Let’s face it: Smart home technology really isn’t that fanciful in 2020. The concept of a connected home has become quite mainstream and commonplace, even if all you have is a smart thermostat or a voice assistant you occasionally ask for help. But as more people introduce artificial intelligence into their homes, it’s more important than ever that you ensure you only use the best smart home devices available today.
In this article, we’ll discuss the following:
- A definition for a smart home and smart home device
- Recommended devices you need to create an effective smart home
- Extra devices you can add if you really love smart technology
Our goal is to help you understand the hows, whens, and whys of smart home technology so you can choose for yourself what you need in your home. With any luck, you can make your life a bit more convenient.
What is a Smart Home Device?
Here’s one potential answer:
A device that connects with other Wi-Fi-enabled devices to create a network by which a user can more effectively manage various household operations.
But what does that mean in actual human language? Let’s try this explanation:
It’s any piece of technology that can talk to other pieces of technology and simplify some actions around the house.
Whew! That’s a bit better. Smart home technology should be more common sense, in our opinion, especially if the industry wants to keep growing.
The logic is pretty straightforward: If you can get the devices connected to the Wi-Fi in your home, you can get them talking to each other and then program them to do certain tasks automatically so you don’t have to think about it. It should be about creating your own Jetsons-style home that maximizes your convenience at the end of a long day.
And just like The Jetsons and Rosie, it all starts with a central device that you can use to control everything else. The industry calls this a “hub.”
Choosing the Right Smart Home Hub
In one sense, the “right” hub for you can be a simple decision — pick the one that matches your brand of smartphone.
- If you love your iPhone, you should start with an Apple HomeKit.
- If you’re an Android person, the Google Nest Hub will work best.
- If you’re brand agnostic, you have options from Samsung, Amazon, Hubitat, and more.
Simply put, if you’re going to dive headfirst into creating a smart home you can control through voice commands no matter where you are in your house, you need a hub to serve as your base of operations. You also need to invest in a router and satellites throughout your home to support the increase in activity on your Wi-Fi network — and for that, we recommend the Nest WiFi Mesh Router.
The Top 5 Smart Home Devices for Every Home
To be clear, we love smart home devices of all shapes and sizes. We’ve introduced a range of these into our homes over the years to get a feel of what we like and don’t like about the technology. That’s why we usually start our recommendations with the following piece of advice:
Start small by only using what makes sense for you right now.
Does the idea of a smart sprinkler system that monitors rainfall levels and weather predictions to determine exactly how much and for how long it needs to water your yard sound totally awesome? Of course it does! But do you need it today? Probably not! And that’s ok because you might need it later.
Thus, we’re going to start by providing our favorite products that create a classic smart home. Sure, there are more bells and whistles you can add, but you can’t call your house a smart home without these five devices.
1. Voice Assistant
For most people, their smart home journey either begins with a voice assistant or with a smart thermostat (which we’ll discuss later). If you’re going to create a home that you control with your voice, you need someone to talk to. To be honest, this one really does come down to what you’ll use the assistant for and the type of smartphone you have.
Yes, the Amazon Echo Dot is nearly ubiquitous at this point, especially if you’re a shopper. But if you’re either an Android user or you already enjoy your Nest Learning Thermostat, you could easily fall in love with the Google Nest Mini.
Both of them serve as a decent smart speaker, but there are definitely better-sounding options available (which we’ll talk about down the line). Also, you can upgrade in the future to a handy display panel option for both these devices, as they provide more nuanced control over key aspects of the connected devices on your network.
The experts are split between the Ecobee Smart Thermostat (with voice control) and the Nest Learning Thermostat. Both of them offer control from your smartphone, and both of them work best when you program a baseline set of preferred temperatures and then let them optimize those temperature settings based upon your activities and the weather in your area.
The reigning champion for high-quality smart light bulb technology remains the Phillips Hue. The prices continue to drop as the options and capabilities grow, including color, hue, lighting level, voice control, and beyond. Choose from standard bulbs, light strips, decorative lamps, and more!
We’re fans of two different brands of smart plugs: Kasa and SmartThings. Both brands give you the ability to set specific schedules for when and how you want to use the device plugged in. This makes them perfect for floor lamps and holiday lighting. They also provide the capability to monitor their energy usage.
We’re especially a fan of the smart power strip from Kasa, which gives you independent control over every single outlet. This allows you to limit the vampire power wasted when keeping consumer electronics plugged in.
5. Home Security
Using smart devices for home security purposes has become one of the biggest developments for the technology. We’ve broken down your options into three categories: cameras, doorbells, and full security systems.
While Nest, SmartThings, and other brands offer excellent in-home cameras, our recommendation will always go to Arlo. Why? Because they make the best outdoor cameras on the market, complete with wiring and batteries built to withstand nearly any sort of weather.
The only true choice is Simplisafe. Not only do you have the ability to set up the cameras on your own terms based on the location you think is best, but you also have a secure app to monitor and control everything. Even better, the security contract you sign with this company is on a month-to-month basis instead of something long-term.
Go Next-Level with 4 More Cool Smart Home Devices
These are the extras, the add-ons, the stuff you’d love to have but don’t need to create your core smart home environment. But trust us, once you add them to your home, you can’t imagine what life was like before you had them.
Let’s face it: If you’re a hardcore audiophile looking for pristine sound clarity for your vintage vinyl, there probably isn’t a smart speaker on the market that will make you happy. But for the vast majority of music lovers out there, especially those of us who want to have music piped into every room of the house without wires trailing everywhere, you should get the Amazon Echo Studio or Sonos One.
They have the best sound clarity of all the major smart speaker manufacturers, complete with the ability to modulate the audio settings for a song based upon its style. Sonos One is compatible with more streaming services and voice assistants, but Echo Studio has a slightly cleaner UX and more intuitive features.
Take your aforementioned home security system to the next level with a smart lock for your front door. The best in the business is the August Smart Lock. Unlike other products on the market, this one fits over your current lock and allows you to still use a key — perfect for times you have a power outage in your neighborhood. Even better, you can connect it to your smartphone and voice assistant, complete with a secure PIN.
8. Lawn Care
Here’s where the fun stuff really starts — the chance to never get your hands dirty with yard work ever again. While you’ll still need to weed your flower beds, you can now purchase a smart lawn mower from Husqvarna. Operating basically like a Roomba for your lawn, it uses sensor technology to determine where it should and should not go, and it can also determine the height of its blades by the height of your grass.
You can then take lawn care to an even higher level with Wi-Fi lawn watering from Rachio. This fantastic system will first accept your programmed schedule for watering your yard, but it uses the latest technology to customize a watering pattern for you. By monitoring the wetness of your yard in relation to recent rainfall and what’s predicted, it can modify your watering schedule in terms of amount, length, and intensity. The goal is to give you the healthiest lawn possible lawn with the least amount of work.
9. Home Appliances
This is the category where things can run a little bit off the rails, even for the supremely tech-savvy. We’ve seen “smart” everything in recent years, from hairdryers, flat irons, and toothbrushes to microwaves, sous vide machines, and slow cookers. Sometimes, we’re just not sure how such devices make your life more convenient since you still have to do some of the work manually. You can control a smart thermostat or speaker with your voice to make it work, but you still have to hold your “smart” hairdryer in your hand to use it.
In our opinion, there are two smart home appliances that are actually worth the money and trouble: the vacuum and the refrigerator. The Roomba remains the gold standard for in-home vacuum cleaning at the touch of a button, and the battery life and suction just keep getting better with every single iteration.
In terms of high-tech fridges, our money is on the newest model from Samsung, as its hub technology looks to become the nerve center of your family’s activities. Not only can you see inside your fridge when you’re out grocery shopping to see if you missed anything on your list, but people can also communicate with each other via messaging and calendars. It’s your old-school pencil-and-paper family schedule updated for the 21st century.
Remember: You don’t need to have every possible bell and whistle when creating your smart home. The goal is to buy the best smart home devices that make sense for you and your family. If it won’t make your life more convenient, then you probably don’t need it.