Dec. 20--When used as tools rather than toys, smartphones can be like all-knowing, ever-present personal assistants in our pockets and purses.
A smartphone can help you to find things nearby -- be it a place to get a caffeine fix or somewhere to get your car fixed -- and tell you whether you should take an umbrella.
They can remind you when you have to be somewhere. Then they can show you how to get there.
Smartphones also are increasingly capable of helping people to manage their homes when they are away from home.
There are services available from communication companies like Mediacom and AT&T, and from Internet companies like Vivint, that will help you keep your home safe, warm and well-lit in exchange for a monthly service fee.
But it's Christmas, the season of giving. And let's face it: A subscription to a service that offers remote control of your lights and your thermostat isn't as much fun to open on Christmas morning as a gadget that connects to your phone via your in-home network.
Devices like the Nest smart thermostat and WeMo light switches aren't exactly cheap. But they also don't come alongside a new monthly bill in addition to the cellular and Internet services you're already paying for.
There are a plethora of such devices available, with the number and variety increasing steadily. And not only in the categories of climate control, lighting and security (Smartphone-controlled coffee maker, anyone? How about a washer/dryer set, or a window air-conditioner?)
Here are four that have generated a fair amount of buzz since their introduction.
With the Kevo from Kwikset, your Bluetooth 4.0-enabled smartphone and a fingertip are all you need to go from indoors to outdoors.
The deadbolt lock set links to your phone and recognizes when you come home. Touch the lock and the bolt will slip, allowing you to open the door without fishing for your keys.
For those without a compatible phone, the Kevo comes with a key fob that can be kept in pocket or purse for keyless access. Electronic keys can be assigned to children, the dog-sitter or housekeeper, and the Kevo will send notifications to your smartphone using the companion app so you know who's coming and going.
In homes with multiple Kevo lock sets, electronic keys can limit access to particular doors.
Regular keys also can be used.
Support for: iPhone 4S and above
CNet.com rating: 3 stars out of 5
Nest Learning Thermostat
Promoted as the "next generation" of home climate control, the Nest Learning Thermostat can be controlled by your phone, but over time it will learn to control itself.
Designed to be user-installable with only a screwdriver and to work with more than 90 percent of modern heating and cooling systems, the Nest learns your temperature preferences as you adjust it up and down.
It also will detect when you are away from home and set itself to an energy-saving temperature automatically. And if your routine changes, you can adjust the thermostat remotely using your smartphone.
The companion app provides details of energy usage.
Support for: Android, iOS
CNet.com rating: 5 stars out of 5
More than just a line of smartphone-controlled light bulbs, the Hue from Philips is a multi-function lighting system that can bring any color to any room.
The LED bulbs can be yellow one moment and blue the next, depending on your mood or your needs.
Hue is controlled via a central hub that taps into your home network. Using signals passed from the hub and set using the companion app and available Web tools, the bulbs will turn on or off, brighten or dim, or change color as you desire or on a schedule.
One hub can control up to 50 bulbs simultaneously. The starter kit comes with the hub and three bulbs.
The app allows users to adjust bulb colors to match a memory. Just choose a photo from your phone's camera app, then set lighting based on a color sample from the image. Pre-set lighting schemes found in the app include ones for relaxation, concentration and reading.