The best smart home devices and gadgets
So you’ve decided you want to build a smart home? A home where all your gadgets and peripherals are connected and can talk to one another. It may well sound like something out of the future, but its’ very achievable. The trouble is, just how do you go about creating one?
Unfortunately, creating a smart home isn’t as simple as buying a new TV or phone. You’re going to need a variety of devices to make it all work properly. To make this somewhat easier for you, we’ve constructed a list of some of the best smart home devices and gadgets in different categories.
The best smart home devices: Smart assistant devices
Google Home Hub
Google’s first smart assistant device to have a screen is the Home Hub. Specially designed to blend into any room, the Home Hub works like a digital photo frame when not in use, displaying photographs from your Google Photos albums.
When it is in use, the Home Hub is a great way to control all the different devices in your smart home. With its Home View mode you can control lights, thermostat, cameras, and media players around the house. Google Assistant also helps you with personal scheduling, reminding you of events and commitments, and letting you know about the weather and traffic outside.
Amazon Echo Show 2
Supplanting its predecessor in every way, the Amazon Echo Show 2 looks and performs a lot more like the kind of home assistant you’d want in your house than the first.
Like the Home Hub it can connect to all your devices, however it also has a camera which lets you video call and communicate with people at the front door. It’s also very useful as a smart speaker, with powerful audio and microphones.It’s a lot less intimidating to ask a question to its AI ‘Alexa’ than the inhuman ‘Google’ too.
The best smart home devices: Smart plugs
TP-Link’s plugs are one of the most popular choices out there for smart plugs, purely because of their low price — just £25 per plug. TP-Link’s plugs aren’t nearly as costly as some of its competitors, which is important since you’re going to be buying quite a few to furnish your entire home.
Using TP-Link’s free Kasa app, you can control your connected plugs, turning them or on or off. You can also set schedules so that the plugs are automated, customise different preset configurations for which plugs are in use and check power consumption. You do have to be connected to the same Wi-Fi network as the plugs to use them, however.
Eve energy plugs do everything the TP-Link ones do, but takes things a step further. They can tell you the estimated cost for power consumption, can be controlled by voice, and can be controlled and monitored even when you’re not even at home.
There are some negatives to the Eve energy plug, however. Since it’s manufactured by Apple they only fit into smart home systems controlled by Apple products such as the HomePod or iOS devices— and that’s if you’re happy paying the hefty £45 price tag in the first place.
The best smart home devices: Smart cameras
£309 for three cameras and base station
Cordless, subtly designed, and small, Netgear Arlo cameras are the perfect way to monitor your home if you — or your guests — don’t like that creeping feeling of being watched. They only record when they sense movement, and upload what they do record to the cloud, so you can access it remotely.
The Netgear Arlo cameras are rather expensive, however, and depending on the room you’re surveilling you may not need the wide angles and high-quality footage it provides. In addition, they require a rather large base station, which you’ll need to bury in a corner somewhere.
Since security is one of the main benefits of a smart home, it makes sense that the Canary system does more than just protect your home from intruders. Canary’s cameras also monitors air quality, so if your home begins burning down or plagued by choking smog, you’ll be notified.
In addition, you don’t need to bother setting up the device every time you leave — it recognises when it’s home alone, putting it into an “armed” state. Only then will it record any motion it senses.
To make the most of the camera, however, you’ll have to pay for a subscription service in order to store or download any more than the modicum of footage that you can on the free package
The best smart home devices: Smart doorbells
Ring Video Doorbell 2
Ring was the pioneer of the smart doorbell, combining camera and bell so that when someone rang round your house, you’d receive a notification and/or be able to communicate with them. Its second doorbell is a great device. It’s easy to use and has improved picture quality, the two main things you want in a smart doorbell.
While it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of its main competitor, the Nest Hello, its (relative) affordability makes it a great choice for your doorbell. If you’re buying a wide range of smart home devices, price can be a huge factor.
While the Nest Hello’s price isn’t much higher than the Ring Video Doorbell 2, you also have to pay for installation and a pricier subscription package if you want to save footage taken by the camera, which can make the cost skyrocket.
It does have some impressive features, though: it’s a lot more subtle and looks less like a camera, it constantly records footage instead of just when someone rings it, and it can give you personalised introductions to familiar faces who visit a lot. If you have the money to shell out for these extra features (and a data plan or internet connection that’ll support continuous recording) it’s worth the extra price.
The best smart home devices: Smart lights
£170 for three bulbs, dimmer and bridge starter kit
You know it’s the future when your smart home can control coloured ambient lighting, the Philips Hue is one of the best novelty items to install in your smart home. While not quite as useful or important as cameras or smart plugs, coloured lightning can be a great way to make a house feel like a home.
You can sync different lighting patterns to different activities, change the lighting using your phone, or shift the hues of the lights as they’re used through the day to maintain your circadian rhythm. The price tag is rather hefty for three light bulbs, however, and extra bulbs cost between £20 and £42, so think twice between rigging your house up like a Christmas tree.
The best smart home devices: Thermostats
Nest Thermostat E
Your passive-aggressive war for control of your home’s temperature can continue with the Nest Thermostat, which lets you view and change the temperature, humidity and light in your home. It connects to your boiler easily, and can even adapt its programmed schedules if you come home from work early.
Since most modern thermostats are automated anyway, the Nest Thermostat E may be a little redundant for some users. But the fact you can connect it to a smart home system makes it useful as you can control it remotely, and track others’ uses of it.