Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

It’s easy to forget how far technology has come within a few years. We went from praying our CD players wouldn’t skip to streaming music wirelessly to AirPods in our ears. But even some recently introduced devices have made the jump from being high-end, enthusiast tech to at-home must haves. Here are a few of them.

Amazon Echo Dot .
Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

The assistant we didn’t ask for, but can’t live without

“Weird.” “Curious.” “Baffling.” “Quite Stupid.” These words all once described Alexa, the voice-activated digital assistant on Amazon’s Echo device. Now, according to Amazon, the Echo Dot, a smaller, less expensive version of the Echo was the “#1 selling Amazon Device” during the holidays last year.

Back in 2014, it was odd to consider even owning an Echo (and you needed an invite from Amazon to actually purchase one). Today, you can pick from five different Echo models. Or, you can try Google’s answer to the Echo: the Google Home, Google Home Mini or Google Home Max. Even Apple’s released its own version of a digital assistant called the HomePod, fully capable with Siri. You can have your pick of digital assistants — all with varying capabilities of actually improving your life.

You can use more than 15,000 skills with Alexa, making any of the Echo devices go beyond than just asking the weather or playing some music. The Google Assistant, first released in 2016, is catching up with its own growing set of commands.

So why buy one now? First, they’re relatively inexpensive and easy enough to use and understand, more so than when they were released. Think back to when almost everyone had a MP3 player or the first smartphones; it taught you a lot how to use the product and become so adjusted to it so much that you didn’t know how to go back. Second, the future is paved with smart home devices, and voice-activated assistants to control them are becoming ubiquitous. The Echo and Google Home are no longer “test products” either; the companies behind them want them to last.


The skeleton key to streaming music, movies, and TV shows

Prepare to feel either really old or really young: Roku players have existed for 10 years. Back in 2008, the first Roku player streamed Netflix (and only Netflix) to your TV. Now, in 2018, you have your pick of streaming devices from Chromecast to Apple TV to a variety of Roku players. If you don’t have one already, it’s not only about time you invested in one, but it’s one of the best times to do it. Several of these devices are budget-friendly and portable if that’s what you want, or if you’re all about video quality and immersive audio, there are options that deliver.

Back when many of these devices first launched, they could only stream certain services. When Google first launched the Chromecast in 2013, it could only support Netflix and YouTube. Now, it works with Hulu, HBO Go, the CW, Sling, VUDU and hundreds more.

Wirecutter, a New York Times company, recommends the Roku Streaming Stick+, if you need help choosing, which costs retails for about $65. It comes with an external Wi-Fi antenna, tons of supported content to stream, a customizable home screen so you can get right to the services you use, and even supports 4K video. Best of all, these streaming sticks are portable enough you can take them with you if you travel, head off on vacation, or even fly somewhere for work, and take your streaming media with you.

Of course, you can also go with something cheaper like the Roku Streaming Stick for $45 or Google’s Chromecast, for $35. The point of course is to finally go with something, and embrace laying down on the couch, binge watching your next new favorite TV show, especially if you haven’t already.

The gadget that finds all your lost gadgets

Back in 2013, a small company started a crowdfunding campaign on its own website. The small company met its crowdfunding goal, racked up more than 200,000 presales and earned a loyal customer base. Today, that company, Tile, makes a well-known Bluetooth tracker that attaches to anything you deem important and keeps track of it via mobile app. Other Bluetooth trackers now also exist because finding your keys, wallet, or anything else you lose is easier than ever.

Wirecutter recommends going with the Tile Sport for its Bluetooth range, alarm sound volume and its handy crowd-finding feature. Basically, if you lose an item that has a Tile attached to it, anyone with the Tile app that passes by it will help ping the location of your lost item to you. That’s right; the person didn’t have to use the app to help you out (and no, they won’t know you lost something).

If you prefer to go with a Bluetooth tracker that has a replaceable battery (but less stellar Bluetooth range and no crowd-finding), Wirecutter recommends the TrackR Pixel. You can replace the battery, rather than the whole product, and it comes with flashing lights as part of its alert system.

So, while you’re reminiscing about your days going to a Blockbuster for movies, or reflecting on losing your keys and having to go through the couch cushions to find them, just know there’s a gadget for that now. They aren’t all perfect, but they do make life a little simpler and give you one less thing to worry about.

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