What Is Smart Home Technology?
What if all the devices in your life could connect to the internet? Not just computers and smartphones, but everything: clocks, speakers, lights, doorbells, cameras, windows, window blinds, hot water heaters, appliances, cooking utensils, you name it. And what if those devices could all communicate, send you information, and take your commands? It’s not science fiction; it’s the Internet of Things (IoT), and it’s a key component of home automation and smart devices in homes.
Home automation is exactly what it sounds like: automating the ability to control items around the house—from window shades to pet feeders—with a simple push of a button (or a voice command). Some activities, like setting up a lamp to turn on and off at your whim, are simple and relatively inexpensive. Others, like advanced surveillance cameras, may require a more serious investment of time and money.
There are many smart home product categories, so you can control everything from lights and temperature to locks and home security devices. They also happen to make fantastic gifts, whether you’re shopping for the holidays or buying a housewarming present. Here’s a rundown of the best products we’ve tested for every room of the house.
Smart Speakers and Displays
Amazon Echo Family
The Amazon Echo is a Bluetooth speaker powered by Alexa, Amazon’s handy voice assistant. Alexa works with a number of smart home devices directly, as well as with If This Then That (IFTTT) to control plenty of others via pairings you can create yourself. It’ll take some work, but you can use Alexa to control most of the gadgets in your house with the sound of your voice. If you already have a favorite speaker, the inexpensive Echo Dot With Clock can connect to it and add Alexa functionality. And if you want a touch screen to see search results and make video calls, check out the Echo Show 10, Echo Show 8, or Echo Show 5.
Google Nest Hub Family
If you prefer Google Assistant to Amazon Alexa, you’ll want to invest in Google’s Nest Hub line of speakers and smart displays. The big Google Home Max offers truly room-filling sound, while the Google Nest Hub Max is an attractive, bright smart display that puts Google’s services front and center. The smaller Nest Audio, Nest Mini, and Nest Hub are also solid, more affordable alternatives for putting Google Assistant in every room of the house.
If you can’t decide between Amazon and Alexa and Google Assistant, you don’t have to. The Sonos One supports both popular voice assistants, and sound-wise, it’s head and shoulders above other smart speakers in its price range. It also connects with other Sonos speakers like the Arc, Beam, and Move to deliver superior sound quality and voice assistant access throughout your home (and backyard).
ConnectSense Smart Outlet 2
If you’re looking to add some smarts to small home appliances such as coffee makers, lamps, and TVs, the ConnectSense Smart Outlet 2 is an excellent choice. This versatile dual-outlet smart plug can be controlled with an Android or iOS mobile app and works with Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri voice commands. It lacks IFTTT support, but you can make it work with other smart home devices using HomeKit Scenes and Automations, and it monitors energy usage for both outlets.
D-Link mydlink Outdoor Wi-Fi Smart Plug (DSP-W320)
With the D-Link mydlink Outdoor Wi-Fi Smart Plug DSP-W320, it’s easy to control outdoor devices such as decorative lighting and pool pumps with your phone and a mobile app. Equipped with two outlets and a USB charging port, this weatherproof plug installs in minutes, supports Alexa and Google Assistant voice commands, and will work with other smart home devices using IFTTT applets.