Smart home technology is more than just a buzzword these days. With our lives increasingly transformed by the internet of things (IoT), it seems everything from our light bulbs to our thermostat is becoming connected. For consumers, this means that almost every new product boasts some kind of smart technology that promises to make our lives faster, simpler, and better with home automation.
As anyone who’s recently thought about renovating their home knows, the costs of implementing smart home technology can quickly add up. However, by being shrewd about which brands and products you invest in, you can quickly and easily make your home “smart,” even if you’re starting from scratch.
Getting started with smart home automation
Are you thinking about bringing your home out of the dark ages with smart home devices? Trying to get things started with home automation can be intimidating, but a smart home doesn’t have to be filled with crazy gadgets and robot devices. It’s as simple as swapping out everyday products with devices that fulfill the same role, but are connected to each other in order to improve home automation. By setting up a system of triggers and responses that accomplish smalls tasks, you can save yourself time, energy, effort, and even increase home security.
Choosing a Hub
The first step when automating your home is to choose your smart home hub or platform. The most popular ones include Amazon Alexa, Google Home Assistant, and Apple HomeKit. When deciding which one to use as the base for your smart home, consider things like whether you prefer one system over the others, what technology you already own, and what activities you want to automate. For instance, if you’re an Amazon Prime member and listen to Amazon Music regularly, you may find more value with Alexa. Or, if you want to sync your Google activity including Gmail and Chrome, then Google Assistant may be the right ecosystem for you.
All three are compatible with a huge host of devices, so you won’t be starved of good options. For this roundup, we’ve decided to focus on Alexa-enabled devices, as they’re relatively inexpensive and there are a multitude of options for each product category.
The Beginner’s Kit
Ready to dip your toe into the world of smart home automation? Below are the essential Alexa-enabled smart home products that will help you take your home from a sorry state to state-of-the-art.
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Mini Smart Plug (2-Pack)
Fire TV Stick
Smart Security Camera
Smart Bulb Starter Kit
Echo Dot smart speaker (2nd-gen) – $39
A wireless smart speaker is the absolute first investment you should make when transforming your digs into a smart dwelling. A speaker is the hub through which you can play music, ask questions, set alarms, and control all your other compatible smart home devices. One of the most popular voice-controlled speakers around is the Echo Dot, created by Amazon for use with virtual assistant Alexa. It’s compatible with over 10,000 smart home devices, including smart lighting, door locks, doorbell, smart thermostat, garage door, home entertainment systems, and even your home security cameras. Blending decent sound quality with minimalist design, the Echo Dot is available in black or white.
While the full lineup of Amazon Echo products is vast, the Dot is by far the most affordable option and can accomplish everything you need for basic home automation. Plus, it’s currently on sale for $39, regular $49.
TECKIN Smart Plugs – $19
This is an easy upgrade for someone who doesn’t want to overhaul their home’s hardware, but still wants to add smart wireless functionality. Simply insert the TECKIN Smart Plug in a wall outlet and plug in your devices. Just like that, you’ll be able to control your electronics remotely by asking Alexa to turn the plug on or off. Similar to the Wemo Light Switch, you can even schedule the plugs to activate at certain times of the day, for example to start any appliance in the morning. An inexpensive (if somewhat simplistic) automation solution, the two-pack is available on Amazon for just $19.
It should also be noted that these third-party smart plugs will work without a hub, assuming you have a smart mobile device, so they can be sold as a stand-alone option if you don’t want to buy an Echo.
Philips Hue Smart Bulbs – $89
When you begin investing in your smart home, it’s the little things that make all the difference. Take the Philips Hue Smart Bulbs, for example. This product enables you to control the amount of light in your home automation directly at the source. Dim the bulbs with a word for a beautiful soft white lighting experience or program them to brighten as you wake up in the morning. These bulbs are compatible with Amazon Alexa for voice control, though they can be controlled remotely using the Philips Hue App on your smartphone as well, making it an ideal way of adding extra security to your smart home while you’re away.
Philips claims that its bulbs will last up to 15 years or 15,000 hours, whichever comes first, so there’s no need to worry about replacing them in the near future. If you like the Philips line of products, you can also expand your home lighting system with accessories like the Hue Dimmer Switch, Hue Tap, or Hue Motion Sensor. A 4-pack of Philips Hue Smart Bulbs will cost you $89 on Amazon, and are regularly $99.
Fire TV Stick for media streaming – $39
Movie buffs, this one’s for you. Access over 500,000 movies and TV episodes at the click of a USB drive with the top-rated Amazon Fire TV Stick. Though the picture quality isn’t as advanced as that of the Fire TV, the Stick is a more affordable option that provides all the substance (with a little less style). Though this streaming smart device does not connect directly to your smart home hub, it’s still an essential part of any connected home.
Use the compatible wireless Alexa Voice Remote to search for and find content, play music — even order a pizza. The Fire TV Stick is also portable, meaning you can keep bingeing on your favorite shows when you travel.
EZViz Mini O 1080p – $39
One of the things that draws us to the idea of smart home automation is the desire to keep tabs on things while we’re away. However, security ecosystems like Blink or Ring Video doorbell camera can cost upwards of $400 to set up. For the beginner smart home investor, a product like the EZViz Mini O 1080p, priced at just $39, will suit you just fine. Controlled by Alexa, IFTTT, or Google Assistant, this Wi-Fi security camera shows you real-time video of what’s happening at your home via the EZViz app. If the dogwalker or delivery man knocks on your door while you’re out, you can still communicate with them remotely using the built-in speaker and mic designed for two-way communication. The app also sends push notifications to your phone when the camera senses motion, ensuring you’re always in the know about the security of your home.
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