March 3, 2024

Planning a mini-staycation this Family Day long weekend? There’s plenty to do indoors with those you love and, with a little assistance from technology, keep everyone entertained and engaged.

While many people equate consumer electronics with solitary experiences — gamers wrestling with a controller, or zombified teens swiping through their social feeds — the right gadgets and gear can, actually, promote time together under one roof and also help connect with relatives elsewhere.

From streaming popcorn flicks to your big screen TV, to competing on digital pinball tables, to collaborating on TikTok dances and cooking together with high-tech appliances, the latest technologies can bring family together in fresh and fun ways.

A few noteworthy examples:

Old school meets new cool: Best known for its replica retro arcade games from the ’80s (like Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga), Arcade1Up’s virtual pinball machines ($999) also let you take a trip down memory lane with three different tables: Marvel Pinball, Star Wars Pinball and Attack from Mars.

But they each have a tech twist. There are real flipper buttons on each side and plunger at the front of these machines, but the board itself is a 24-inch screen — which means the ball, ramps, lights and flippers are all digital. They look and behave, though, how they would in real life. And, yes, the silver ball mimics real-life physics as it bounces around the table.

Because it’s one giant screen, you can toggle between 10 different games, per table. Marvel, for example, features Spider-Man, Civil War, Wolverine, X-Men, Fantastic Four, and others.

Similar to its arcade machines, these tables are a three-quarter scale, compared to regular pinball tables.

Smart speaker games, too: Another fun digital diversion the entire family can play, Hey Robot ($25), from Everybody House Games is a fun card game that requires a smart speaker, such as one of the Alexa-powered Amazon Echo devices or a Google Nest speaker.

(There’s also a free digital version of the game, which also requires a smart speaker.)

The rules are simple: Pick a card and try to get your smart speaker to say the word (or any form of the word), without saying the word yourself. For example, if the word is “Muppet,” ask Alexa or Google something like “What TV shows did Jim Henson create?” Each word has a point value. The first person or team to get to 14 wins.

When you play the digital version with family over the internet, place your smart speaker near your phone, tablet or computer and launch a Zoom chat with friends. Only one speaker is needed.

Speaking of smartphones, have fun with the kids or grandkids by participating in video-centric apps like Snapchat and TikTok, the latter of which may include fun “duets” to sing along with, and even mastering silly dances, which also helps count toward your daily activity goals!

Printer crafts aplenty: To keep the little ones entertained, remember you can also print free colouring pages, connect-the-dot puzzles and word searches.

Simply do a Google search in any web browser to find several thousands of licensed images to print. Your local dollar store will have crayons, markers and pencil crayons aplenty.

Or, take your best family photos — maybe one of the family pet — and create a digital jigsaw puzzle game for the family to work on together. There are a few good ones for iPhone/iPad and Android devices, but more fun for families to solve together on a larger computer monitor. Try the free Magic Jigsaw Puzzles (at magicpuzzles.net).

Alternatively, print family photos on magnetic sheets of paper (about $17 per five-pack), which can be fed through any regular inkjet printer, and cut the photos into fridge magnets or keepsakes to pop into a greeting cards.

Binge-worthy TV: Snacks? Yep. Favourite spot on the couch? Check. A glass of vino for mom or dad? Wine not.

With the variety of streaming services available, no doubt you will find something everyone will like to watch over the Family Day long weekend.

For as low as $29, a Roku streaming stick plugs into a television’s HDMI port. Then join it to your Wi-Fi and sign into paid subscription services (like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Apple TV+, Crave, and so on), or free but ad-supported ones (like Tubi, Popcornflix, Filmrise, and The Roku Channel).

Last month, Roku announced that it is the No. 1 TV streaming platform in Canada, based on hours streamed, according to a recent study conducted by the Hypothesis Group. In 2021, the top five TV searches on Roku were Yellowstone, TSN Originals, CBC Tokyo 2020 Replay, Rick and Morty, and Paw Patrol.

To add some boom to your room, consider picking up a soundbar (as low as $50), to enhance your television’s audio. Many are Bluetooth-enabled, too, allowing you to wirelessly play music from your phone, tablet or laptop.

High-tech cookery, too: A family that cooks together … eats together.

At under $100 for some models, air fryers are relatively affordable and trendy. As you likely know, these tabletop appliances simulate deep frying with hot air that circulates at high speed, and thus it can create a healthier meal, quickly, and without losing crispiness.

If you need to feed a large family, however, some ovens include an air-fry model. , so you can cook more at the same time. From $1,399, LG has Wi-Fi-enabled ranges with an air fry feature which gives you more space than a countertop solution, and includes support for an optional app (or smart speaker support) for control, notifications, and recipes — even when you’re not in the kitchen.

From $1,699, gas models with built-in air fry also has “InstaView,” where you can knock twice on the glass to see inside, without opening the door.

Stay connected with video: Fortunately, there are several ways to keep in touch with those who aren’t there with you.

Not only can you chat with video for a more meaningful connection to distant — or distancing — family and friends, but all the big services are free (sometimes with time limitations). Zoom is probably best known, but there’s also Google Meet, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, FaceTime, Microsoft Teams, and Skype.

All you need is Wi-Fi and a device with a screen, such as a smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop, or smart display (like Google Nest Hub Max, Amazon Echo Show, or Facebook Portal).

Marc Saltzman is based in Toronto and covers consumer technology trends. He is a freelance contributor for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @marc_saltzman

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