5 devices to give your hotel room or holiday rental a smart home makeover
Give any hotel room a high tech feel with these gadgets
Going on vacation and staying in a hotel might feel like a distant memory right now, but when things start to return to normal you'll want to know what technology to pack in your suitcase. There's the usual collection of smartphones, headphones, ebook readers, cameras and power banks, but at GearBrain we specialize in the smart home – and think some of that can come with you too.
We're not talking about smart lightbulbs and televisions, of course. But devices like smart speakers can be the perfect tech travel companion, giving you an all-in-one device to play music and the radio, keep you in touch with friends and family back home, ask about location directions and translations, and work as a morning alarm clock.
Streaming sticks make it easy to add Netflix and more to the TV in your Airbnb property or hotel room, and you could even pack a compact projector for watching movies on a rainy day.
With all that in mind, here are five travel-friendly devices that can give any hotel a smart, connected makeover. So whether you are staying at the Ritz or a Holiday Inn, these gadgets will make your room smarter and your stay more enjoyable. Just don't forget the plug adaptors.
Amazon Echo Dot, Apple HomePod Mini or Nest Mini
The Echo Dot, HomePod Mini and Nest MiniAmazon / Google / Apple
The compact nature of the Amazon Echo Dot, HomePod Mini and Nest Mini make them the perfect travel companions to slip into your suitcase — whether you are staying for just a couple of nights, or an entire week.
Picking between the three devices mostly depends on your preferences — would you like to speak to Alexa, Siri or the Google Assistant? Sound quality of these compact speakers used to be fairly poor for music listening, but the current generation of Echo Dot and Nest Mini have improved markedly on their predecessors, and the HomePod Mini is particularly good for its size. Given the Apple cots twice as much as its two rivals here, superior music quality perhaps shouldn't come as a surprise.
Once you have picked your speaker, simply plug it into a spare wall outlet, connect it to the hotel Wi-Fi via the companion smartphone app, and you are set. Now you have an always-listening personal assistant ready to read news headlines, play the radio, answer questions about the local area, or give the all-important weather forecast for your stay.
As a demonstration of how compact smart speakers and their voice assistant can be useful travel companions, we took an Echo Dot to Hong Kong for a couple of weeks and used it in our Airbnb property. As well as entertaining us with music and radio stations from back home, it also let us keep an eye on our smart home devices from thousands of miles away and acted as our morning alarm clock.
The voice assistants of smart speakers can also help with discovering local points of interest and providing directions, as well as helping you translate and learn a few key phrases. to help with your travels. They also make it easy to have hands-free calls with friends and family back home.
Note: When the Echo Dot first launched it had trouble connecting to hotel Wi-Fi network which required logging into through a web page. Thankfully, Amazon has now addressed this. As for the Nest and Apple speakers, you may need to connect them to a mobile hotspot broadcast by your smartphone, laptop, or a travel router, which we will cover later in this article.
Amazon Fire TV Stick, Roku or Google Chromecast
Bringing your streaming device on holiday means you no longer have to watch local TV. Instead, you can jump right into Netflix, Amazon or other streaming services and keep yourself (and the family) entertained if the weather turns against you and your beach plans.
Options by Amazon, Roku and Google all plug into the HDMI port of any television, which is almost always exposed on a hotel room TV. However, some hotels have a separate panel for the TV's various inputs, usually located on the wall just below the screen.
You'll then need to plug the streaming stick into either the TV's own USB port, another USB socket nearby, or remember to take the wall charger (and a travel adapter, of course). You could also power the streaming device from a power bank if there isn't a USB socket or wall outlet close enough.
Next, you need to connect the streaming stick to the hotel's Wi-Fi network. If the network is open and only requires a password, then you can connect in exactly the same way as you do at home, via your smartphone. However, many hotel Wi-Fi networks require an extra level of authentication, such as your name or room number, which is entered into a website form.
In this case, you will need to share the internet connection of another device — like your laptop or smartphone — to the streaming stick. Windows and Mac OS both do this natively, so once they are connected to the hotel Wi-Fi (or Ethernet), they can share this with other devices, like your Chromecast. You can also use your smartphone as a mobile hotspot, but this will use data from your 4G or 5G connection, so so make sure you are fully aware of data use and the costs of data in the country you are visiting. In many cases, using 4G data abroad can be extremely expensive.
Instead of watching the local stations, you can now access streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. However, it is worth remembering that the content of these services varies by country due to licensing agreements, so your favorite TV show might not be available at your vacation destination.
Portable Bluetooth speakers are in expensive and easy to travel withAnker
Some hotel rooms have a bedside alarm and speaker system, but even in recent years we've found these sometimes offer up the extinct Apple 30-pin connection and little else. Thankfully, there is a huge range of travel-size Bluetooth speakers on the market for bringing quality sound to your holiday, weekend away, or business trip.
You could use one of the smart speakers mentioned earlier, but their quality and volume isn't going to fill a holiday rental home, and is best suited to a regular hotel room. If you want bigger, better sound, there are lots of options from companies like JBL, Denon, Anker, Sony, Bose, Ultimate Ears, and many others. Some smaller options are battery-powered, while others need plugging into a wall outlet but generally produce better sound. Many battery-powered speakers are also waterproof, so will survive a trip to the pool or beach without being damaged, or you could even attach the waterproof JBL Clip 3 to the shower.
It is believed that Sonos is about to get into this market too, with a compact Bluetooth speaker believed to be called the Move Mini. It is expected to be announced during an online product launch event on March 9.
Travel router or hotspot
RAVPower AC750 Travel RouterRAVPower
As we mentioned earlier, connecting some devices to hotel Wi-Fi networks can be tricky, especially if your hotel asks you to log in through a web page.
To fix this, you can either connect the device to your laptop or smartphone's internet connection, or invest in a travel router. These plug into the Ethernet port of your hotel room (or connect to its Wi-Fi network with an interface on your laptop) and broadcast this connection as a new Wi-Fi network for your devices to connect to.
Many travel routers also have SD card slots, meaning you can access files (like movies and music or work documents) stored on the card from your laptop, smartphone or another connected device. In addition to that, some travel routers also act as battery packs for topping up your phone while away from a wall outlet.
Travel routers also mean you can get more devices online than your hotel would normally allow, as often there is a limit of just one or two devices per room. Because the travel router counts as one device, its connection can be shared with everything else you have with you.
Similar to the travel route is the mobile hotspot. These connect to 4G mobile networks and broadcast a Wi-Fi signal for your devices to connect to. When travelling all you need to do is buy a local SIM card with an included data allowance, then insert that into the mobile hotspot. You can then access the web on your laptop smartphone and any other Wi-Fi device you have with you, and without relying on patchy or potentially insecure hotel Wi-Fi.
This 4G mobile hotspot from ZTE can be connected to by up to 10 devices at once and costs $65.
Sure, you're on holiday and the hotel is really only somewhere to sleep. But what if the weather has turned against you and you have a few hours to kill in your room? Pack yourself a mini projector and beam movies onto the wall, of course.
Naturally, how well this works will depend on the decor and layout of your room, but we've stayed in enough minimalist rooms with pale walls to believe a projector would come in handy. The $200 Apeman Mini Video Projector is pocket-sized, but offers a 1080p Full HD resolution and a 120 minute battery life if you don't want to plug it in. It can project an image of between 30 inches and 100 inches from a distance of 26cm to 2.6 meters, so should provide a great alternative to the TV in your room.
Alternatively — and if you have a little more space in your suitcase, but less in your wallet — try this $130 projector by GooDee, which also has 720p support and offers screen sizes of up to 200 inches.