Ultimate smart home guide: The best devices to buy now

Smart Home products
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Welcome to the ultimate smart home guide. If you want to make your home smarter, but don’t know where to start, we can help. There are plenty of entry points — both in terms of device and price — for building the best smart home for you. 

Knowing how to get started with a DIY smart home means you’re on your way to connecting devices or appliances to the internet. From there, you can use your smartphone or voice for controls and automations. And the things that make a home "smart" will be different for every individual. Anyone can introduce the best smart home devices into their lives, whether it’s a voice-activated kitchen, renter-friendly products, an immersive entertainment setup, proactive security system or fun outdoor party gadgets.

You can save thousands when you set up your smart home yourself using the best cheap smart home devices, too. For example, with a $49 Echo Dot and $25 smart plug connected to a lamp, you can ask Alexa to turn the lights on or schedule them to turn on automatically when it gets dark outside. From there, you can get into ever-more complex setups or routines, linking multiple devices together so that activating one causes all the others to respond.

Just be aware that when adding things to your smart home setup watch out for 5 common smart home problems.

Here are some of the different components that make up a smart home, how we recommend using them and our favorite picks for each category.

Smart speakers and choosing an assistant

Amazon Echo 4th gen

(Image credit: Future)

One of the easiest gateways to the smart home is one of the best smart speakers. These devices let you communicate with a virtual assistant — Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri — to control your other smart home devices, play music, get the weather and news, and more. 

Keep in mind that the majority of the best Alexa speakers and best Google Home speakers only work with one assistant, so you might be locking yourself into a specific smart home platform. Still, each respective brand offers diverse options, from $50 puck-like speakers meant for individual listening to larger units that cost $200. Our favorite smart speaker is the Amazon Echo Dot with Clock, though it only works with Alexa. 

In our own DIY smart home, we chose Alexa over Google Assistant, but the best Alexa skills and best Google Assistant commands are rather evenly matched. 

Google Nest Hub (2nd Gen) review

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

If you want video to go along with your audio, then you should take a look at one of the best smart displays. These are like smart speakers, but have a screen that can show you the time, let you look at feeds from home security cameras, watch movies, and more. These, too, range in price and size from the $85 Echo Show 5 to the $249 Echo Show 10 and Echo Show 15, which mounts on your wall.

We use an Echo Show over a Google Nest Hub, but the latest Google Nest Hub (2nd gen) with sleep-sensing is our favorite smart display overall.

There’s also Apple’s Siri to consider. Though Siri is a familiar name for anyone with an iPhone or iPad, the assistant lives in the Apple HomePod mini smart speaker. There are fewer of the best HomeKit compatible devices than the best Alexa compatible devices and best Google Home compatible devices, but HomeKit integrates well with your other Apple products.

If you don’t want to be locked into one assistant, the Sonos One, which is the best-sounding smart speaker, works with both Google Assistant and Alexa, though it doesn’t support all of the features of those smart assistants. Many smart TVs and some of the best soundbars work like smart speakers, too.

Our favorite smart speaker:

Smart plugs

Wemo WiFi Smart Plug review

(Image credit: Wemo)

One of the most basic smart home gadgets are smart plugs. Connect, say, a lamp to the smart plug, and then plug it into the wall, and voila, you'll be able to control a lamp from your phone. You can also set schedules for the plugs to turn on and off and link them to other smart home devices. Check out our guide to the best smart plugs, as well as the best outdoor smart plugs are for exterior lights. 

The top picks are the Wemo WiFi Smart Plug for in your house and the Wyze Plug Outdoors for outside.

Our favorite smart plug:

Smart lights

best smart lights: Govee light strip

(Image credit: Govee)

Another popular place to start with smart home devices is the best smart lights. From individual light bulbs and decorative light strips to light fixtures and outdoor path lights, there are plenty of app- and voice-controlled lighting products to choose from. Philips Hue lights are considered the category leader, though Sengled, Lifx, Wyze, Wiz, TP-Link Kasa and GE’s Cync are some other brands we’d recommend. When you use the color-capable bulbs from these brands, you can try out Alexa smart light colors.

For non-traditional lights, Nanoleaf’s wall panels are particularly popular. The new Nanoleaf Lines earned 4/5 stars in our review, and the Nanoleaf Elements made our DIY smart home cooler. There’s also the kid-friendly Echo Glow, which we used to train our child to sleep later.

Smart lights also go viral on social media more than your average smart home devices. Some of the best TikTok lights have smart features, so you can change your light scenes on your smartphone then return to scrolling.

Our favorite smart lights:

Smart switches 

brilliant smart home system DIY smart home

(Image credit: Future)

An alternative to smart lights are the best smart light switches. In fact, we used smart switches instead of smart lights when we remodeled our DIY smart home. Smart switches aren’t as easy to install and require knowing about neutral wires, but could save money if you have a lot of light sockets. Smart switches cost somewhere between $40 to $60 depending on the brand and features, and can be used with several basic LED bulbs that cost about $1 per piece, or less in bulk. In other words, a single smart switch can be more cost-effective than a set of high-end smart bulbs.

Some smart switches are more than just a light switch, too. The Brilliant Smart Home controller is the smart home gadget we’d been waiting for, combining light switches with a display for navigating the rest of your connected smart home devices. The best smart switch overall is the GE C-Start Smart Switch Motion Sensing Dimmer, though.

Our favorite smart switch:

Video doorbells

ring video doorbell

(Image credit: Ring)

You'll never have to guess who's at your door when you have one of the best video doorbells, all of which send a live feed to your smartphone or tablet when someone pushes the button at your front door. Plus, it acts as an intercom, helpful for those who have trouble getting to the door quickly. Some video doorbells also offer package detection, so you can see when you have a delivery.

Ring is probably the best known video doorbell maker, with the Ring Video Doorbell 4 as the latest offering. The Nest Doorbell (battery) is our favorite video doorbell overall, though you should check out our Ring vs. Nest guide to see which is right for you. Arlo, Blink and Wyze also make capable video doorbells. 

Are you buying a video doorbell? Here's 8 things you need to know. The most important of those is probably that all video doorbell brands offer storage plans at an additional cost. If you want to be able to look back at all your front door activity, you’ll need to pay for advanced storage.

Our favorite video doorbell:

Home security cameras

Wyze Cam v3

(Image credit: Future)

Similarly, you’ll need to consider storage if you’re installing one of the  best home security cameras or the best outdoor security cameras

Our guide to security camera storage plans compared can help you understand how much you’ll pay with the best DIY home security systems, or any smart home products you use to keep an eye on your house. Note the better cameras will also have night vision and can be linked with other smart home devices. Based on your interaction with our devices, your camera can start recording when you leave home and stop when you return.

The Nest Cam (battery) and Wyze Cam (v3) are our favorite security cameras that can be mounted inside or out, while the Ring Floodlight Camera is a great option exclusively for outside. It can be used with Ring Alarm or Ring Alarm Pro, which are more advanced home security solutions.

If you’re not sure whether you want a camera inside your home, read why we’d recommend one that has a physical shutter you can lift when you leave. Most cameras have light indicators to let you know when they’re recording, for your privacy’s sake.

Our favorite home security camera:

Smart locks

August smart lock

(Image credit: Amazon)

You can use the best smart locks to secure your home without an actual camera, too. Beyond allowing you to lock and unlock your door using your smartphone, a smart lock will also let you issue temporary passes to others and see who's using your door. Integrate the lock with other smart home devices, and you could have your lights turn on automatically when you unlock your door when returning home in the evening.

Our favorite smart lock is the August WiFi Smart Lock. It has advanced features, like knowing when you’re left the door ajar and sensing when your smartphone is nearby. We also like the Schlage Encode, which we called a DIY smart home security game-changer.

Our favorite smart lock:

Smart thermostats

Nest Learning Thermostat

(Image credit: Google)

One of the most obvious benefits of the best smart thermostats is that they will let you remotely set the temperature in your house using your smartphone. However, when linked to other smart home devices, such as motion sensors and lights, a smart thermostat will also save you money in the long run by reducing your heating and cooling costs, as you won't be using energy when you're not at home.

The best smart thermostat is the Ecobee smart thermostat, though Nest is another familiar name in this category. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on a smart thermostat, either. You can buy a cheap thermostat under $100 and get it working, as long as you have a C-Wire hooked up to your HVAC system.

Our favorite smart thermostat:

Smart appliances

Smart Home Kitchen Power

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The smartest room in your home could be your kitchen, with a number of the best refrigerators and best electric ranges offering smart screens and app controls. We skipped smart appliances in our DIY smart home, and we have a few reasons why we won’t buy a smart dishwasher or washing machine (yet), but that doesn’t mean there are other ways to raise your kitchen’s IQ.

For one, this Alexa-enabled faucet from Moen is one of the coolest devices we’ve tested. As is this smart cocktail maker from Drinkworks by Keurig. Speaking of drinks, we also bought a wine fridge.

When it comes to cooking, we installed an induction stovetop. It’s a great energy-saving option for precision heating, but requires some research before use. We also used the June smart oven to host a dinner party. It’s a little large to be considered one of the best toaster ovens, but can replace your oven and the best air fryers, and it comes with a comprehensive companion app.

Our favorite smart appliance:

Robot vacuums and robot mops

iRobot Roomba j7+ on carpet

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Unlike the regular best vacuum cleaners, the best robot vacuums make vacuuming less of a chore. You'll still have to break out the Hoover or Dyson from time to time, but a robot vacuum will help cut down on the daily accumulation of dust and pet hair. And, because of its low profile, a robot vacuum can get to places you can't, like under your bed or dresser. We finally bought a robot vacuum, and found it’s worth the investment.

Our robot vacuum buying guide can help you decide from the best cheap robot vacuums, best robot vacuums for pet hair or specifically the best Roombas, if that’s the brand you’re most familiar with. 

The best robot vacuum overall is the Roborock S4 Max, though the Roborock S7 is more versatile as one of the best robot mops. For a robot mop that doesn’t vacuum, we like the iRobot Braava jet m6.

Our favorite robot vacuum:

Smart garage door openers 

Chamberlain myQ (G0401) Smart Garage Door Opener review

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Adding smarts to your garage door means you can control it from your phone, but more importantly, it means the door can notify you if it gets opened when you're not at home. You can also connect it with lights and smart cameras, which will activate if the door opens. Most of the best smart garage door openers have similar capabilities, though our favorite is the Chamberlain myQ.

Our favorite smart garage door opener:

Smart smoke detectors

Nest Protect

(Image credit: Nest)

If there’s smoke (or fire) in your house, one of the best smart smoke detectors can alert your smartphone, wherever you are. Plus, they can automatically turn on smart lights, making it easier for you, or whoever’s in your house, to get out safely.

The Nest Protect detects both smoke and carbon monoxide, will let you know in what room a fire is burning, and works with a wide range of smart home services. The Roost Smart Battery will work in any smoke detector that uses a 9-volt battery, and will send an alert to your smartphone when the alarm goes off.

Our favorite smart smoke detector:

Kate Kozuch

Kate Kozuch is the managing editor of social and video at Tom’s Guide. She covers smartwatches, TVs and audio devices, too. Kate appears on Fox News to talk tech trends and runs the Tom's Guide TikTok account, which you should be following. When she’s not filming tech videos, you can find her taking up a new sport, mastering the NYT Crossword or channeling her inner celebrity chef.