What Is Smart Home Technology?
There are many smart home product categories, so you can control everything from lights and temperature to locks and security in your home.
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 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 security in your home. 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 Home Hubs and Controllers
Amazon Echo Family
The 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 “recipes” you can create yourself. It’ll take some work, but you can use Alexa to control most of the gadgets in your house by the sound of your voice. If you already have a favorite speaker, the inexpensive Echo Dot 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, Echo Show 5, or Echo Spot.
Wink Hub 2
Our current Editors’ Choice for home automation hubs, the Wink Hub 2 works with devices that use Z-Wave, Zigbee, Lutron Clear Connect, Kidde, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi. It is also for the future. That includes just about everything in the smart home spectrum, from Philips Hue lighting and the Netgear Arlo camera, to Google Home. It’s the most reliable, widely supported hub we’ve tested.
The Brilliant Control is a unique wall switch that uses Wi-Fi to connect to and control various smart devices in your home. It has a 5-inch color touch screen with user-friendly button controls that let you play music, control lighting, set thermostat temperatures, and see who is at your door, among other things. It works with many popular smart home platforms including Ecobee, Nest, Philips Hue, Ring, and Sonos, and it has built-in Amazon Alexa voice support that allows it to do almost everything an Echo device can do. It’s fairly pricey and requires wiring knowledge to install, but it’s a smart addition to a high-tech home.
Logitech Harmony Elite
Don’t like talking and prefer controlling things the old fashioned way: by pushing buttons? The Logitech Harmony Elite is the ultimate universal remote for a reason: it controls a lot more than just TV and stereo. The pricey unit connects with the included Harmony Home Hub to control other Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Zigbee, Z-Wave, or infrared devices in your house.
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 support for IFTTT, but you can make it work with other smart home devices using HomeKit Scenes and Automations, and it monitors energy usage for both outlets.
Smart Heating and Cooling
Ecobee Smart Thermostat With Voice Control
The new Ecobee Smart Thermostat With Voice Control is the company’s fifth-generation model, and as is the case with each Ecobee release, this new model offers more features than its predecessor, the Ecobee4. Enhanced Alexa and multimedia support, more powerful audio components, and dual-band Wi-Fi are just a few examples of what this thermostat has to offer. Throw in a user-friendly app, lots of third-party support, and an easy installation process, and you’ve got one of the best smart thermostats you can buy.
Nest Learning Thermostat
The Nest Learning Thermostat has Wi-Fi so you can remotely control the temperature from phone, tablet, or PC. This latest generation also has a larger display and a few more sensors than its predecessors, in addition to geofencing support and a furnace monitor. If you find it a bit too pricey, Nest also offers the Thermostat E, which has most of the same smart features for $80 less.
Smart Kitchen Appliances
Anova Culinary Precision Cooker Wi-Fi
If you’re interested in sous vide cooking—where food sealed in plastic is immersed in a hot bath to cook to perfection—you need an immersion circulator to get started. The Anova Culinary Precision Cooker uses Wi-Fi connectivity so you control it from anywhere, even when you’re not home. A big dial lets you set the desired temperature to within a tenth of a degree, display shows the set and current water temperature, and an app keeps you notified of the cooking process every step of the way. It makes cooking sous vide as simple as can be.
Rachio 3 Smart Sprinkler Controller
The latest Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller gives you control over eight or 16 zones depending on the unit you get, with a master valve terminal for systems that have one. It won’t water the lawn if it’s raining, and you can turn it on and off remotely with your phone. Plus, it integrates with lots of other services and devices like Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, IFTTT, and Samsung SmartThings.
Worx Landroid M 20V Cordless Robotic Lawn Mower (WR140)
As with every robotic lawnmower we’ve reviewed, the Worx Landroid M 20V Cordless Robotic Lawn Mower (WR140) does not come cheap, but at $999.99 it’s one of the least expensive models out there and it does an excellent job of mowing and trimming your lawn. It also has GPS and Wi-Fi radios and works with a slick mobile app that lets you control it from anywhere. In addition to starting and stopping the mower and adjusting cuttings schedules, the app lets you monitor the mower’s progress and will send status alerts to let you know what it is currently doing and if there are any issues. It’ll even tell you where the mower is in the event that someone decides to liberate it from your property.
PC Magazine August 27, 2019