Have you ever dreamt of making your virtual assistant — whether it’s Alexa or Siri — take over your home the way PAT does in the 1999 Disney Channel original movie Smart House? In the story, the Cooper family moves into a state-of-the-art house in New York after the son, Ben, wins a contest.
Their new home is able to clean itself up before the father, Nick, arrives home from work. Its living room walls can turn into movie-theater-sized screens. The house is also equipped with breath-analyzing sensors that are able to capture dietary information about every family member. They get to enjoy having smoothies and cupcakes on command.
What Is a Smart Home?
Today's most technologically advanced residences may not be near that fantasy home yet. But many people are already beginning to enjoy smart home systems, also now referred to as home automation or domotics.
A smartphone mobile app or other networked device is used to operate smart home gadgets individually or together based on the homeowners' preferences. Such system operates a wide range of appliances from windows and thermostats to cooking utensils, pet feeders, and locks.
Benefits of Setting Up a Smart Home
Besides the convenience of being able to operate appliances by executing voice commands or clicking a button on your phone, these are the other ways you can benefit from installing smart home products:
- They can save energy.
Connected lights, heating, and air conditioning systems will use less energy when you set them up to automatically power down when not in use, thereby reducing your power bill.
- They can help improve safety and security.
Connected cameras, alarm systems, and lights can make your home safer, especially if you're home alone and someone is checking to see if they can break in.
- They can turn the home into an entertainment and information center.
You can enjoy surround-sound music and movies with the help of connected speakers and AI-based digital assistants. Or just turn on your smart home gadget to listen to the latest weather or traffic report, sports scores, and other news updates.
- They can do regular household chores.
Use the Roomba robot vacuum cleaner to clean your floors. Hoover, Whirlpool, LG, Samsung, and GE have washing machines that can automatically start a wash cycle. Meanwhile, Kenmore and Samsung produce refrigerators that can place orders online when they sense that certain food supplies are running low.
Top Smart Home Products
Smart home devices are individual products like speakers or light bulbs that respond to a smart system, which is your overarching command center or what you speak to when you want something to happen.
We've come up with a list of best smart home devices from some of the major product categories to help bring your home into the future.
It's a tie between Amazon and Google's products, which are both within the $50 range.
Chubbier than the second-generation Echo Dot at 3.9" wide, the 3rd Gen speaker is covered in grille fabric. The dish-like device also offers better sound quality than Gen 2. It has an audio-out jack and an LED clock display.
This smart home product is also designed to protect your privacy through a microphone off button that can electronically disconnect the mics.
- Produces louder and clearer voice responses
- Superior design (Gen 2 is made of plastic, but you can buy a leather or fabric casing at an additional cost)
- Improved speakers
- Can be used with the new Amazon Echo Sub for extra bass
- No significant difference in functionality compared to Echo Dot 2nd Gen
The bass of this Google smart home device is twice as strong as the Home Mini. Its three microphones compared to its predecessor's two mics improve far-field recognition of your voice.
The Nest Mini is also equipped with ultrasound sensing. When your hand hovers over the product, LED lights light up on each side of the speaker, pointing users to the volume adjustment touch points.
The oval-shaped smart home product has a wall mount on the back. You'll also find a DC power jack on outside of the speaker instead of the micro-USB found in the Home Mini.
- Produces clearer sound than the tinny, bass-deprived Home Mini
- Compatible with most of the major streaming devices, including YouTube Music, Pandora, and Spotify
- Despite bass improvements, there's no marked difference between the Nest and the Home Mini
3. Best Smart Plug: ConnectSense Smart Outlet 2
The dual-outlet smart plug works with Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri voice commands or Android and iOS mobile apps. The smart home gadget can work with other smart home devices through HomeKit Scenes and Automations.
- Easy installation
- Has a USB charging port
- Offers independent control for two outlets
- Doesn't support IFTTT
4. Best Smart Lock: August Smart Lock Pro Plus Connect Bundle
August Home's third generation HomeKit-enabled smart lock fits onto most existing deadbolts, which allows you to still use your key. The smart home device operates via Z-Wave wireless technology and has an open/close door sensor.
This smart lock can be controlled remotely using Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri or through the August app or Bluetooth. The link can also be operated using an automation hub such as Wink 2 or SmartThings, Samsung's smart home system.
- Has geofencing and IFTTT support
5. Best Smart Thermostat: Ecobee
This fifth-generation smart home product from the home automation firm has a pair of digital microphones that has an echo-cancelling feature and more advanced audio processing capability than Ecobee4's analogue mics.
The smart home gadget has 12 terminals that connect to heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning appliances. The latest Ecobee model also comes with a SmartSensor so that even rooms far away from the thermostat would be able to enjoy the same temperature you've set for the house.
Although primarily an Alexa smart home device, Ecobee also works with Google Assistant, Siri, and Apple's HomeKit platform.
- Digital microphones allow better integrations with other Alexa-powered products
- Its built-in speaker may not be that useful for playing music or podcasts, depending on where you mount the thermostat
6. Best Security Camera: Arlo Pro 3
These smart cams, which come in pairs, can run on rechargeable battery or cable. The versatile features and the weather-proof design of this smart home device make it suitable for indoor or outdoor use.
The Pro 3 features a higher resolution video feed (2000 pixels) compared to the previous model (1080 pixels) and a siren built into the camera, not in the hub like the Arlo Pro 2.
- Can record images in color at night
- Has wider field of view, crisp live streaming, fast alerts
Ensure Compatibility to Optimize Smart Devices
To establish a genuine smart home system, it will be best to survey the smart home products you have now and check if they are interoperable regardless of what company made them.
Ask yourself: Do I just want to control separate systems such as heating and lighting? Or do I want to build a system that can be expanded over time?
Know your goals before researching the hardware that you need, then make sure that the smart home devices will work harmoniously together so you can make your home as smart, convenient, and safe as you want it to be.