May 8, 2021

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Ditch your ugly tech with these nearly invisible smart gadgets

7 min read
(CNN) —  

As much as modern gadgets try to be sleek and alluring, a lot of it still sticks out like a sore thumb. So if you want to deck out your home in smart gear, you usually have to deal with some big dials, dongles and doodads hanging on your doors and walls. There are the occasional gadgets that are actually attractive, but others aim to be completely invisible so you never know they’re there.

Ahead, we’ve rounded up 10 top-rated and editor-favorite pieces of invisible tech to help you upgrade your home without it looking like an eyesore.

TP-Link Kasa In-Wall Smart Plug ($22.99, originally $29.99; amazon.com)

TP-Link Kasa In-Wall Smart Plug
TP-Link Kasa In-Wall Smart Plug

Smart plugs are the Swiss Army knife of smart tech: If it plugs into an outlet, you can control it from your phone by using one of these. But most smart plugs are bricks that go in between the appliance and the outlet in your wall, making for an ugly little setup. The Kasa In-Wall Smart Plug, on the other hand, replaces the outlet itself and blends seamlessly into the wall.

You don’t need to be an electrician to install it either — we’ve installed a few ourselves. Just make sure you turn off the breaker before you start digging through your home’s electrical wiring. When you’re done, you’ll be able to control each outlet individually or together using your phone. Kasa offers an app for Android or iOS, plus you can integrate with Amazon’s Alexa or the Google Assistant.

Topgreener Smart Dual USB Charging Outlet ($45.99; amazon.com)

Topgreener Smart Dual USB Charging Outlet
Topgreener Smart Dual USB Charging Outlet

If you’re willing to pay a bit more, Topgreener has its own smart outlet with a few standout features. Unlike the TP-Link Kasa, only one of Topgreener’s outlets is controllable over Wi-Fi, but it has two built-in USB outlets in addition to the standard outlets. Not only are the USB outlets great for charging your phone (or Kindle, or baby monitor, or whatever), but they’re also great because you can control them using your phone, Alexa, or Google Assistant.

In addition, Topgreener’s outlet features its Smart Meter energy monitoring, which allows you to see how much electricity the plugged-in gadgets are consuming. Coupled with the ability to turn them off remotely, this allows you to be as efficient as possible with your appliances.

Level Bolt Smart Lock ($229; amazon.com)

Level Bolt Smart Lock
Level Bolt Smart Lock

It’s hard to go back to a manual deadbolt after using a smart lock. The ability to automatically unlock your door when you come home — and lock it automatically at night — is extremely handy. It’s one of the best upgrades we’ve ever made, and most require only a screwdriver to install.

The Level Bolt breaks the mold of smart locks by being completely invisible, since it only replaces the actual deadbolt mechanism inside the door. Better yet, it doesn’t leave a revealing keypad on the front or a bulky receiver on the inside. It isn’t the most full-featured smart lock on the market, but if you refuse to mar the aesthetics of your entryway, the Level Bolt will please you. You might also consider the Level Touch ($329; amazon.com), which does replace the outside of the lock, but it’s still very disguised and adds the ability to unlock your door with the touch of a finger, which is a huge convenience. Both of these rely on Bluetooth for connectivity and integrate with Apple HomeKit.

Chamberlain MyQ Smart Garage Hub ($29.98, amazon.com)

Chamberlain MyQ Smart Garage Hub
Chamberlain MyQ Smart Garage Hub

If you’ve ever left the garage door open accidentally, you’ve probably considered some of the new smart garage doors on the market. But you don’t need to spend a ton of money to replace your old motor. Chamberlain’s MyQ Hub connects to your existing motor wirelessly, just like the wireless opener in your car, and enables control over Wi-Fi. You can then mount the tiny hub on the ceiling or hide it in a corner where you’ll never see it.

Once installed, which takes only a few minutes, you’ll be able to open and close your door from the app or with Google Assistant (but not with Alexa, annoyingly) and get notifications when your door is left open. You can even share temporary access with others, or use Amazon’s in-garage delivery service, to avoid package theft. Even if you aren’t super keen on in-garage delivery, using it once will get you $40 back from Amazon, which will more than pay for the hub itself.

TP-Link Kasa Smart Light Switch ($14.99, originally 19.99; amazon.com)

TP-Link Kasa Smart Light Switch
TP-Link Kasa Smart Light Switch

You probably already know you can put smart bulbs in your light fixtures to control them remotely. But if the style of bulbs available is too limiting, or you have light fixtures that don’t take standard bulbs, Kasa also offers a smart light switch.

Like smart outlets, these replace the existing switches on your wall so you’d never really know the lights were Wi-Fi connected. Depending on your home’s layout, it’s also probably a lot cheaper since each switch is so affordable — though if you’re willing to pay a bit more, Kasa has a version with dimmer buttons available as well.

UTS-1 Wireless Charger ($104.99; kewlabstech.com)

UTS-1 Wireless Charger
Kew Labs Tech
UTS-1 Wireless Charger

We’re obsessed with wireless charging. Once we got phones capable of the feature, we almost never used cables again. But wireless chargers can be such eyesores, which is why we’re on a quest to hide as many as possible. The UTS-1 is designed to stick under your desk and charge your phone through the surface, as long as that surface is less than an inch thick, so you never have to waste space with a round disc on top of the table. Before this product came out, CNN Underscored writer Whitson Gordon literally chiseled out holes for charging pads in his end tables — this is a much better solution, even if it’s limited to tables 1-inch thick.

Twelve South PowerPic ($59.99; amazon.com)

Twelve South PowerPic
Twelve South PowerPic

If your table doesn’t meet the requirements for the UTS-1, a discreet charger like the Twelve South PowerPic is the next best bet. It looks like a standard photo frame — no digital screens here — but when you put your phone inside the frame, it’ll instantly begin to charge. It’s quite neat, and you can even match your phone’s screen to the picture in the frame. No more ugly charging pads or dangling cables on your shelves; you can charge in any room of your house and look at pictures of your kids when your phone is topped off.

Ostrich Smart Ceiling Fan Remote Control Kit ($27.99; amazon.com)

Ostrich Smart Ceiling Fan Remote Control Kit
Ostrich Smart Ceiling Fan Remote Control Kit

Smart thermostats may be all the rage, but why turn on your air conditioning unless you absolutely have to? Usually a few open windows and some ceiling fans do the trick nicely. And while you can buy a smart ceiling fan, you don’t need to run out and buy a whole new model — you can grab a wireless receiver that installs right in the canopy. You never see it, but once installed, you can ditch the pull chain and turn the fan on with your voice.

Just know that, like the smart outlet, you’ll want to turn off the breaker before installing. After that, the process is pretty easy if you follow the instructions. Oh, and if your ceiling fan uses a wall switch instead of a pull chain, you can use a Wi-Fi-connected switch instead of this receiver to give it some smarts.

Ikea Symfonisk Bookshelf Speaker ($99; Ikea.com)

Ikea Symfonisk Bookshelf Speaker
Ikea Symfonisk Bookshelf Speaker

Outfitting your home with speakers has always been an exercise in “where to hide the big box,” unless you go old-school (and expensive) with in-ceiling models. That’s why Ikea’s Symfonisk line is designed to put speakers inside everyday things, such as a table lamp. We think the best item in the line is its bookshelf speaker, which can either slide onto the shelf next to your other books or mount on the wall to become a bookshelf itself. It sadly doesn’t have Alexa or Google built in, but since it’s designed in conjunction with Sonos, it should blend into your existing Wi-Fi system nicely.

It’s not the only product of its type, or even the most incognito: Bang & Olufsen just announced its own Beosound, a far more expensive but slightly more booklike speaker, though for the price it’s hard to go wrong with Ikea.

Samsung The Frame QLED Smart TV (starting at $997.99; amazon.com)

Samsung The Frame QLED Smart TV
Samsung The Frame QLED Smart TV

Most of the day, your TV is probably off — and looks like a big black hole attached to the wall. Samsung’s Frame fixes that by turning into a piece of wall art when it’s off. It sits flush against the wall with a svelte bezel around the edges that looks just like a picture frame. You can choose from a number of free paintings and photos, or buy one of your favorites from Samsung’s art store. You can even use Ambient Mode to have the TV screen mimic the wall around your TV.

While it doesn’t quite match the picture quality of other TVs with local dimming built in, which darkens black areas for better contrast in a dark room, it makes for a great daytime TV, and the price premium is well worth it if you care more about how the room looks than how your sitcoms look. We put one in our living room and never looked back. As you might expect, The Frame comes in several sizes, including 43-, 50-, 55-, 65- and 75-inch.

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