The first smart home gadgets from a few years ago weren’t actually very smart, but times have changed, and there’s now plenty of good reasons to upgrade your vacuum cleaner, microwave, and even your sound system, with a bit of AI-enhanced smarts.
Your gadget-packed home is hopelessly dependent on a solid wifi network, but with multiple floors and countless rooms, your house is just too big for a single wireless router to provide adequate coverage for every last device.
If you can get over the fact the nodes look like a collection of glowing automatic air fresheners, Netgear’s Orbi RBK50 provides one of the best whole home wifi solutions, covering even larger homes with an expansive, reliable network that minimizes the number of times your devices need to hop between access points. As with other mesh networking solutions you can use an app on your smartphone to easily set your whole network up, but the Orbi’s settings can also be accessed through a web browser (link: orbilogin.net), even if your actual internet connection isn’t working. Each node also comes with multiple gigabit ethernet ports to ensure solid internet connections for streaming boxes and game consoles, and a USB port for making devices like printers available to everyone on the network.
For users that don’t need as many gigabit ports, browser accessibility, and don’t want to have to try and hide giant nodes around the house, Google Wifi provides a more discreet and streamlined mesh networking solution. All the setup is completed through a well polished mobile app, which includes easy access to network performance, as well as the ability to schedule internet access for specific devices, which is ideal for limiting kids’ online time. More importantly, all of its security and software updates all happen automatically in the background, which means if you’ve been looking to upgrade your parents’ wireless network, once Google Wifi is up and running it should require little to no maintenance on your part.
You’ve come to grips with the fact that one day virtual assistants will be everywhere, and you’re ready to welcome one into your home. You’d rather not have to reach for your phone every time you want to know the weather or check how your favorite team is doing, and you like the idea of being able to control all of your smart devices with a quick voice command.
It’s not only $80 cheaper than the larger Google Home, the Google Home Mini is often given away for free with other smart home products as part of a promotion—but that doesn’t mean it’s worthless. The Google Home Mini wraps the company’s excellent smart assistant in a tiny, aesthetically pleasing puck (with several color options) that’s easy to tuck out of sight. Amazon’s Alexa might have been first, but Google’s smart assistant has since become more capable and better at understanding your voice commands; connecting you to almost all of Google’s online services without having to lift a finger. It’s also cheaper to fill a home with several Google Home Minis so they can always hear you, but while it can double as a Bluetooth speaker or stream tunes from your favorite online service, you might want to look at other solutions if sound quality tops your list of important features.
Amazon released its Alexa smart assistant before Google’s, so if you’ve already been using Alexa for years, and are fully entrenched in Amazon’s online ecosystem, the $50 third-generation Echo Dot is the way to go. The latest generation of the product improves the appearance and sound of the Echo Dot, and it can be paired to a larger speaker for stereo sound with added bass. Alexa isn’t quite as capable as Google Assistant, you’ll find yourself having to pop into the mobile app to change certain settings, but it’s still light years beyond what Apple’s Siri can do.
You like to keep your home neat and tidy, but you don’t always have the time to go over all of your floors with a manual vacuum. You also don’t want to pay for a housekeeper, but you don’t mind splurging a little to eliminate one weekly chore from your to-do list.
Neato might not be the first name that comes to mind when you think of robotic vacuum cleaners, but the company’s Botvac D7 packs some of the most advanced navigation technology of any autonomous cleaner on the market. Using lasers, it creates a detailed map of every room in your home, and through a free accompanying mobile app, you can draw virtual “no-go” lines to prevent the vacuum from wandering into areas that aren’t ready for cleaning just yet. (Think a messy bedroom.) You can also name specific rooms and areas in your home, and Neato has promised smart assistant functionality one day, allowing you to simply tell the vacuum to go and clean the kitchen.
If you’re especially lazy, iRobot’s Roomba i7+ is the first robotic vacuum that can actually empty itself when full, which is useful given how small the dirt bins are on these tiny autonomous cleaners. At $950 you’re going to pay a little more for that convenience, which requires an elaborate dock that sucks dirt and debris out of the robovac when it’s parked, but you also get iRobot’s smartest robot to date, with room mapping, scheduling, and the ability to limit the vacuum’s cleaning routines to just a specific area using a mobile app.
You’re hopelessly addicted to asking your smart assistant questions about the weather, movie times, and even how long you should put that roast in the oven, but sometimes find voice commands and spoken responses a limited way to control your entire smart home. It’s time to add a touchscreen into the mix.
Despite having a few years head start, Amazon’s Alexa has already been surpassed by Google Assistant when it comes to both its capabilities, and sales of the Google smart speakers the AI powers. At $150, the new Google Home Hub is the cheapest touchscreen-equipped hub currently available, and just $20 more than a Google Home speaker. It’s not necessarily the best device for consuming music or video, but it’s a great way to start tying all of your smart home devices together with a unified, seven-inch, tappable interface. It particularly excels at finding and reformatting recipes in the kitchen so they’re easy to follow while you’re juggling ingredients.
Given Alexa was one of the first smart assistants to market, your home life might already be completely entrenched in all things Amazon. You’ll want to opt for the second-generation Echo Show in that case, which has a larger 10.1-inch touchscreen, a front-facing camera for making video calls, better speakers, and even native support for the wireless protocols that connect smart lightbulbs like Philips’ Hue system, making them easier to control. But at $230, you’re paying a premium for all of those upgrades.
If you’ve ever held your TV remote and wondered why every single device in your home can’t be controlled remotely, then a smart plug is for you. Or if you’ve wondered what all the smart home buzz is about, a smart plug is an easy and cheap way to get started.
First introduced over six years ago, Belkin’s Wemo was one of the first robust smart home systems to hit the market, and it’s since been refined to the point where it’s now one of the easiest and cheapest ways to make your home smart. The $30 Wemo Mini Smart Plug sits between an outlet in your home (without blocking others) and almost any device or appliance that plugs in for power. It connects to your home’s wifi network (without the need for a separate hub) and through an iOS or Android app lets you remotely control or schedule when something turns on or off. It’s also compatible with all of the popular smart home assistants, so you can easily make lights, fans, or random appliances voice-command compatible.
If you’re already an Alexa user, Amazon’s new Smart Plug is an even cheaper solution at $25. It can make any dumb appliance smart, without the need for an extra hub, or a complex installation process. It’s all handled through the Alexa app on your mobile device, so you can finally start the coffee maker in the morning by just yelling at it, instead of having to climb out of your warm bed.
You’re away from home a lot, but don’t necessarily want your home to look like it’s empty. And when you’re not traveling, you want your home to be an oasis of relaxation with soft mood lighting that can be endlessly adjusted without ever having to get off the couch.
The first smart home product that was more helpful than hassle, the Philips Hue lighting system has been around since 2012, and over the years has expanded to include almost every type of light bulb and fixture any modern decor could require. Using a mobile app, the bulbs can be remotely activated, dimmed, scheduled, triggered by a motion sensor, tinted, and even connected to a voice-activated smart assistant like Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant. They’re not natively wi-fi, however, so you’ll need a hub if you want to give all the lighting in your home a smart upgrade. We recommend starting with the $70 E26 Hue White Starter kit which includes the hub and two white-only bulbs, and then expanding from there.
If you want a simpler, cheaper, hub-free smart lighting solution, you’ll want to consider the Sylvania Smart+ LED A19 soft white light bulbs which can be found for as cheap as $17 each. They rely on Bluetooth to connect to your smartphone directly, so they’re incredibly easy to set up and control. But there’s a catch: they’re currently only compatible with Apple’s HomeKit, Siri, and iOS mobile devices.
You’re a little uneasy heading to work every morning given your sprawling gadget collection, and you’d like to be able to keep an eye on your home while you’re away. You might also have a new addition to your family, but can’t bring yourself to spend hundreds of dollars on a dedicated baby cam that looks like a baby’s toy.
What sets most of the smart home security cameras apart isn’t the wide field-of-view of their lenses, or the resolution of their sensors; it’s the software they all rely on for actually monitoring your home. The Logitech Circle 2 is one of the easiest to set up, and through the mobile app and an online service, with a simple tap you can get a condensed timelapse review of everything the camera saw throughout a 24-hour period—without a monthly fee. It’s also waterproof, shoots in the dark, starts at $180 if you’re OK with it being tethered to a power cord, and offers basic image detection features like recognizing human beings (but not individual faces) or focusing its motion detection on a specific area of its expansive 180-degree view of a room.
If you’re after a little more intelligence in a security camera, which will help reduce the number of alerts you need to pay attention to, and false positives, the Lighthouse knows the difference between kids and adults, or man and beast. You can also set up custom alerts, so if the camera recognizes your kids’ faces when they get home, but not their new friend that’s tagged along, you’ll be prompted. However, at $299 plus a monthly fee to take advantage of all the AI-powered features the Lighthouse offers, it’s a little pricier than our first choice.
5/1/2019: Replaced the Eero with the Netgear Orbi RBK50 as our choice for the best whole home wifi solution, and replaced the Linksys’ Velop AC2600 with Google Wifi for our “Also consider” choice.
This content was originally published here.