The weather is warming up and many of us are trying to figure out our summer plans. Since we’re spending more time at home these days, this often turns to what we can do to improve our leisure at home. There’s tons of great outdoor tech to help you enjoy your home this summer (and fall, and winter…) Here are some of our favourites.
Automated outdoor shades
Automated shades are a great addition inside our homes, and adding them outdoors has many benefits as well. They can expand your outdoor living space by not only providing privacy and light filtering like indoor shades; automated outdoor shades are also a convenient way to help make a space more comfortable and extend outdoor enjoyment into cooler evenings or shoulder seasons. Companies such as Screen Innovations make great outdoor shades that provide these benefits and are made to endure the elements.
There are lots of options for outdoor music – from in-ceiling speakers in eave overhangs, to wall mounted speakers, to landscape specific speakers. All are great options that can be used to match your home’s specific situations. We’re also looking forward to trying out Sonos’s new Roam speaker (available this spring). Sonos’s Move speaker is also made for outdoors, but we think the Roam will be more in that sweet spot of being more portable and affordable.
We never stop talking about the importance of good WiFi, as its a critical piece of any good home tech system. You need WiFi for most everything from streaming your music and video, working, and even controlling your smart outdoor lights and water features. A home’s exterior walls often block WiFi signals. If you want excellent WiFi coverage in your outdoor spaces, then you need outdoor specific WiFi equipment. Vendors like Access Networks make products that will make sure that the WiFi goodness will continue outside.
We’ve covered outdoor TVs in the past, and the highlights are that they are not only made to survive the outdoor elements, they are also brighter to help offset outdoor natural lighting. There are also options for outdoor AV sound systems to augment your AV experience. There’s even full projection systems if you need a really, really big outdoor screen!
Whatever your outdoor tech jam is, make sure that you’re well covered with your home technology. Let us know if you need help to get to your outdoor nirvana.
Great home WiFi is an asset, but its really showing its greatness during our COVID-19 times. While most of us are relying on it more than ever, many of us don’t have WiFi that’s very good. Since many of us are working from home or our kids are now taking their classes on-line, poor WiFi has become even more apparent. There are ways to improve your WiFi though.
Improve your WiFi with upgraded equipment
Long gone are the days when most of us can rely on the WiFi equipment from our Internet provider. Our insatiable appetite for data combined with the sheer number of WiFi connected devices in the modern home means that our WiFi equipment needs to be up to the task. Unless you have a small place, this likely means a good router with multiple WiFi access points in your home (and outside if you need WiFi out there too).
- If you have a newer, well technology architected home with networking wiring in the walls, you can use a dedicated network router wired to the WiFi access points. A good router has better ability to move the data in and out, and around your home – both wired and WiFi. Internet provider routers can’t properly handle modern loads. The separate WiFi access points are then installed strategically around your home to provide coverage where needed.
- If you’re not one of the lucky ones with networking wiring in your home, then you can use mesh WiFi. As mentioned previously, mesh WiFi is made of nodes that talk to each other to create a network. Its sort of like a WiFi version of the children’s telephone game, but the newer equipment, like the ones from eero, work quite well and the messages get through.
Improve your WiFi by tweaking what you have
While upgrading your WiFi may sound great, it might not be possible due to budget or that you can’t actually have someone come into your home during COVID-19 to install better gear. (This is looking up though as restrictions are easing.) Here’s a few things you can try:
- Move your WiFI router closer to where you need it. People often put WiFi routers in a back room or in the basement, so unless you’re near there, it doesn’t do you much good. Your home’s building material makes a big difference too. You likely aren’t going to get very good signal if your walls are made of concrete or metal studs. Perhaps temporarily moving it centrally for better coverage is worth the tradeoff of it being an eyesore.
- If that’s not an option, or you’re not into that sort of aesthetic, maybe you can try a place in your home where the WiFi is better. You can check WiFi strength using the Airport Utility App on an iPhone, or Wi-Fi Analyzer for Android. While not a perfect WiFi-o-meter, these can give you a picture of your WiFi. If you can get -60dBm or higher, you should have decent enough signal to get things done. (Note its a negative number, ie -50dBm is even better.)
- Reduce the number of WiFi devices activity trying to use WiFi. Many WiFi routers can only properly service 20 or so devices. Once you count all your family’s phones, tablets, laptops, smart watches, eReaders, thermostats, smart TVs, smart lights, etc., you can quickly amass a mess of WiFi devices that all need to be serviced. While we think they’re all getting a connection at the same time, they’re actually taking really quick turns. When it’s not a device’s turn, it has to wait without data. This really slows down for WiFi routers that can’t handle lots of devices well. (Fun fact, even devices not on but near your WiFi can slow it down.)
Deeper WiFi tweaks
If you’re feeling savvy, you can try some more involved changes:
- Change to the 2.4G WiFi – even though most advise to use the 5G WiFi signal as it has faster data. While this is true, 5G WiFi doesn’t transmit as far as the 2.4G signal. You might be better off sacrificing data rates to actually get usable WiFi signal coverage. WiFi routers also have a propagation pattern for their antennas (ie the 3D ‘shape’ of their WiFi coverage). If you can find it for your router, you can try to orient it to favour your needed WiFi spots.
- Change the WiFi channels. 2.4G WiFi has 11 channels available, but usually only 1, 6, 11 are feasible for technical reasons. If you and your neighbour are both using the same channel, then you are getting in each other’s way. Changing to another channel will improve your WiFi. With only 3 useable channels, its obviously difficult to stay off of your neighbour’s channel in places like apartment buildings though. 5G has more channels, so you should be able to find a space there. With 5G, you need to worry about the signal coverage as noted above though. If you have more than one access point, make sure they’re not using the same channels too.
- For setups where you have more than one WiFi access point, adjust the power levels. You might think that its best to turn up the transmit power to max, but that makes it harder for your WiFi devices to decide which one to listen to. You want to set power levels so that device like iPhones naturally move to better WiFi when its available.
WiFi is complicated
WiFi is a complicated beast, but you can make some adjustments to help get you through these trying times. It does seem a little bit like black magic though. So it might be a good time to consider professional help and equipment to get your home network up to date.
The latest crop of mesh Wi-Fi products are helping a lot of people get better Wi-Fi coverage in their homes. We’re fans of using mesh Wi-Fi when you don’t have or it doesn’t make sense to run network wiring for a wired network. The new generation of mesh Wi-Fi makes it even more compelling with better stability and coverage.
Mesh Wi-Fi networks
Mesh networks are made of nodes that talk to each other to create a network. Here the mesh networks use Wi-Fi itself to bounce Wi-Fi to parts of your home. Since your Wi-Fi router is often stuck in the basement or on one side of your home, the far reaches of your place may live in the darkness of no Wi-Fi. With these nodes, you can place them where the signal is still strong enough, and it will extend it further out. You can keep installing nodes until you have the coverage you want. Consumer mesh Wi-Fi devices have apps that help you figure out if the placement is good, or if you need to find another spot.
The next generation
The last generation of mesh Wi-Fi was pretty good, and the latest generation is getting better. Their speed, stability and coverage has improved. Google has its new version, Nest Wifi, and we’ve had great success helping people with eero Pro extenders. They use three bands of Wi-Fi to help spread Wi-Fi goodness in your home. They also offer automatic software updates and network control (perhaps, for example, you’d like to pause or limit Wi-Fi for your children).
So much that we do in our homes from working to media streaming to smart home automation requires good Wi-Fi. Without good Wi-Fi, often everything becomes an effort in frustration. Mesh Wi-Fi can make the whole experience so much better – perhaps its even a great holiday gift idea!