Smarter Living

June 26, 2014

Technology is reshaping life on the lawn

The wireless, battery-operated world we live in means there are fewer cords to wrestle with as we bring the comforts of home to the porch and patio.

Holiday celebrations, pool and garden parties, evening shade and starlight suppers – those are just some of the reasons you’re likely to find yourself outdoors in the weeks ahead.

Moving outside for the summer has become a far more magical experience compared to decades past. The wireless, battery-operated world we live in leaves us with fewer cords to wrestle with – or stumble over with our cherry pie – as we bring the comforts of home to the porch and patio.

Here are some of the technologies that are helping to reshape life on the lawn.

Wireless speakers

It takes about two seconds of listening to know that Bose’s SoundLink III stands out in the crowd of Bluetooth speakers. These have clarity and depth even at the highest volume levels, and that quality justifies the premium price.

All the expected features are built in: four drivers, two passive radiators for full-spectrum audio and mechanics for a big bass sound. On top of the device is a row of controls for power, volume and a Bluetooth pairing mode. SoundLink III remembers the six most recent devices you paired it with, eliminating the need to go through the setup process again and again.

The back side has ports for charging, connecting a device via the aux in port and a microUSB port for firmware (software) updates, not charging.

Bose says the battery is good up to 14 hours, and the device can be decorated with a colored cover, available in blue, green, gray, orange and pink. It weighs 3 pounds and measures 10 by 5 by 2 inches. $299 at

Grill starter

The BBQ Dragon is a hands-free contraption designed to help you get your grill ready in about 10 minutes – faster than a chimney starter or liquid starter, according to its makers. Use it to light charcoal or wood.

Once the spring-loaded clamp is attached to the side of the grill and turned on, the battery-operated accessory’s fan blows a steady stream of fire-fueling oxygen onto the charcoal or wood being used to cook dinner.

A foot-long stainless steel neck separates the fan from the clamp and can be angled in any direction.

The motor speed is controlled with a dial located on the handle. Four AA batteries are included, or you can buy rechargeable NiMh batteries, which can be charged with the built-in microUSB port. $50 at

Wearable technology

Keeping up with a smartphone or tablet is less practical when you’re tossing a football. Now you can monitor emails, text messages and other notifications from a wristwatch such as the Martian Notifier.

A quick peek at your watch is easier than constantly taking an iPhone out, using a finger ID and then scrolling for the message.

At times I thought I was in an old “Get Smart” show when talking into my watch for a hands-free call using the built-in mic and speaker.

Your smartphone or tablet connects via Bluetooth, so you get about 30 feet of range.

Set-up takes a little time, but the instructions are well explained and there are only two buttons to use after setting the analog time. The buttons are used to make selections and for programming.

A tap of the watch glass gets rid of incoming calls – which are displayed with caller ID – email and text messages on the scrolling display across the 6 o’clock area on the watch face.

After downloading the free Martian Notifier app (iOS and Android), the instructions run you through the pairing and setup of many features. This includes some settings you will have to change on your smartphone itself.

Social media notifications, alarms and reminders can be sent to the watch; tapping the glass brings back the most recent notification (within the last 5 minutes).

Other features include using the watch for health and fitness, bank alerts, traffic reports, triggering your phone’s camera shutter and even earthquake alerts.

The watch needs a microUSB charge every few days depending on usage. A separate analog watch battery is good for up to 2 years. $129 for the watch; optional designer bands range from $20 to $35 at

Waterproof and floating phones

It’s smart to protect your phone if you enjoy spending time in or near the water. Lifeproof fre is a way to get that waterproof protection for iPhone 5. (Read on for other devices.)

The case Lifeproof Lifejacket Float accessory for iPhone 5 gives the phone its own float. The Lifejacket is molded from soft, buoyant foam, designed with a high-visibility orange finish and includes a lanyard and wrist strap.

The phone still has touchscreen functions while enclosed in the Lifeproof case, but the charging port and headphone jack are closed. Pair the phone with a Bluetooth speaker instead of using the headphones when you’re on the patio.

Lifeproof, part of the Otterbox family, makes similar weatherproof and floating accessories for other iPhones, as well as iPads, iPods and Samsung Galaxy (S3, S4). The cases aren’t big and bulky like many others.

Prices vary by device. Lifeproof fre is $80; LifeJacket for iPhone 5/5c/5s is $40 at

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