The smart home is an increasingly diverse category of products that still has a lot of room for growth. While we are inching ever closer to that future depicted by the Jetsons and other sci-fi classics, the market is still fragmented by narrow categories, proprietary gadgets, and competing standards. Accordingly, the best smart home gadgets are those that can adapt to innovations in the marketplace.
Whether you’re looking for a simple smart lighting solution for an upcoming party, or trying to build an entire technological ecosystem for your home, we’ve got you covered. Here’s a list of the best smart home products to get you started.
Amazon Echo is the best smart digital assistant available—and probably the closest you’ll get to having a J.A.R.V.I.S. or Hal 9000 in your life. It’s an intelligent, WiFi-enabled, voice-operated speaker that uses Amazon’s Alexa voice service to play and control music. Even calls can be made and answered with this device.
More importantly, it can be used to automate your home, as it’s compatible with Belkin, WeMo, Philips Hue, Samsung SmartThings, Wink, Insteon, Nest, and ecobee. It can also be used to control pretty much any app you can imagine, including Spotify, Uber, Domino’s, Pandora, IFTTT, Audible, and, of course, Amazon.
OK, so that’s lot of compatibility, but how does the Echo translate to real-world experiences? To give you an idea, here are a few voice commands Echo and Alexa can handle: “Alexa, re-order paper towels.” “Alexa, find me a Mexican restaurant.” “Alexa, set a timer for 20 minutes.” “Alexa, what’s my commute?” Alexa (the voice system used by the Echo) will respond in kind.
It’s an impressive little computer that strikingly resembles Artificial Intelligence. But don’t call it that. We don’t want it to become self-aware.
The Nest Cam is the newest iteration of the Dropcam, a standalone smart home gadget purchased by Nest Labs in 2014. Although not an alarm system, this WiFi-controlled camera works with Amazon's Alexa, films in 1080p (HD) and is meant to ward off and identify potential home intruders. It features sharp night vision, two-way audio (for yelling at burglars), and digital zoom. By setting the Home or Away mode on your Thermostat, you can set the Cam to automatically turn streaming on or off. And if you’re worried about anyone attempting to destroy the footage, you can shell out $10/month for access to cloud storage. Perhaps best of all, because the Nest Cam is owned by Nest Labs, it can integrate with the Learning Thermostat and Protect smoke and CO detector.
If you’re already a fan of the Amazon Echo and the ecosystem that is being built around it, then you might also want to add the Echo Show to your home for video calling and other fun video uses.
The Echo Show basically takes what you already know (and probably love) about the Echo, with you being able to ask Alexa to play music or turn on the lights, and adds a video component. When it comes to video, you can do easy video calls with other people who also have the Echo Show or voice calls with people who own the Echo or Echo Dot. You can also tell Alexa to play video clips from YouTube and Amazon Prime Video.
Having a display on the Echo adds additional functionality as well since the screen is able to display the time and date or show you lyrics to whatever song is playing from Amazon Music. The screen can connect to other devices, too, including cameras in the house, meaning you can peek at your baby’s crib or see the security camera outside the house. And don’t worry about basic Alexa questioning taking a hit due to the screen — this model has eight microphones and noise cancellation, so you can ask questions no matter where you are in the room.
Nest exploded onto the scene in 2013 with the launch of its self-learning smart thermostat. Less than a year later the company was acquired by Google, suggesting the powers in Silicon Valley are eyeing a huge market for home automation, with thermostats as the hub.
The WiFi-enabled Nest Learning Thermostat is designed to optimize the heating and cooling of your home. But instead of merely adjusting to whatever temperature you input, the Nest learns and adapts to your own personal habits and preferences. After a week of use, for example, Nest will read that you like to turn the heat down at night and will begin to do so automatically. It may also turn the heat back up in the morning, or engage the efficient “Away” mode while you’re at work. And best of all, everything can be monitored and controlled from your smartphone, including usage reports that show you when and how you’re consuming energy.
Nest is a well designed, intuitive little gadget, and since it launched in 2013, a number of competing learning thermostats have hit the market, but it's still the best one out there.
Still can't decide on what you want? Our round-up of the best smart thermostats can help you find what you're looking for.
The newly released Ecobee3 smart thermostat is our second best pick for a smart thermostat, and it costs nearly half as much as the Nest. Ecobee expects owners to be able to save an average 23 percent on monthly heating and cooling costs. Adjusting temperature from the unit is a snap and can be done from any iPhone or Android device. The 3.5-inch QVGA touch screen display unit features the current temperature and a vertical slider for manual adjustments. A snowflake icon appears when the system is in cooling mode with a flame icon appearing when heating. Additionally, there are icons for the main menu, live weather (local weather outdoors) and quick changes, the latter of which lets you override your current settings without changing any pre-programmed schedule.
The Ecobee3 is compatible with most 1 and 2-stage HVAC systems and can control the dehumidifier, humidifier and ventilation devices. The main unit will offer alerts when it detects that maintenance is required, a filter needs replacement or when the temperatures are excessively high or low. The single remote temperature and motion sensor is placed in a separate room and calls “home” to ensure the room is heated or cooled to the main house temperature setting. This is perfect for a child or master bedroom.
Installation is fairly simple with the easy-to-follow guide. It requires a C (common) wire, which supplies power to the Ecobee3, but, in the event you don’t have one, there’s a power kit that can run the main unit. After setting up your temperature settings, schedule and connecting to WiFi, you’re off to the smart home races. Setup from start to finish should take around 30 minutes.
Ecobee takes integration to another level with the ability to connect with Apple’s HomeKit, which allows temperature control from any iOS device using Siri. The same type of integration also works with Amazon’s Echo, where you can ask Alexa to adjust thermostat settings. If you’re ready to move into a more technological future for your home, the Ecobee3 is a modern-looking, easy-to-use thermostat that will keep you warm at night.
Like most smart home solutions, the Philips Hue requires a somewhat expensive hub, or “bridge,” to set up. But for what it offers, the Philips Hue is the best smart lighting system around. For a reasonable price, you get the hub and three smart bulbs, but you can connect up to 50 bulbs to a single hub.
Between the app, single bulbs, tap switches and light strips, the lighting possibilities are really only limited by your imagination. You can string them up for parties and adjust the brightness, change the colors, set timers and create “scenes.” And all this can be controlled from the Philips Hue app on your phone (iOS/Android). Hue also boasts a highly intuitive user experience with a simple app and easy-to-install component parts. If you’re looking for an all-in-one smart lighting solution, Hue is the way to go.
To continue with the trend of home safety and security, Nest also offers the best Smart Smoke Alarm and Carbon Monoxide Detector: Nest Protect. Protect will vocally tell you exactly where a smoke or CO leak is detected. It also sends a message to your phone if the alarm sounds or the batteries are low, allowing you to turn the alarm off directly from your phone. Nest Protect performs routine self-tests, but you can also perform tests from the app and share access to any member of the household.
As expected, Protect works with other Nest products, including both the Cam and Learning Thermostat. This is especially critical with the Thermostat, because leaky heating systems are a common source of carbon monoxide, and the Thermostat can be set to automatically turn off the heat in the event the Protect detects a CO leak. It can also shut off fan-based environmental systems to prevent smoke from circulating, and the Cam can be set to capture video in the event of an emergency. While each of Nest’s smart home products can stand alone, they seem to work best as a team.
The Tado isn’t a smart air conditioner so much as a controller, but that’s the genius of it. When it comes to appliances, smart controls have a way of shortening the machine’s overall lifespan and complicating something that doesn’t really need to be that complicated. Isn’t it better to have a normal appliance that can be “made smart” through an external hub or service?
That’s what the Tado Smart Temperature Control does for air conditioners. This hub is placed next to your window AC unit and uses infrared commands to stand in for the machine’s remote control. This makes it compatible with 85 percent of the world’s air conditioners and allows you to control and monitor your machine from your smartphone. Set the Tado to automatically adjust the temperature based on your location, and use the intelligent controls to optimize energy use and save money on your energy bill. You can also customize the device to your own lifestyle and habits. It’s another example of what a smart home product should be: a solution, not an upgrade.
As a category, smart locks are still pretty young. The problem is that the tried-and-true lock-and-key system used for thousands of years is still pretty useful, and it doesn’t really demand a whole lot of innovation. But for people who are already controlling their home’s lighting, air conditioning, security, and appliances from their phone, the door lock is a natural next step. To that end, the Kwikset Kevo is the best smart lock.
With Bluetooth functionality, all you need to do is touch the lock with your finger and it opens. While it has iOS/Android functionality, you don’t need to have your phone on you to open the door—just the included key fob. You can send an electronic key to family, friends, or visitors so they can use their smartphone as a key to enter your home. You can also receive notifications of lock activity and manage access with their Kevo app.
Smart Hubs are a confusing but vital component of the smart home, and may or may not be necessary depending on the extent of your home automation dreams. For example, if all you want is a smart lighting system, then Philips Hue will suffice. Similarly, if all you want is a thermostat, the Nest Learning Thermostat is all you need. But if you want the intelligence of your home to grow, adapt, and integrate with the huge variety of automation products available to you, you’ll need a hub.
With that said, the best smart home hub is the Samsung SmartThings. Hub connects to your router and is compatible with ZigBee, Z-Wave, and Bluetooth products, and the SmartThings brand of smart outlets and sensors only enhances the possibilities for your home. So what can you do with all that connectivity? Depending on your catalog of smart home gadgets, you can set the Hub to turn on the lights when you get home, lock the doors when you leave, alert you if a door is left open, or sound an alarm when motion is detected. With IFTTT integration, the possibilities are near infinite.