Are you ready to join the smart home revolution? Smart appliances used to be the stuff every Jetson fan dreams of but they have quickly become a reality in the past few years.
A study from Berg Insight shows that the number of smart home systems in North America will jump to 31.4 million in 2017. The smart home is definitely making headway!
If you want to get in on the ground floor, here are some of the best smart home gadgets you can buy today:
1. Amazon Echo
One of the breakthrough success stories of the smart appliance world is the virtual assistant speaker. The pioneering brand, of course, is Amazon's Echo. Released in June 2015, consumer tech fans back then weren't really sure about what the Echo will bring to the table.
Fast forward to today's Amazon Echo, or as we lovingly anthropomorphize as "Alexa," which is now the most popular "smart" appliance. With it, Amazon has created a new product category and with its ever-growing skill set, it is now an integral part of a majority of budding smart homes.
The voice-activated Alexa answers questions, plays music, helps you organize your day, sets timers, reads you the news and can even brighten your day with a joke or two. With its ever expanding skill set, it seems like the sky's the limit for Alexa.
Better yet, paired with a vast selection of other smart appliances, the Amazon Echo can become your voice-activated smart home control hub. With compatible smart appliances, you can simply ask Alexa to turn off your lights, adjust your thermostat, control your entertainment center, lock your door, etc. With this set-up, it does feel like we're already living in the home of the future.
The original Amazon Echo is a futuristic-looking cylindrical 360-degree Bluetooth speaker with a seven-microphone array and Amazon usually sells it for $180 with the occasional sale here and there. However, Amazon has expanded its Echo line and you can introduce Alexa to your home for as low as $50.
For starters, you can try out the Echo Dot. The Echo Dot is the $50 hockey puck-sized version of the Amazon Echo. Although the Dot will not have the Echo's cylindrical speaker, it does come with a smaller built-in speaker, or if you prefer, you can also connect any Bluetooth speaker wirelessly or any regular speaker via the built-in 3.5mm jack.
Here are the other members of the Amazon Echo family, all with Alexa built-in:
- Tap - a rechargeable and portable Bluetooth
- Look - the upcoming handsfree camera (currently by invitation only)
- Show - an Amazon Echo with a built-in 7-inch touchscreen display
- Dash Wand - a portable stick with a built-in mic (currently for Prime Members only)
If you're looking for a futuristic constant home companion, these "smart" speakers may just be the appliance you need. If you're not into the Amazon ecosystem, other competing products you can check out are the Google Home virtual assistant speaker and Apple's upcoming Siri-powered HomePod.
2. Smart cameras for watching your smart home
Home security is an everyday concern, regardless of where you live. There are several smart systems available, but figuring out the right one isn’t always easy.
One option is Simplisafe's line of smart cameras. Storage for the footage captured by the cameras is also not a problem. The cameras use what's called "Intelligent Recording," which means they only activate when the system detects activity.
Whenever your system is armed or disarmed, the Simplisafe's camera system will activate. It will also activate if someone triggers your alarm, so you can catch the intruder in the act. Night vision is also included, so your home is protected even when it's dark out. You can also live stream the footage if you'd like. Otherwise, anything captured by the cameras will be stored for 30 days with a $4.99 monthly plan.
Other smart security cameras like the Nest Cam can stream footage of your home, indoors or outdoors, around the clock. Since these cameras are required to be plugged into power and they don't rely on batteries, they can be on all the time. Up to 30 days of surveillance footage can then be accessed on the cloud for review. Motion and sound alerts for the Nest Cam can then be set up with its companion app. With Nest's built-in mic and speaker, you can even speak and listen through the app wherever you may be.
3. Ecobee 3 Smart Thermostat
A smart thermostat is a safe bet when figuring out if your home needs to be smarter. With several reliable systems to choose from, though, finding the right one can be difficult but one of the best ones out there is the Ecobee 3 Smarter WiFi Thermostat.
The Ecobee3 can be set on a heating/cooling schedule as well as a vacation schedule. The thermostat can be toggled between "Home" and "Away" modes. When in "Away" the thermostat won’t kick on, but if the thermostat or sensors detect motion, the setting will be overridden.
These settings can be changed from the iOS and Android app or from a computer. It can be voice controlled by Siri with Apple’s HomeKit or Alexa with Amazon’s Echo.
The Ecobee3 Smarter Wi-Fi Thermostat and sensor retails for $249. Amazon has a three-sensor bundle available for $264. That may seem like a steep price, but if you’re in a home with several rooms, the additional sensors are worth it. The system will set your rooms at the temperature you want.
Honorable mention goes to the Nest Learning Thermostat. Unfortunately, Google hasn't updated the product line for six years now.
4. Philips Hue smart bulbs
We’ve all thought about how we can redecorate a room. Sometimes it’s a new coat of paint; sometimes you just have to move the furniture. But what if all you needed were some new light bulbs?
The Philips Hue line of smart bulbs is controlled through a hub called the “Bridge” and an app on your smartphone. Users can set the color of the lights to match their mood or relight the room based on the colors from a favorite photo. Favorite configurations can be saved and recalled in an instant.
Philips Hue products can actually help improve home comfort and security. The white light can be set in various color temperatures from as cool as a cloudy sky to warm as a Montana sunset. The light bulb also gradually increases in brightness to simulate a natural sunrise to ease you awake.
It can also be a deterrent. The Philips Hue app lets you set timers for individual rooms, so the lights can be on, even when no one’s home. You can manually control the lights from the app when you’re away from home, too.
The best thing is you can control all your Philips Hue bulbs either via its companion apps for iOS or Android or by speaking to Amazon Echo's Alexa.
5. Kwikset Kevo smart lock
Not to be outdone, door locks have been getting the "smart home" treatment for years now. Brands like August, Danalock and Kwikset have released locks that have built-in smart functionality, allowing the user to control them with a smartphone or a virtual assistant like the Amazon Echo.
Smart locks like August or Danalock work more like mechanical turners for any existing deadbolt but for a more complete smart lock solution, consider the Kevo Kwikset. Unlike the August Lock, the Kwikset Kevo replaces the whole door lock, deadbolt and all.
The Kwikset Kevo can be unlocked with the touch of your finger, via its smartphone app through Bluetooth, or if you purchase the optional Kevo Plus, you can unlock it with Alexa or remotely from the web.
With its smartphone app, you can program your home locks, so only your family members can unlock the doors. You can set the times of day when they can unlock the doors, and you can give your house guests temporary access to your home. No keys required.
Once your family, guests and you have downloaded the Kevo app to your smartphone, you don't even need to take it out of your pocket or purse for it to unlock your doors. Like I said, just touch the lock with your finger, and it'll unlock. Simple.
If you'd rather have the option of using a numerical keypad in conjunction with Bluetooth unlocking, check out Schlage's line of smart deadbolts. Numerical lock codes may sound old-fashioned but they're still great to have in case of emergencies.