How Smart Is 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, door bells, 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
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. Here’s a rundown of the best products we’ve tested for every room of the house.
Hubs & Controllers
Amazon Echo and Echo Dot
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. Amazon just unveiled a slew of new Echo devices that haven’t come out yet, including the tiny, LCD-equipped Echo Spot, as well as the Alexa-spouting Big Mouth Billy Bass (no we’re not kidding).
Wink Hub 2
Our current Editors’ Choice for home automation hubs, the Wink Hub 2works 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.
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.
Netgear Arlo Pro 2
Earlier this year, Netgear’s Arlo Pro outdoor security camera system earned our Editors’ Choice for its superb video quality, ease of use, and myriad features including motion and sound detection, rechargeable batteries, geofencing, and its ability to work with other smart home devices. The Arlo Pro 2 gives you everything that you get with its predecessor, but offers a few upgrades including 1080p video and support for Amazon Alexa voice commands.
LG Smart Security Wireless Camera LHC5200WI (With ADT Canopy)
Indoor Wi-Fi security cameras offer a cost-effective way to keep tabs on your home while you’re away, but unless they’re paired with a comprehensive security system, it’s up to you to monitor activities and call the authorities in the event of a break-in. Enter the LG Smart Security Wireless Camera, an indoor Wi-Fi camera that offers 24/7 monitoring via ADT’s Canopy service. This camera is ideal for renters, apartment dwellers, and homeowners who want the benefit of professional monitoring without having to commit to a contract or pay for professional installation.
Tend Secure Lynx Indoor
The Tend Secure Lynx Indoor is proof that good things do indeed come in small packages. This pint-sized home surveillance camera not only delivers colorful 1080p video and sharp night vision, it’s chock-full of features including motion triggered-notifications and recordings, two-way audio, free cloud storage, and facial recognition technology. All this, plus a $60 price tag, make it our top pick for affordable home surveillance cameras.
Nest Cam Outdoor
The Nest Cam Outdoor is essentially the same camera as its popular indoor model, but with a weatherproof enclosure and power cord. Otherwise it’s pretty much identical in features—it uses Wi-Fi to send a full-time video signal (up to 1080p) you can monitor via the Web or mobile apps. It also provides alerts for motion (in zones you set) or audio. Pay for the Nest Aware subscription and you’ll get days of video stored online that turn into clips you can watch whenever you like. The company has another model coming out next month, the Nest Cam IQ Outdoor, that can tell the difference between people and animals, and has a 4K sensor.
Locks and Home Security Systems
August Smart Lock Pro + Connect
The Smart Lock Pro + Connect is the latest offering from August Home, and as with the original August Smart Lock and HomeKit Enabled models, it’s a winner. This third-generation smart lock offers all the bells and whistles you get with the HomeKit model, and adds a few new features, including August’s DoorSense technology, Z-Wave compatibility, and Wi-Fi connectivity. It’s easy to install and can be controlled remotely or with Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri voice commands, and it retains the sleek aesthetics of its siblings. It’s pricey, but it’s the best smart lock we’ve tested..
If you’re looking for a mature provider when it comes to smart home security, you’ve probably heard of ADT. While ADT Pulse is certainly much more expensive than a DIY system, it offers capabilities those systems simply can’t, including 24/7 monitoring and customer support. It’s the most complete, full-featured home security system we’ve tested, and doubles as an automation platform for your other smart home devices.
Abode Home Security Starter Kit
If you prefer a DIY approach to smartening up your home security, check out the Abode Home Security Starter Kit. Abode finds the sweet spot between a basic self-monitored DIY security system and a professionally installed and monitored solution. The system is easy to install and can be paired with dozens of Z-Wave and Zigbee smart home products including door locks, lights, and smart switches, as well as Nest devices, to provide whole house coverage. It also supports Amazon Alexa voice commands and IFTTT recipes.
Heating and Cooling
When we reviewed the Ecobee3 in 2015 it earned our Editors’ Choice for its sleek design, numerous features, and ease of use. We also loved the inclusion of a remote sensor to help reduce hot or cold spots in different rooms. We’re happy to report that the new Ecobee4 boasts all the same features as it predecessor, and more, thanks to the addition of built-in Amazon Alexa voice service capabilities. That means you can have the thermostat do everything that the Amazon Echo and its siblings can, such as control smart devices, shop, play music, and hear the latest news and weather, all using Alexa voice commands.
Nest Learning Thermostat
The Nest Learning Thermostat has built-in 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.
Hisense 10,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner With Wi-Fi
Available exclusively at Lowe’s and designed for small to medium spaces, the Hisense 10,000 BTU Portable Air Conditioner With Wi-Fi can be controlled using your smartphone and easily moved from room to room. At $369 it’s a bit more expensive than most similarly powered non-connected portable air conditioners, and it doesn’t work with other smart home devices. But it’s very quiet, easy to install, and does a great job of cooling. And it stays connected to your Wi-Fi network much more reliably than other options we’ve tested.
Philips Hue Bulbs
Want complete wireless supremacy over the lights in your home? The Philips Hue line delivers with bulbs that let you control not only the intensity of the light, but also the color. It can get pricey, to be sure, but the Hue ecosystem has been around long enough that it works with just about every other system out there, from Alexa, to IFTTT, to Siri (using the Philips Hue Bridge 2.0). Not interested in colorful lights but still want that incredible granular control over an all-white bulb? Philips has the Hue White coming in at an almost bargain price, at least for smart bulbs.
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.
Char-Broil Digital Electric Smoker with SmartChef Technology
When it comes to smoking ribs or other meats in the backyard, you’ve typically got two choices, charcoal or gas, and neither is perfect. It’s possible that the Char-Broil Digital Electric Smoker is, since you control the temp remotely, using apps for iOS or Android. You just wait for the app to tell you when the food is ready. Inside there is 725 square inches of cooking space on four chrome racks that are easy to clean. Fill the smoker box with wood chips and it will work for nearly seven hours without a refill.
June Intelligent Oven
The June is a smart countertop oven that comes with an array of high-tech features including Wi-Fi, a camera, and artificial intelligence that allow it to weigh, monitor, and cook just about anything without requiring much input from you at all. All you have to do is pop in what you want to eat, wait until the oven asks if the food is indeed what it thinks it is, select how you’d like it cooked, and let it do its thing. The results are spectacular for fish, meat, vegetables, and even Eggo waffles.
Perfect Bake Pro
The Perfect Bake Pro takes out the guess work and risk when baking. It’s a baking scale connected to an app to help newbies (and seasoned bakers alike) get everything just right when it comes to kitchen chemistry. Just follow the app as the scale measures everything you add. As long as you can tell salt from sugar, you’re probably going to be just fine.
Traeger Timberline 1300
Traeger has been manufacturing pellet grills for thirty years, but the Timberline 1300 is its first connected model, and it’s a beauty. Designed using input from longtime customers and professional pit bosses, the Timberline 1300 features Wi-Fi, which allows you to control cooking temperatures, set timers, and access a huge database of recipes from anywhere using your mobile device and a thoughtfully designed app. It also uses a patented smoke delivery system to ensure food gets the right amount of smoke and is cooked perfectly every time.
Eufy RoboVac 11
With high-end models going for as much as $1,000, robot vacuums aren’t exactly an expense that’s easy to justify. So it’s a pleasant surprise that the Eufy RoboVac 11 is a quiet, efficient robotic vacuum cleaner that costs just $219.99, an absolute bargain by market standards. It lacks the Wi-Fi connectivity you find in pricier bots, and you’ll occasionally need to rescue it from tricky-to-navigate areas, but when it comes to cleaning, the RoboVac 11 does its job quite well—at a price that’s hard to beat.
iRobot Roomba 690
Roomba is practically synonymous with robot vacuums, but what many people don’t know is that there isn’t just one definitive model. The line spans from the $375 Roomba 690 to the $900 Roomba 980. The $700 Roomba 960 falls somewhere in the middle, though obviously its price puts its closer to the high end. It shares many of the same features with the top-of-the-line 980—like a camera for navigation, a smartphone app with detailed cleaning reports and maps, and Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice control—but comes with only one virtual wall and has a slightly less powerful motor. That makes it a stronger value in our eyes, and our Editors’ Choice for high-end robot vacuums.
Health and Fitness
Using technology at home to make you healthier just makes good sense. For tracking fat, BMI, water, muscle mass, bone composition, and even pregnancy, look no further than the QardioBase 2. It shares the info it reads with a smartphone app for your easy access. Plus, it just looks great.
When we first tested robotic pool cleaners, the Polaris 9550 Sport took top honors thanks to its superb cleaning performance, easy-to-clean debris canister, and multiple programming options. The new Polaris 9650iQ Sportbrings more of the same, only this time it offers Wi-Fi connectivity and a useful mobile app that lets you control the cleaner from your smartphone. It’s expensive at $1,499, but if you’d rather spend more time swimming in your pool than you do cleaning it, it’s worth every penny.
Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller Generation 2
The second-gen 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.
Robot lawn mowers don’t come cheap, but they definitely come in handy. Check out the Robomow RS622 or one of its siblings for different sized lawns. This model is good for handling up to 23,000 square feet—once you go through the process of setting up a perimeter to let the mower go on its automated cutting pattern. Its dual two-season cutting blades spin at 4,000 rpm, mulching grass back into the soil so there’s no need for cleaning up or dumping bags of grass.