Smart home technology has been flourishing for years now. Smart home manufacturers have had plenty of time to establish entire ecosystems of products and to perfect each of them. And best of all? Prices for smart home gadgets have decreased, making them more affordable than ever. This makes now the best time to start building up your smart home.
Which Smart Home Ecosystem Should You Choose?
First things first: Your smart home needs a foundation, which means you’ll need to choose a product ecosystem. The three dominant ecosystems are Apple, Google, and Amazon. Chances are you already own a gadget from one of them and regularly say “Hey Siri/Google/Alexa,” so you’ve already got one foot in the door to your future smart home.
Of course, you’re free to go with any company that you want, but it makes sense to choose the ecosystem that you’re probably already in. For example, if you have a Google Pixel smartphone, you’ll benefit the most from going with Google and its line of Nest products. If you’re not already in an ecosystem, however, or you don’t really care about being in one, consider going with Amazon as it’s not tied to smartphones or any other devices.
That said, if you’re interested in deep integrations for your smart home, you should consider going with Amazon or Google rather than Apple. Unfortunately, Apple’s HomeKit doesn’t support nearly as many devices as the other two do, and its products tend to be much more expensive than the others, as well.
Once you’ve decided on an ecosystem, there are certain things to keep in mind—like cameras and doorbells. Nest cameras and the Nest Hello will integrate seamlessly with products like Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max. Ring cameras and the Ring Doorbell will work best with Amazon Echo because they’re both Amazon products. If you mix cameras and doorbells, you risk losing out on important integration with smart displays.
Fortunately, that’s the exception to the rule. There’s a decent smattering of platform-agnostic smart home gadgets out there that work flawlessly with both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant/Nest, though Apple HomeKit support will be hit and miss between manufacturers. It’s always the odd duck of the bunch, so you’ll have to pay close attention to compatibility if you decide to invest in a HomeKit setup.
Are Smart Home Products Worth the Extra Cost?
Sure, smart home gadgets do cost more than their “dumb” counterparts, and their increased price might be hard to justify for some. However, smart gadgets offer you more convenience, customization options, increased security, and even the ability to save energy and money in exchange for their higher price.
Smart home products can be connected to your preferred voice assistant, thus enabling you to turn your lights on or change the temperature on your thermostat with a simple voice command. This convenience is well worth it when your hands are full of groceries or messy because you’re in the middle of baking a tasty dessert.
The best smart home devices also allow you to set them up on a schedule, so they’ll turn on or off automatically at a set time—even when you’re away from home or on vacation. This is a great way to boost your home’s security with minimal investment and effort on your part, especially if you pair that up with a video doorbell or exterior smart camera. These let you keep an eye on your property or even talk with visitors through the camera without opening your door (or when you’re not at home).
Smart devices are also designed to save energy, which means you save money on your monthly power bill. For example, a smart thermostat can automatically stop warming your house while you’re away, so you’re not paying to heat empty rooms. So with all these benefits, are they worth the extra cost? We think so.
How to Get Started Building Your Smart Home
Now that you’ve figured out which ecosystem you like, it’s time to pick some products. As we mentioned above, smart speakers and/or smart displays are the logical starting place for your smart home because they can connect to and control your smart devices. Typically, most people place their first smart speaker or display in the kitchen or living room, as those are central areas in the home and the rooms that see the most traffic, but ultimately you’ll likely want one or the other in nearly every room of your house.
After that, branching out to smart lights and plugs make the most sense as they’re the perfect second step. We also recommend adding a smart display at some point, especially if you plan on adding cameras or a video doorbell to your smart home. Smart displays are more versatile than speakers because you can see what’s happening on the screen, view security cameras, get doorbell alerts, and a lot more.
Cameras, thermostats, and other more advanced smart home items are the last piece of the puzzle. And from there, you’ll have all the basics and it’ll be time to move on to the smart home gadgets that aren’t necessary.
Smart speakers are the core of every smart home. Once you select the ecosystem you want, choose a compatible smart speaker. Each of the three ecosystems offers multiple speaker options across all budgets, and all of them offer similar functionality. We chose the smallest budget-friendly option for each, so costs don’t stack up too quickly—especially because you’ll almost certainly need more than one.
For Google Enthusiasts: Google Nest Mini (2nd Gen) Smart Speakers
The Google Nest Mini is a tiny smart speaker that’s also impressively powerful (and cute). With it, you can have Google’s voice assistant handle all kinds of tasks, like controlling your connected smart devices, telling you your upcoming calendar events, setting a timer, telling you the news, and more. It’s even able to tell jokes and play a variety of games with you.
The Nest Mini’s real strength, however, lies in its ability to play music that sounds great. Despite its small size, the Mini puts out massive sound with powerful bass. The speaker works with most popular music services, like Spotify and YouTube Music, too, which is great when you need a dance session or to get caught up on a podcast while you work. We recommend the speaker to anyone, but especially those who have Android or Google devices, like the Pixel 4a.
For Alexa Fans: Amazon Echo Dot
For those who prefer Amazon’s Alexa over the other smart assistant options, the new Echo Dot is a great option for a smart speaker. The compact speaker delivers outstanding music and spoken word with crisp vocals and balanced bass. You can use simple voice commands to play music, podcasts, and radio stations from your favorite services, like Amazon Music, Spotify, Apple Music, SiriusXM, and others, even across multiple devices in your home.
You can ask Alexa to play the news, set an alarm, give the weather forecast, and even control any connected smart home devices you have—all hands-free so you can stay focused on whatever you’re working on or enjoying.
For Apple Users: Apple HomePod mini
Even though the new Apple HomePod mini is pricier than the other two speaker options, it’s the best option for those who already own several Apple devices and enjoy using Siri. It costs more than the others, however, so if you’re not already in Apple’s ecosystem and are looking to choose a smart speaker (or ecosystem), keep that in mind.
The HomePod mini has rich 360-degree audio, so anything you play on it will sound good no matter where in a room you set it. Of course, you can use voice commands to have it play music, control supported smart devices, ask it questions, play videos on your Apple TV, and pretty much anything else the other speakers can do. The mini can also seamlessly transition audio to your iPhone, should you want to continue listening to it when you leave home.
Similar to smart speakers, smart displays are a great choice to have for the core of your smart home. They cost a little more than the speakers, but the addition of a large color display increases their utility and is well worth the increased cost. You can use a display to pull up recipes or video tutorials, see your digital photos, or view the live feed of any smart cameras you’ve integrated into your smart home setup.
Some also have built-in cameras that can be used for video chat or activated remotely for an additional security camera. You can also use a smart display the same way you would a smart speaker, with simple voice commands.
Great for Those Who Choose Google: Nest Hub
For just $89.99, Google’s Nest Hub is a remarkable smart display. You can tell it to play music, play a video on Netflix, turn on the lights, and more. The clean and intuitive interface gives you a centralized place to view your connected smart home devices, like cameras, thermostats, and lights. It also makes it easy to view the time and weather at a glance, plus it displays your digital photo collection when you’re not using it. The wonderful device earned our Product of the Year award when it came out in 2018.
If you like the idea of the Nest Hub but wish it had a bigger display, better sound, and a camera, consider the Nest Hub Max. The Hub Max offers nice physical improvements as well as a much-needed camera, but offers all of the same good software and tools found on the smaller Hub.
Fantastic for Those Who Choose Amazon: Echo Show 8
Amazon’s Echo Show 8 is slightly less expensive than the Nest Hub and it’s got a camera, so if you haven’t chosen an ecosystem (or aren’t already in one), the Echo Show 8 makes a solid case for choosing Amazon. It supports video calling and messaging, enables you to control connected smart home gadgets, and lets you do things like watch videos, listen to podcasts, and view a live feed of your home cameras. It’s a terrifically helpful and entertaining device.
Amazon is also releasing the Echo Show 10 soon, which will be a spendy upgrade from the Show 8. The 10 will feature a larger screen with a higher resolution, better speakers, and a 13MP camera—a huge upgrade from the Show 8.
Fantastic for Those Who Choose Amazon
Smart Lights and Smart Plugs
Smart bulbs and plugs are the next step in your smart home journey. Smart bulbs enable you to turn on, dim, change the colors, and even create a schedule to run on. They can also be controlled by your voice or with an app even when you’re not home. Smart plugs enable you to connect “dumb” electronics like lamps or fans, and turn them on or off with your voice. Both can save you money.
For Tunable White Lighting: Wyze Bulbs
Wyze Bulbs are excellent tunable white color temperature smart bulbs and your most inexpensive option if you don’t care about having access to other colors. They’re compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant and a cinch to set up on a schedule. They connect via Wi-Fi and don’t need a hub or anything in order to work, and you can control them via the companion iOS or Android app.
For Tunable White Lighting
For Colorful Lighting: Kasa LED Multicolor Smart Bulb
If you’re looking for a smart light bulb that can handle a bit of color in addition to tunable whites, a Kasa LED Multicolor Smart Bulb is a great pick. The bulb puts 16 million colors at your fingertips and can be dimmed or put on a schedule. The Wi-Fi connected bulb works with both Google Assistant and Alexa and can be controlled via voice commands or its iOS or Android app.
A Smart Plug: Wyze Plugs
Okay, smart plugs might not sound exciting but they’re genuinely super cool (and affordable). Wyze Plugs enable you to plug in a “dumb” gadget like a lamp, and control it using voice commands via Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. They’re yet another way to set a device on a schedule as well. This kind of functionality is nice to have if you’re the type who’s always forgetting to turn off lights, or if you’re always away and want to make it look like you’re still home.
You can purchase smart cameras for both the interior and exterior of your home. Indoor cameras are a great way to keep an eye on your pets or children, while exterior cameras let you view your front porch and yard (and your Amazon packages) at a glance. You can also opt for a video doorbell as a more powerful exterior camera, which offers similar functionality along with, you know, doorbell functionality.
As we mentioned earlier, if you have a Google Assistant-powered smart home, you should stick with Nest Cameras and Nest Hello (the video doorbell), and Alexa powers your smart home, then Ring’s cameras and Doorbell are the way to go. That said, they are not the most affordable options on the market. If you’re looking for something that won’t break the bank and is more platform agnostic, then the following choices are the best out there right now.
An Indoor Camera: Wyze Cam Pan
With the Wyze Cam Pan, you can easily pan around (and tilt and zoom) to see what’s happening in every corner of a room. This makes it easy to pop in and see what your kids or pets are doing while you’re on the other side of the house. An indoor camera is also nice to have in the event of a break-in or other noteworthy activity. This camera records in 1080p HD, and has six IR LED night vision that lets you catch events any time of day or night.
An Outdoor Camera: Wyze Cam Outdoor
The Wyze Cam Outdoor is a solid and inexpensive camera that’s perfect for mounting by your front door, back door, or garage. Its included mount enables it to be placed on any surface and its wire-free battery-powered design can last up to 3-6 months on a single charge. The camera’s IP65 weather-resistant design will easily stand up to blizzards, heatwaves, and downpours. It captures 1080p HD footage and has a night vision mode, so you can keep an eye on things any time of day. Alternatively, you could consider the Wyze Cam v3, which is certified for both indoor and outdoor use, though it’s not quite as robust or versatile as the Cam Outdoor.
A Wi-Fi Video Doorbell: eufy Video Doorbell
Eufy’s video doorbell is powerful and doesn’t rely on a subscription or cloud storage to work. The rechargeable battery lasts for 120 days on a single charge, and everything it records is stored locally and encrypted for added security. Footage is recorded in 1080p HD color with a 4:3 aspect ratio. It’s easy to install if your existing wiring works, plus it enables you to set up detection zones to reign in notifications. If you want something even less expensive, we recommend preordering the Wyze Doorbell, which is shipping in January 2021 and will only cost you $29.99.
Allow us to be blunt—smart thermostats are the bees knees. Not only do they enable you to control what temperature your furnace or air conditioner is running at on your smartphone, but they can also be set on a schedule that helps keep you comfortable while saving energy. Some can even send you a notification when it’s time to change your air filter, or if issues with your HVAC system are detected.
A Genius Thermostat: Google Nest Learning Thermostat
We love the Google Nest Learning Thermostat. Although it’s pricey, it’s also the easiest to use and it uses AI to “learn” your temperature preferences throughout the day. After a week or two of use, the thermostat will then adjust itself automatically according to your preferences. This saves you the hassle of manually programming a schedule. You can track and adjust settings using the Nest mobile app for iOS and Android. The Learning Thermostat also comes in a variety of finishes, so you can choose the one that best matches your home. Unlike other Nest products, the Learning Thermostat works with both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, making it a great choice for almost every smart home.
Easy to Learn: ecobee SmartThermostat with Voice Control
Another fantastic smart home Thermostat comes from ecobee. While the Nest thermostat tries to learn your habits and automatically adjust to them, the ecobee SmartThermostat puts you in complete control. It’ll make suggestions, but you have to approve them. Unlike the Nest, the ecobee’s thermostat interface mirrors the app interface, so you only have to learn how it works once.
It also comes with a free temperature sensor you can place in another room like a living room or bedroom. Nest charges extra for sensors. And the ecobee can double as another Alexa-speaker in your home, thanks to microphones and a small speaker. You won’t play music, but it one more spot in your home for voice controls. Don’t worry; if you’re a Google-powered home, the ecobee still works great, and you can skip the Alexa feature.
Easy to learn
ecobee SmartThermostat Voice Control, Black
The ecobee puts you in charge of your schedule, and comes with a temperature sensor to better monitor your home. If you want, it even doubles as an Alexa-enabled smart speaker.
A Smart and Inexpensive Option: Wyze Thermostat
If you want something a little more budget-friendly (which is understandable), we recommend preordering the Wyze Thermostat, which is only $49.99 and should ship by the end of 2020 (though we’re cutting that window pretty close right now). You can also control this one with the physical dial or on the Wyze app for iOS and Android. Wyze is promising a “learning mode” like the Nest Learning Thermostat has, so the thermostat can track your usage and adjust automatically as well. Out of the box, the Nest Thermostat will only work with Alexa, but Wyze says support for Google Assistant is “coming soon.”
So, there you go. Smart homes are mature now, and more accessible than ever before. Piecing together your smart home has never been easier, and we hope this guide simplifies it even further.