Last week we were set free from Real Homes HQ and sent to IFA 2019 to dip our toes into the world of consumer tech. IFA – which takes place at the Berlin ExpoCentre City – is Europe's biggest consumer tech show, so what better a place to see all of the latest innovations under one roof?
Like any exhibition of this type, there were some really impressive pieces of kit on show, and as you would expect there were as many weird and wacky gadgets as there were wonderful ones. As the market is constantly being flooded with new pieces of kit for your home, it can be hard to work out which are gimmicks and which are worth investing in.
So, here is a round up of what really wowed us at IFA 2019. Most are not brand new innovations, having been consumer favourites for a few years – but seeing how everything integrated and how tech giants are working together for an easier world, we are including the products we would happily buy for our own homes. If it saves money, energy, time or really looks the part, we are here for it.
Read on to see our top picks from IFA 2019, then head to The Hub for more jargon free advice on bringing technology into your home.
1. A new way to clean your clothes: the Samsung AirDresser
I hate doing laundry. When the sun is out, it is not such an ordeal, but drying all my clothes in a small, cold house is not good for the clothes, or I home environment. I am also concerned about how frequently I was my clothes and the impact this has on the environment by releasing micro-plastics into the sea.
So I was pretty excited to see the Samsung AirDresser. It is essentially a fancy wardrobe that you hang your garments in and it cleans them using a combination of fans, vacuums and steaming. Yes, it does require energy and we are not claiming it is completely eco-friendly, but it is the perfect alternative to dry cleaning. It is also great for those clean but creased items that you might have only worn for a couple of hours that just need a quick refresh.
How does it work, you ask? Simply hang your clothes in it and shut the door. Set the cycle in action and wait while it does the rest. First it blasts your clothes with air to blow any dust and particles of dirt off. Then it uses steam to kill bacteria without the use of nasty chemicals. The drying function will dry your clothes at a low temperature that protects fibres and keeps them crease-free before a final setting, akin to a vacuum filter, sucks odours and dust from the chamber, leaving your clothes fresh and clean.
The AirDresser is perfect for apartment living and the mirrored door means you can make it a part of your bedroom or walk-in-wardrobe. If I had one, I would use it to refresh coats and knitwear – you could bung your shoes in there too.
Read more about the Samsung AirDresser.
2. Planters for even the most hopeless of gardeners: app-controlled gardening
If you have killed every house plant you have ever owned, this is for you. There were a number of app-controlled planters at IFA and all deliver the exact levels of water and light your plant needs to flourish. These are the perfect accessory for anyone looking to grow herbs or salad leaves inside – another great product for urbanites with no outside space.
Unless they get a disease, plants die for three main reasons: you are giving them too much or not enough food, light and water. These smart planters remove human error by automatically watering as required through a reservoir and pump. They also have built-in lights that emit enough light and tell you via an app if the plant needs nutrients. To get the most from them, you tell the app what plant you have in the planter and it creates growing conditions to match.
If you want to grow your own in a limited footprint, or just need to keep your favourite houseplants alive, give one of these a go.
Shop for smart planters on Amazon.
3. The future of keyless entry: smart locks and clever partnerships
Keyless entry has been standard on many office blocks and apartment buildings for years, but the latest innovations offer so much more than a multi-user form of access. The current versions offer entry in a number of ways that are pretty foolproof for anyone who is always forgetting their keys.
Among the likes of Yale and Nuki we found keyless locks that could be opened by fingerprint, pin code or app. Clever geo-fencing options use your smartphone to tell the lock you are next to the door, automatically unlocking it for you if you have your hands full. App connectivity means you can check comings and goings and even create an access schedule for people who might need sporadic entry to your home, such as dog walkers or cleaners.
What really impressed us though was the increasing number of partnerships that smart lock companies are setting up with other big brands. You might have already heard about Amazon trialling a system in the US to let delivery drivers in to drop off parcels. In the UK, Yale are trialling a scheme with Waitrose to allow food delivery drivers into your home with a one-off code. They will even put your food away meaning that the convenience of online grocery shopping has stepped up a notch. The scheme is being tested on approximately 30 homes in London with drivers wearing body cams for added peace of mind.
Connectivity also means you can pair your lock with alarms and other smart security devices – no rushing to disarm your alarm when you get into the house with the kids, dog and a weekly shop in tow.
Check out our list of the best smart locks for more information.
4. TVs that don't look like TVs: Serif and The Frame turn your television into a masterpiece
Much as we love our TVs – our Saturday night film sessions and Sunday afternoon Netflix binges – televisions can be a bit of an eyesore in our beautifully styled lounges. And the bigger you go, the more that black void of a screen blights your interior scheme.
Samsung once again shows it knows that tech needs to fit around us rather than the other way round, with their Frame and Serif TVs. Both have been out for a couple of years now, but seeing them in room sets, or standing there looking really quite striking by themselves, convinced us that when we need a new TV, it will be one of these.
The Frame is just that when it is not in use – in Art Mode it can be used to display either one of your own snaps, blend to match the wall, or showcase works from world-renowned galleries. We love a gallery wall all the more if we can disguise our TV in it.
The Serif is designed to make a design statement of its own. Based on classic typeface with an I-shaped profile, it also shows artwork when out of use and holds its own when freestanding. Ambient Mode allows it to be used for pictures or useful date and time information. QLED tech and over a billion shades of colour give great depth of image, too.
As well as Samsung's range, other brands were showcasing their most beautiful televisions. From immersive curved offerings that would fill my whole living room, to designs that look like they were made from languid sheets of glass, the new generation of televisions are striking even when they are turned off.
5. Tech for a better environment: air quality and heating efficiency
For a consumer tech show with all its plastic and loads of electricity hungry devices on 24/7, environmental concerns were still weighing heavy on manufacturers' minds. Every appliance was boasting to be the most efficient, every bit of kit made from recycled materials where possible and a theme that often came up was air quality.
We are becoming increasingly concerned about the quality of air in our cities and the level of pollutants. From tech that purifies the air (one with a built-in plant pot for double green points), to tech that just tells you how terrifyingly dirty the air is, it is clear that consumer demand for air monitoring is being acknowledged.
Internal air comfort is something that smart thermostat companies have had on their radar for years. Smart thermostats are designed to make sure your home is warmed efficiently and Tado have upped their game, adding a number of features to their app to measure more than just temperature. Pollen counters and air-quality monitors that know what the conditions are both in and around your home, mean the app can make educated suggestions. If your home is getting stuffy and mould is a risk, it will suggest you open a window – unless the pollen count or external air pollutants are too high of course.
See our pick of the best smart thermostats.