The promise of the smart home isn’t just for early adopters with too much money on their hands. The cost of automating your home is now more affordable than ever, with new mobile technologies, voice assistants, and an ever-increasing array of Wi-Fi-equipped devices. Truly, it is the age of the Internet of Things.
Of course, with so many different ecosystems and products out there to choose from, it can get a little confusing to get started. Luckily, I’ve put together a little smart home starter pack here, a list of products that you can actually buy locally and which can meaningfully contribute to your home.
But before I get started, let’s talk about a few tips that you can use to help inform your choices.
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1. Check if your chosen voice assistant platform supports your devices
Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa both support the majority of third-party smart home providers out there, so for big names like Philips or Xiaomi, it won’t matter which of the two you use. However, for some lesser-known manufacturers, you might find that they only support one of the two. Make sure you check the support list on your device before you purchase it.
2. Stick to one ecosystem whenever possible
Don’t overlap the use of Amazon and Google’s services. It’s going to make life hell for you when you have to set up each of your devices separately for both services, and you are guaranteed to encounter some conflicts in getting your smart home devices to work together.
3. If you’re on a budget, just use your phone instead of a smart speaker
You don’t actually need to own an Amazon Echo or Google Home to control your smart home. Both services have apps that allow you to use your smartphone to make voice commands and ask questions. The disadvantage is that your phone won’t have the microphone array that allows those smart speakers to listen in from anywhere in the room, but you keep your phone close to you anyway.
Now we go to the smart home starter kit, composed of the Smart Speaker, the Smart Bulb, the Robot Vacuum and the the Security Camera.
The smart speaker is the foundation of the smart home. There’s nothing like natural voice commands that you can make without having to lift a finger.
The Echo is equipped with a far-field mic array that’s always listening to your voice. It gives you access to Alexa, which features a huge variety of “skills” that let you play music, control your smart home devices, and more. Alexa has the best third-party support, and the Echo itself has superior sound quality for great music playback.
Alternative: Google Home
Google Home is a very competent alternative that is worthy of consideration. In fact, Google Assistant itself is a somewhat better voice assistant than Alexa, as you can ask natural language questions and even chain multiple commands together in a single sentence.
One of the simplest and most common smart home solutions is the smart bulb. These can be controlled remotely, allowing you to set their brightness or turn them on and off at will, whether with a phone app or your chosen voice assistant. They can also be set to turn on and off on a schedule, allowing you to save power. Some can even change color.
One of the most popular smart bulbs, Philips Hue, features plenty of third-party support for smart home systems, and the bulbs themselves are bright and have excellent white color quality, which can be set to any coolness or warmness you desire. There are also RGB bulbs that can be set to whatever color you can think of. The main downside is that each bulb is very expensive, and you also need to buy a bridge device to control them.
Alternative: Xiaomi Yeelight
Xiaomi’s Yeelight is vastly cheaper than Philips Hue bulbs and doesn’t require a bridge to be controlled, as they connect directly to your Wi-Fi. This kind of direct connection might put a strain on cheap internet routers or increase wireless interference, though.
Cleaning is such a hassle, isn’t it? That’s why old-school futurist media like The Jetsons had robot maids everywhere. Well, with robot vacuums getting smarter and cheaper than ever, at least some part of that fantasy is finally being fulfilled.
Xiaomi Mi Robot Vacuum
The Xiaomi Mi Robot Vacuum has an array of features that would normally be found on much more expensive models. Its rotating laser scanner head constantly maps out the layout of your home, which the vacuum remembers and uses to optimize its cleaning. It also features an array of sensors that let it avoid obstacles, and its app allows for cleaning schedules.
Over the past few years, there have been plenty of CCTV systems that can be remotely accessed, but only recently have they become easy to use and controllable with voice assistants. This makes protecting your home even better and more convenient.
The Arlo Pro might be rather expensive for a security system, but it comes packed with such a wide array of features that it may well be the last CCTV setup you ever buy. With night vision capabilities, voice assistant support, a rechargeable battery for wireless mode, and IP65 waterproofing among many others, the Arlo Pro is worth every penny if it means improving your home security in the easiest, more robust way possible.
Alternative: Xiaomi Mi Home Security Camera 360
This camera provides an impressive 720p resolution with night vision, motion detection, controllable motors to adjust the camera angle, and recording straight to microSD storage.