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DIY smart home: 7 essential devices I'm using in my apartment

Google Nest Hub (2nd Gen) review
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

A few months ago, I revealed the 7 best smart home devices I actually use on a daily basis. But I’ve since moved into a new apartment, and had to reconsider which renter-friendly connected products I want to integrate into my current lifestyle.

While the DIY smart home renovation of my parents' home requires more permanent solutions, I have different needs in my personal apartment. My door accommodates neither video doorbells nor smart thermostats, and replacing existing switches with smart ones is a lot of work for a place I’m living temporarily.

As was the case in my previous apartment, most of my smart home devices fall in the best smart lights and best smart speakers categories. I use both Alexa and Google Assistant (I didn’t feel obligated to choose one over the other like I did in the home renovation) for controlling my products hands-free. Routines with both assistants introduce an effortless automation that I think anyone can achieve with the right hardware — even in a small, rented apartment.

Here’s my starter pack of the best smart home devices for apartment living.

Echo Dot with Clock review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

1. Amazon Echo Dot with Clock

Anyone who knows me knows the $60 Amazon Echo Dot with Clock is my favorite smart home device, no matter where I live. When the orb-shaped Alexa speaker launched last year, I knew I needed it on my desk. Not only does it look great, but with time on its side, I can easily keep track of my priorities and workflow. In addition to all the best Alexa skills, the Amazon Echo Dot shows a countdown timer, which helps me manage my breaks, deadlines and more.

Google Nest Hub (2nd Gen) review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

2. Google Nest Hub (2nd Gen)

While the Echo Dot with Clock is my vehicle for Alexa, I need access to Google Assistant, too. Whether it’s to test the best Google Home commands and best Google Assistant commands, or manage my Google Calendar events, the new $99 Google Nest Hub (2nd Gen) is a great addition to my smart space. I keep it on a nightstand opposite my Alexa speaker, where it can track my sleep — no skin contact necessary. At first it felt a little creepy, but as my sleep profile grows, the Nest Hub compares my consistency night-to-night to offer actionable advice based on the timeline of my overnight activity and guidelines from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Sleep doesn’t come easy to me, especially not in a new environment, but my Google Nest Hub has made useful suggestions for getting more zzz’s.

Govee light strips

(Image credit: Govee)

3. Govee LED Light Strips

I love light strips, but ones from Philips Hue and other top smart light makers can be expensive, depending on how many yards of LEDs you need. In my search for light strips that wouldn’t break the bank, and that also offer a physical control button in addition to voice assistant compatibility, I found the $40 Govee LED Light Strips. These Amazon darlings come two-pronged, so you can feed the strips in two different directions with a remote joining them in the middle. I lined my bedroom with these light strips, bouncing either static color or strobing, party-ready colors around my space. The adhesive is sticky enough to hold the light strips in place, but didn’t ruin my walls or bed frame when I wanted to reposition them — a must for a rental.

Philips Hue switch

(Image credit: Philips Hue)

4. Philips Hue Smart Dimming Kit

As for the lamps in my apartment, I splurged on Philips Hue lights. Specifically, the $40 Philips Hue Smart Dimming Kit. Not only does this kit work out the box and doesn’t require the company’s bridge, the dimming switch doesn’t need to be mounted to the wall with screws or other hardware. Instead, the plate is magnetic, so can stick to my refrigerator or magnetic door frames. I also leave the dimming remote on my living room coffee table, so I can adjust the lights without having to open my phone or speak aloud while watching TV. This is useful when I have guests over who are unfamiliar with my smart home products, too.

Sonos Roam

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

5. Sonos Roam

Neither the Amazon Echo Dot nor Google Nest Hub are great smart speakers for music. While the Sonos One is a great stationary smart speaker, why not get one you can carry around? I’ve been testing the new Sonos Roam, and appreciate how I can bring it from room to room with me. This way, my music and podcasts, as well as my voice assistants, are always nearby. The Roam’s lightweight design also makes it a breeze to throw in my bag when I head out to park or take the train to the beach over the summer. With Bluetooth functionality outside and clever Wi-Fi features inside, it’s a 2-in-1 speaker with excellent sound for just $169.

Samsung Q80T QLED TV

(Image credit: Samsung)

6. Samsung Q80T QLED TV

No smart apartment is complete without a smart TV. While most of the best TVs are smart TVs, in that they offer dozens (if not hundreds) of streaming apps, you might want a TV that has support for voice assistants. Nowadays, the top 4K sets from brands like LG, Sony and Samsung all support Alexa, Google Assistant or both. Although I was once an OLED devote, the $1,200 Samsung Q80T QLED TV recently made me a believer in QLED. I can only have one assistant activated at once, but either one can help me navigate content, as well as control my other smart home devices. 

Be sure to check out my guides to the best smart home devices (and best cheap smart home devices) for more gadget recommendations. Email me at kate.kozuch@futurenet.com or leave a comment below with anything you’d like to see me cover in the connected space — I might just address it in a future installment.

Kate Kozuch

Kate Kozuch is a senior writer at Tom’s Guide covering wearables, TVs and everything smart-home related. When she’s not in cyborg mode, you can find her on an exercise bike or channeling her inner celebrity chef. She and her robot army will rule the world one day, but until then, reach her at kate.kozuch@futurenet.com.