Home automation hasn’t quite evolved to the level people once dreamed of decades ago. Unlike we saw on “The Jetsons,” we don’t have flying cars or robot maids to take care of our homes. However, smart home devices to control our homes are becoming more and more popular these days, and they serve a wide range of functions: From intelligent locks to keep your home secure to robot vacuums to keep it tidy, homeowners have numerous options these days. To help you determine which ones are worth the investment, here we’ll take a look at the best smart home devices to make life better.
Because the selection of smart home devices is so vast, it can be hard to know where to begin. Should you buy a smart thermostat to lower your utility bill? Or invest in a smart speaker like an Alexa to help with basic tasks? Perhaps an oven equipped with wifi and remote accessibility would help you get dinner on the table sooner. Read on to learn more about and find out which ones could make your life easier.
What Are Smart Home Devices?
Smart home devices include dozens of different types of items that enable home automation. Just imagine if all the appliances and devices in your home could be automated: Lights, speakers, window shades and pet feeders could all be operated with a simple voice command or the push of a button. Furthermore, they could all be controlled remotely when you’re away from home via a smartphone app. It sounds slightly futuristic, but all this is now well within our reach thanks to emerging smart home technology.
Which devices you invest in will depend on how much money you want to spend and how committed you are to automating your home. Some items, such as smart lightbulbs, are relatively inexpensive but have limited features. Others, like smart speakers such as Amazon’s Alexa, are extremely easy to set up but have a huge range of tasks they can be used for. Then there’s more advanced devices, like surveillance camera systems, that are quite powerful but also require a bigger investment of time and money.
The IoT Makes It All Possible
You may have heard the term “Internet of Things” (IoT) used and wondered: What on earth is that? The IoT is essentially what makes smart homes possible.
The term IoT is used to describe the network of things (AKA physical objects) that are equipped with software, sensors, and other technology that enable them to connect and share information with other objects and systems via the internet. So for instance, your wifi-enabled CrockPot uses the IoT to connect with mobile devices and send data on its cooking temperature.
The IoT is one of the most revolutionary technologies of our time; because of it, we’re able to communicate wirelessly to all sorts of everyday objects, from our TVs to our window shades.
Read on to learn about all the different smart home options that are currently available on the market. We’ll discuss features and price ranges to help you determine the best smart home devices for your own home.
What Kinds of Smart Home Devices Are Available?
Lifestyle, fun & family
If it’s been a while since you purchased a new television, you’ll notice that there’s definitely a learning curve with a new TV. The TVs of yesteryear could only serve up content from cable, an antenna, satellite, or another hard-wired source. But most TVs being sold on the market today are smart TVs, meaning they use wifi to connect to the internet and stream content via apps (like Netflix or Hulu).
The smart technology in newer TVs makes them function more like a laptop or an iPad. But thanks to intuitive setup and simple navigation, these fancy new TVs are super easy to use, even for people used to “dumb TVs”.
Now that seemingly every TV network from HBO to NBC has its own streaming app, Smart TVs offer a huge range of entertainment options. They can also be used to play games and check your social media accounts. Many of the newer models include voice recognition, so you can simply ask your TV to put the football game on or increase the volume. When it comes to getting started with smart home devices, a smart TV serves as an easy entry point for many homeowners.
Smart Multi-Room Audio
Wish you could play music in every room of your home without having to deal with endless wires? A multi-room audio system might be exactly what you need. Multi-room audio systems such as Sonos use your home’s wifi network to wirelessly stream music all over the house. You can place speakers in every room of the house or start small with just one or two rooms. The music can be controlled via an app on your smartphone, or even via simple voice commands.
And don’t worry if you don’t share musical taste with your teenager: You can listen to different music in every room.
Smart speakers are speakers equipped with the same digital assistants found on your smartphone, whether it’s Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant. These devices have a huge range of functions and can be immensely helpful with everyday tasks — even if your home isn’t otherwise very “smart.”
Basically, a digital assistant is cloud-based software that understands voice commands to perform tasks and retrieve information. While having a digital assistant in your home isn’t quite as useful as an actual personal assistant, they can help you in many, many ways. All you have to do is speak their name out loud and make a request. You can ask a smart speaker things like “What’s the weather today?”, “Turn on the TV,” or “Lower the room temperature” — and that’s just a tiny sampling of the things they can do.
Smart Home Gyms
Some of the biggest smart device innovations in the last couple of years have been in-home fitness equipment. Home gym devices that are equipped with smart technology help to replicate the experience of working out in a fitness studio and/or with a personal trainer, making them very valuable indeed for fitness enthusiasts. As more people are becoming health-conscious but don’t have time to make it to the gym, smart home gym equipment has witnessed a boom.
Gym equipment isn’t just weight racks and Bowflexes now. These new pieces of equipment can track your reps and metrics and keep tabs on your fitness progress. You can join virtual fitness classes led by real human instructors and compete against other people, all from your own home. In some cases, you can even get live feedback on your form from remote trainers.
Whether you’re into running, cycling, weight-lifting or other workouts, there’s probably smart home gym equipment for it today. The most popular smart gym products right now are bikes, treadmills, and mirror displays you hang on the wall, including Peloton (bike and treadmill), Tonal and Mirror.
To go along with your intelligent home gym equipment, you may want to invest in a smart scale. These newer bathroom scales can do a whole lot more than just tell you your weight. Many are equipped with sensors to estimate your body fat percentage and muscle mass, so you can see how your workouts are impacting your body. Some of them can even calculate your basal metabolic rate to help you lose weight.
Smart scales connect to wifi or via Bluetooth in order to send all your personal metrics to an app on your phone. to sync all of the metrics they records about you to an app on your phone. You can also sync the data with apps like Apple Fitness or Google Health to have all your information in one place.
Cooking, cleaning & domestic maintenance
Smart ovens & apps that control them
The most basic piece of cooking equipment there is, ovens have gotten a big boost in technology in recent years. The main thing that makes an oven “smart” is its ability to connect to wifi or Bluetooth. This allows you to control your oven’s operations via smartphone or tablet, either from another room or even when you’re not at home. Let’s say you get off work late and you’re starving: You can preheat the oven from your smartphone on the way home from work so it’s ready to go when you get home.
Other things you can do with a smart oven include:
- Turn the oven on and off
- Set and monitor timers from your smartphone
- Send recipes to your oven to set cooking functions & temperature
- Utilize Alexa or other digital assistant for voice control (“Alexa, preheat the oven to 350”)
- Get text notifications when your food is finished cooking
Depending on your oven, it may have extra-fancy features like an internal camera so you can keep a watchful eye on your roast chicken. Others are equipped with sensors that can tell how big a piece of meat is and adjust the cooking temperature and time accordingly.
Smart gas ranges
Cooking has come a long way with the new generation of smart range tops. Now you can get a range that combines a smart wifi-controlled gas oven with a gas stove. Remote monitoring and operation means you can see exactly what’s going on in your oven when you’re in another room (or out of the house entirely). When dinner is done, you can even shut off the oven with a simple voice command.
Note that while you can get a smart range that combines gas stove burners with a gas oven, the gas stove part of it won’t have wifi connectivity or remote operating capabilities. After all, it would be quite dangerous to fire up gas burners while you’re out of the house or even out of the room!
Smart electric grills
Even that most revered of back yard activities, grilling has been integrated with smart home technology. Electric grills and wood pellet grills alike with integrated smart tech are now on the market for tech enthusiasts. These high-tech grills allow you to set time and temperature from your phone and access huge databases of recipes. With wifi-enabled thermometer probes, you can even monitor the temperature of your meat from your phone to ensure it doesn’t get overcooked.
Smart robot vacuums
Cleaning your own floor is so 2005. The age of the smart vacuum is upon us, and having a robot clean your house is becoming commonplace. While it’s not quite the Jetsons-level technology that we may have once imagined, robot vacuums are getting pretty advanced. Today’s models are loaded with tech including lasers, CPUs and sensors to keep your home tidy.
However, employing a robot to vacuum your home will cost you, with some high-end models costing as much as $1,000. Those models include advanced features like floor mapping and self-emptying dust bins. However, you don’t have to spend that much; $250 will get you a more entry-level model.
Smart robot mowers
Mowing your lawn during the sweltering summer months can be a real drag. But with the new generation of smart lawnmowers, you may never have to lift a finger to cut your grass again. An alternative to hiring a professional landscaper week after week is investing in your own lawnmowing robot.
A robot mower doesn’t function quite the same as a regular manually operated lawnmower. Instead of mowing your lawn once a week, a smart lawnmower cuts much more often, removing only short lengths of grass each time.
Similar to an invisible fence used for dogs, a robot lawnmower uses a boundary wire that the homeowner installs around the areas it wants to have mowed. This is how you prevent a robot mower from mowing over flower beds and other obstructions.
Smart sprinkler controller
A smart sprinkler controller controls your sprinkler system to be fully automated and save you water. It automatically adjusts to the weather outside and current soil conditions, meaning your sprinklers won’t run if it’s raining. Instead of controlling your sprinklers from an awkward control panel in your garage, you can control them from an app on your phone, giving you far more control. You can also set your sprinkler programs to automatically adjust for the seasons, cutting back on watering during the colder months and ramping up in the summer.
Household utility & efficiency
Smart thermostats are becoming more widely embraced by homeowners, who are seeing big savings on utility bills. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, cooling and heating makes up about half of the average house’s utility bills. Installing a smart thermostat will keep your home comfortable while cutting your bill. You can program your thermostat to turn off during the day while you’re gone, and then turn back on before you arrive home. And since it can be controlled via app, adjusting your thermostat is more convenient than ever: For example, you can turn the heat up at night without leaving your bed.
One of the easiest and most affordable ways to dive into smart home technology is withsmart light bulbs. It’s now easy to replace the standard light bulbs in your home with smart bulbs that can be connected to your smartphone. They can even be connected with your Apple Watch or smart speaker, enabling you to control lights with just a tap of your wrist or a voice command. Smart bulbs are generally LEDs, meaning they’re more pricey than regular light bulbs, so you may not want to upgrade your whole house all at once. However, smart bulbs have a much longer life span, so you’ll save money over time.
A high-tech home doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Smart plugs (and power outlets) are an easy and affordable way to upgrade ordinary appliances, lighting, and any other electronics into smart home devices that you can control straight from your smartphone.
Smart plugs are ultimately plug-in outlets (or power strips). They plug directly into a wall outlet or traditional power strip, and have their own outlet you then plug into with the device you want to automate. You’re not gaining or losing any outlets by plugging one in—you’re simply making an existing outlet smart by connecting it to your home Wi-Fi network.
The best smart home hubs can take all of your smart home devices—lights, locks, garage door openers, thermostats, cameras, and more—and let you control them from one app.
But more than that, the best smart home hubs let you connect all your smart home devices together to create some awesome automations. For example, when you lock your door to go out, the smart home hub can tell your lights to turn off, and your thermostat to go into eco mode.The best smart home hubs can know when you’re arriving home when it senses your smartphone, and automatically open your garage door, turn on your lights, change the thermostat, and even turn on your smart speaker to your favorite station. But it’s more than just convenience; a smart home hub can be used for security and safety measures, too. If a smoke detector activates, a smart home hub could turn on your lights, helping show you the way out.
Smart window shades & blinds
Smart window blinds and shades do everything that normal blinds do, with the addition of some impressive intelligent functions. Besides blocking out light and providing privacy, they can be raised or lowered with the press of a button. Smart blinds can be programmed to open and close at certain times, such as when you want to wake up in the morning and when you go to bed. They can also be programmed to close when the temperature in your home reaches a certain point, keeping your house from getting too warm from the daytime sun.
Depending on how high-tech you want to get, there are two types of smart blinds to choose from. The first and cheaper option are blinds that can only be controlled via remote control. These can be purchased at many window and blind stores in-person or online. While they’re not designed to be controlled by voice or an app, you can convert them with a smart plug and using Alexa or Google Home.
The second type of smart blinds needs an app to function. They connect to your home wifi system, giving you ultimate control over their functions. You can close your blinds remotely if you’re working late, or open them while you’re at work to rouse your sleeping teenager.
Safety & security
Smart doorbell systems are being installed in more and more homes these days. A smart doorbell combines the function of a doorbell with that of a wifi-enabled security camera. They send notifications to a smartphone app, showing you live video of who’s standing at your front door. A built-in microphone and speaker allows them to function like an intercom system. Some smart doorbells have extra security features, like smart locks that allow you to remotely let people inside your home.
These smart devices are equipped with motion detectors, sending you a notification if movement is detected. Recordings from homeowners’ Nest cameras capturing wildlife or other strange happenings have become ubiquitous on social media these days. For homeowners that travel frequently or live in higher-crime areas, smart doorbell cameras can provide incredible peace of mind.
Smart intelligent locks
Anyone who’s ever misplaced their house key knows what a huge pain it can be. But with the advent of intelligent locks, such worries are becoming a thing of the past. Smart locks allow you to control access to your home via a smartphone. Instead of having to change the locks after a tenant moves out, for example, digital locks can be changed with the simple tap of a button.
Intelligent locks can assign different “keys” to different people. This allows the homeowner see when each member of the family came in. This can be handy for enforcing curfew for teens or keeping track of when your cleaning service comes and goes.
Smart security systems
In line with smart doorbells and smart locks, smart security systems help you monitor your home remotely. The concept is similar to the security systems of yesteryear, except you can monitor it 24/7 from your smartphone. You can also subscribe to a security service to have your home monitored by professionals around the clock. This means they’d contact the local fire or police department upon an alarm trigger.
If you don’t want to pay for a full-on smart security system, a smart doorbell is a great substitute. Overall, the Internet of Things is making home security far more affordable and accessible for the average person.
Smart garage door openers
Fretting that you forgot to close the garage door before leaving on vacation? No longer. Smart garage door systems allow you to control your garage door in real time from a smartphone app. You can set a program to ensure your garage door closes when you go to bed every night. The ability to open your garage door remotely makes it easy to let in guests or delivery people while you’re away.
The rise in smart home technology means there’s now an incredible array of smart devices on the market. You can now upgrade everything from music and television, or cooking and domestic upkeep to safety and security. Using a smart oven to remotely roast a chicken may still seem a bit complicated for many. However, homeowners are widely embracing other smart technology. Smart TVs are becoming omnipresent, and smart speakers are seeing a huge boom as well. People with busy lives are becoming fond of their digital assistants and how Alexa or Google Home can help them.
Smart home devices will only become more and more prevalent as technology improves and becomes more affordable. It’s not difficult to imagine a future in which every home is equipped with smart locks, music that turns on when you enter a room, blinds and raise and lower with voice commands, and ovens that cook your food with little help from a human. For people who are passionate about automation, all that technology can be implemented right now, provided you’ve got money to spend.