10 Smart Home Products You Should Know About
The range and scope of smart home products in 2018 have never been stronger.
Maybe you’re already using the occasional smart light bulb and you’ve got designs on a more ambitious connected home.
Perhaps you’re already fully invested in home automation and you’re looking to get even more from your smart home.
Either way, you’re in for a treat today.
Rather than exploring the components of an entire smart system, we’ve kept things simple. We rounded up some of our smart home products you should know about. Investing in any of these automated appliances and devices will make your life easier at the same time as making your home safer.
1) Digital Assistants
Digital assistants have come a long way since the first IBM PC could recognize a handful of spoken words and numbers way back in 1981.
Siri was the first digital assistant to come installed on a smartphone the old iPhone 4s in 2011 and continues to enjoy a robust 34% market share while Google Assistant accounts for 19%, both with substantial install bases on cell phones. Amazon’s Alexa makes up just 6% of digital assistants overall with a practical stranglehold on the smart speaker space.
Today, most smart homes can be controlled using voice commands from your preferred assistant. So what’s your favorite?
- Amazon Alexa: We’ll explore Alexa more fully when we outline the role of smart speakers in a connected home. With 7000 third-party integrations and with Alexa now coming built into TVs (Fire TV) and thermostats (ecobee4). The way in which Alexa can communicate with such a broad spread of smart devices and appliances means this is probably the simplest and most versatile way to start controlling your home with voice commands
- Google Assistant: While you might get fewer third-party hook-ups with Google’s Assistant, reap the benefits from the full weight of Google’s dominance of search. Accuracy is generally better than you’ll find with either Alexa or Siri. From Philips and August to Nest and Belkin, most major smart home brands offer reasonable integration with Google Assistant
- Siri: For Apple converts, there’s the slick Home app that allows you to control all your HomeKit accessories using Siri. Whether you want to fine-tune the temperature using your MacBook or you want to turn off the lights from your iPhone, the world’s your oyster. Over 50 global brands offer full Siri compatibility so, as always, you’re in safe hands with Apple
Before we leave digital assistants and take a wander through other must-have smart home devices, we’ll take a quick glimpse at Alexa once more in the form of smart speakers.
2) Smart Speakers
The smart speaker market is buoyant, and the undisputed leader is the mighty Amazon with its formidable range of Echo devices.
A smart speaker gives you the convenience of playing your favorite music playback while also offering you the full services of a digital assistant.
You’ll be able to fire up all your favorite streaming services using nothing but your voice, and the sound quality of smart speakers continues to improve.
It’s the integration of Alexa that really makes smart speakers sing. With most decent smart speakers, you’ll have no problem making yourself heard even across a crowded, noisy room.
Whether you choose to use your smart speaker and Alexa to communicate directly with other compatible devices or you use IFTTT, the best smart speaker is about far more than music. Add one of these Bluetooth beasts to your command center and you’ll start fully appreciating just how convenient home automation can be.
3) Smart Home Hubs
With a digital assistant in place to obey your every command, don’t get too excited just yet…
Depending on what ambitions you harbor for your smart home, there’s every chance you’ll need to invest in a hub to ensure that devices can communicate properly with each other.
Think of a smart home hub as a gateway or translator ready to bridge the gap between devices and appliances that don’t speak the same language.
Obviously, if you only intend to slip in a smart bulb or possibly uprate your thermostat, you won’t need to think about a hub.
If, on the other hand, you want a more thorough and interconnected smart home, you might want to think about Samsung’s mighty SmartThings Hub. All main communications protocols are supported including both Z-Wave and Zigbee as well as any IP-connected devices. Samsung has an inclusive attitude with the exception of Nest and a couple of others. All bases are covered with the SmartThings Hub.
You’ve got plenty of other options if SmartThings doesn’t work for you. Think not just about your smart home today but also of how you’d like things to develop. Compatibility is key so make sure any hub you’re considering offers all the support you need.
4) Smart Lights
While it was possible to automate lighting as far back as the early days of domotics in 1975, sadly the communication protocol X10 on which it was based was relatively unreliable.
Today, smart lighting comes in many guises from the simplicity of a plug-and-play smart bulb through to taking charge of all the lighting throughout your house using simple voice commands.
Why should you bother with smart lighting when it’s so easy to simply flick a switch?
Don’t underestimate just how handy it can be to enter a hallway that illuminates as you enter rather than fumbling in the dark for a switch and dirtying up the area around the wall plate. Kiss goodbye to feeling your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night or stubbing your toe as you get up in pitch blackness during winter and curse yourself for not investing in smart lighting.
That said, energy-efficiency is perhaps the driving reason more and more people are flocking to smart lighting. With electricity accounting for 19% of all energy used worldwide, and the average American electricity bill topping $100 a month, any savings in this area are great for your bank balance and the environment both.
From a basic device like the Insteon Remote Control Plug-In Lamp Dimmer Module that allows you to tweak brightness levels remotely to LIFX or Philips Hue bulbs, smart lighting is a vast field. You could also experiment with Insteon’s legendary on/off switches or go for a dimmer switch depending on what you want to achieve.
Take the time to think about what you require from automated lighting and it will be well worthwhile. Rush in without forethought and you’re likely to make an expensive mistake.
5) Smart Lock
While you might assume smart door locks would make your house safer, it’s actually more about convenience than security. Let’s face it, with a smart lock you’re just replacing one form of lock with another.
Keyless convenience should not be underestimated, though. If your children often forget their keys or you like to go out jogging in the morning unencumbered, smart locks are the ideal solution. They also work well if you have a rental property and need to streamline access while keeping things secure.
Smart locks can make use of WiFi, Bluetooth or Z-Wave to communicate with other appliances and devices in your connected home. You can arrange for the lights to come on and the AC to ratchet up a gear as you enter the house if you’ve got a comprehensive smart home system in place. As with all aspects of home automation, getting separate components and systems working in harmony is the key to success.
Some smart locks like those from the legendary August slot over your existing hardware while some others call for a deadbolt replacement. If the lock you choose does call for swapping out the deadbolt, you should get the job done well within the hour so don’t let that put you off.
Think about how you want to use your smart lock before committing to purchase. The Nest x Yale lock, for instance, might be fit for purpose and extremely user-friendly but you’ll get limited integration with other smart home systems so it’s not ideal unless you’re already invested into the Nest ecosystem. Roll with August locks and grab yourself a Connect hub, and you’ll get far better compatibility and interoperability.
6) Smart Thermostat
Just as automating the lighting in your home can save you a packet on your power bill, installing a smart thermostat can also help you maximize energy-efficiency and minimize the amount you waste on heating or cooling empty rooms.
You might also need to consider pets or plants that need things kept at a certain temperature even when you’re away on vacation or off on your next business trip. With a smart thermostat, you’ll simply be able to control the climate in your house remotely from your cell phone.
At the cheaper end of the market, Insteon serves up a remote control wall thermostat although you will need to invest in a hub if you want to use your phone rather than the keypad for the purposes of control.
The classic Nest Learning is now in its third generation and still going from strength to strength. If you see the Nest Leaf displayed under the temperature, you’ll know you’re operating at an energy-efficient temperature so you can relax knowing your next utility bill won’t be quite so eye-watering.
7) Robotic Vacuum
Convenience is perhaps the core purpose of home automation.
If you start thinking creatively about how to make your life easier at home, how about getting some help with the vacuuming without the expense of a monthly maid service bill? Get yourself a robotic vacuum and you can keep your house spotless without lifting a finger.
iRobot offers a superb range of robot vacuums including the legendary Roomba line. Both Roomba and also the neato botvac can be controlled in-app on your smartphone. While Dyson has a stellar reputation when it comes to regular vacuums, its expensive 360 Eye Robot doesn’t come particularly well reviewed so buyer, beware.
At the bottom end, you’ll get 60 minutes or less of battery life from a robotic vacuum while the best robots on the block can clean for 90 minutes or more before trundling back to the base station for recharging.
While with many smart home products you can rely on cheaper models to do the job, with robotic vacuums you need to dig a little deeper if you want a really deep clean right to the far reaches of your room.
All that remains is to ask yourself what price you put on never needing to break out the Hoover again.
8) Smart Garage Door Opener
If you’d love to come rolling into the driveway without needing to jump out and open the garage door, smartening up your access needn’t cost that much and delivers a great extra layer of convenience worth having in any Smart home.
Garage door openers come with a range of mechanisms from cheap but noisy chain-drive models through to quieter but more expensive belt-drive and direct-drive openers.
The Chamberlain MyQ is a hub that works with all garage door openers made since 1993 and enables you to take control in-app from your cell phone. This is a great entry point if you fancy enhancing an existing system with the option of adding Google Assistant or IFTTT for a modest monthly fee.
If you’ve got an older 2-wire garage door opener, Insteon has a superb full control kit so you can take control of your garage door from your smartphone and receive alerts in the event of any kind of security breach. You’ll need an Insteon hub but you’ll get plenty of mileage out of this gateway with other devices in your connected home.
9) Smart Security Camera
Security cameras have long been commonplace in homes and businesses the world over.
Your home is your most precious possession and being able to keep your eye on things even when you’re away on vacation gives peace of mind you just can’t put a price tag on.
As technology continues to surge forwards, smart security cameras can easily be customized to tune out false triggers and you’ll even be able to arrange for the authorities to be alerted in the event of a genuine breach of security.
Wireless security cameras are flexible and affordable although prone to interference and at higher risk of being hacked. Wired cameras are a costlier and much more permanent solution but they offer super-stable data transmission without any galling interference.
From the classic Nest Cam to Netgear’s Arlo Q, you can find a whole host of smart security cameras capable of working seamlessly with other devices in your connected home.
10) Smart Blinds
If you’re looking to add an inexpensive but high impact product to smarten up your home, automated blinds are a wise move.
You might think there’s little to be gained by saving yourself the trouble of a few seconds effort raising or lowering the blinds, but you’ll rapidly appreciate the convenience once you’re set up.
The ever-reliable Insteon have a tiny remote control module you simply install behind your existing switches. In combination with the Insteon hub, you’ll be able to turn your smartphone into your remote control and open smartphones or any other 110-volt appliance like a projector screen.
Even though convenience is a strong motivator, if you invest in smart blinds you’ll add an extra layer of security to your house as well. There’s nothing worse than trying to relax on vacation while you’re worrying about whether your home is fully secure. Simply raising and lowering the blinds several times a day remotely can give your house the impression of being occupied even if the whole family is away.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of smart home products you should know about but with these bases covered, you’ll have the makings of effective and comprehensive home automation.
Start any hunt for smart home products with a frank appraisal of what you want and expect while not forgetting about compatibility if you want independent devices to work harmoniously together.
With Christmas coming up, perhaps it’s time to start thinking about popping one or two of the above products on your list so you can start the new year with your house a safer and more convenient place to be. Tune into our home automation blog to get the latest information on smart home deals, discounts, and products.