Make your home even smarter
Do you remember how you felt when you bought your first PC? It was probably pretty exciting, and you were filled with the possibilities of the fun things your new machine could do.
Your laptop or desktop was there to make your life easier and more creative. However, as time progresses, so does technology, and the things you can do have become even more incredible. Under all that plastic and metal lies a capable machine, and we’re here to show you how to use it to do more than you ever thought possible.
Editing your action-cam movies? Check. Controlling your home’s heating? Check. Improving your health and fitness? Yep, it’ll do that too! It’s time to discover the life-changing potential of your PC.
Make your home even smarter
Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ll have noticed there are oodles of smart gadgets available for your home. We’re not talking hi-fi speakers or a spangly blender here, what we mean when we mention the ‘smart home’ are things such as internet-connected thermostats, security cameras and even door-locks that you can open or close just by standing near.
You really can create the dream home, and it’s not particularly expensive or overly complicated to do so. You can buy a starter smart home kit for around £200 ($280, AU$385), allowing you to lay the foundations.
While the majority of these kits are designed to work with smartphones – allowing you to take control of your home from the comfort of your pocket, Insteon offers a full home automation setup that, as well as a variety of mobile apps, is compatible with Windows 10.
It has a Store-based app that allows access to a plethora of functions, such as adjusting the lighting, checking motion sensors and managing your heating via an Insteon thermostat.
If you don’t want to tie yourself into a complete ecosystem, there are plenty of standalone smart home gadgets out there, which is ideal if you’re looking for a solution to a problem that exists, rather than just adding more gadgets to your house for the sake of convenience.
For example, a simple way of making your home’s lighting smarter is to replace the existing bulbs with LIFX lights. Once you’ve done this, you can take full control of your lighting with the companion Windows 10 app, available through the Store. You can control when your lights turn on, and set the colour according to your mood.
On the security side of things, Withings and Netatmo offer a camera that can be added to anywhere in your home, giving you the ability to check what’s happening at all times, no matter where you are. You can also record footage to scrutinise later.
While a security camera might seem a little bit old hat now, this kind are anything but antiquated. The Netatmo records in 1080p Full HD video and has night-vision capabilities too. It even has face recognition, so you can check who’s coming through the door – you’ll be alerted if it’s a stranger.
The Withings also features air-quality monitoring. Belkin’s WEMO range takes things a step further – as with many of these kits, once you connect the ‘hub’ device to your Wi-Fi, you gain access to all the internet-connected devices in your home.
While WEMO offers the usual lights, cameras and more, you can also hook up kitchen gadgets to it.
The centre of your smart home
As these gadgets need to have access to the internet at all times, there’s not much point trying to build a connected home without having the appropriate internet performance to go with it. A good broadband connection with a minimum speed of about 2MBps will help things ticking along nicely, while a Wi-Fi router with a speed standard of 802.11n or above will allow your devices to communicate properly without any hiccups.
If you’re in need of an upgrade, most modern routers will be sufficient. The best? Netgear’s Nighthawk router is perfect for even the most demanding of wireless households. Alternatively, an older router can be given a new lease of life, and a more comprehensive wireless reach throughout the home, with a Wi-Fi extender.
Make your home more heat efficient
Your home might already have a thermostat, but if it’s of the old-school variety it won’t let you do much more than manually set the temperature – this means you’ll have to keep adjusting it throughout the day, depending on the weather.
That’s where smart thermostats come into it, as they do all the hard work for you. The Nest thermostat might be incredibly clever, but it’s actually pretty simple to use. If you’re a die-hard fan of manually controlling heat, you can still do this, but after a while Nest will learn your habits and adjust the heating for you automatically.
Or you can create a scheduled heating plan. You can also adjust the heating remotely, if your usual plans change, and Nest will even recognise when you’re away – adjusting the temperature to suit so you don’t waste energy on an empty home.
Take control of your sockets
One of the most simple changes you can make to your home, for a slightly more connected place than before, is to add smart plugs to your existing sockets. The SwannOne Smart Plug (which requires the SwannOne Hub to connect to your Wi-Fi router) plugs into a socket and allows you to control that mains without ever touching the switch – you can do it via a smartphone instead.
You can also schedule when a light comes on or goes off . Now, while doing this to just one light might seem a little try-hard, imagine if you had these connected to all the sockets in your home?
You could turn on all of your gadgets and lights when you arrive home after a day’s work, and turn them off again when you leave in the morning.
Make a cup of coffee
Getting up in the morning is one of the trickiest parts of the day. But once you’ve actually made it out of bed, you can get use technology to have a coffee ready for you. The Smarter Coffee machine has Wi-Fi built in, allowing it to communicate with your smartphone or tablet so you can remotely boil the water, adjust the strength and even be alerted in the morning when your coffee’s ready to go.
It might not be the most essential smart-home gadget, but it’s certainly one of the most impressive!
Improve your health and fitness
Getting regular exercise in our daily lives can be a bit of a chore, but it’s not always the doing it that’s the problem, it’s the how to do it that can be the biggest hurdle. For example, if you like running, you can don a pair of trainers and simply go out for a run round the block.
It’ll make you feel like you’re getting fitter, but how do you really know you’re actually improving your fitness? An easy way to keep track of what you’re doing each time you exercise, whether it’s running, cycling or even just a spot of tennis, is to get yourself kitted out with a fitness tracker, which normally straps onto your wrist – a bit like a watch (and also known as a wearable).
Not only does this have the benefit of telling you information such as how far you’ve run, and how long it took you, it’ll also track your heart rate, so you know just how much you’re working your body each time you exercise.
Some activity trackers, such as the Misfit Shine 2, only track your steps so you won’t get the full benefit of finding out your heart rate, but others – like the Jawbone UP3 – will give you all the important metrics.
The former certainly isn’t bad by any means – in fact it actually makes a great way of tracking your health if your fitness routine is light walking, or walking up an extra flight of steps to the office.
An activity tracker won’t give you loads of numbers to play with, but it will give you an idea of how much you should be moving each day in order to boost your health.
It will also give you nudge if you’ve been lounging around for too long, but we can’t promise you’ll be turning into a super athlete any time soon. Activity and fitness trackers also offer one other excellent benefit: sleep tracking. While this might sound a little ridiculous, don’t scoff – sleep is incredibly important to your wellbeing and if you’re not getting enough, your health can suffer.
Consequently, it’ll have a knock-on effect if you’re trying to exercise regularly, as you won’t have the same level of energy or motivation.
Sleep on it
By tracking your sleep, you can figure out – for starters – just how much of it you’re getting each night. You’ll also be able to work out when you’re in light or deep sleep and, from here, your sleep tracker will then be able to work out methods of improving your sleeping state, such as changing when you get up in the morning and when you go to bed.
If you can’t afford a fitness tracker, or you’re not yet ready to commit to purchasing one, there’s an inexpensive option available to you – if you already own a smartphone you can use a fitness app, such as Fitbit, to track your activities instead.
And because your phone has GPS built in, you’ll also get a more accurate reading of your activities than a regular fitness band would be able to offer. The only caveat here is you have to carry your phone with you; this is fine if you’re just walking to the bus stop, but if you’re planning to go for a run then it could be tricky to stow away without it bouncing around in your pocket.
If you’re feeling particularly flush, you can get a smartwatch, which is a sort of smartphone on your wrist, and – as with a phone – comes with a variety of health and fitness apps that allow you to easily track your activities on the move.
A final option for those planning to get really serious about their fitness is a sportswatch, such as the Garmin Fenix 3 or the Suunto Ambit 3. Both these wrist-based devices do everything a fitness tracker would, and much more.
They display your V02 Max, which basically tells you how fit you are, connect to a variety of sports meters (such as a cycling power meter) and with built-in navigation they’ll even tell you where to exercise and how to get home afterwards.
They’re also waterproof and seriously tough, making them ideal for the majority of outdoor situations. Once you’ve collated all this activity, fitness and sleep data on your wearable device, or smartphone, then the next step is to look at the data and figure out what’s going on. This is where your trusty Windows 10 PC steps in to take care of business.
Using a fitness tracker like the Microsoft Band 2, you can plug it into your machine via USB and download the Microsoft Health app from the Windows Store. This app will give you an overview of your activities, with hard data so you can see how you’re performing. You can, then, set activity goals to aim for next time.
Out-there options to help you get healthier the smart way
These sports glasses have a built-in heads-up display which, using GPS, reveals how fast you’re travelling and how far you’ve gone, in the corner of your eye. It can also connect to a variety of Bluetooth or ANT+ sensors.
You can even take calls, take photos and record video.
If you like the sound of tracking your sleep habits, but you don’t want to have to wear something on your wrist while you sleep, Misfit’s Beddit could be the answer. Just strap the band to your mattress and Beddit will track a variety of data while you’re snoozing, such as your heart rate, movement and even how much you snore.
It then wirelessly transfers this info to your smartphone so you can look back at it and discover ways to improve your sleep cycle.
Tile is a really simple, but potentially life-changing wearable. Technically, you don’t actually wear this little stamp-sized device – instead it goes on your keys, phone, bag or whatever you might be worried about losing, and if/when you lose an item with a Tile attached to it, you can simply find it by using the compatible app on your phone.
If it’s in range you can ring the Tile, or if not it will let you know the last time and place the item was seen.
When people think of Windows 10, the idea of work always seems to come to mind, whether it’s writing a document, formulating a spreadsheet or just checking your emails. Thankfully, we know your PC is a lot more than just a tool for sorting out the basics; Windows 10 is also an entertainment machine.
If music is your favourite type of entertainment, you really are in luck. If you have a DVD drive you can insert a CD and use Windows Media Player to listen to tracks, but that’s a pretty old school way of doing things now.
Services such as Spotify, Tidal and TuneIn offer ways of streaming music straight to your PC, and most of them are completely free to use.
Of course, you can plug in a pair of headphones or some speakers to make your music sound better, but – again – that’s a little bit old hat. If you have access to a Bluetooth speaker, you can connect to the speaker using your machine (provided it has Bluetooth built in) and beam your streamed tunes to it wirelessly, so you don’t even need to lift a finger to crank out your music.
If you’re more of a TV connoisseur, Windows has plenty to keep you entertained. The easiest way to get access to new TV shows and movies is to subscribe to Netflix and download the Netflix app to your PC, allowing you to stream content to your machine.
Alternatively, you can watch movies you already own using VLC Media Player – it’ll play any format you might have, including high definition movie files such as mkv.
That all seems a little too easy though, and besides – what if you want to watch all this sort of stuff on your big-screen TV? Fear not, you can even beam content from your PC to your TV quite easily.
The simplest way is to connect your machine directly to your TV using an HDMI cable – but what if you don’t want to be tethered to it? You can make things super easy, not to mention convenient, by streaming content to your TV wirelessly.
You can do this by purchasing a device like the Google Chromecast, plugging it into your TV and ‘casting’ content to it from Google Chrome.
Naturally, your PC is a fine thing for playing games too, but you don’t have a supersonic gaming rig just to cope with the latest blockbusters. Steam offers the biggest range of games titles anywhere (2500+), whether it’s the newest games or simple indie titles that are just as much fun, but will happily run on any PC.
Once you’ve installed the app, you can download any game you like.
How to read your favourite books and comics on your PC
The majority of us read from an actual book or on an ereader of some description. There is another way, though. While a PC might not be some people’s first choice of reading device, it makes for a rather good one – especially if you have a tablet or a hybrid that converts into one.
But even if it’s not your main form of book reading, it can be a great way of getting a little reading done in-between working. Download the Kindle app from the Windows Store and you can instantly get access to all the books saved in the Cloud.
Then, using the brilliant Snap feature in Windows 10, you can simply place the Kindle app (and your open book) on one side of the screen, and your work on the other side. Alternatively, comic book fans can head to the Comixology app on the Windows Store, for full-colour comic-reading action on their PC.
5 ways to do more with movies
Turn your PC into a Plex Media Server by downloading the free software. You can then stream media to any of your devices with a Plex app.
Stream to Chromecast
Plug in a Google Chromecast to your TV, download Google Cast to your Google browser and beam online or offline files straight to your TV.
Windows Movie Maker
If you prefer making your own movies, Microsoft’s own software will allow you to edit videos, turning them into relative masterpieces that you can share in seconds.
Cloud Media Player
If you store all your videos on your OneDrive account, this handy player allows you to stream them instantly without waiting for them to download.
Stream the latest TV or movies straight to your PC using your Netflix account. You can do this within your internet browser, or you can download the Netflix app from the Windows Store.
Turn your PC into a home media hub
1. Activate media streaming
Easily stream your PC’s media content to your smart TV, Xbox, Roku or any other DLNA-ready device attached to your TV. To do so, on your PC type media into the search bar and select ‘Media streaming options’ from the menu that appears.
In the window that pops up click the button where it says ‘Turn on media streaming’ to activate it.
2. Customise your needs
A window will appear showing any media streaming devices attached to your network. The top device is your DLNA server (your PC) and you can customise this to choose what you share with your media devices.
For example, you can choose to stream only files with certain parental ratings. You can also change the name of your server.
3. Start streaming!
Anything that’s added to your Pictures, Movies or Music folders will be available to stream. Just go to your device and find your DLNA server from the list.
This will depend on the device you’re using, but if it’s a Smart TV, you can find it in the Source list. Other devices might require a streaming app to be installed, such as the Xbox One media player.