Smarter Smart Home Gadgets

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Sure, you’ve seen the smart home products. If you’re reading this, you probably own some of them. But a lot of these “smart” products are just gimmicky and overpriced and frankly, kind of stupid.

In this compilation of Smart Products you’ll find a list of ideas ranging from cool but expensive, to practical and affordable; but in general there’s something useful, for everyone.

Everything you would want in order to turn into the modern day version of the Jetsons. I probably just dated myself there – oh well.

I’d be lying if I told you that ever since I was little and saw Star Trek:The Voyage Home, I didn’t dream about the day we’d be able to voice-activate a computer. If you haven’t seen that clip, watch it – it’s great. “The Keyboard? How Quaint.”

hello computer

Well, the day of “Hello Computer” or more realistically, “Alexa, order more batteries,” is here now and it’s not going away anytime soon – so those who have resisted thus far (resistance is futile) should probably think about getting on board. On board – funny – makes me think of the ship from Star Trek AND a keyboard or a motherboard…. smart home stuff aligning together… I’m having a geeky twitch-out, short circuit (also a geek movie from the 80’s) moment over here…  sorry, I digress…

You might be thinking, “But I’m not a techno nerd, I don’t need this stuff.”

Well, advanced technology is not just for the elite few anymore, and it’s especially great for people who have trouble with mobility. So even the older generations, while not always considered “tech-saavy”, shouldn’t be ruled out from getting and learning how to use smart products.

According to this article, they claim the home automation industry is on track to reach $79 billion by 2022, so if you think automation only appeals to a nerdy few, think again.

How to Get Into Smart-Homing

If you aren’t yet in the Smart Home arena and are wondering what it would take to beef up your home’s IQ, you might be surprised to learn how reasonable it is to get into.

You become “smart-homed”, once you purchase any Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa devices. This could be in the form of an Echo, a Spot, a Dot, or any other variation thereof.

Echos start at less than a hunny ($100 in real people talk) which means they aren’t cost prohibitive to start collecting, or to give as a gift. In fact, we gifted one to my in-laws, although they don’t know what to use it for, with the exception of occasionally asking Alexa what the weather is supposed to be that day.

If you’re looking for the most inexpensive way to join the rest of the smart-homees, check out the Dot and the Flex, typically two of the most low-priced Alexa items:

   

If you want visual options to accompany the voice controls, you can go for a Spot or a Show.

Any one of these is all it takes to start the brain – also called the “hub”. Setup is easy and involves plugging it into a power supply, connecting it to your wifi, and installing an app to enter your credentials into as well as preferences. You can begin barking commands at it as soon as you get it hooked up and integrate it onto a Smartphone app.

When you’re up and running, Alexa will begin to regale you with her nerdy dry humor and stumble over your naughty-worded requests to her (trust me, this is the first thing you will try). If you don’t know about all that, watch the SNL skit, “Allegra, what’s the weather outside?”.

Once you have more than one smart device, you can connect them to each other and begin to build your smart home network. Really, these devices are optimal when used in conjunction with other smart devices, otherwise you can only use them in the one room of the house which has the device, which isn’t utilizing the full benefits of having a smart home.

Ideally, you want some variety in your items: you might want to have an Alexa Echo in your living room and maybe a few Dots scattered about in different rooms like your bedroom and basement. Then, whenever you shout out “Alexa, play that song that goes, ‘FunkyTown'”, you will hear it in the room you are in from the Alexa device nearest to you.

And then, you bolt on the cool extras as desired, so that your house eventually is super-smart.

Smart Options are Endless, and Growing Daily

smart-home

Areas to start smartifying your house can include, but are not limited to:

  • Smart Garage Door Remote (compatible with Google Home & Alexa) for opening your existing garage door setup through a smart device or Alexa car device.
  • Security Cameras for monitoring your doors, windows, driveways, or other areas.
  • Doorbell Monitoring which allows you to alert on, see, and communicate with people at your front door.
  • Motion Sensors which can tell you a person or animal is running through your back yard, or that your teenager is opening your liquor cabinet’s door.
  • Thermostats which control the temperature based on voice commands and/or sensory or schedule settings.
  • Turning on and off any switches – from lights, to fireplaces, to humidifiers, to scent diffusers, to you name it.
  • Playing your favorite song on a kick-ass speaker system.
  • Cooking food in your smart microwave.
  • Locking or unlocking your door – remotely.

Reasons to Consider Smart Features

Saving Money

While the initial upfront investment may be higher than leaving your home the status quo way it might be now, it can actually save you money to get into smart home technology. These savings are found in a variety of avenues:

  • Protection. Having smart features normally means you are using surveillance in your home to monitor for theft or destruction to your property. With some smart home security cameras running as low as $25.00 to purchase, you will be saving hundreds when compared to a normal security system such as ADP protection, which will cost on average more than $39 a month plus initial installation fees.
    • Just having security cameras visibly in place is often enough of a deterrent for thieves to move along, and if you have smart lights or sensors, these can be programmed to make it look like someone is home by activating them through motion or timing. Criminals are usually looking for easy targets and don’t want to deal with the risks of breaking into a well-protected home.
  • Secure Deliveries. With more people ordering online these days, the more ripe porches are for theft. If you have a Ring or other doorbell camera, you can easily monitor and record any suspicious activity on your doorstep and potentially dissuade them from stealing items or report them if it happens.
  • Efficiencies. Having a smart thermostat, sprinkler system, or lighting setup means you have the option to turn things off when they aren’t needed (i.e., it’s raining and your sprinklers usually go off that night) EVEN when you aren’t at home.

Reliability

One of the pressing reasons to consider smart products, is an enhanced level of reliability. For example, if you have a normal smoke detector system, you have multiple smoke detectors throughout the house that all act separately. If you have a fire in an area with one smoke detector, only that room’s detector will go off. However, if you had a smart smoke alarm system, smoke (or carbon monoxide) in any room will alert throughout all of the units and notify you.

Convenience

Kind of a warning here, this is one of those nice-to-have luxuries of modern technology that once you experience it, you won’t be able to go back. You may or may not remember when you had to go up to the television to turn the dial for the station you wanted to see. Then, came the invention of the remote control. No TVs are still manufactured the OTHER way, without remotes, and for good reason. If you don’t have to get up to change the channel, why on EARTH would you do it? That’s what smart features offer. So, if you now can say “Alexa, dim the lights, Alexa turn up the heat,” you’re not going to be sad about how you didn’t get the opportunity to put your book down so that you could get up to do those things.

Peace of Mind

Depending on if you are worried about your dog being left alone (mine just destroyed his dog bed again for the umpteenth time), or your baby’s sleeping status – having a smart monitor watching over your loved ones can definitely ease any angst you might have not being directly next to said loved one. Smart products were designed to solve real-world home/life problems, and that’s exactly what they do. They can let you rest assured that your basement isn’t getting flooded while you are off on your honeymoon (that’s another one that actually did happen to me, good times.)

Reasons You Might Not Love Smart Home Products

Cost

This one may or may not apply, depending on the product. Some of the Smart Home products are actually quite reasonable, but in general, the unintelligent equivalent of a smart-product is typically a little less. There’s a little bit of investment required to start this trend in your home, but as the demand for products goes up, prices across the board should start to become quite competitive.

Coverage

An important thing to keep in mind, is that if your home doesn’t have proper coverage, it will be a bit frustrating to try and use your voice commands in an area with wifi dead spots. If you are experiencing areas where you don’t get signal, consider investing in a Whole Home wifi mesh system (like this one on Amazon) to restore signal in areas in or outside your home that are weak. You will probably already be aware of these weak signals if you use wifi for your phone and notice that people can’t hear you in certain spots.

Installation & Maintenance

Installation for these items can be a little tricky since you will need to make sure you have the right voltage required and electricity hookup, the right sized items to fit things (like your deadbolt lock), and understand how to perform maintenance on the items, like changing the batteries in your door lock. The maintenance itself can bring a bit of a burden, even though most of the battery lives in these products run 10 years or so, so you won’t have to worry about changing them very often.

Multiple Apps

While the idea is to actually be able to make your life easier by controlling all items through Alexa or GoogleHome, some of the smart products require their own separate app to use their custom features (like dimming lights slowly instead of all at once). This means with some of these products you have to have multiple apps controlling different aspects of the product, which might seem a bit cumbersome and counterproductive to the idea of making life “easier”.

Limited Selection

Since this is a fairly new technology, depending on the item, sometimes the selection is limited on available choices. Things like very highly rated door locks are hard to find, even now.  I believe Amazon’s Smart Microwave is the only one available. Hopefully, as this trend continues to surge, we will continue to have expanded options as more companies get into the Smart Home market.

Smart Home Products to Check Out

Here I’ve assembled the best of the best of smart products – in no particular order, and at no particular price points. Some are expensive, and some very cheap. This should provide you with a good smattering of ideas for what you could add to your smart home collection – or enhance a friend or family member’s house with.

Speakers

Tribit StormBox Bluetooth SpeakerThis inexpensive but highly rated portable mini Bluetooth speaker can be set up to work with either Alexa or Google Home. When you pair this with your smart home assistant it becomes a microphone enabling you to give your smart commands in any area your portable speaker has been placed.

Highlights include:

  • 360 Degree Surround Sound
  • Specialized XBass Technology
  • Waterproof for Poolside Parties and Sandy Surfs
  • Control Your Smart Assistant – connects to Alexa, Google Home, or Siri.
  • Music That Moves with You – portable
  • Universal Compatibility – pairs with other speakers
  • Speaker is protected An 18-month Replacement warranty, 30-Day money back guarantee and lifetime customer support.

Lighting

Philips Hue White A19 4-Pack 60W Equivalent Dimmable LED Smart Bulbs Control your lights with your voice using Alexa, Google Home, or a Samsung Smarthings or Philips Hue Hub. You can control many settings with Alexa or Google Home but if you want full functionality you would need the Philips Hub.

Highlights include:

  • Philips Hue works with Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit and Google Home, powered by the Google Assistant, to allow you to control your lights with your voice
  • Use as a wake-up light and feel refreshed with light that increases gradually
  • The iOS or Android app controls lights remotely wherever you are
  • Must use with Philips Hue Bridge to get full functionality (sold separately)

Smoke Detector

Google, S3000BWES, Nest Protect Smoke + Carbon Monoxide Alarm Be aware of smoke or carbon monoxide warnings even when you’re not home and from any place in the home. Also nice, use your phone to remotely turn off the false alarm you caused by frying up some bacon.

Highlights include:

  • Phone Alerts: Nest Protect sends you a message when there’s a problem or the batteries run low.
  • Smoke and CO Locator: Nest Protect speaks up if there’s smoke or CO and tells you where it is, so you know what to do.
  • Detects CO: Carbon monoxide is an invisible, poisonous gas. Nest Protect tells you where it’s hiding.
  • Know from anywhere. Connect Nest Protect to Wi-Fi and it will send an alert to your phone if the alarm goes off or the batteries run low.
  • App Silence. Nest Protect is the first alarm you can hush from your phone. Simply walk to the Nest Protect that noticed the problem and open the Nest app.

Home Security Camera

Wyze Cam 1080p HD Indoor Wireless Smart Home Camera with Night Vision, 2-Way Audio Rest comfortably knowing that your home is being protected, inside or out. This very reasonable camera can use facial recognition to know when to alert or not to when you have someone in your home. At such a low price, many people opt to have several of these for different areas.

Highlights include:

  • Live stream from anywhere in 1080p
  • 2-way audio
  • Night Vision
  • Voice Controlled through Alexa or Google Assistant
  • Save footage on MicroSD card or through Free 14-day Cloud Storage
  • Shareable feed through app – share live stream with family members.

Smart Outlets

Teckin Mini Smart Outlet Wifi Socket with Timer Function These outlets give you the ability to control any appliances in your home remotely using timers/schedules or your voice or phone app.

Highlights include:

  • Control electrical items via your phone or smart hub/assistant.
  • Excellent for handicapped or people with limited physical mobility.
  • Compatible with Amazon Alexa, Google Home Assistant, and IFTTT – no hub required.
  • Schedule & Timer – Turn on/off any home electronics connected to sockets.
  • 2-year warranty

Thermostat

ecobee SmartThermostat with Voice Control Control the temperature in your house using voice commands or through scheduling.

Highlights include:

  • Smart Sensor keeps important rooms comfortable by adjusting your thermostat based on occupancy and temperature.
  • By reducing wasted energy in your home, you could save up to 23% annually on your heating or cooling costs.
  • Control your thermostat and home using your voice, phone, tablet, computer, Apple Watch
  • Alexa is built-in. Just ask for the weather, music, Alexa Calling and more.
  • Integrates with all smart home systems including Google Assistant, Apple Home Kit, Alexa, Samsung SmartThings, and IFTTT.
  • Professional installation is available with purchase through Amazon.

Sprinkler System

Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller, 8 Zone Control your zones and sprinkler schedule remotely through Alexa or Google Home, or use an app on the device of your choice.

Highlights include:

  • Remotely manage your lawn with your smartphone, tablet or laptop, using a connected home system or run zones directly from the controller itself.
  • Rain or Wind Skips – Weather Intelligence uses comprehensive weather data to automatically adjust your irrigation schedule based on the latest local forecasts.
  • Customer support, even on weekends.
  • Set your own schedules or input details like plant type and sun exposure to let Rachio automatically water your lawn with exactly what it needs to thrive, and not a drop more.
  • Reduce your water bill by up to 50% while keeping your garden healthy.
  • EPA WaterSense certified – eligible for utility rebates of up to 100% off (check your local water provider).

Video Doorbell

eufy Security Wi-Fi Video Doorbell, 2K Resolution, Secure Local Storage, Free Wireless Chime With real-time response and no monthly fees, you can see and speak to whomever is at your door, and store footage of the visitors for free.

Highlights include:

  • A Crystal-Clear 2K Image: High Definition 2560 x 1920 resolution ensures high quality video.
  • No Hidden Costs: Designed to protect your home as well as your wallet, eufy Security products are one-time purchases that combine security with convenience.
  • Respond in Real-Time: Speak directly to anyone who approaches your front door via two-way audio.
  • The Alerts Which Matter: Using AI, the camera intelligently detects body shape and face pattern so that you are only alerted on humans at your door.
  • Free electronic chime included: Supports 8 fun and holiday themed ringtones and adjustable volume level. Note: Existing chimes will not work.

Garage Door Opener

Smart Wi-Fi Garage Door Opener, Wireless Remote Smartphone APP Control, Compatible with Alexa, Google Assistant and IFTTT, No Hub Needed, Sensor Use a remote, an app, or a voice-control device to open your garage door or ensure it’s closed.

Highlights include:

  • Allows remote opening for family, guests or couriers to use your garage doors when you are not home.
  • No monthly fees.
  • Easy installation process – you will have a smart garage control in minutes.
  • Compatible with most brands of garage doors made after 1993 (if they have safety sensors).
  • 12-month warranty.

Smart Door Lock

ULTRALOQ U-Bolt Pro Bluetooth Fingerprint and Keypad Electronic Smart Deadbolt Door Lock Open your door using your fingerprint, a code, a key, your phone, or Alexa/GoogleHome. Installation normally takes between 15-30 minutes.

Highlights include:

  • Unlock your Ultraloq anytime, from anywhere. Let friends, guests and service people into your home remotely
  • 6-in-1 Keyless Entry Smart Lock: Fingerprint + Anti-peep Keypad + Smartphone + Auto Unlock + Shake to Open + Mechanical Key
  • Voice control with Alexa, Google Assistant. Works with IFTTT
  • Auto lock / unlock: Locks automatically as you leave and unlocks when you arrive
  • Share Ekey & Code: Grant access to your family, guests or service people via a code or an eKey for permanent access, specific dates or periods of time

What is IFTTT and Do I Need It?

The simple answer is – no, you don’t need it.

However, when you’re ready, and if there’s even the tiniest bit of tech geek in you – you might want it.

IFTTT stands for If This Then That – and it’s basically the way you can command your Smart Items so that they do what you want them to do, in the order you tell them to do it.

This is key for something like asking Alexa to “trigger Movie Setting,” and have your lights dim and your projector start up.

To create what is ironically called “Complex Automation”, it is pretty simple. You will need the IFTTT app to talk to your hub, i.e., Alexa or Google Home. The IFTTT app is free, and can be found here.

Without getting into all the gory details or all the configuration options, once you download, install, and login to your IFTTT app, you then connect it to your devices. After that, you can basically create an IFTTT applet (or recipe) for whatever you want to do, or find one that someone else created by searching through the existing applets.

These applets can do anything from call you when you have a water leak, to checking that your doors are locked at night, to turning your thermostat down when you leave the house (provided of course that you have the smart products to perform these things.)

Do I Need a Smart Hub?

Amazon Alexa and Google Home Assistant do function as a hub so if you are brand new to smart home products you can probably skip buying a specific smart hub, unless you’re going for the full tilt boogie right out of the gate (or have progressed to a higher level of smart home sophistication that warrants it) and have specific needs. Eventually, you may want one as it makes it easier to bring all of your smart devices together, and some of the full functionality of certain smart products require a hub for their enhanced features (like dimming the lights gracefully vs. all of a sudden.)

If you are considering a hub, this Samsung Smarthings hub is also a wifi mesh, so it will boost your wifi signal on top of unifying your smart items, and is reasonable to boot.

Be aware that depending on which brand of Smart Hub you go with, some are not cross compatible. Samsung’s Smarthings Hub is compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant, but at this time is not compatible with Apple Homekit or Wink. So just keep that in mind when considering your SmartHome’s ecosystem and proprietary products that will only work with their own kind.

Get Smart

Do you need any of these things? No.

But, will you love them once you have them? Probably.

So, why not test a few of these out and see if your new and smarter life really is better? If nothing else, Alexa is great for some added entertainment in playing trivia or regaling you with one of her dumb Dad jokes.

If you want to share anything about your Smart Home below – please feel free to comment!

Thanks for reading.

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