Looking to make your home just a little smarter? While still in its infancy, the number of smart home products—devices that let you control your lighting, thermostat, or even your crock pot from your smartphone—is rapidly growing. From GE to Belkin to Home Depot, tons of products and whole ecosystems want to help you control your home via a single iOS or Android app. You can pick and choose your favorite gadgets to assemble an affordable intelligent abode on your own terms, or opt for an entire smart home system that does all the work for you.
Amazon Alexa vs. Google Home vs. Apple HomeKit: What Should You Get?
If you're looking to control your smart home devices by voice command, you have three main choices: Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant/Home, and Apple HomeKit/Siri. (Yes, there's also Microsoft Cortana, but it lags so far behind the other three, we don't recommend it for your smart home at this time.) We compared Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri, both on their own and in conjunction with the best-sounding smart speaker with each of the assistants. In short, Alexa generally came out on top, as it works with the most smart home devices, and has the most third-party skills. However, Google Assistant can do some things that Alexa can't—such as control Chromecast TVs—and it's rapidly being built into a number of third-party devices.
Latest News & Updates (October 2018)
- We've reviewed Amazon's third-generation Echo Dot ($49), and second-generation Echo Show ($229), and found both to be much improved over the previous generation. We think the new Echo Dot, with its more stylish design and better audio, is now the best budget smart speaker; the new Echo Show also has a better design, and a larger and sharper display.
- Could Ikea be developing its own smart window blinds? A blogger named Dave Zatz spotted a new FCC filing from the Swedish company, which could indicate the company is close to releasing motorized blinds that can be controlled via Alexa or Google Assistant. Ikea currently has a few "Tradfri" smart home products, but we've found Ikea's smart lights to be less than impressive. However, given that motorized blinds are very pricey, a less expensive option from Ikea could be compelling.
The second-generation Echo is smaller and more attractive than the original. Plus, you can change its skins to match your decor. Inside, the new Echo does all the same things the original does: control smart home gadgets, connect to other smart home hubs, read you audiobooks, check the weather, and even let you purchase things online just by using your voice. And, as a speaker, it sounds pretty good, too.
The Arlo Q's 1080p camera boasts excellent quality video, both day and night, has great motion detection, and a flexible scheduling feature. Best of all, though, is that you get a week's worth of video storage for free.
The Ecobee4 has everything we liked about its predecessor, the Ecobee3, such as a slick touchscreen interface and a remote sensor that helps ensure all the rooms of your house are getting heated or cooled properly. But the newest version also has Alexa built in, so you don't need an Echo or an Echo Dot to control your other smart home devices, ask for the weather, or do anything else you can do with Amazon's voice assistant.
Philips Hue White starter kit includes two bulbs and a hub to connect them to other smart home devices. While you can't change these bulbs' colors, you can adjust their brightness (up to 800 lumens), and add up to 50 to a single hub. Philips' bulbs also work with a wide range of smart home systems, including Alexa, Apple HomeKit, IFTTT, Google Home, and Nest.
Philips also has an app, Philips Hue Sync, which lets users synchronize their smart bulbs with multimedia content on their Mac or Windows PC. For example, you can set your lights to flash and change color in time with music, video and movies being played on your computer. Users can also modify the color schemes and themes to suit their tastes.
MORE: LED Light Bulb Guide
Nest's device has the best video we've yet seen from a video doorbell cam; its microphone and speaker were excellent, too. Nest's camera can recognize faces, and even announce them when they come to your door. While it needs a hardwired connection, it continuously records video, so you'll never miss an event. You can also set up specific zones, so you'll only be notified when a person or object appears in that area of the frame. While you'll need to subscribe to the Nest Aware service (starting at $5/month) to get all of its features, they're worth it.
A simple, and inexpensive way to make any device "smart," you can control the power going to the TP-Link HS105 plug from your smartphone, wherever you are. We liked that TP-Link's Kasa app also lets you create a schedule to turn the plug on and off, and has an "Away" mode that will turn your devices on to make it look like you're home. It can also be linked to other smart home devices, such as Alexa and Google Home.
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Not only does the Nest Protect detect smoke and carbon monoxide, but its sensors are designed to pick up both slow- and fast-burning fires. Plus, the Protect will tell you in which room the fire is located, and can be linked to other smart home devices, so that it can automatically turn on your Philips Hue lights in the event of an emergency.
We like August's Smart Lock Pro for its ease of installation, features that let you know if your door is ajar, and deep integration with other smart home devices, from Alexa to HomeKit to Google Home, not to mention August's DoorBell Cam.
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If you have a wide variety of smart home gadgets, you'll need a central system to integrate and control them all. While it has its imperfections, we found the Samsung SmartThings hub to be the best of the lot. It works with a wide range of devices and now has Wi-Fi built in, so you don't need to plug it into your router; this makes it easier to place in your house for the best connection to all your smart home devices.
MORE: Best Smart Home Hub
Searching or reaching for that elusive garage door opener remote while trying to navigate a dark suburban street, toppled garbage cans or your kids' toys – or your kids – often proves awkward and dangerous. Chamberlain's garage door opener lets you tap your device's screen to open or close your garage from anywhere. Soon, the company also plans to add geofencing capabilities so it can sense when you're near your driveway to automatically open and, when your car is safely ensconced inside, close your existing garage door. MyQ can control nearly every garage door opener from all the major brands manufactured after 1993.
The Anova Precision Cooker is a sous-vide machine, which uses a hot water bath to cook your food to a precise temperature. (The food is sealed in a water-tight bag, so it retains all its juices). It's the easiest way to get perfectly medium-rare steaks, juicy chicken, and much more. Plus, it's easy to use, and its app comes with a ton of great recipes from Serious Eats.
It's not easy keeping a house clean, but the Samsung Powerbot R7070 can certainly help. In our tests, this midpriced robot vacuum was one of the best at picking up pet hair and getting the food scraps in the corners. It's easy to schedule, works with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, and features one of the most user-friendly dustbins of the vacuums we tested.
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