The smart home used to be the stuff of science fiction. Moviegoers watched as Tony Stark controlled his mansion with nothing more than his voice, or wished they could have the type of technology that made Batman’s life so amazing.
These days, you don’t have to be a billionaire business owner or an eccentric crime fighter to create the ultimate smart home – tools like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and the Apple Home Kit have put home automation within reach of nearly anyone.
Smart home technology uses artificial intelligence (AI) to talk to you, respond to commands, and answer questions. Smart hubs can also communicate with other internet devices, allowing you to control all your smart home gadgets simultaneously. They can turn down the thermostat, turn on the lights, scare away burglars, and even make you coffee.
Home automation is not only cool, its practical, sustainable and can even save you money by reducing your utility bills. When looking to automate your home, it’s important to consider the different types of smart home ecosystems, devices, and how they will work together to create a seamless experience.
What are the best smart home ecosystems?
Virtual assistants (AI that converses with you), speakers (hardware), and phone apps are the three main components of home automation systems (where you control your devices). Each system has its own pairing instructions, as well as the ability to create an automation “flow” that performs a series of tasks. It’s worth noting that not all smart hubs and smart devices are compatible. Look for the phrase “Works with…” in the product description to see if it’s compatible with your virtual assistant of choice.
Keep in mind that all home automation products use bandwidth, so regardless of which system you choose, you should evaluate your current connectivity and network speed. Before you begin, make sure that your tablet or smartphone is connected to the same Wi-Fi network as your home automation hub, and that the device you’re adding is turned on.
Amazon Alexa ecosystem
Virtual Assistant: Alexa
Speaker: Amazon Echo/Amazon Show
App: Amazon Alexa for iOS, Android, and Google Play
Alexa is Amazon’s virtual assistant, designed to answer questions, play music, read news, “talk” to your other devices, and more. Alexa is an industry leader, and with more than 7,000 third-party smart devices supported, it won’t be hard to find home automation products that work with this option.
To ensure a device works with Alexa, be sure to look for “Works with Alexa” in the product description of the gadget you intend to buy. Once the two devices are connected to WiFi, simply tap Add Device from the Alexa app and it will pair them together. You can also use your voice to ask Alexa to discover new devices.
Alexa’s Routines feature makes it easy to automate a flow of actions across devices so they work together. For instance, you can create a group called “Upstairs lights” that will turn all the lights on and off simultaneously.
Google Assistant ecosystem
Virtual Assistant: Google Assistant
Speaker: Google Home
App: Google Assistant for iOS, Android, and Google Play
Google Assistant is built into Android phones, making it a seamless experience for Android users. Assistant can play music, get weather updates, take calls and control your other devices through the Google Home app. It can also answer almost any question because the technology is powered by the sophisticated algorithms behind Google search.
There are plenty of third-party devices that are compatible with Google Home/Assistant. Look at the label for devices that “Work with Google.” To sync devices with Google Assistant, make sure they are both connected to the same WiFi network. Then open the app, tap Home Control, and select the device you want to pair. Similar to Alexa’s Routines, you can create action flows in Google Home using the Actions feature, which groups connected devices to work together simultaneously.
Apple HomeKit ecosystem
Virtual Assistant: Siri
App: Home for iOS
HomeKit is powered by Siri, the familiar iPhone assistant. HomeKit has less compatible gadgets available than its competitors, partly because Apple’s encryption has made it closed to developers until recently. The extra encryption is a bonus for those concerned with privacy, but users report that it can be a headache to set up.
HomeKit has a Rooms feature that allows you to group devices by room, while the Automation feature allows you to create a flow of commands – for instance, turning on the lights and playing the music at the same time.
To sync devices with Apple HomeKit, open the app and click the plus sign to add a new accessory. You’ll need to scan the device’s QR code or enter it manually. Because of Apple’s encryption, it’s especially important to make sure the device you choose is HomeKit compatible.
What are the best smart home devices?
Smart home devices/accessories/gadgets are designed to work with a smartphone app and pair with your home ecosystem of choice. There are plenty of smart home accessories on the market today to suit a variety of household functions, including entertainment, cooking, pets, security, energy conservation and more.
Best smart home devices for entertainment
Your living room is a natural place to start building your smart home ecosystem because most modern TVs, stereos, and entertainment devices are already WiFi-enabled. The Sonos Soundbar, a smartphone-controlled speaker that sits right under your TV, is one of many smart home devices that can tie your home entertainment experience together. For a truly immersive home theater system, pair it with subwoofers.
When it comes to home theaters, Samsung offers WiFi-enabled surround sound systems. Roku players are streaming devices that connect to a television via HDMI and allow you to watch content from Hulu, Netflix, HBO, and other services. Imagine walking into your living room and saying to Alexa, “Alexa, play Game of Thrones,” and having your TV and surround sound turn on and begin streaming immediately. Family TV nights have just gotten a whole lot better.
Best smart home devices for cooking
Imagine waking up every weekday to a pot of freshly brewed coffee waiting for you before you even get out of bed. With a smart coffee maker, this dream can become a reality. Simply set it to brew at the same time every morning and enjoy an extra 15 minutes of sleep.
Sure, Alexa can make you a grocery list on command, but there’s nothing worse than forgetting you’re out of eggs or milk in the middle of the store. The Smarter FridgeCam is a camera that allows you to view the contents of your refrigerator from anywhere using a smartphone app. JARVIS didn’t do that.
Do you enjoy cooking but dislike having to get out all of your measuring tools? The Drop Scale measures ingredients for you, making it easy to follow recipes. Consider the smart crock pot, which cooks your meal while you’re at work if you’re a one-and-done kind of person when it comes to meals. Using a smartphone app, you can change the settings on your crock pot from anywhere, so dinner won’t be spoiled even if you are delayed.
Best smart home devices for pets
Smart technology isn’t just for humans. Self-cleaning litter boxes like Litter-Robot separate the waste from the litter and monitor your cat’s litter box usage through an app. Set automatic feeding schedules for your dog or cat with the Smart Feed, which you control through your phone (no Alexa integration yet).
Let your dog come and go with ease (and keep the cat in) with the Petsafe smart door, a doggy door that opens via a small “key” you attach to your dog’s collar. Smart collars like the LINK AKC are GPS-enabled to track your dogs location from an app, giving you ultimate peace of mind.
Best smart home devices for security
Protect your home, inside and out, with smart home security gadgets. Systems like Scout come equipped with motion sensors and alarms to scare off intruders. When the security system is triggered, it sends a notification to your phone and begins recording, catching criminals on camera. Burglars beware!
Speaking of cameras, the Logitech Circle camera helps you keep an eye on your front porch and make sure packages don’t get stolen. It can also be used indoors to make sure your small children, pets, etc. stay safe. We also like the Amazon Ring, as you can watch your doorway from both the Amazon Show and your smartphone, and change up the detection and alert settings based on whether you are at home or away.
Forgot the keys? It’s no problem with a smart lock, which lets you lock and unlock the door remotely, gain keyless entry, grant guest access and more.
Best smart home devices for saving energy
From light bulbs to thermostats, these energy-saving smart home devices keep you comfortable while saving money on your electric bill. No more unplugging your appliances when you leave for the day – smart outlets turn on and off automatically, saving electricity when not in use.
A smart thermostat programs itself based on your schedule and adjusts the temperature accordingly. Downstairs always cold? It can heat and cool individual areas depending on where you spend your time. Smart thermostats are environmentally friendly and pay for themselves relatively quickly.
Turning off the lights when you leave a room is an easy way to conserve energy, but it’s hard to remember in practice. Enter the smart light switch, which controls the lights automatically. Similarly, smart bulbs like the Philips Hue light bulb make it easy to turn on all the lights at the same time, and can even change colors on command.
Automate your existing shades and blinds with the SOMA Smart Shades. This device is controlled through an app, where you slide your finger to the desired amount of coverage. Or, just use your voice to tell Siri to “close the blinds.” Voila!
Basement prone to flooding? A smart water sensor like the GROHE detects water leaks early, preventing flooding and costly structural damage to your home.
Smart home security and privacy
Is your smart device eavesdropping on you? Users have raised concerns about data collection from the companies that manufacture smart home devices, especially since their privacy policies are somewhat vague. Amazon says they do “not use customers’ voice recordings for targeted advertising,” and Google emphasized they only store voice recordings after the device has been intentionally triggered. Still, watchdog groups are pushing for more transparency and regulation for voice-enabled smart home hubs.
Like any device that relies on internet access, smart home gadgets are susceptible to attacks, including password stealing, cryptocurrency mining and other nefarious activities. Fortunately, you can take precautions to greatly reduce the risk and keep your devices secure:
Make your passwords difficult. Use alternating numbers, capitalized letters, and symbols to make them hard to guess and don’t use the same passwords on different sites.
Frequently update your software or set it to update automatically.
Consider creating a guest WiFi network that separates your smart devices from your personal computers to increase security.
There are all sorts of gadgets, accessories, and assistants on the market today. Devices that were once clunky and unintuitive can now operate seamlessly through a smartphone app. From coffee makers to light bulbs, it makes you wonder – what will they automate next? If you’re looking to upgrade your home’s IQ, especially if you just bought, or are shopping for, a new home, start by choosing one or more smart devices, a smart hub, and then sync them together to create the ultimate smart home ecosystem. You’ll be talking to your house and impressing your guests in no time. The future is here.