Best smart home devices 2019: get comfy with smart lighting, heating and more
Although it may have taken years to become a reality for many of us, the smart home has finally arrived. Devices designed to turn your ‘dumb’ home into a smart hub are more popular than ever. You can now turn your thermostat up, lock your doors, and play your music with a simple voice command.
The best part is, setting up your smart home is now as simple as putting a smart speaker or Amazon Echo Dot in your living room. Or, if you want to go all-in, as complex as creating an intricate network of connected devices.
To what extent you invest in your smart home is really down to you, and you can personalize it to your level of comfort. The great thing about smaller, cheaper smart devices (we’re looking at you Amazon Echo Dot) is that there’s zero hassle or commitment to a more connected home.
But with all of that choice, comes a lot of options, new product categories launching ever week and one daunting shopping experience. And, because smart homes rely on components being able to communicate with one another, before you stock up your shopping cart with all the latest and greatest smart home gadgets, you’ll need to make sure they’re compatible with any other smart devices you already own including your phone, tablet and smart speaker.
To help you begin on your smart home journey, or complete the technology-laden home of your dreams, we’ve curated a list of devices that we believe are the best smart home products you can buy right.
Here are our recommendations for the best smart home devices to bring your home into the future and give it a much-needed upgrade.
Choosing the best smart home ecosystem
Before you start assembling your smart home, it pays to think about which smart home ecosystem you’ll want to start with. There are quite a few out there, including Apple HomeKit, Google Home/Google Assistant, Samsung SmartThings, the Amazon Alexa platform, IFTTT, ZigBee, Z-Wave, and more.
You’ll also want to consider the ecosystem that you’re already plugged into. For example, avid Android owners might have more luck with Google Home than with the Amazon Echo or Apple’s HomePod. On the contrary, those that need quick and easy ways to order things online might prefer the Amazon Echo.
Want to see even more smart home recommendations? Check out our comprehensive guides to different product categories below:
Best smart home devices 2019:
The Ring Video Doorbell 2 is a solid device. Setup is easy, the app is a breeze to use, motion tracking works great, and the battery lasts long enough to not be a hassle.
We really liked the layout of the app, and the fact that the system can be integrated with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant only make things even better for smart home enthusiasts.
But should you buy it? If you don’t mind the size and want a battery-powered device, then this is the one for you. If, however, you would prefer something a little smaller or you don’t want to have to pay to store video recordings, you may want to look elsewhere.
If motion tracking or security features are at the top of your priority list, though, Ring Video Doorbell 2 has you covered and in a way that we found useful rather than irritating.
Ring Video Doorbell 2
The second-generation Amazon Echo speaker is still one of our favorite smart speakrs. Amazon’s original Alexa-powered speaker has become the first smart home product for millions of people around the world. And the sequel is even better.
It’s affordable, yet stylish, with new fabric finishes to fit your home. And Amazon is always upgrading Alexa, especially now that the Apple HomePod and Google Home are directly competing with the Echo speaker family.
The Echo integrates with your Amazon account, after which you can ask it to do things like order food, and, of course, control your other smart home devices – making it a super useful addition to your smart home devices list. On top of that, it’s well-designed and should suit any home.
UPDATE: Amazon has recently launched a whole range of new products: including a new Amazon Echo. We imagine that will now be our favourite smart speaker, but we’ll let you know once we’ve had a chance to review it properly.
Amazon Echo (2nd gen)
The Google Nest Hub Max is a larger version of the Google Home Hub, a smart speaker with a screen
So why isn’t it called the Home Hub Max? The Nest Hub Max also has a front-facing camera, and can plug into the Google-owned Nest platform to act as a smart home camera. Google has also renamed the original Home Hub to bring it into the Nest family.
This part of the Google Nest Hub Max needs a little work judging by our experience. But this is otherwise a great smart speaker. It sounds good enough to act as a mini Hi-Fi, Google Assistant feels responsive and the large screen lets you watch YouTube while you cook.
Although the Google Nest Hub Max had some slight issues at launch, it’s still not just a great smart display but a great smart speaker and a way to stay entertained while you wait for your onions to sauté.
One thing that you might want to do as soon as you decide to make your home a smart home is switch out the light bulbs – something easier said than done considering how many different options out there. Of them all, however, we think the best smart light bulbs are Philips Hue range of smart bulbs.
If you opt for Philips Hue bulbs, you will need to get the Philips Bridge, which is kind of like a hub for your lights. The advantage, however, is reliability, and the fact that the system is compatible with a range of different standards and home control systems including Apple HomeKit, Nest and Samsung SmartThings.
UPDATE: One of the things we like the most about Philips Hue is the range is constantly being updated. For example, you can now get your hands on the Philips Hue Play Light Bar, which creates special lighting effects as you watch movies and play games, as well as a new selection of Edison-style smart bulbs.
When you think of the “smart thermostat,” what comes to mind? For most people, it would probably be the Nest Learning Thermostat.
Nest was among the first companies to inject machine learning into heating and cooling your home, and since then has been hailed as the best smart thermostat manufacturer. Now, it’s back with a new, more affordable take on the smart thermostat in the Nest Thermostat E.
The Nest Thermostat E proves that you don’t have to shell out for a smart thermostat. It does away with a few, unnecessary features, but it keeps the majority of the smarts and saves you a whole lot of money.
There are few situations in which the Thermostat E isn’t the best choice for you. For example, if you have a high-end multi-stage heating or cooling system, the Learning Thermostat may be a better choice. Still, if the Nest Thermostat E is compatible with your setup and you don’t care about the lack of Farsight or slightly lower quality display, then it’s an excellent option.
It’s easy to see why Arlo is a popular choice with those who take home security seriously. There’s no doubt this is one of the most advanced systems we’ve tested with a wealth of useful features including a built-in siren and control via the web.
Set up was much more difficult than we’d hoped largely because of the inclusion of a base station that needs to be connected to your broadband router. But the camera build quality is excellent on the Arlo Pro 2, as is the image quality both streaming and recording.
The inclusion of free cloud storage is a real boon, and the Arlo ecosystem is feature-rich, including great integration with Amazon’s products, including Alexa control, and the ability to display the video feed on Echo devices.
UPDATE: Although the Arlo Pro 2 is still our favourite security camera that you can buy right now, the latest and greatest smart camera is the Arlo Pro 3 that was announced in late September. It will offer a 2K resolution with HDR support and a vibrant night vision mode that allows seeing coloured images even in the dark. It’s available starting in late September / early October in black or white for $199.99 (around £160, AU$295) for just the camera or $499.99 (around £400, AU$740) for two cameras and the Arlo Hub.]
The Belkin WeMo Insight Smart Plug is more than just a way to control devices plugged into it. It’s also a way to monitor your energy usage, and get estimates on how much powering certain devices in your home is going to cost.
This is great if you’re trying to save some money and be a bit more energy conscious. While the plug is a bit on the bulky side, you may be able to live with it for all the dollars/pounds you save on your monthly energy bill.
The app could use some work, but all-in-all we have been thoroughly impressed with the Belkin WeMo Insight Smart Plug. It also connects to wide range of smart home platforms, from IFTTT, Alexa, Google Assistant, Works with Nest and (unofficially) Samsung SmartThings.
Belkin WeMo Insight Smart Plug
The smart home is getting smarter, but not everyone wants to completely do away with their old systems. For example, while there are plenty of smart locks out there designed to completely replace your old lock in favor of a keypad or new keyhole, some people want to keep the ability to use their older keys.
That, however, is where August comes in with the August Smart Lock Pro, which fits onto your existing deadbolt and allows you to keep using your old key when you (or your landlord) wants to, while still adding the benefits of a smarter lock.
But while August is hailed by many as the best manufacturer of these retrofit smart locks, the August Smart Lock Pro still isn’t cheap: At $229 (around £179, AU$300) for just the lock, and $279 (around £219, AU$380) for the lock with the “Connect” Wi-Fi adapter, the August Smart Lock Pro is an investment.
Still, for people who are renting, live with someone who prefer using a key, or who simply want a super easy-to-install and relatively well-designed device, the August Smart Lock Pro is a great option, and one that’s easy to recommend.
Nest doesn’t just make great smart thermostats: it also offers smoke alarms that can connect to the rest of your smart home. The Nest Protect looks great, and offers great connectivity through Wi-Fi and IFTTT.
The Nest Protect will alert you if there’s a fire, even if you’re on the other side of the world. The accompanying app is well designed and easy to use, too – though hopefully you’ll never need it.