Best smart gear for your home
Intelligent devices I’m all about.
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Adding smart home devices to your home should make your life easier. Connected gadgets allow you to control aspects of your daily life from anywhere via your smartphone or a smart speaker with a built-in virtual assistant—like Amazon’s Alexa, or Apple’s Siri. You can change the colors of your lights, make it appear as if you’re home when you’re not so robbers stay away, and adjust the temperature of your home from bed without having to fully wake yourself up to do it. Here’s a list of gadgets for your home—not all of them are “smart”—that will help you live the internet-assisted good life.
Two years ago I decided to buy a fancy, “smart” air conditioner from Friedrich. I love the machine, but the smart functionality is garbage thanks to a poorly designed app that sometimes just doesn’t work. If I had known, I’d easily have purchased a cheaper model—since it looks beautiful—and paired it with a Sensibo Sky. The Sensibo turns any air conditioner with a remote control into a smart AC unit. The device clones your remote control’s infrared signal and allows you to access the full controls via an app on your smartphone. You can create a full, seven-day schedule, turn the AC on or based off of your location, and automatically adapt to drops or spikes in temperature. They just launched a new smart feature called “Climate React” that allows you to set a comfort area between two temperatures. If the internal temperature or humidity sensors read that it’s out of that comfort zone, the A/C will either let the room head up or cool it down to your preferred setting. The device works with Amazon Alexa or Google Home, so you can change the temperature without getting out of bed.
Eufy’s 1080p HD eufyCam E cameras connect to a Security HomeBase hub with encrypted, local storage to keep tabs on your home. After connecting the hub to your wireless router, the HomeBase stays in constant communication with up to 16 cameras over a low-frequency wireless signal. The base automatically switches to WiFi once it starts recording, and stores the footage on a microSD (it comes with a 16GB card).
The wireless camera attaches to a wall by screw mount that works on just about any flat surface. If you have a metal surface available, you can use the magnetic mount which doesn’t require drilling.
The camera also has a wide 140-degree angle lens—with an 8x digital pan and zoom—and is weather-proof. The IP65 rating, means it protects against high water pressure and keeps out dust. It also features night vision allowing you to see up to 33-feet away, lets you live stream the footage from your phone through the smartphone app, and has a built-in microphone and speaker to see and talk to any visitors.
The eufyCam E features an impressive 13400mAh that will last a year when actively monitoring and up to three years in standby mode. It uses motion and heat sensors to detect movement of objects that give off heat (a falling picture frame won’t trigger the system).
The base station includes a 3W speaker built-in that produces a 100-decibel anti-theft alarm if any of the cameras are tampered with. The base kit comes with two cameras and one base station.
For cheaper, smart home security, the Wyze Cam is a great option. You get a smart, Alexa-enabled, 1080p security camera packed full of features. It can recognize smoke alarms and other home alerts and notify you while you’re away from the home, has night vision, and features motion detection. You can log in to the app and live-stream your footage or purchase a microSD card and record the footage.
Lifx has my favorite smart lighting app design. Their A19, WiFi-enabled LED smart bulb isn’t one of the cheapest smart bulb options, but it also doesn’t require an external hub so you can sprinkle them around your home without locking yourself into an ecosystem like with the Philips Hue option. The Lifx bulb is warm and is super bright. It’s the equivalent output to a 75W bulb.
Lifx light strips are the best, hub-free option to add mood lighting to under your bed, in hallways, or under cabinets. They connect via Wi-Fi and have adhesive on the back so you can stick the lights on or underneath ledges. The LEDs can create up to 16 million colors and allow you to create custom lighting patterns through their smartphone app. The starter kit comes two 6.5-foot LED strips, lets you schedule your lights, and is voice-command compatible with Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, The Google Assistant.
Lutron’s Caseta wireless smart lighting system is truly the most reliable, easy-to-install, and universal smart lighting solution I’ve come across. Lutron controls your existing, dimmable bulbs from within the free app, using the included remote control, or via the switch on the wall. It works with most systems, including Alexa, IFTTT, Wink, Samsung SmartThings, Sonos, and Apple HomeKit. The minimal design means the system won’t be an eyesore. From within the app, you can control single lights, create scenes that’ll change multiple lighting products at once, and set schedules for your lights to turn on by the time you’re home. Each smart bridge can control up to 50 Lutron devices, so you don’t need to worry about installing a bunch of switches.
The Nest Protect is one of the first smart home products I purchased for my home. I was sick of false alarms from my apartment’s old smoke detectors. Now, with the Nest Protect, I get alerts on my phone or a loud, spoken announcement from the device if anything is wrong. The device not only detects smoke, but it also keeps an eye out for odorless carbon monoxide, which can kill you just the same. If you’ve got a Nest Protect in multiple rooms, the device will tell you which room a fire is in. It uses a “Split-Spectrum Sensor” to determine what kind of fire (how slow or fast). It uses its sensors to measure the size of particles in the air that are more common with each type of fire. Also, at night, the device checks its battery and will alert you if it is low. They can be hard-wired into your home or battery operated with six AA batteries.
At first, I was skeptical about a soundbar that has Alexa built into the speaker. I listen to my TV super loud, so I didn’t expect the speaker to be able to hear my voice without me screaming. To my surprise, this Polk Audio Command Sound Bar heard my requests without me having to raise my voice. It also has great sound, features two HDMI inputs and it comes with a wireless subwoofer to enhance the cinematic sound quality. It features built-in Dolby and DTS surround sound, helps create clear, understandable dialogue in the content you’re watching, and lets you stream music. The speaker is wall-mountable and features the option to plug it into your TV via digital optical cable.
This string of lights comes with 250 LED lights that you can change the color and pattern within the smartphone app. What makes this device worthwhile is the creative control you have over each light. On the app, you can change the color of individual LEDs on the string of lights. There are a bunch of programmed effects, but you’re able to design your own. You can even link multiple light strips to perform together.
Make your front door much smarter with the August Smart Lock Pro. The smart device allows you to lock and unlock your door via an app on your smartphone. The lock automatically opens when you return home based on your GPS location it pulls from your phone. The August Lock installs directly over your existing deadbolts. You can give temporary access to friends and family and check whether or not you locked the door once you left. The August Smart Lock is compatible with Google Home, Home Kit, and Amazon Echo.
With this, you can control your A/C—or heater when its cold—from anywhere. If the temperature spikes and you want to keep your poor doggy a little cooler at home, use the WeMo Mini Smart Plug to fire up the air conditioner. The plug connects via Wi-Fi and can be controlled from an app on your smartphone. Schedule devices in your home to turn on automatically. The plug works with Amazon’s Alexa and can pair with the Nest Thermostat as well.
The 6-pound Eufy 30C is super-short (2.85 inches high) and much quieter than previous models. Despite the decrease in sound, it features more powerful suction. Plus it can clean for 100 minutes on a single charge, allows you to steer and set cleaning schedules from your phone, and automatically returns to the charging base when it’s finishing cleaning. This Eufy vacuum doesn’t let ledges or small bumps get in the way of its mission. If it senses a large drop, it turns around. If there is a change in floor height—less than .63-inches—the robot’s large wheels can maneuver over it. If you’re worried about breakables, use the included, 13-foot boundary strips to keep the vacuum out of certain areas.