The evenings are drawing in, and we’re withdrawing in after a summer spent (mostly) outdoors. Autumn is usually the time when we look forward to getting indoors and getting the home nice and cosy for the winter ahead – except that because we’ve spent so much time at home already due to coronavirus restrictions, we’re not quite so enthusiastic about staying in this season.
In any other year, that wouldn’t be a problem – there would be no end of gigs, comedy shows and plays to get us out of the house for a few hours, not to mention the chance to catch up with your mates in the pub and chat about where you went on your summer holidays. But Covid-19 has put paid to live music and theatre until 2021, and the whole pub-reopening thing is still a moveable feast so we can’t bank on that just yet, so we’ll just have to put those holiday stories from Costa del Bundoran on ice for the time being.
Sure, we can still go to a restaurant, making sure to give the staff our contact details, and we can even go to the cinema to see Christopher Nolan’s latest, Tenet, but eating out every night quickly lose its flavour, and watching Tenet again and again could feel like being caught in a time loop (although you’d need to watch it multiple times just to work out what’s going on).
So unless the virus decides to fulfil Donald Trump’s prediction and “just go away” it looks as if we’re just going to have to suck it up and prepare to spend even more time in our bubble this autumn. We’re going to need to find ways to keep ourselves from getting bored on these ever-lengthening nights. Here are some of the latest gadgets you’ll find both useful and entertaining, so when the indoor fun begins, you’ll never get left out in the cold.
Samsung Q90 QLED TV
We’ve been watching quite a lot of TV over the summer, and that situation’s not likely to change any time soon. We can expect to spend long autumn evenings cosied up in front of the telly with our family, so might as well have the best gogglebox we can get. Samsung’s flagship QLED 4K HDR 2000 smart TV promises to bring you a whole new viewing experience, so at least that’ll be a novelty. It boasts a 55in screen that pumps out the comedy and drama in Pure QLED 4K resolution, and its Quantum processor means you can hear every nuance of dialogue and pick out every little visual detail from one end of the screen to another. So you’ll have no trouble hearing Kylo Ren mumble through his mask, or spotting Easter eggs in The Mandalorian or clocking carelessly placed takeaway coffee cups in Game of Thrones. It’s also got eight speakers to bring three-dimensional sound.
Only problem is, with TV producers having to pause production on top series due to coronavirus, we could soon run out of shows to watch. But don’t worry – most streaming services have loads of old stuff to catch up on, and besides, watching endless repeats might make it feel like summer again.
Dell XPS 13
From €1,319.99, currys.ie
As the days get shorter, you might notice your task list starting to get longer. You’re going to need a seriously hard-working laptop to keep up with the added autumn workload, from doing your own job remotely and downloading the kids’ school projects to ordering your stuff online. The Dell XPS 13 has already topped a few techie websites’ world’s best laptop list, or at least featured in the top 10, so if it’s good enough for Cnet, Digital Trends, PC Mag and Tom’s Guide, it’s good enough for us. What makes it such a must-have? Well, it’s small, portable and very fast, so that’s a good start. It’s got a powerful 10th-generation Intel processor, which allows you to multitask and also slip in a bit of gaming between important jobs. It may have a small screen size, but the bezel is almost non-existent, thanks to its Infinity Edge display, so the picture looks bigger. And because it’s compact, you can deploy it anywhere: in the home office, on the kitchen table, in the shed, in the line outside the supermarket. Dell has also maximised the surface area, widening the keyboard almost all the way out to the edge, and making the touchpad much bigger, so you won’t have to have your hands bunched up together like a meerkat looking out over the prairie. It’s not cheap, but it is slim and good-looking, so you won’t be ashamed of whipping it out at your local coffee shop.
Naim Muso QB2 2nd Generation Wireless Speaker System
With the evenings closing in, you might find yourself firing up the barbie much less often and passing up the chance to sit outside listening to party music on that water-resistant bright purple Bluetooth speaker with the flashing lights. Time to take the sensible approach and get a solid, reliable, non-gaudy speaker that sits neatly on a shelf, safe from the ravages of barbie smoke, beer froth, suntan-oily hands and ice-cream drippage. And they don’t come more solid and reliable than the Naim Muso QB2, a home wireless speaker that delivers astonishing sound that will fill the room to capacity. Who needs gigs? Just stick on Nirvana Unplugged, close your eyes, and you can practically smell Kurt Cobain’s grungy cardigan. This is the second generation QB2, upgraded to sound even better (I know – you didn’t think that was possible), with punchier bass, crisper midrange and sparklier top end, backed up by 300W of sonic power. It also has an expanded range of grille colours – olive, peacock or terracotta, along with the standard black – and a whole horizon of streaming choices, including Apple AirPlay 2, Chromecast, Spotify Connect, Roon Ready and Tidal, and the ability to stream from your devices – and the Naim app allows you to connect to the tunes and ripped CDs stored on your home network. Who needs a tin can that tells you the latest weather when you can enjoy a real audiophile experience without robotic interruptions?
Sonos do great Bluetooth speakers and home streaming tech, but they also have a killer line in home cinema systems, and the Sonos Arc soundbar could be the one to look at if you’re planning a lot of family evenings in revisiting the Marvel Cinematic Universe or catching up on the latest set of boxsets (yes, we’re in the multi-boxset universe now).
The Arc is the successor to both the Sonos Playbar and the Sonos Playbase (that latter one, which doubled as a base to stand your TV on, has been discontinued).
The Arc has been described by What Hi-Fi as an “absolute belter”, and it does pack a widescreen sound into a neat little stick of technology. The Arc supports Dolby Atmos, and with most streaming services (including the big three of Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+) all putting out content with Dolby Atmos, the Arc will become a vital accessory to your smart TV, giving you an immersive sonic experience when watching films and TV shows, or playing your favourite video games. The surround sound effect is so sharp, you’ll swear someone has installed extra speakers in the walls. Its upward-firing drivers work together to create a multidimensional sound stage, giving impressive clarity, detail and depth, so you can catch every nuance of speech along with all the whizz-bang action sounds. Sonos got in a team of Oscar-winning sound technicians to make sure the Arc can handle the whole range from mumbled dialogue to floor-shaking explosions.
Google Nest Hub
€59.99, Google Store
The Google Nest Hub is the perfect way to get control over all aspects of the household, from lighting to heating, from music to movies and from meal planning to shopping lists. Nest sits unobtrusively on the kitchen counter or on a sitting room shelf, ready to help you with whatever you need with just a tap or a word. Want to regulate the heat and light in the house? Nest has it all in hand. Want to watch the new series of The Crown on Netflix or listen to Taylor Swift’s fab new album on YouTube music? Just ask Google Nest. And when you’re not using Google Nest, it can still be useful, acting as a digital photo album, displaying all your family snaps so you can relive those summer memories. Google Nest will also keep you informed of all your appointments and dates, and with Google Assistant built in, can answer any burning questions you may have about the weather or the nearest pizza takeaway joint. It has two microphones that can pick up your voice from across the room, and a decent speaker so you can hear it talk back to you. Back when we were kids, mammy had just the transistor radio in the kitchen to keep her company – with this 21st-century wireless, the home environment has just become a wide open space.