Whether you’re thinking about creating a smart home or not, tech in the household has become a common thing. From TVs, to speakers, to tablets, to lighting – tech is everywhere in your house and you’re likely already (slowly but surely) creating some form of smart home! But it’s not as daunting as it seems. A smart home is an incredible way to save money, whether it be on electricity bills or even your own time.
There are some essential items that every smart home should have though. The problem is every well known tech brand and their dog have realized how significant a market it is, making it that much harder to decide which device you should be buying! Therefore, below is short-but-sweet guide for the everyday person that simply wants a plug-and-play smarthome!
Starting with probably the most well known item out there, as well as potentially the most feared – voice control. The go-to item for smart home voice control currently is the Amazon Echo range of devices.
Amazon have created an incredible family of products with the Echo and Echo Dot. Both feature rich voice automation, allowing you to control your home, request information, play music, order products and much much more – simply by speaking. It completely negates the need to pull your phone out and turn your smart light on, or Google the point to help you win that argument with your wife!
With two options, the full sized Echo, with a built in speaker (which is surprisingly good quality) and the Echo Dot, without the built in speaker but the ability to connect to your own speaker system via Bluetooth or a 3.5mm stereo connector – you’re almost spoilt for choice.
Setup is simple – plug the device in, setup using the app (on-screen instructions) et voila!
I’ve written an extensive review of the LIFX Colour 1000 bulb and have some further smart-lighting reviews in the pipeline, but smart-lighting is a huge buzz at the moment and with good reason! Installing and using smart bulbs in your household not only leaves you with significant savings on your energy bills (due to the use of LEDs), but also allows you fine-tuned control over your lighting. Previously, if you wanted lights you could dim, you’d have to have gone out and purchased specific bulbs as well as have a dimmer switch installed. NO MORE! Dim your smart bulb right from your smartphone. Heck – even change its colour!
With Philips Hue being a household name, a lot of other brands such as TP-Link, LIFX, Hive and Belkin’s Wemo bulbs all go relatively unnoticed. Each comes with its own respective pro’s and con’s list, however I will say that I’m a huge advocate for LIFX bulbs in particular. There’s no requirement for an expensive, bespoke hub (as there is with Philips – hopefully this will change at some point though), they’re simple to setup and they’re incredibly bright, with the brightest bulb offered putting out over 1,000 lumens! LIFX have also just announced that the Gen 3 bulbs will now come certified as Apple HomeKit compliant, therefore controllable via the Apple Home app on iPhones.
At the same time, I’ve recently been using a lot of TP-Link’s smart products (you can read my review on the HS100 smart plug here) and I must say that they are incredibly impressive. I’m yet to get my hands on a couple of smart bulbs (hopefully in the next month or so), but the devices that I’ve used so far are simple, tidy, compact and incredibly quick to use! Having researched all of their devices rather extensively, I’m yet to see a valid negative review!
TP-Link LB130 (colour): @ Amazon UK
LIFX Gen 3 (colour): @ Amazon UK
Belkin WeMo bulb (white): @ Amazon UK
Hive bulb (white – requires hub): @ Amazon UK
Similar to smart bulbs, smart plugs extend your smart homes capabilities in a simple yet extreme way. Providing functionality such as the ability to set timers to turn plugged in devices on/off, or a countdown timer so that an item, such as an iron, is only on for 10 minutes – that way if you forget to turn it off after you’ve ironed your shirt in a panic in the morning, it’ll turn off and give you some peace of mind.
I’ve written indepth reviews on the TP-Link HS100 () and the Belkin WeMo Switch (). Both are incredibly well built devices, mind-blowingly simple to setup and use and are very quick. Whether you’re on a relatively poor 3G connection miles away from home, or on your high-speed home WiFi – the switch will turn on/off within a second or two (max).
You’ve invested money, not only in your tech but also your home and your other possessions. The only sensible thing to do is monitor and protect it. There are a whole range of security systems out there, available to anyone and everyone who has the money to get them installed. You can get full blown CCTV systems installed in your home these days, or you can go down the DIY approach (which is becoming far more popular due to ease of expansion/setup) by purchasing and installing WiFi based security cameras, such as the NETGEAR Arlo Q. I, personally, use the NETGEAR Arlo Q as I’ve found that the product suits mine/my households needs exactly.
Most WiFi based security cameras offer cloud recording functionality, which means you don’t need to keep a server in your home to retain all of your footage. Not only that, but even if (in the unfortunate event your home gets broken into) someone notices your camera – you don’t have to then worry about the footage being stolen or destroyed as it has been streamed directly to the cloud. From here you can then download and share that footage or even keep it stored for as long as you require (dependent on the storage plan you pay for). Check out my review of the NETGEAR Arlo Q.
Smart doorbell/lock systems are (slowly) becoming increasingly popular. Essentially, systems such as SkyBell allow you to remotely see who is ringing your doorbell, from anywhere in the world. Therefore, if you’re at work and the delivery guy rings the doorbell with your new Amazon Echo, smart bulb and security camera – you can not only see that it’s him ringing the bell, but you can also speak to him via the two-way communication system!
These systems connect to your home’s WiFi network and stream a HD video feed via that connection. They can even act similarly to the aforementioned security cameras, by recording video when motion is detected.
Pair one of these with a Yale smart lock and your front door is pretty darn secure! The Yale door lock allows you to setup a limited, 24-hour only key-code to allow guests to access your home. Alternatively, when they ring your smart doorbell, you can speak to them – confirm it’s them and then unlock your front door remotely for them via an app on your smartphone… no need for a code! There’s no need to worry about getting locked out of your house either, as the locks are powered by 4 x AA batteries and provide you with a warning when the batteries start getting low. The Yale smart locks can also tie in with SmartThings as well as your Yale home security system, meaning that if someone tries to brute force their way through the lock – you can setup rules to turn your smart bulbs and switches on, the alarm will go and police will be called as well as you receiving a notification on your phone.
Finally, multi-room audio. This can either be an incredibly simple venture, or acoustically incredible! There are a few products out there, such as Sonos and Bose that touch on both of those points really well, but with a few drawbacks – namely price!
I, personally, have Sonos’ PLAY:1 setup in my home, as I’ve found this to be the best audio quality vs price. Not only that: it’s incredibly easy to setup, streams all forms of audio that I require (Spotify, Google Play Music and TuneIn). The Sonos PLAY:1’s output some really decent sound as well – I was pleasantly surprised. Despite it’s overall small size, the PLAY:1 outputs a decent amount of bass, volume and general audio quality. You can then pair two of these together to create a “stereo” speaker setup. All of Sonos’ products work together and do so very well. Setup is quick and simple and day-to-day operation the same. Sonos regularly update their smartphone apps and are slowly creating a cleaner and smoother interface (compare today’s app to the version from a year or two ago and you’ll see what I mean) as well as regularly update the speakers themselves to include and improve new features/functionalities.
There is one major downside though (in my opinion) and that’s the price of these speakers. In reality, they’re probably not expensive when compared to competitor products, however I can’t help but feel that the pricing is a little on the bloated side. Build quality is exceptional, the speakers are made of solid plastics and metals and have a really nice weight to them – regardless I don’t know that is quite right though. It’s possible this will go down as more competitively priced smart home speaker systems come to the market!