As the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to add new and smarter devices we wanted to see which devices stood out above the rest. With almost everything in the IoT being labeled as a smart device, we decided to go out and find the smartest of the smart.
The IoT has been around for a while, but it took the largely crowdfunded startups to really bring the IoT to the forefront and into our vocabulary. So what is the IoT? In simple terms, it is the networking of connected and smart devices. Which include pretty much anything that is connected to the internet. Which means that the Internet of Things is massive.
As with all massive things, other than icebergs, they are confusing. If the IoT truly houses every device that connects to the Internet and all of the devices that connect to one another, it is impossible to gauge its scale.
For now, we are going to limit our IoT interactions to just smart home devices and not just smart home devices, but the best of the best smart home devices. Which can help you get started on building a smart home of your very own.
Our Favorite Light Bulbs
BeOn Starter Pack
BeOn is part lightbulb and part security device. By placing a little yellow module into the bulb, you add features like a microphone and a battery backup. It also provides a Bluetooth radio that syncs with your smartphone. And it’s still a lightbulb.
It is an interesting idea, we often use lights to keep the outside of homes lit as a security measure, but this is the first time we have seen a lightbulb morph into a security device. Which peaked our curiosity for sure, especially when we realized that the BeOn learns your usage patterns.
So if you tell it you’re going out for the night, it will automatically execute your usual evening pattern. They also integrate with your smart doorbell and alarm system, but beyond that the automation features are limited.
While cool doesn’t begin to explain this security lightbulb, there is another word that does; pricey. Around $75 each or $200 for a starter pack that includes three bulbs, they are a fairly expensive. But they are also intriguing. They are security devices that dress like a lightbulb. When you are away, even on vacation, they will simulate occupancy.
They can also provide temporary lighting if you lose power at your home. While they don’t work with major players like SmartThings and Google’s Nest, they are curiously appealing. I mean a security device dressed as a light bulb is next level.
Phillips Hue Wireless Dimmer
Our second favorite smart bulb is the Phillips Hue, in its original launch it was the color changing abilities that wowed us. But now we find ourselves enamored with their new wireless dimmer. When you buy the Dimming Kit, you will get a white-light smart bulb and a wall switch that works as a magnetic remote control.
If you are new to Hue, you will need to get a starter pack which will run you around $200, but once you have your Hue system set up, adding the Dimming Kit, with a lightbulb included is only around $40. You also do not need the Phillips Hue Bridge with this light bulb and dimmer.
On the sad side, these bulbs are just white, no colors, no color temperatures. And while not connecting to the bridge makes them easy to setup, without the bridge they cannot connect to any devices. If you already have a bridge, you can connect the white bulbs to the bridge to get some customization.
Our Favorite Smart Door Locks
Kwikset SmartCode 916 Touchscreen Electronic Deadbolt
While the deadbolt remains the best way to keep your door safe, the Kwikset has made a way to make it even safer, and easier to use. It works with both ZigBee and Z-Wave networks, and to get all of the features you will need a way to access one of the two options.
The design of the SmartCode 916 is simple and can fit in on any you can choose from several colorsthat include Venetian bronze, satin nickel or polished brass. I prefer the satin nickel or Venetian bronze, the polished brass is a bit too shiny for me.
All three options have the same touchscreen. The screen is responsive and has a backlight to make it easier for you to enter your codes at night. When your code is entered correctly you will see a green check mark and then depending on your request the door will lock or unlock.
It is easy to install, I installed mine myself and I am in no way handy. Not at all. It just took a little patience and I had my Venetian bronze lock in. It was easier to install since it relies on the existing deadbolt. I am a nerd about things being lined up properly, but this lock made it pretty easy. It only took 30 minutes and it is still there today (which is a major achievement for me).
You can manage and program your key codes at the door lock or by using a smartphone, I programmed one code at the door, and then I did a few more on the app. I found using the smartphone app easier than standing at my front door. Although I did convince my neighbor to get a lock of her own. You can create permanent codes for family members or temporary ones for babysitters or dog sitters.
Since installing it a few months ago, I haven’t been anything but happy with it. The touchscreen works every time, and the light makes it easy for me to unlock the door when it’s dark. You can also get SecureScreen which is an added feature that provides a higher level of security. SecureScreen will have you enter a two-digit random code, which would make it less likely someone trying to break in could guess your code.
The Kwikset SmartCode also has a fairly loud alarm that will sound on the inside of the house should someone try to break in. It can also be heard on the outside of the house, so anyone trying to enter will most likely be detected by the alarm and leave.
While you do need to be able to access a smart home hub to use some of the additional features, the lock as a standalone device works fine. It lets you choose your user codes, and you can rekey it to use your current keys.
If you are interested in keeping your home safe, the Kwikset SmartCode is a good way to get started. It does what it is intended to do, which is really what is most important.
August Smart Home Lock
If you are looking for something that is simple and has an easy to use interface, the August Smart Lock is that and more. It uses your existing lock on the outside, but it adds some muscle on the inside. August is still a young lock with only a few years under its belt. But what it has accomplished in those two years is pretty impressive. With their second version done they are among the leaders when it comes to smart locks.
Keeping your home safe starts at your door, so finding a smart lock that can add the security you want, and make it easier to manage what happens at your front door is paramount. As the smart home device market continues its takeover of everything from your washing machine to your front door it becomes important to take the time to find out what works and what doesn’t.
You don’t want to end up with a lock you can’t install or one that doesn’t deliver on its promises. All of us at one time or another have bought a smart device that didn’t perform as intended, but we can honestly say that the August Smart Lock isn’t that device. We wouldn’t recommend it if it were.
One thing you should expect in a smart lock, is that it is smart. Which means it can unlock and lock your door when you ask it to. Once you have your lock installed you just need to download either the Andriod or iPhone app, then tap “set up lock” and the app will find the lock for you. You can give it a name, and then you should be all set. Once the app is set up you will need to use your key to open and close the door manually to allow the August lock to properly calibrate.
When it comes to features, there are a few. First, you can enable geofencing. Which will let the August lock to use your phone location feature to automatically set up the fencing area. You can also program the perimeter settings manually. Once the perimeter is set, the geofencing will unlock the door when it detects you are in the area. It will also lock the door when you leave.
If you have a little more money to spend, there are some additional features you can buy. You can a Connect accessory that will give your Smart Lock Wi-FI capability which expands your access from just the Bluetooth area to anywhere there is Wi-Fi. If you want to pair a smart doorbell camera with you lock, you can purchase the August Doorbell Cam, which will let you see who is at your door when you are and aren’t home using the app.
You can also integrate the August Smart Lock in Apple’s Homekit and now Wink. If you own Homekit, you can even use Siri to manage your lock as long as you are in the range of your personal Wi-Fi network.
Our Favorite Smart Home DIY Security Devices
Scout is one of our favorite home security DIY largely due to how easy it is to install and how effectively it works. While you do have to pay a monthly fee for using the system, it is still a good choice if you are looking to set up a new home security system.
With Scout you can start small and then grow your home security system over time. Which is great if like most of us you are on a budget. Scout comes with a wireless home security starter kit, which includes all of the basic smart home security devices you need to get you started.
Your starter pack includes the Scout Hub, door panel sensor, access sensor (for doors, windows, and cabinets), and a motion sensor. You can add other devices, like additional sensors and a camera to the starter kit or you can purchase them at a later date.
Once you have your Scout starter kit installed, you can integrate it with your Amazon Echo to use voice commands to control your system. You can also integrate Nest devices like thermostats into your Scout system. Scout is also working on adding the Nest Cam to one of its accepted devices. Scout also has an IFTTT channel where you can create recipes to allow Scout to work with other smart home devices you may own.
Once you purchase your equipment, you will also need to choose a monitoring option. You can choose a cellular backup without live monitoring services for $9.99 per month, or you can choose cellular backup with live monitoring for $19.99 per month. If you just choose the cellular backup, the system will work even if your power or Wi-Fi is out.
If you choose live monitoring, you will still keep the cellular backup, but you will have support 24/7 which means if an alarm goes off when you aren’t home the monitoring center would report it to law enforcement if you don’t respond.
Using the Scout mobile app, you can also get notifications and alerts that will tell you what alarm has gone off and allow you to make a prompt decision as to whether to call authorities on your own. This is especially critical if you choose the cellular backup option and decline the live monitoring.
Scout is one of our favorites because it has consistently demonstrated a high level of quality. It is also easy to install and easy to use. And its integrations with Amazon Echo, Nest, ZigBee, and IFTTT allows users to grow into a robust home security system. You can also add additional devices from Scout that can additional security to your home.
SimpliSafe is one of our favorite smart home security device providers because it allows you to grow over time by offering several packages and all of their equipment comes with a three-year warranty.
If you are new to setting up a DIY home security system or you just have a limited budget, with SimpliSafe you can start with a smaller package and then over time add more devices to your system until you have the package that you want.
When it comes to the cost of the equipment, SimpliSafe has five different packages, you can start small at around $230 for the basics, or if you are willing to make a more substantial investment, you can start at the top for around $540. While that may seem pricey, it’s important to remember there are a three-year warranty and no contract.
While the equipment may look a little dated, it can still do the job. And with the warranty, you can feel confident that should something stop working it will be replaced without a hassle. While you may not be able to get all of the devices up front, you can grow into larger packages as your budget allows.
Installation is easy, and the provided step by step instructions are organized to make sure that you don’t miss a step during the process. Once you have your system set up, it is even easier to use. The app is well designed and makes it easy for you to control all of your SimpliSafe devices using your smartphone.
You will get instant alerts should something trip an alarm in your home, and notifications should the system detect an issue with one of the devices. SimpliSafe also uses a cellular connection to make sure that your devices are always connected even if your power or Wi-Fi is out.
One of the best things about SimpliSafe is you aren’t tied into a long term contract with a huge cancellation fee. DIY doesn’t mean you have to go alone on everything; most DIY providers will have some level of professional monitoring available. But you should make sure you know what the terms and contract terms for those services are. You don’t want to find yourself tied into a long contract that has a large cancellation fee.
SimpliSafe offers professional monitoring services that are no extra charge, but you will need to pay a monthly fee of $14.99 to $24.99 if you want to add the service and if you want to be able to control your home security system on your smartphone.
Our Favorite Smart Doorbells
Ring Video Doorbell Pro
One of the first products that really started to define the smart home industry was the smart doorbell, while we have had automation for a while, something about the ability to see who was at your front door, and talk to the person when you are miles away from was mesmerizing.
The Ring Video Doorbell Pro is our first choice for a few reasons, one it has upped its high-definition video feed to 1080p, and it has streamlined the design to make it look less bulky. You can also now customize motion detection zones.
But gone are the rechargeable batteries, the Pro is hard-wired and cost a bit more. Outside of those new features, most of the Ring Video Doorbell is the same. It’s not a replacement for existing devices, but if you want 1080p high-definition video, the Pro is the model you will need. We are hopeful that the 1080p upgrade will result in clearer video feeds.
It still has the two-way speaker that can work using a smartphone app. You can also use the app to act like you are home when you are really somewhere else. The Pro also lets you set motion zones for other areas of your yard which lets you see more than just what happens at your front door. You just draw a box around the zone, and the Ring Pro will show you by zone what is taking place outside of your house.
You do need to get a power source for the ring, it no longer comes with a rechargeable battery, so it can no longer be used as a wireless device. One nice thing is should someone steal your Ring Pro; Ring will be nice and replace it for you. You can also see the person doing it, so that is also helpful.
SkyBell HD Wi-FI Video Doorbell
The SkyBell is more than a close second, we consider it an equal. When we first tested the SkyBell it was a decent doorbell camera, but not close to the best. It lacked features, like HD video, and it wasn’t compatible with other smart devices and protocols. But what a difference a second version makes.
The SkyBell HD Wi-FI Video doorbell is a marked improvement over its predecessor. The new version of the SkyBell now has 1080p high-definition resolution and free clip storage and on-demand live video streaming. It also has some, limited, integrations with Amazon Echo and Google/Nest, and it now has its own IFTTT channel.
Where I wouldn’t have purchased or recommended the previous version of the Skybell, this version is definitely worth checking out. It’s also less imposing than the Ring Doorbell; it has an elegantly unassuming design, one issue you may have though is size. You will need at least 3 ½ inches of space when you are installing it.
You can move, or have someone move your existing doorbell wiring to make it line up better with the doorframe. You can let it hang over the doorframe is you don’t mind it looking a bit awkward. It is also hard wired, so you if you aren’t the best DIY installer, you may want to consult an electrician to move the lines and attach them to your doorbell.
Our Favorite Indoor and Outdoor Cameras
Nest Cam Indoor
The success of the Dropcam may have led to their downfall. The Dropcam Pro was a popular camera that entered the smart camera industry in the early days of webcams. They quickly became a major player in the high-res DIY security camera scene. Their success caught the eye of Google, which is the owner of the smart thermostat company Nest. Google/Nest purchased Dropcam for the low low price of $555 million dollars and voila the Nest Cam was born.
The Nest Cam has some of the highest quality 1080p videos around. The camera does well in low light, but in the dark, it doesn’t do all that great. You can see around 130 degrees, which isn’t a great field of view, but it’s definitely adequate.
The camera also has two-way audio, so if you see someone from your camera, you can talk to them. But being an indoor camera, they would be in your house so unless you weren’t home it would be odd to talk to them using a two-way radio. But if it’s your kids, babysitter or your lonely dog the two-way radio is a nice feature to have.
Nest Cam Outdoor
When you are choosing an outdoor camera you want to make sure it is weatherproof and that it stays securely fastened to the outside of your home or garage. The Nest Cam Outdoor does that well. The camera is placed inside a weatherproof enclosure, and the extra long cord and magnetic mounting plate ensure that your camera will stay put.
The camera, like the indoor version, provides 1080p video and some of the best night vision around. It also connects to other devices, which makes it friendlier than the indoor camera. The camera uses motion and audio sensor and has a built-in two-way radio.
The camera provides live video 24/7 on demand and is constantly recording. You do have to get a Nest Aware subscription to view recorded video, but each camera comes with a 30-day trial. After the trial, you aren’t required to subscribe, but you will only see a 3-hour history of still images.
If you do subscribe, you will get the Person Alert feature that can tell you if the image on the video is a person or an animal. It will send you an alert that it saw “something” and a link to the video. You can use the same app if you have multiple Nest devices, you will just need to add your camera.
Our Favorite Smart Switches
iHome ISP5 Control Smart Plug
Traditional outlets are dumb. They do nothing for the devices we plug into them. They have been that way for years, just lazy plugs that only provide electricity. But we know longer need to live in a world where all the plugs are dumb. Now we have new smart plugs.
And when it comes to the one we think is the smartest, we choose the iHome ISP5 Control Smart Plug. It will change the way you see plugs. You will be amazed what this plug can do.
Getting started on your new smart plug is simple, and once set up it is easy to use. It also has some serious street cred when it comes to voice control, we don’t like to say it gets around, but it is compatible wth Siri and Alexa. But let’s just keep that to ourselves.
With the iHome app, you can manage your devices by category or room, and you can connect to smart home automation systems like HomeKit, Nest, and Wink. You can turn the plug on and off from anywhere with Wi-FI. So if you are like me and you can never remember if you turned off your hair straightener, this plug is awesome. It can also save your relationship.
Belkin WeMo Switch
You can transform your standard electrical outlet into a remote controlled plug with the Belkin WeMo Switch. Using the WeMo app you can remotely control connected electronic devices; you can also set schedules to turn the devices on and off.
Your WeMo Switch will also integrate with Amazon Echo, which means you can use voice commands to control your plug. Which is pretty awesome, and again for people like me who often think that their house is burning down because they left a device on, it’s super awesome.
You can also set a timer that will turn lights connected to the WeMo to turn on and off while you are away. If you are looking for an affordable way to manage your smart home devices using an app, at under $50 the WeMo is a solid option.
Our Favorite Smoke/CO/Water Detectors
Best Smoke Detector
Roost Smart Battery
You know the sound your smoke detectors make when the battery is low, the sound that makes you want to get a chair to stand on and rip it out of the ceiling. What if you never had to hear that sound again?
With the Roost Smart Battery smoke detector, you get a reasonably priced smoke detector that will not only power itself for five years; it will also send you an alert when it goes off. It will also send you an alert when the battery is low, which means your dog won’t be going bananas all day.
While it’s not the most feature rich smoke detector, the Roost is an affordable option that is easy to install. Once you setup your Roost on the app you can start to get alerts. It’s a pretty quick process start to finish.
You can also use the Roost interface to manage your detector; you can even see the battery life. You can also add additional smoke detectors and control them all from one convenient app. Which saves you from falling off a chair while trying to remove the smoke detector that won’t stop beeping.
Best Leak Detector
D-Link DCH-S Wi-Fi Water Sensor
No matter where you live or how much rain you have, getting a leak detector is a good idea. I had a new AC installed last year, and the installers didn’t flush the line so once they turned everything on and left my house was flooded, which pretty much destroyed my hardwood floors. So even though I didn’t think that would happen again, I did invest in a leak detector, so I could know when something happened, rather than letting water sit on my work flooring for hours.
Our favorite leak detector is the D-Link DCH-S Wi-Fi Water sensor; it’s smarter than some of the other ones on the market, including the one I use. It can deliver alerts to you by smartphone using your existing Wi-Fi, it also has an audible alarm to alert you to leak when you are home.
Currently, the D-Link doesn’t connect with a smart home hub at the moment; it still provides a lot of decent features that make the device seem like it’s integrated. It does need to be plugged in, which means if your power is out and you don’t have a backup it won’t be able to alert you.
The D-Link sensor uses a cable that has long, twisted leads embedded in the cable. You can place the cable in places that you know retain water, or that may depending on their location. The D-Link lacks some of the features found in some of the more expensive leak detectors like temperature and humidity measurement, but for the price, it excels as a leak detector and flood sensor.
Best Smart Smoke/CO Detector
Nest Protect is or favorite Smoke/CO detector, with sensors that can detect both it allows you to use once sensor that can keep your family safe. Not only does it look cool, but it is also arguably the best smoke and carbon dioxide detector around.
When we think of smoke and CO detectors, we think of the round white disc that is somewhere on the wall or the ceiling, they all look the same. But Nest decided that they didn’t really like the old traditional plastic detectors, so they designed a new one. The Nest Protect isn’t exactly pretty, but it’s definitely different. And just being different is enough to make it more appealing than the standard circle.
The new version of the Nest Protect is an improvement on the first one, their first attempt at a smoke/CO detector had a Wave feature that allows you to just turn it off with a wave of your hand. But that version was recalled shortly after it was released due to the Wave feature being deemed as not reliable and possibly dangerous.
But worry not the 2nd generation Nest Protect is even better looking than the first and it’s not dangerous. In fact, it is smarter than the last version; the hand waving has been replaced with a “silence” button in the app. So now you can turn the alarm off in a much less obvious manner.
Everything from Nest is pleasant to look at; they seem to place design high on the list, which is a welcome change from all of the old predictable models we have grown so used to in the past. You can now easily control the Nest Protect using the app, or by logging into your Nest Web account.
It also now has a ring of colorful LED lights that can alert you to the status of the device. Blue is setup, green lets you know all is well, white is a night light that comes on when you walk under it, and yellow or orange warns you that there may be a smoke or CO issue, and red is when there is a real emergency.
The Nest Protect is self-sufficient in that it will remind you when its batteries are low, and even if the Wi-Fi is out, it will continue to function. And should you not see a change in the color on the device it will sound a loud alarm to warn you that something has been detected.
Nest Protect is just one more example of the power of Google, and their dedication to not only creating some of the best smart home devices in the market but also some of the most attractive devices around. We look forward to new and even prettier devices in the future.
Our Favorite Voice Assistants
It is not a surprise to anyone that Amazon’s Alexa is the smart home assistant to beat. And now after seeing what is coming, thanks to CES 2017, you can expect to see more of Alexa in some unexpected places. While Alexa is known as the voice assistant for Amazon Echo and Dot, now you will be able to communicate with her through your television, refrigerator, smart hubs, lamps, charging docks, Volkswagens, Fords, and even in a dancing robot.
Which begs the question, will we get Alexa overload? Voice assistants are a great idea; they can make your home automation system easier to manage. And Alexa is the first voice assistant that could do more than just follow basic commands. With the ability to answer questions and make recommendations Alexa is more than just a way to turn your lights off, she becomes an integral part of how you manage your smart home, your car and of course your dancing robot.
That is why Alexa is the preeminent voice assistant. And given the recent expansion into almost every smart home device, you can think of, we don’t see that changing anytime soon.
Another strong contender in the Voice assistant world is Google Home, while this assistant has no formal name, you can summon it by saying “Ok, Google” or “Hey, Google” and it will respond and allow you to ask questions or make a request. Its design is a bit more friendly and fits in better in your home than Amazon Echo.
While Alexa is more popular, Google’s assistant is smarter and benefits from having one of the most powerful web browsers behind it. It can answer more complex questions, and its jokes are funnier than Alexa. While Amazon can allow you to buy things on Amazon.com, Google can find pretty much anything you want. It also has a better speaker, which makes listening to much a little better. Like Echo, it can find songs and play them when you ask.
Google also knows more about you. It can integrate with Google Calendar, Maps, Gmail and Chromecast, which makes it easier for it to remind you when you need to take the dog to the groomer. Each assistant has good qualities and a few areas where they can improve, but both are great at what they do. But only one has a name.
How to build an automated Smart home
Building a smart home can seem intimidating for people who love technology, but don’t know how to install or connect it. The good news is newer smart devices are making it easier to build a connected home, even if you are on a budget.
The first thing you will want to purchase is a smart home hub that can connect all of your devices in one centralized manager. Smart home hubs allow you to connect and manage everything from lights to doorbells. The most popular hubs come from Samsung, Apple HomeKit, and Google Home. Their popularity is largely due to their name recognition, but you shouldn’t let that stop you from purchasing one, they are also some of the highest quality ones as well.
Apple HomeKit will work well with iOS compatible devices, but it also plays well with other. Google is more Android friendly, but like Apple, it can connect with others as well. Once you choose your Smart home hub, you will want to look for devices that are compatible with the hub.
Buying devices before you have a hub is doable, but it can start to get complicated if you have a lot of devices that can’t work together. That is why we recommend starting your plan with the hub and then work from there.
You should put together a list of what features are most important to you. These are some of the most popular ideas to get your smart home started depending on your priorities.
Smart Home Security Devices
If you are concerned about the security of your home you may want to add smart security cameras, alarms, door locks and a video doorbell. You can also add lighting controls that can make it look you are home even when you are away.
A smart door lock will work with your existing deadbolt and can be opened using a code. Biometric locks will allow you to open your door with a fingerprint. Both options can add an additional level of security. You can also add a video doorbell that will allow you to view what is going on at your front door when you are both home and away. You can also record video should you need to share it with law enforcement should someone try and break into your home.
Smart Home Entertainment
If you love entertaining there are a lot of great smart home devices that can help you keep the party going non-stop. By adding smart wireless speakers that can work over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. But if you want a surround sound system in every room in your house you should look at a Wi-Fi solutions.
If movies are more your thing you can now get a full cinematic experience with an Ultra HD smart TV. Options from LG and Vizio provide amazing picture quality and tons of features that allow you to watch everything from Netflix to YouTube on your TV.
Home automation makes everything more convenient. If you are on a budget you can start by adding some smart light bulbs, and a new thermostat. Beyond that, you can start to automate everything from your window blinds to your oven.
You should also consider adding a voice assistant like Alexa or Google Home, both are relatively inexpensive and can allow you to control all of your smart home devices using voice commands. You can also buy smart plugs that allow you to control all of your appliances using a smartphone app. Want to start the oven from the sofa? No problem.
It is absolutely clear that our future will be full of smart home devices. As the market continues to expand you can expect more and more devices from appliances to window shades to become automated, while most of the technology is in the early stages there is a lot to look forward to in the coming years.
From Smart refrigerators to voice assistants that can tell you jokes, even if they are bad, smart home automation is something that is in it for the long haul. Which means that we can look forward to improved technologies that make our lives even easier and safer.
With new smart home security systems that allow you to choose your devices, and manage how those devices are monitored the way we protect our homes and families is one of the most significant changes we have seen.
Now we have more choice on how we control what happens both in and outside of our homes. From Smart doorbell cameras to night-vision cameras that alert your smartphone if something seems abnormal, these new devices are changing the way we see not just our homes, but the world.