In a fully setup, fully integrated, fully automated smart home, things are easy. Perfect almost. But getting there? That’s a different story. There’s a nearly endless stream, a river, actually, of smart home devices out there now. New companies start up each month with a new thing on the market. Hundred year old companies, and the big tech hitters are in the game too. Frankly, it’s exhausting.
So we put together this guide covering most of your smart home basics — speakers to robots to cameras to plugs— with the aim of helping you find the best smart home devices for your particular home. If you’re just getting into the smart home scene, or you’re looking to upgrade what you’ve got, you’ll find the best smart home devices the market has to offer. And since there’s this silent war out there between the tech giants, compatibility is an issue, so we included what works with who.
Read our list, pick what you need, and soon, you’ll have your house set up exactly how you like it, in the smartest way possible.
Google Home Max Speaker
A dot, this is not. While, yes, the Google Assistant on board will control your lights and tell you the weather or the population of Poughkeepsie, with the Max, Google was aiming for sound quality along with assistant functionality. Two 4.5 inch subwoofers deliver big bass, while custom tweeters hit the highs.
The Smart Sound feature automatically adjusts equalizer levels to account for the shape and contours of your room, balancing the sound to the acoustics. Far-field voice recognition can hear a “skip this song” command from across the room and the aux-in port means you could even hook up a record player.
If you prefer to direct your voice commands at Alexa, the second generation Echo is updated and looking sharp. It’s got swappable shells that include charcoal or grey fabric, a few wood finishes, and even a candy stripe option for the holidays. Like the first generation Echo, the second generation device will control your other smart home devices, answer questions and play music. It’ll even pair with other speakers in the house — for making house-wide announcements or hearing the same song (or a different one) in every room you walk into.
New for the second generation is Dolby sound technology and improved speakers, along with buttons instead of the twist volume ring from the first one.
Bose Smart Home Speaker 500
For those who choose Alexa as their AI, but want some serious sound quality coming from their speakers, Bose brings their fifty plus years of audio know-how to the smart speaker game. Their Home Speaker 500 puts out stereo sound from a single speaker by pointing the drivers in opposite directions, letting the music bounce off the walls to fill a room with sound.
There’s even an easy mic off button that cuts the mics but keeps on playing (use the app or remote to control the tunes). While it can’t do everything an Echo can (such as make calls or intercom), it’s the way to go for audiophiles who also dig Alexa.
Lenovo Smart Display
With its cool angled back (wood panelled, no less) and the ability to stand upright or landscape, the Lenovo Smart Display is a handsome device designed to fit into the look of your home. Unlike other displays with the speakers around back, this one puts them to the side of the screen, facing you.
It uses Google Assistant to let you control 5,000 compatible smart home devices, and show you YouTube videos, access your calendar, answer questions, and make video calls. Plus there’s a quick slide button at the side to mute the mic and block the camera when you don’t feel like being observed.
Google Home Hub
It’s compact like a picture frame and automatically shows you your latest pics from Google Photos, adjusting them to coordinate with the colors and lighting in the room. But this isn’t just Google’s idea of a photo frame. Inclusive of all of the functions of a Google Assistant device, the Home Hub also offers a touchscreen swipe down menu that brings up a single home dashboard with cameras, media, thermostat and light controls that you can adjust manually.
And with the Assistant’s routines, you can set your home hub to do multiple functions (like turning off the TV and lights, locking the front door) with just a few words (like “good night”).
Amazon Echo Show
With a display big enough you could easily find yourself watching an entire Bosch episode on it, the Echo Show brings all of Alexa’s skills to your countertop. In the kitchen, have the Echo Show display recipe videos and set timers — and when you run out of olive oil, just tell Alexa to order you some more.
The Show will Skype or use Alexa Calling to video chat with anyone also running a Show, and of course it’ll let you listen to Amazon Music, and control your compatible smart home devices. Plus you get all of those fascinating Alexa Skills from sleep sounds to games.
Nest Thermostat E
Part of what we want smart devices to do is all that stuff we’re supposed to do, but never remember. Like adjust the temp when you leave the house or go to bed at night. That’s one of the things a Nest Thermostat will do. Little changes like that will eventually start to save you money on your utility bills.
Aesthetically, it’s easy to look at, and it’s compatible with 85% of heating and cooling systems — and usually can be self-installed. Now that Nest is owned by Google, the compatibility with Google Assistant is top notch. But you can also control it from any device running the Nest app, and even an Echo.
Ecobee 4 Smart Thermostat
Ecobee is Amazon’s partner in the smart thermostat world. Their fourth gen thermostat comes with Alexa built-in and the device face has a touchscreen for manual adjustments. With a speaker and microphones, the Ecobee can do just about everything that an Echo does, like answer questions and perform skills (just not Alexa Calling, Spotify, or pairing with Echo devices — but after all, it’s a thermostat).
Like the Nest, the Ecobee has the option of a remote temperature sensor, so your heating/cooling system isn’t just relying on a temp read from one location. Unlike the Nest, where you have to buy each sensor, here one is included.
Ecobee started up in 2007. Nest came to be in 2010. Honeywell, on the other hand, has been around for a hundred plus years. And while today Honeywell makes everything from refrigerants to missiles, they got their start in thermostatic controls. The T5 is compatible with all home assistants on the market, but pushes its relationship to Apple’s HomeKit, having Siri do your temperature bidding.
Like Nest and Ecobee, it adjusts the temp when you leave and come back home, and will learn your routines and preferences. Interestingly, the square black device bears little resemblance to the iconic mid-century Honeywell circle thermostat, while Nest seems to have taken on that design cue.
Philips Hue Smart Light Starter Set
If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “I wish it were pinker in here,” smart lights might be the solution. Philips Hue is the current champ of the smart bulb world and their starter sets come with four smart bulbs and the Hue Bridge. The “white and color ambiance” set comes with bulbs that let you turn the bulbs 16 million different colors.
With the Hue Sync app, the lights will even mimic the colors of the movie you’re watching. The Hue Bridge is the hub that lets you control the bulbs with your voice assistant of choice, or by using the app on your phone or tablet.
Sengled Element Classic Smart LED Light Bulbs
For a slightly less pricey option in the smart bulb sector, go with a Sengled starter kit. You get the option of two, four, six, or eight bulbs and each set comes with the Sengled Hub, which lets you tie in your voice assistant home hub of choice or connect to the Sengled hub via the app.
Sengled is a newer company in the smart lighting market and in addition to their smart bulbs they recently started offering a range of LED light bulbs with speakers integrated into them, for sound from just about anywhere.
Ring Video Doorbell 2
Entryway cameras are no longer the domain of pawnshops and the paranoid. Seeing who’s at your front door when you’re upstairs, out in back, or in the Maldives is a smart feature just too fascinating not to have. Ring doorbells use motion sensors to activate when there’s movement at your door, then it sends you notifications and a live feed of who is there. You can listen and talk to your visitors and when integrated with a compatible smart lock (Kevo, LockState, Lockitron) you can let people in.
Pair it with Alexa and she can display your front door feed to your Echo Show. Unlike the many smart bells, Ring has a battery-powered wireless option for those who have doors that aren’t pre-wired.
One thing Skybell offers that some other doorbells don’t is free cloud recording without a monthly fee. iOS and Android phones or tablets are compatible (but there’s no desktop compatibility yet). It was the first doorbell to work with Samsung’s SmartThings hub and it also works with Google Assistant and Alexa devices.
There’s two-way talk and live feed video and if someone doesn’t ring the bell but is at your door for more than ten seconds, Skybell will send you a notification so you can check who’s there.
Nest Hello Smart Wi-Fi Video Doorbell
The big difference with Nest Hello is that it’s always recording, instead of being triggered by motion (or by your controls). Without a subscription you can see the last three hours of recorded video or scan back through three months worth with the Nest Aware subscription. The subscription also lets you turn on familiar face recognition, where it starts to learn the people that it sees by asking you if you know them. When it detects an unfamiliar face, it’ll let you know.
Three, preloaded “quick responses” can be selected from your phone: leave the package, be right there, and we can’t come to the door right now. And again, even though Nest is a Google product, it’ll play nice with Alexa too.
Smart Home Cameras
Arlo Pro 2 Wireless Home Security Camera
To see more than just who’s at your door, you’ll need some home cameras. Arlo Pro 2 is the latest wireless security cam from Arlo and it works outdoors on a rechargeable battery or plug it in for indoor use to see what your dog is doing when you’re gone. The cameras are triggered by motion and sound and let you see the three seconds before a trigger.
All Arlo cameras come with a free basic subscription that saves the last seven days of triggered footage or you can backup locally with a USB drive connected to the hub. The cams have sirens and two way talk and the app gives you views on five connected cameras for free (you can upgrade to connect up to twenty). It’s geared towards Alexa integration but also works with Google Assistant.
Amazon Cloud Cam
Amazon’s Cloud Cam is an indoor system that leans on all of the integration Amazon offers for your house. Connected to your Echo Show you can check in on all feeds in the house by asking Alexa. If you’ve got your TV set up with Amazon Fire, you can ask to see the back door feed when Walking Dead creeps you out.
Set up the audio detection to be alerted when the camera hears something specific— breaking glass, babies crying, dogs barking. The footage is motion activated and you can see the last 24 hours of footage for free, or upgrade your Cloud Cam plan and have access to more.
Logitech Circle 2
If you want an indoor/outdoor camera setup that will work well with your Apple HomeKit, go for the Logitech Circle 2 (it also plays well with Google Assistant and Alexa). Use it both wired or wireless, indoors or out (some other cameras will only do wireless outside). Mounting options are nearly endless with window, plug, outdoor and magnetic mount options. Circle is motion activated, or you can choose to view a live feed as you wish through the app (mobile, tablet, desktop) and it has two way audio so you can confuse your pets or talk to a visitor.
At the end of the day you can check out a Day Brief, a thirty-second highlight reel of captured videos. One day of footage is stored free, with paid accounts giving you a month of storage.
Wemo Smart Plug
Not everything is smart. Yet. For the electronics you own that aren’t yet part of the IoT, smart plugs bring them into the fold. Belkin makes the Wemo smart plug that goes into any socket in your house.
Plug in your humidifier, a lamp, your iron. Control is through the Wemo app that works with Android and iOS devices. Wemos also pair up with Alexa, the Google Assistant, and Apple HomeKit.
Amazon Smart Plug
Amazon’s smart plug is, of course designed to go with your Echo, but you can also use it with the Alexa from your phone. Control your fan, your lights, and your humidifier remotely and come home to a room set like you like it.
Like the Wemo, it only takes up space in one plug, leaving the other outlet free to accept an additional smart plug or a good old dumb plug. Just keep in mind Amazon Smart Plugs only work with Alexa.
Kasa Smart WiFi Power Outlet
Here’s a way to smarten up both plugs in an outlet without having an extra doohickey hanging from the wall. Kasa’s power outlet works just like a smart plug, but you install it in place of your existing wall outlet.
The Kasa app will let you group different Kasa products like bulbs, plugs, and switches and control them as a unit. Of course you can also use your preferred hub. Kasa works with Alexa, the Google Assistant, and Microsoft Cortana.
Extras – Robots, Roombas
iRobot Roomba i7
When Roomba first came out in 2002(!), long before everything we owned was smarter than we are, it seemed like a novelty at best, and probably a passing fad. But here it is some seventeen years later and it’s gotten far better from the thing that was only good for spinning in circles in the corner and terrifying your dog. Now with ten times more suction than their last model, the Roomba also features dual rubber brushes that work on all surfaces.
It’s learned to smart map your house so, with the app, you can pick which rooms you want it to clean and when. If you get the optional Clean Base, the Roomba will dump the dirt automatically.
Vector Home Robot
All this smart stuff is great, but when do we get a Mr. Handy from Fallout, or even a Rosie from the Jetsons? The Vector is one of many robots on the market aiming to be a friendly and ambulatory friend that can help you do stuff and keep you entertained. He can recognize objects as he moves, and recognize people too.
He can tell you the weather, set a timer, give you a fist bump and look stuff up for you on the Internet. He fits in the palm of your hand, loves to dance to music, and can even be integrated with Alexa.
Temi Personal Robot
Temi is three feet tall, with a ten inch screen for a face and can carry a plate of cookies into the next room. With autonomous navigation it will avoid obstacles and will even follow you around the house if you ask it to.
Make video calls, play music, control its movement with your phone, and if you integrate it with Alexa, you’ll basically have an Echo Show on wheels to command your smart home from three feet off the ground and in any room you want. At around two grand, it’s not cheap, but hey, this is the future.