See Inside your Walls
Unless you have X-ray vision, it can be tough to figure out what's inside a wall. That's where a 'borescope' comes in handy. It's basically a small camera on the end of a snake. You just fish it through a hole or tight space to view what's inside on a video monitor.
Several companies make borescopes, but the General iBorescope line is a little different in that it lets you use the display on your smartphone or tablet as a wireless video monitor. The borescope acts as a Wi-Fi hot spot, letting you connect your mobile device to it without a Wi-Fi router or Internet access. A free app lets you snap photos and record video, and the camera is waterproof so you can safely use it in areas that may be wet.
A Camera that Sees Heat
Thermal imaging cameras used to cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars, but FLIR now makes a much less expensive option—the FLIR ONE Thermal Imaging Camera. This device plugs right into your smartphone or tablet, turning it into a powerful tool for finding hidden problems around the house, such as poorly insulated walls, water leaks and electrical overloads. Cool and warm areas show up as different colors on your smartphone or tablet display. The camera also tells you the temperature of whatever object you point it at, and allows you to snap photos and record video of your findings.
No Key or Combination Necessary
Master Lock's Bluetooth Smart Padlock does only one thing, but it does it very well. When you download the app, your smartphone morphs into an electronic 'key' for opening your padlock. The app also allows you to give multiple users access to your lock, thus eliminating the hassle of lost keys and forgotten combinations. You can also create a combination for the lock's key pad for use when the smartphones aren't on hand.
Next Generation Robotic Mower
Battery-powered robotic mowers have been around for a while, but Husqvarna has a new one called the Automower. I recently had a chance to try it out and it worked great. The guide wire that runs around the perimeter of my yard was held down with stakes, so no trenching was necessary, and programming was simple. The whole setup took less than 90 minutes. After that, all I had to do was remember to look out the window once in a while so I could admire my mechanical groundskeeper hard at work.
The primary feature that makes this machine excel is the retractable, razorlike cutting blades. They're just a fraction of the size of thick steel blades, which results in clean cuts, longer runtimes and super-quiet operation. I ran mine three times a week. My grass always seemed the same length and because the clippings were so small, they readily broke down into fertilizer. My grass actually looked healthier than it ever had.
The mower worked, rain or shine, for the few months I used it, even on the hills. And because of the random cutting pattern, it left no tracks around trees or against the fence. My son was extremely disappointed when we sent back the mower after the trial (mowing is his job).
At the manufacturer's website, you can check out a cool video and find a dealer near you. The Husqvarna Automower is a little pricey, but lawn services aren't cheap either, and bragging rights? Priceless.
Mark Petersen, Associate Editor
Prevent Port Damage to Your Smartphone or Laptop
My 3-year-old granddaughter thought the USB ports on my son's laptop would be a great place to hide her hairclips. It was powered up at the time, and the clips shorted out the $800 main board (he had to remind himself how precious she is).
The service guy said port damage is common, and not just from little gremlins jamming hairclips in them. Dust, dirt and metal fragments can accumulate in the ports and cause damage when you jam the plug in. So my son sealed his smartphone and laptop ports with silicone anti-dust stoppers. It's really cheap insurance against costly repairs.
Rick Muscoplat, Contributing Editor
Add a USB Charger in a Snap
In this electronic age, there seems to be at least one device charging on every single counter and end table in the house. It's getting difficult to find an unoccupied outlet for antiquated blenders and desk lamps.
Here's a cool gadget that can help. It's an outlet cover plate with a built-in USB charger, and it's as easy to install as a regular cover plate. You just shut down the power, unscrew the old plate and screw on the new one. No receptacle replacement required! The USB port gets its power from two prongs that contact the screws on the sides of the receptacle.
Ultimate Garage Door Opener
My garage door opener finally gave up the ghost, but it survived almost 30 years and three teenage boys! I bought another Chamberlain and got a few more bells and whistles this time. The HD950WF model I chose has a hefty 1-1/4-hp motor and a battery backup, which is great because I rely solely on the garage door to get into the house. I'm not even sure where my house keys are, so I'd be in a pickle if we lost power.
The door starts out slowly, picks up speed, and then slows down before reaching the top or bottom. That, in conjunction with the belt drive, makes it super quiet. I really love that I can use my smartphone to close the door from anywhere, which comes in handy at bedtime when my wife is convinced the door was left open and wants me to go double-check.
Mark Petersen, Associate Editor
If you're in the market for a new doorbell, and even if you're not, check out the Honeywell Wireless Doorbell Kit. It has six high-quality chimes to choose from. The volume is adjustable, and more than one doorbell and button can be used together.
But what we love most is the fact that it can be lifted from the wall mount and brought with you into your shop, out in the backyard or wherever. So if you're waiting on a pizza delivery or the cable guy, you don't have to stay chained up inside the house. It has a 225-ft. range and a flashing icon to alert you in case you're wearing headphones.
High Tech Work Boots
Work at a place that requires steel-toe boots? Then listen up. Wolverine just introduced a new boot that's much more comfortable but still offers solid impact protection. CarbonMAX boots have a protective cap composed of millions of tiny carbon nanotubes that are combined in a honeycomb pattern. The result is steel-like impact protection with much less weight and thickness. A lighter and thinner cap translates to a more comfortable boot.
Smarter Smart Bulbs
GE has a new line of LED lightbulbs, simply called 'C,' that can be directly controlled with a smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth; no central hub necessary. There are two types of bulbs in the 'C' line: The 'C Life' is an all-purpose light perfect for the kitchen, living room or office. The 'C Sleep' bulb has been designed to support the body's natural circadian rhythms, which can help you sleep more soundly. It emits a traditional soft light for the day; a warm, calming light before bedtime; and a crisp, energizing light in the morning. Who couldn't use a better night's sleep?
Using an app, the lights can be dimmed and set to a timer as a group or individually. When run for three hours a day, the bulbs should last 20 years! GE has launched a new website to market this product directly to consumers. A starter set that includes two 'C Life' bulbs. Two 'C Sleep' bulbs are also available. Learn more and order some bulbs here.
Unless you've been watching closely, you probably haven't noticed that the run-time of cordless tools keeps creeping up. There are two reasons: First, advances in technology now allow individual battery cells to be monitored, and adjustments can be made in how they charge and discharge. This has allowed manufacturers to pack more power into batteries of the same size. For example, Bosch just came out with a 2.5-ah (amp-hour) 12-volt battery to fit subcompact drills and other tools. That's a 25 percent improvement from the 2.0 ah, which was already tops in its class.
Second, brushless motors are able to draw the appropriate power based on the task at hand, so batteries don't drain as fast. Brushless motors also reduce the power lost to heat and friction. You'll pay more for brushless motors and the higher amp-hours, but you may no longer need a large 20-volt drill to get the job done, and a smaller tool will cost you less money.
Travis Larson, Senior Editor
Soil Testing Made Easy
For the aspiring gardener or a lawn enthusiast, check out the General 4-in-1 Soil Condition Meter. Stick it in the ground and you can measure soil pH, moisture content and temperature. Plus, it'll tell you how much sunlight falls on any particular spot in the course of a day. The pH meter isn't as reliable as having samples tested in a lab, but General claims an accuracy rate of within .5 percent, which is close enough for most plants and grass. Serious gardeners and turf lovers use that information to get the most out of their gardens and lawns. This little tool might add a bit more green to your thumb too.
World's Coolest Hose Reel
It's crazy-expensive, but if you're a serious gardener, it's crazy-cool, too. Frankly, there's nothing like the RoboReel Water Hose Reel. Its looks may be otherworldly, but its function is totally down to earth.
Here are the neatest features. One hundred feet of high-quality 5/8-in. hose (or 150 ft. of 1/2-in. hose) retracts with the push of a button either on the top of the cover or on the remote. So, no cranking?a big onboard rechargeable battery does the heavy lifting. The remote switch snaps onto the end of the hose (it features quick-disconnects on all the accessories), and that allows you to turn the water off or on from wherever you are. Attach it to a handheld sprinkler for hand watering, or use it separately to control the lawn sprinkler. No more running back and forth to the spigot.
The water shuts off automatically after one hour, so you never have to worry about it running all night if you forget to shut it off. The RoboReel system has lots more features that are worth checking out if you think this awesome hose reel might be for you. Believe it?if you're a hard-core gardener with money to spend on your passion, you'll absolutely love this thing. Learn more, find a dealer and watch the videos at the manufacturer's website.
Hands-Free Tablets and Phones
Here's a simple gadget that makes it easier to entertain your backseat passengers. The GoGear Automotive Universal Tablet Holder straps onto the back of a headrest and uses rubberized elastic cords to keep a firm grip on tablets and phones. Now you can let your kids watch a movie on your iPad or phone without having to worry about them trashing it.
Best Night-Light in History
About once a year here at the office, we encounter 'The Perfect Product.' This year the title winner has to be the SnapRays Guidelight. Even though it's just a lowly night-light, it's practically perfect in every way. Here's why:
- Everyone needs it: If the sun goes down where you live, you need a few night-lights, right?
- Anyone can install it: It takes all of 60 seconds. Remove the single screw on the old cover plate, snap in the Guidelight and reinstall the screw. That's it.
- It's inexpensive to operate: The three tiny LEDs come on only when it's dark, thanks to the light sensor built into the cover.
- It's not an ugly plug-in. It looks exactly like an ordinary cover plate. The LEDs at the bottom light up the floor right where you need it.
- The price is reasonable and they cost even less per light if you buy a bunch.
The Guidelight is powered by two little prongs that snap over the terminal screws on the receptacle. Brilliant! No batteries, no wiring, no nuthin! You have a choice of two outlet cover types in ivory, almond or white.
Long power strips are a great invention, but some electrical plugs are such space hogs that you can't use all the available outlets. And what about your phone, tablet and other USB devices?
The E-More Cube has four three-prong power outlets as well as two USB charging ports. The outlets are configured so there's no competition for charging space. The Cube is power-surge protected and takes up less space than a strip on a workbench or countertop. Plus, it looks cool! You can get one at many online retailers?just search for 'power cube.'
Marcia Roepke, Art Director
Digital Angle Gauge
This Wixey Digital Angle Gauge is 21st-century fun! Yeah, you could adjust your saw's angle using other methods and eventually get it perfect, but this gizmo saves lots of time, and did we mention it was fun? Just crank the blade up, set the magnetic base on the blade and square up the blade to the table (the body of the tool is absolutely square). Then push the zero button to calibrate the tool.
Once it's calibrated, you can adjust the blade to the desired angle, all the while getting an accurate digital readout. When you get the desired angle, whether it's 22-1/2 or 45 degrees, you know it's right on, and you can proceed with your project instead of spinning your wheels micro-adjusting.
Surge Protection is Cheap Insurance
There's a bunch of surge protectors to choose from at home centers these days, and they're more affordable than ever. The six-outlet model shown here, made by Defiant, is available at The Home Depot. It's so inexpensive, there's no reason not to install them throughout the whole house. And don't forget about your larger appliances. Today's washers, dryers and refrigerators have electronic circuit boards that can be destroyed by surges.
Protective headphones equipped with a radio have been around for a while. Some models offer an auxiliary jack so you can plug in your phone, but good luck keeping that irritating cord plugged in for more than five minutes at a time.
ION has solved that little problem with its Tough Sounds Hearing Protection Headphones with Bluetooth & Radio. Now, while mowing the lawn or running a chain saw, you can tap into your Bluetooth-equipped device and listen to your own tunes or a podcast. These headphones have a built-in rechargeable battery that lasts up to 20 hours per charge.