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Smart home devices: The best ones you can buy
Smart home upgrades are more popular than ever, thanks to prices becoming more reasonable, and the tech being integrated into an ever-wider array of gadgets — everything from lamps to sprinkler systems can be automated with consumer-level gear. There are even entirely new categories popping up, such as smart displays.
One problem with tumbling down the rabbit hole is figuring out which equipment is worth your while. In this guide, we’ll take a look at some of the best smart home gadgets currently available.
The best smart home devices
Editor’s note: We’ll be updating this list of the best smart home gadgets regularly as new ones launch.
Apple HomePod mini
This might seem like a strange place to start on an Android-focused site, but if you use Apple’s HomeKit ecosystem in any way, you’ll need one or more Home Hubs to enable remote access and keep automations firing. While an Apple TV 4K can serve that role, the cheapest option is the $99 HomePod mini.
The Mini is actually a solid smart speaker on its own, sounding better than anything else its own size. You can pair two of them for stereo effects, and link that pair with an Apple TV for a set of wireless TV speakers. The downside of the product, naturally, is that it’s locked into the Apple ecosystem — you’ll need an iPhone or iPad just to get it configured. It also heavily favors Apple services, to the point that there’s no Spotify support outside of AirPlay.
Amazon Echo 4th Gen
There are plenty of smart speakers on the market that work with either Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. In terms of bang for the buck however, it’s hard to top Amazon’s fourth-generation Echo. Its sound is loud and clear with plenty of bass, punching above its $100 pricetag.
Alexa may also be the best consumer smart home platform, with a wide arsenal of skills and the largest number of compatible accessories. The Echo in particular has integrated motion and temperature sensors, and can operate as a Zigbee hub for accessories like Ikea’s Trådfri bulbs. It’s slated to get Matter over Thread in late 2022.
See also: The best smart speakers you can buy
Google Nest Hub (2nd Generation)
The 7-inch standard Nest Hub may not be as impressive as the 10-inch Nest Hub Max, but it’s considerably more affordable, and still benefits from Google’s simple and attractive smart display interface. Nest Hubs also offer native YouTube and Google Cast support, unlike Amazon’s Echo Show lineup.
The standard Hub is engineered as a bedside device first and foremost. It deliberately omits a camera, and its signature feature is Sleep Sensing, a technology that mixes radar, audio, light, and temperature data to track how well you sleep and what might be causing disruptions. This works surprisingly well, to the point we’re upset Google is planning to paywall it behind Fitbit Premium in 2023. Thankfully the Hub is useful in plenty of other places as well, like your kitchen or home office.
See also: The best smart displays you can buy
Lifx Smart LED Light Bulb
Smart bulbs are often one of the first things people buy as an upgrade, since they’re relatively affordable and make lighting a lot more convenient and attractive. Lifx bulbs aren’t the cheapest, but they’re hub-free thanks to built-in Wi-Fi, and they support Alexa, HomeKit, and Google Assistant. Just make sure your router can handle the load if you buy a bunch of them ― we’d recommend a Wi-Fi 6 mesh router like the eero 6 Plus.
We’ve linked an 800-lumen Color bulb here. Lifx makes a wide range of other products, however, including lightstrips, brighter 1,100-lumen bulbs, and cheaper White models. You can even get bulbs that promise to kill bacteria or improve night vision on your cameras.
If your Wi-Fi network is already saturated or you’re planning to install bulbs en masse, you should probably check out Philips Hue instead. Each Hue Smart Hub can handle up to 50 lights while using only one Wi-Fi connection.
The beauty of a smart plug is that it can automate just about any appliance so long as it benefits from a simple on/off state. That includes lamps, fans, humidifiers, coffee makers, and more.
The Ultra Mini connects via Wi-Fi, and supports Alexa and Google Assistant. Its compact design helps avoid blocking outlets, and you can get a two-pack for a little over $15. That’s pretty cheap, so you can put the savings towards decking out the rest of your home.
See also: The best smart plugs
myQ Chamberlain Smart Garage Control
Automatic garage doors have an obvious appeal, since nothing says luxury like having your garage open before you even pull into the driveway. Chamberlain’s accessory connects to your existing door system (check compatibility), and is primarily controlled via a smartphone app. It’s also one of the few products certified for Amazon Key, which lets Amazon drivers drop packages off in your garage.
Platform support includes Google Assistant, but be warned — that may soon end up gated behind a Chamberlain subscription. A subscription isn’t required for basic functionality. Either way, you’ll need to ensure your garage has a strong Wi-Fi signal.
August Wi-Fi Smart Lock
A home is inherently safer if you can monitor and secure it from anywhere. August’s flagship product installs over your existing deadbolt — again, check for compatibility — and includes options like guest access, proximity triggers, and auto-lock timers.
It further supports Alexa, HomeKit, and Google Assistant, and you can pair it with an optional keypad if you want to simplify entry for kids and guests. Perhaps its best use is in the context of automations — you might have Alexa automatically lock up at night, for example, or turn on the downstairs lights when a door is unlocked.
Arlo Essential Video Doorbell
Even if you’re not interested in a complete security system, a video doorbell is nice to own, making it possible to screen visitors and packages. The Essential comes in wired and wireless versions, and offers standard features such as motion detection and two-way talk. It integrates with Alexa, HomeKit, and Google Assistant.
See also: The best video doorbells
Its top feature is a 180-degree field of view in all directions, making it possible to see both visitors and packages clearly. It additionally offers perks like a built-in siren, and pre-recorded messages in case you don’t want to speak. You’ll have to pony up for an Arlo Secure subscription, however, if you want features like cloud recording, activity zones, or object recognition. Specifically the plan enables person, vehicle, animal, and package detection, which cuts down on false alerts.
Arlo Pro 4 Wireless Security Camera
The Arlo Pro 4 wins its podium position by shooting in 2K HDR with a 160-degree field of view, and including not color night vision but a built-in spotlight. The latter is something brands like Nest and Ring make you pay extra for.
The camera is dependent on an Arlo Secure plan for the same features we mentioned with the Essential Video Doorbell, but it’s also one of the few wireless outdoor cameras that supports HomeKit, not just Alexa and Google Assistant. You’ll need a compatible Arlo hub or base station to link with Apple’s platform.
We’ve linked a three-pack of cameras here, but you can also buy the Pro 4 individually or in two-packs.
Nest Protect Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detector (2nd Gen)
The Nest Protect is all about the trouble you can’t see, namely smoke and carbon monoxide. It’s self-testing, and pushes alerts to your phone, where you can quickly silence those alarms caused by burning the bacon. Another benefit is app-based battery warnings, so you never have to scramble for a stepladder to shut off annoying chirps.
You can choose between wired or battery-powered versions — the wired model uses three AA batteries as backup — and it even lights up when you walk underneath at night. Our one real complaint is that it only links with other Nest accessories, if you’re thinking about its platform support.
Ecobee Smart Thermostat Premium
A smart thermostat is one of those rare devices that can actually save money on a long enough timeline. It optimizes your home’s heating and cooling, shrinking power bills, particularly if you take advantage of scheduling and home/away modes.
The Smart Thermostat Premium is extremely new, but based on our prior experiences with Ecobee we have no problems recommending it. Like its predecessor the Premium supports all three major smart home platforms (Alexa, HomeKit, and Google Assistant), and bundles an external temperature/occupancy sensor to improve accuracy. It can also operate as its own Alexa or Siri speaker, which makes it even easier to control than Nest’s thermostats. You’ll need a HomePod to enable Siri.
What’s different is that the Premium has a metallic frame, a 50 percent larger display, an overhauled interface, and improved internal sensors. This includes radar for better occupancy detection, and an air quality sensor that monitors CO2 and VOCs (volatile organic compounds).
If you don’t care about speaker or air quality functions, or a bundled external sensor, the Smart Thermostat Enhanced is $60 cheaper while retaining all of the Premium’s other features. You can always buy external sensors separately.
These are the best smart home gadgets you can get in our opinion, but there are plenty of other great options out there. We’ll change up this list as new products launch.