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October 27, 2020
A beginner’s guide to building a smart home
By Jaime Vázquez

Whether you’re turning your home into your own personal gadget empire, or you’re just looking for some smart tech to make working from home easier — it’s time to take a fresh look at the smart home device market, because there’s a lot of new gear that’s worth checking out. 

A few smart home basics can go a long way: You can create a custom security system, set up automated or voice-driven smart lights, or even install a smart sprinkler that monitors local weather patterns to create a custom watering schedule.

Meet the smart home device class of 2020. These are our favorite gadgets from the latest crop of tech that make life at home easier. 

 

Smart home basics

Most smart home appliances and devices rely on a companion smartphone app to customize their behavior around your needs. But if you want to make the full leap into smart tech, consider starting with a voice-enabled digital assistant — often referred to as a smart home hub — like Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant. 

 

Best smart home hubs

If you’re into using voice commands — they’re an incredible convenience, and ideal for streaming music — here are the best digital assistants to start with. 

  • Marshall Stanmore II Alexa Smart Speaker ($249.99): Marshall is famous for their iconic guitar amps, so the stylings of the Stanmore II may look more than a little familiar — but the tech on board is all modern. The Stanmore II is a big, beefy speaker that has a host of connectivity options, and the ability to get incredibly loud. There are more affordable Alexa speakers out there, like the Echo Dot 3rd Generation ($39.99), but none that can come close to the Stanmore II’s combination of sound quality and good looks. 

  • iHome Google Assistant Smart Clock ($79.99): There’s no shortage of smart home devices with Google Assistant built-in, but our favorite is the iHome Smart Clock because it’s affordable, it has respectable sound, and it supports multi-room audio — so if you pick up two or three of them, you can coordinate music to play everywhere, which is perfect for parties or making sure you don’t miss a second of your favorite podcast. 

  • Amazon Echo 4th-Gen with Premium Sound ($99.99): The latest refresh to Amazon’s flagship Alexa device brings us an all-new Echo that’s got even better sound quality than prior generations, all in an orb shape. If you’re looking for an Alexa speaker that has above-average sound but doesn’t break the bank, this is the one to pick up. 

 

Best smart lighting

There’s nothing quite like coming home, saying, “Alexa, I’m home,” and watching your lights spring to life. And while smart lights may sound like a sci-fi luxury, they’re affordable and pay for themselves when you take advantage of smart-scheduling features that save money by turning themselves off when they’re accidentally left on. They’re also useful for setting mood lighting. With dimmable and multi-color bulbs, it’s easy to make any room extra cozy. 

Here are our latest picks from the smart bulb market. 

  • Kasa LED Multicolor Smart Light Bulb ($21.99): TP-Link’s Kasa brand of smart home devices is an underdog compared to better-known brands like Philips Hue smart lighting, but they deliver just as much value at a fraction of the cost. The Kasa Multicolor Smart Light Bulb is exactly what it sounds like: It can turn any color at any time — you just have to ask. 

  • Philips Hue LED Smart Bulbs (4-Pack) ($49.99): If traditional lighting is more your thing, this four-pack of Philips Hue bulbs is a great place to start, because it’s one of the few products in the Hue ecosystem that doesn’t require a separate hub to operate. 

  • Ring A19 Smart LED Bulb Starter Kit ($59.99): If you happen to already have any existing smart home equipment from Ring (like the newest Ring Video Doorbell, $99.99), Ring also makes smart light bulbs that are easy to integrate into the Ring app, so you can control all of your Ring equipment from one place. 

 

Best smart appliances

Once you’ve got the basics of your smart home hub and your smart lighting in place, it’s time to expand into new areas. The sky’s the limit when it comes to what available smart tech can do. Here are our top five smart home appliances. 

  • Best smart lock: Wyze Smart Lock ($89.99). The Wyze Smart Lock is a “sweet spot” smart home device: It strikes the perfect balance between security, simplicity, and cost. It’s got hardware encryption, supports multi-factor authentication, and works with voice commands from Alexa. And if the feature set isn’t enough, check out the good looks — the Wyze Smart Lock is a minimalist’s dream deadbolt. 

  • Best smart garage opener: MyQ Smart Garage Door Opener ($39.98). A smart garage door opener is perfect for those of us who lose the clicker. It works with any existing garage door and lets you program specific behaviors or control it remotely, so you can allow access for package delivery or to any family members who have gotten accidentally locked out. 

  • Best smart coffee maker: Hamilton Beach Smart Coffee Maker ($89.99). While Alexa can’t make your coffee (yet), you can get pretty close with Hamilton Beach’s Smart Coffee Maker. The killer feature is that it really does work with Alexa, so all you have to do is supply coffee beans and water, then you can ask Alexa when your coffee should be ready. If you’re a smart-tech person but not necessarily a morning person, this is a solid purchase.

  • Best smart thermostat: ecobee3 Lite Smart Thermostat 2nd Gen ($168). The smart thermostat market is crowded, but the ecobee3 Lite continues to be a standout. It works with every smart home ecosystem available, and it’s a good entry point into ecobee’s product suite: You can add ecobee’s temperature sensors ($85) to other rooms, install ecobee’s SmartSensor Security Modules ($79.99) for doors and windows, or even subscribe to their HVAC filter delivery service.

  • Best smart plug: Kasa Smart Plug 3-Pack ($20.99). We love TP-Link’s Kasa smart plugs because their app makes it easy to manage each Kasa device — and it’s just as easy to use them together to create coordinated plans. The Kasa Smart Plug 3-Pack is a perfect starter kit so you can begin to integrate additional devices into your smart home set up. 

  • Best smart sprinkler: Rachio 3 Smart Sprinkler Controller ($179.99). For decades, homeowners have lived with sprinkler controllers with inscrutable interfaces, but finally, technology has solved that. The most user-friendly smart sprinkler solution available is the Rachio 3, which can control up to eight separate zones and continually monitors weather patterns to help it make smart decisions about when, and when not, to water your lawn. If you’re looking for a “set it and forget it” solution for watering your yard, this is the perfect solution. 

  • Best smart pet feeder: PetSafe Smart Feed Automatic Dog and Cat Feeder ($169.95). If you’ve ever forgotten to feed a pet — or kept them waiting because you got home later than you wanted — a smart pet feeder is the perfect way to make sure your furry companion never misses a meal. Serve them dry pet food on a schedule (so you never over-feed them), deliver food as needed when you’re not home, or subscribe to the companion service so new food is ordered as soon as the feeder’s sensor indicates you’re running out. The PetSafe can’t house-sit for you, but it can take care of just about everything else your pet needs when you’re not around. 

 

 

Jaime Vázquez is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. 

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