Buyers guide: best of smart home in 2018

by | Opinions, Smart Devices

Smart home devices come in different shapes and forms. We have reviewed many of them and give you two recommendations for each type of device that will make your choice simple. The practical option is usually cheaper and has more functionality, but requires some effort from you to set up. The easy option would work for those who like to just plug and play with limited maintenance.

Before you look at our selection below
Please see below answers to a couple of most frequent questions
What are the benefits of the smart home?

Pay less for electricity and heating

Smart home devices can reduce your water bill, save you up to 30% of heating cost (using our picks for the best zoned thermostats) and make your electricity bills smaller using the smart outlets and smart bulbs). This is done mainly by avoiding warming an empty house and not having your devices on while not using them.

Top picks: Rachi Smart Sprinklers ($149); Tp-link Outlet ($28); Tradfri Smart bulb ($28); Evohome Zoned Thermostat ($500+);

Make your house more secure

You can go to work or be on holidays knowing that you will be instantly notified if anybody enters the house while you are away. You can also have a picture sent to your phone to make sure that it is just your cleaner.

Top picks: Foscam Full HD 1080 camera ($70), Schlage Z-wave Connect ($160)

Make your life easier

There are many things you would rather not do in your life and smart home devices can help you with that. This includes hoovering, controlling your media, blinds and many more.

Top picks: iRoobot Roomba 690 ($250), LinkShades Smart Blinds ($200)

 

How much should I spend on smart home?
 

The price of the smart home is dependent on how many devices you are willing to buy. As with many costly and complicated products we recommend testing and trying initial kit first before committing to more spend. To help you with the choice we have a guide on the minimal kit that would cost you $250 to start with.

If the initial set of devices work for you, it is important to design and plan what do you want to automate in your life. Important things to consider is to make sure your devices can speak to each other and they are as future proof as possible.

You should expect to pay the following for smart items:

 

How to get the most out of the smart devices
 

To unlock the most value from smart home devices you need to do two things:

(a) integrate all of your devices in one eco-system

Invest in the powerful smart hub to control all your devices (like Home Assistant or SmartThings). This is needed as many producers create their own hubs to control the devices and as the result, you might have 3-4 hubs that you will be controlling with the same amount of applications to clutter your phone.

(b) use automations to create smart rules so your smart home control your devices, not you

Think about how smart home hub can use awareness of the environment (motion, temperature, amount of light etc)  to avoid you manually switching on/off or control at all your devices. Sensors and good presence detection will help you with awareness and make sure that your hubs know if you are home or not.

Top pick: SmartThings and Home Assistant – see the comparison; Aeotec Multisensor

 

A. Make your home secure

look after the house while you are away, lock the doors and alert you/police of intruders

1. Smart Cameras

Cameras will record what is going on in your house while you are away and send pictures if any motion is detected. The majority of cameras are wireless so minimal work is needed to install. Our recommendations below are for general security cameras. The criteria for selection were for the cameras to have good quality video, robust mobile application, the ability to easily integrate and unrestricted local storage.

PRACTICAL OPTION

This one took a lot of time to research as many good options exist on the market, but Foscam Full HD 1080P WiFi IP Camera is a 2018 camera that offers local storage, free cloud storage, integrates well (ONVIF compliant) and has a great a quality video

EASY CHOICE

Arlo Q would work the best for a hustle-free installation and outstanding viewing angles. It would cost you a bit more, but you just plug and play with a great app offering quick alerts and cloud storage. Cons: no local storage

Tips:

  • Research the costs as many brands charge for storing recorded videos
  • Local storage is important, but requires some effort to configure and maintain
  • Latency is the time difference in the live stream. Research if important
  • Face recognition by Netamo camera tells you who came to your house
  • Canary combines a siren, climate control  and air quality alerts

Make sure you also check out our recent reviews of security cameras: 

2. Smart Locks

Smart locks can do useful things that conventional locks cannot. You can lock/unlock doors remotely, see if the door is opened and which key unlocked the door (and when). Do not forget to confirm with the home insurance company that the lock of your choice is compliant with your policy

PRACTICAL OPTION

Schlage Z-Wave Connect Camelot wins the day for its build quality, security, and ease of integration (Zwave). It also does not need a hub and can act as an alarm. Cons: it does not like humidity and you do not have a physical key

EASY CHOICE

August Smart Lock Pro is slightly pricier, but for additional money, you get a better-looking lock with easy installation under 10 minutes. You can still use your old keys, and the auto-lock feature is really clever. Cons: requires hub and internet connection

Tips:

  • Always check on security updates on the locks
  • If you have PVC doors, Yale Conexis L1 would work the best for you

Make sure you also check out our most popular post on smart locks :

  • Keyless Front Door Lock  – Buyer’s guide on what is smart lock and how to buy the one for your needs based on your budget, and door type
  • Best Bluetooth door lock – Bluetooth devices are practical and efficient and our review helps you to find the best Bluetooth door locks 
  • Best Z-wave door locks – We highly recommend using z-wave for door locks for security and local comms and this article reviews the best z-wave smart looks available

B. Controlling your lights

switch on and off your lights remotely and change colours/brightness

3. Bulbs

Bulbs are easy to install and you just need to replace the old one with the new smart one. There are two bulb types: white and color. You can change color temperature, brightness or color you desire in the former and brightness and color temperature in the latter.  A clever use is to make them secondary notification devices (red if your next trains delayed, blue if rain is forecasted etc). Drawbacks: you will not be able to manually control it and very often somebody will forget and switch them off from the wall switch

Color smart bulbs

PRACTICAL OPTION

TP-Link Kasa Smart Wi-Fi LED is the reliable and bright color bulb that does not require a hub. It would work with almost any smart home hub and offers the best value for money. Cons: we could not find any

EASY CHOICE

Have some money? Philips Hue might be your choice. Spending a bit more gives you longer lifespan and a beautiful app to control. Cons: requires a hub to integrate to your smart home

White smart bulbs

PRACTICAL OPTION

IKEA Tradfri Bulbs are simple and robust bulbs that just work. You can have many types of bulbs (E26, E17, E27 and even GU10). Cons: requires a hub, but still cheaper vs competition

EASY CHOICE

LIFX (A19) Mini White is getting some buzz lately and there are good reasons. They are very well priced, proved to last very long and also have a nice app to control. They are wi-fi based so you do not need a hub. Cons: no LIFX sensors available, but you can use any other sensors via your hub

Tips:

  • Do you have neutral in your switch box? If yes, consider buying a smart switch instead
  • Buy a sensor and create rules on motion/luminance, so you will never require a switch
  • Notify your family that they should not use switches (or disable them)

Further read:

4. Switches

Compared to bulbs, changing a switch is more cost-efficient and future proof solution. It is Important to note that that the majority of smart switches require having a neutral wire in your switch box (if you have rewired your house or it is a new build, it usually comes as the standard). The downside of switches is that you will not be able to change the color or brightness, but a flexible hub (like Home Assistant) can help you there.

PRACTICAL OPTION

Sonoff switches can be 1, 2 or 3 gang and work with Google Home or Alexa out of the box. You can also have local controls with custom firmware. Cons: we personally like the look, but for some users it might look too simple

EASY CHOICE

TP-Link Kasa will cost you twice as much money, but you will have nicer plates. It also feels more robust and well built. Cons: none

Tips:

  • Always make sure that you check for neutral wire in your box

5. LED light control

Those are the drivers allowing you to control your LED strips by switching on/off and changing color parameters

PRACTICAL OPTION

This basic LED controller will give you all the controls you desire. It can be integrated with Google Home/Alexa and has a handy remote. Cons: you might fiddle with your connectors, but it will work out in the end

EASY CHOICE

For a more robust product, go for LIFX Z Strip You can easily adjust, set any color you want, dim it and no hub is required. It works with Alexa, Apple HomeKit and the Google Assistant. Cons: none

Tips:

  • Plan how much length of the LED strip you need and the location of the driver (power source)

C. Controlling your smart home

integrate all your devices into one eco-system, manually control and run automations rules

6. Smart Hubs

Smart hub is the brain of your system and runs the smart home platform of your choice.

You probably have hubs already as many brands accompany their products with their own hubs. This is different. A central hub is needed to integrate all your devices into one eco-system (so no multiple apps needed)m but most importantly, you can use powerful automation rules across your devices

PRACTICAL OPTION

Home Assistant is the best open-source smart hub, giving an unbeatable number of integrations and flexibility. Cons: might take time to configure

EASY CHOICE

Beauty of SmartThings is a simple UI and ease of use for your family. This is a solid choice for a beginner or non-complicated use. Cons: requires internet and limited power of automation

Tips:

  • Check if the hub supports your existing devices
  • Read recent reviews of the hubs

Further read:

7. Voice Assistants

Assistants enable voice control for your devices. You can switch on and off lights, play music, listen to the news and much more. Many devices can connect directly to voice assistants, but the hub is recommended to run automation routines

PRACTICAL OPTION

Google Home is very similar to Alexa, but the best unique feature is the integration of Chromecast. This is very useful for integrating announcements, baby monitors, and etc.

EASY CHOICE

Alexa is the pioneer of voice assistants. The number of integrations (“skills”) is impressive.

Tips:

  • Think about which functions will you usually use
  • Do you use Chromecasts? If yes, go for Google Home

Further read: