fury, Part 2
Sonos’ new $229 portable speaker, the Sonos Roam, is designed to be on the go. It’s waterproof (rated for 1 m submersion for 30 minutes), gets up to 10 hours per charge (it can be charged wirelessly or over USB-C), and connects to any 2.4 or 5 GHz broadcast-capable WiFi router (802.11a/b/g/n/ac). It supports Apple AirPlay 2 and works with Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa as well as the Sonos app. When you’re out and about, it’ll pair with your phone via Bluetooth.
Like other Sonos speakers, you can pair a couple over WiFi for a richer stereo experience or have several playing in sync around the house.
Samsung’s outdoor TVs, branded The Terrace, are for those with very fat wallets. The newer of the pair, The Terrace Outdoor TV 2021, will set you back a heart-stopping $15,000. Yes, ouch. For the price you get a 75-inch 4K QLED smart TV that will let you view even in sunlight. Samsung says that the panel is protected for up to 6 hours of sun at 40 degrees Celsius, but must be installed in a shaded area. It also boasts an IP55 rating for water and dust resistance. Even its remote is durable, with an IP56 rating.
The 2020 model of The Terrace comes in three sizes: 55 inch, 65 inch, and 75 inch, and ranges in list price from $5000 to $9000 (now on sale for $4500, $6000, and $7500 respectively). It too is a smart TV with IP55 rating so it’ll survive weather; in fact, the basic specs are identical to those of the newer model.
Let the robot do it
When it’s hot and sultry outside, the last thing you want to do is mow the lawn. Lying in a hammock with a good book and a cool beverage is much more appealing. So why not let a robot do the mowing?
The Husqvarna Automower will trundle around the yard, keeping the grass pristine while amusing the neighbours, their dogs, and the odd squirrel (I still haven’t seen a chipmunk riding ours. I live in hope). When it gets hungry, it docks itself for a recharge.
The mowers come in multiple models for lawns of various sizes, can cope with slopes (there’s even an all-wheel drive version), and have safety features that will prevent injury to people, pets, and to that chipmunk. A boundary wire buried on the periphery prevents the mower from straying off your property, and yes, there’s an anti-theft mechanism. You control the mower and can check on its status through a smartphone app. List prices range from about $2000 up; Amazon Canada is currently selling the lowest model for around $1500.