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Tom’s Guide Awards 2021: Our favorite smart home devices this year

Tom’s Guide Awards 2021: Our favorite smart home devices this year
(Image credit: Google)

Smart home devices took on greater importance this year as people spent more time in their homes. But even as we’re venturing out more into the world, these clever gadgets can help us keep tabs on what’s happening at home while we’re away. 

From the best smart locks to the best smart doorbells to some gadgets that are simply fun to use, here are the best smart home products of the past year.

Best video doorbell: Nest Hello

Nest Hello

(Image credit: Nest)

It may be a few years old, but the Nest Hello still has the best combination of video quality and features, such as person and package detection — the latter is especially handy in an age where we get so many deliveries. It can recognize individual faces and can even announce them, too. Its resolution of 1600 x 1200 is tops among video doorbells, and delivers a great-looking image day or night. And, if you have a Google Nest Hub or Chromecast device, you can view a feed from the Nest Hello on your smart display or TV. Plus, it also works with Alexa smart displays too. Other fantastic features include pre-recorded responses (think Ferris Bueller), and continual recording so you never miss anything.

Highly Recommended: Ring Video Doorbell Pro 2
The Ring Video Doorbell Pro 2’s new square-shaped video makes it much easier to see when someone leaves a package at your door.

Best smart speaker not made by Amazon, Apple or Google: Sonos One

Sonos One

(Image credit: Future)

The Sonos One is the best smart speaker not made by one of the big three, not just because of its excellent audio quality, but also because of the sheer number of streaming services that work with the speaker. For its size — just six inches tall and about 4.5 inches wide — it pumps out some of the best music we’ve heard from a smart speaker. You can also use it with either Alexa or Google Assistant, which also makes the Sonos One the most versatile smart speaker around. Thanks to Sonos’ technology, you can pair two speakers together for stereo, and group them with other smart speakers to fill your house with sound.

Best smart speaker for privacy: Apple HomePod mini

Apple HomePod mini

(Image credit: Future)

There’s only one answer here, and that’s Apple’s HomePod mini. Because Apple’s business model doesn’t revolve around selling your data, it can maintain a tighter grip on what other companies can see and do with your information. However, the HomePod mini doesn’t work with as many third-party devices as do Alexa and Google Home, so it’s a bit harder to outfit your house with all the latest smart home devices. And, at $100, it’s one of the more affordable gadgets from Apple.

The one smart home device you absolutely need: Wemo WiFi Smart Plug

Wemo WiFi Smart Plug

(Image credit: Wemo)

Whether you’re a newcomer to smart home devices or just don’t want your space being smarter than you are, a smart plug is the product you need. The best smart plugs are affordable and easy-to-use, and our favorite is the Wemo WiFi Smart Plug. Perfect for a lamp, diffuser or even a coffee maker, the Wemo WiFi Smart Plug is more compact than most offerings out there, so you won't block your other outlet. It also has a physical switch, so if you don’t want to use your voice or an app to turn your appliance on or off, you can click the switch on the Wemo.

The most fun smart home device: Nanoleaf Elements

Nanoleaf Elements

(Image credit: Nanoleaf)

Nanoleaf makes the most fun smart home devices, and its latest launch is no exception. More grown-up than gamer, the wall-mounted Nanoleaf Elements takes a cue from nature with a textured wood finish on each hexagonal panel. Like Nanoleaf’s other products, the Elements panels connect together in a geometric design of your choosing, and colors aren't a vortex of rainbow. Instead, the Elements panels provide adjustable warm and cool whites (1500-4000K). The result is soothing, calming and every other adjective you’d use to describe a spa.

Highly Recommended: Nixplay Smart Photo Frame
The Nixplay Smart Photo Frame turns your photos and videos into an interactive gallery for your home. It’s one of the best digital photo frames in terms of price, design and connectivity features.

Smart home tech accessibility award: August Wi-Fi Smart Lock

August Wi-Fi Smart Lock

(Image credit: August)

The August Wi-Fi Smart Lock wins our smart home tech accessibility award because it’s one of the few products that you just need to be positioned near for it to work. While many of the best smart locks offer a physical keypad or smartphone app control, this smart lock simply senses your phone’s proximity. Like magic, when you return home to your door, the August Wi-Fi Smart Lock will unlock as long as it recognizes your phone. Similarly, when you leave, it’ll automatically lock behind you. It’s more effortless than any other smart lock on the market.

Top smart home company to watch: Wyze

Wyze Cam v3

(Image credit: Future)

For a couple years now, Wyze has been launching smart home products — from security cameras to smart locks to robot vacuums — that are not only dirt-cheap, but surprisingly good for the price. Take, for instance, its Wyze Cam v3; it costs just $30, yet offers a great image and features you’ll find on cameras three times as expensive. Since its start, the company has expanded to headphones, earbuds, and smartwatches, so we’re curious to see what it will show us next.

Best smart home device for rentals: Flo by Moen Smart Water Shutoff

Flo by Moen

(Image credit: Moen)

If you rent your property out, you might want some smart home devices that help you manage the space without feeling like you’re spying on your renters. That’s why the best smart home device for rentals is something your renters won’t notice, and hopefully not have to worry about. The Flo by Moen Smart Water Shutoff system monitors your water flow and can automatically shut off your water if it detects a major leak. In addition, the Flo checks your water pressure and temperature, and its app shows you how much water you're using per day. It also tells you what's using water, and it runs daily tests to determine if there's a water leak. The last thing you want is for a flood to ruin your rental — the Flo by Moen Smart Water Shutoff is your best first defense.

Best smart home device for home cooks: Chef IQ smart cooker

Chef IQ pressure cooker

(Image credit: Chef iQ)

Pressure cookers are great tools for home cooks as they can help you slash the time it takes to prepare a meal. There are a ton of pressure cookers out there, but the Chef IQ is certainly the smartest. Its app can guide you through the cooking process, aided by the scale built into the cooker. Its large display is a cinch to use, and the Chef IQ has a multitude of features — it can even be used as a sous vide, making this one very versatile kitchen appliance.

Highly Recommended: U by Moen smart faucet
When paired with Alexa, you can use your voice to measure out precise amounts of water at precise temperatures — and keep your dirty hands off the faucet. Ingenious.

Best smart home display: Google Nest Hub (2nd Gen)

Google Nest Hub (2nd Gen)

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

This year’s best smart home display is the Google Nest Hub (2nd Gen). Not only is it one of the best Google Home speakers for music, screen for your Google Assistant needs and a communication center — it tracks your sleep, too. When positioned on your nightstand, the new Google Nest Hub uses the Soli radar sensing chip to see how well (or not) you're sleeping at night. It's a little creepy, but the contactless tracking abilities will let you forget it's there. It also offers YouTube and Google programs integration, helping you stay entertained and connected before you go to bed and first thing in the morning.

Highly Recommended: Amazon Echo Show 10 (3rd Gen)
The best Alexa smart home display is the Amazon Echo Show 10 (3rd Gen). At $249 it’s a bit pricey, but the screen can follow you around the room to keep you in frame, which comes in handy for video calls or running around the kitchen.

Best smart lights: Philips Hue 1600 lumen smart bulb

Philips Hue 1600 lumen

(Image credit: Philips)

The best smart lighting product right now is the Philips Hue 1600 lumen smart bulb. It took the company’s baseline offering and made it more capable. This is the brightest of all the Philips Hue lights, so you can create even more of your own scenes or use the preset light options to enjoy the perfect shade of warm white light for your space. It works without a hub, meaning you can control it via Bluetooth in your home, too.

Highly Recommended: Govee Lyra Floor Lamp
The Govee Lyra Floor Lamp is one of the most attractive smart lamps we’ve ever tested, offering fun color effects and 1500 lumens of brightness.

Best smart home device for beginners: Amazon Echo Dot with Clock (2nd Gen)

Echo Dot with Clock

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

We loved the original Amazon Echo Dot with Clock, and the second, orb-shaped version is even better. With an LED display on its side, you never have to ask Alexa for the time. Bringing smart home devices into your home can be intimidating. Yet something about the fabric-swathed Echo Dot with Clock is welcoming. It gives Alexa a familiar face — that of a nightstand alarm clock. Batter yet, the display can be used for seeing the temperature and timer countdowns, too.

Best robot vacuum: Roborock S4 Max

Roborock S4 Max robot vacuum

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Picking up at least 94% of debris from hard floors and carpet in our tests, the Roborock S4 Max offers exceptional performance at a reasonable price. This robot vacuum is quick and effective at mapping out the home and it's quiet in use as well. With single room cleaning, scheduling and automatic carpet detection, it offers some advanced features and couldn’t be easier to use, whether manually or via the app. On test, its cleaning performance was on par with more expensive models and overall it offers a great balance of performance, features and price.

Highly Recommended: iLife V3s Pro
The iLife V3s Pro excelled at collecting pet hair and general debris from hard floors in our tests. It comes at a great price point, too.

Highly Recommended: Roborock S7
The Roborock S7 is the best hybrid robot vacuum we've had on test. With accurate carpet detection and fast-mapping, this vacuum is worth the investment. 

Best smart lock: August Wi-Fi Smart Lock

August Wi-Fi Smart Lock

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The August Wi-Fi Smart Lock is the company’s third-generation device, and the refinement shows. This model is 40% smaller than its predecessor, but connects directly to your Wi-Fi, rather than needing a bridge, as with past models. It’s just as easy to install, and works with a huge range of smart home systems — from Alexa to Google Assistant to HomeKit and more. You can create virtual keys that work only during set times, say for a dogwalker, and get alerts when they open the door. And, because it only attaches to the inside of your deadbolt, you can still use your existing keys — should you want to get in the old-fashioned way.

Best security camera: Wyze Cam v3

Wyze Cam v3

(Image credit: Wyze)

The small, inexpensive Wyze Cam v3 defies expectations. This little cube-shaped camera has a 1080p resolution that produces good daytime video, and surprisingly good color nighttime video, too. But this camera also comes with local storage, and free 14-day cloud storage. If you want a few extra features, Wyze’s subscription ($1.25/month) is the cheapest there is. You can even take the Wyze Cam with you on vacation to guard your hotel room, and a time-lapse function lets you use it for things other than a security camera.

Highly Recommended: Blink Outdoor
The best fully wireless security camera is less than $100, and lasts up to two years on a charge.

Highly Recommended: Arlo Ultra 2
When video quality is paramount, there’s none better than the 4K Arlo Ultra 2.

Best DIY security system: Abode

Abode Essentials Starter Kit

(Image credit: Abode)

DIY home security systems need to be both easy to install and as comprehensive as professionally installed systems. Abode meets those requirements and then some. It’s affordable, extensible, and works with Alexa, Google Assistant, HomeKit — not to mention Sonos, Ecobee, and Bose. Abode offers both self-monitoring and professional monitoring plans, the latter of which costs $20/month, and also includes 7 days of rolling cloud storage for video.

Best smart home device under $50: Amazon Echo Dot (4th gen)

Amazon Echo 4th gen

(Image credit: Amazon)

With the Echo Dot 4th Gen, Amazon has once again delivered an inexpensive smart speaker that doesn’t skimp on features or quality. The new spherical shape is an interesting deviation from the hockey puck, plus it lets audio sound fuller despite this Echo Dot having the same speaker hardware as the previous one. Sure, this isn't the solution for controlling all your connected home devices or filling your space with sound. But if you have a couple of smart lights, or want a soundtrack in your bedroom, it's the best smart home device under $50.