CES 2018 was, as usual, a Vegas showcase of the most innovative smart devices set to infiltrate your home in the near future.
Today, rather than tantalizing you with what you might soon have – check out our rundown on CES for that – we’ve taken a slightly different approach…
We’ll walk you through 10 devices you should have already if you’re serious about automating your home. Rather than revisiting the territory of future predictions of smart home tech, we’ll drill down on the absolute basics.
So, without further ado, let’s get things started with a classic home hub to build things out around…
1) Wink Hub 2
While we could have chosen any number of home hubs – and we actually chose two – there’s little doubt your most flexible option is the retooled Wink Hub.
Setting up Wink Hub is straightforward. You can use either WiFi or Ethernet to get going and the app makes light work of everything. This newer iteration boasts auto-discovery along with a fully guided set-up taking the sting out of set-up for beginners.
The other significant difference between this second generation and the outgoing hub is that it’s lost a half-inch on the waistline. Slot the slimline unit pretty much anywhere you need it and it won’t eat up too much space.
Compatibility is diverse with over 400 devices supported from Nest and ecobee through to Ring and Philips. Don’t worry, we’ve got some sound examples of those products coming right up!
Take charge of all your automation, scheduling, and monitoring using a single supple app. If you prefer using voice commands, Wink Hub 2 makes a neat fit with either Alexa or Google Assistant, as long as you have an enabled device for the purpose.
This hub works well whether you’re just starting to automate your home or you’re a highly savvy smart tech practitioner. If you want an agile and versatile gateway for all your smart devices, you should strongly consider Hub 2, arguably a stronger performer than Samsung’s SmartThings classic.
- Class-leading communication protocol support with both Zigbee and Z-Wave along with Bluetooth LE and Lutron Clear Connect
- Fully flexible connectivity with 2.4GHZ and 5GHz WiFi or Ethernet for robust dependability with minimal interference
- Control all your smart devices from a single intuitive app or using voice commands and Alexa or Google Assistant
While you can certainly take care of all your home automation using a single gateway, how about if you’re tempted by the many benefits of an Insteon ecosystem?
You can use many Insteon devices standalone, but to get the most from them and automate them fully, the cost-effective hub is a must. Compatible with a broad array of Insteon kit, check here for full compatibility.
Home automation is a cinch with Insteon devices. The hub allows you to build out robust scenes and you’ll also be able to schedule so that the workaday tasks in your home are running on autopilot. If you want to use voice control, both Alexa and Google Assistant are fully supported as long as you’ve got an Echo or Home device.
Dual-mesh, Insteon delivers first-rate and thoroughly dependable connectivity. The new hub boasts a tweaked radio building on already impressive wireless range so you won’t need any extenders.
- New and improved hub combines affordability with enhanced radio to increase range, and an even more compact footprint
- Set-up in-app can be carried out seamlessly in a matter of minutes
- Control all your Insteon devices remotely in-app or use your preferred digital assistant to use voice commands instead
Perhaps one of the strongest and also most affordable security solutions comes from the legendary Amazon in the form of Cloud Cam.
As with any self-respecting monitoring kit, you’ll get highly capable full HD footage. Free storage of and access to 24 hours of clips is thrown in. You can extend this to a month with the optional subscription. There’s a 30-day trial of this package included. You’ll be able to experiment with enhanced alerts and more advanced person detection to see whether this subscription makes sense for you.
The two-way audio also comes in handy if you want to call your kids down from upstairs or ask your husband to bring a drink into the home theater.
If you’re concerned about package theft, this camera works seamlessly with Amazon Key so you can allow access to trusted couriers and authorized shippers and keep your incoming packages off the doorstep.
For a wide-reaching security solution available in packs of 1, 2 or 3, Amazon Cloud Cam is a pocket-friendly way to keep your smart home fully secure.
- Integration with Alexa fully baked in for the best experience yet with Cloud Cam live feed viewable on Echo devices, Fire TV or Fire Tablet
- Stay abreast of what’s happening in your home remotely with 1080p full HD video and two-way audio
- Piercing night vision lets you remain on top of security around the clock
What is there left to say about the ubiquitous Echo? Well, it looks and performs better than ever in the second generation Plus iteration. Amazon fully deserves the stranglehold they exert on the smart speaker segment.
Where sound quality is generally lacking on smart speakers, this version of Echo ups the ante. Immersive Dolby audio through 360 degrees along with improved sound quality gives an added edge to your favorite streamed music. You can pair with another Echo for true stereo sound whether from Spotify, Amazon Music or other supported stations.
Now packing an integrated Zigbee hub, you can take the helm of pretty much any device in your connected home. Automation is perhaps the key selling point for smart speakers over and above music. Echo acquits itself admirably with Alexa performing more strongly than ever before.
If you hook up your phone to Echo via Bluetooth, you’ll be able to make and receive hands-free calls for further convenience.
We’ll look next at your other main option for smart speakers but here’s a snapshot of Echo’s key benefits first…
- Zigbee hub on board for even broader control of your smart devices
- Uprated speakers with more clarity, increased low-end response and even more customization
- Hands-free automation and calling taking all the sting out of fiddling around in-app for control purposes
Make no mistake, Google Home Max is not cheap but you get pretty audacious performance to sit alongside that stiff price tag.
Kicking off with the audio, Google punches even harder than Amazon on this front. The line-topping Home Max comes with twin 4 ½-inch woofers and you’ll get a rich, deep sound even at higher volumes. With access to over 40 million songs over WiFi, you can stream to your heart’s content. Intelligent search allows you to bark requests at Google Assistant and listen to your favorite tunes totally hands-free.
That intelligence also extends to the way Home Max adapts to the acoustics of your room for the most even and optimized sound. Far-field recognition and the 6 microphones in place guarantees you’ll make yourself heard. By picking up your voiceprint, Home Max will serve up results tailored to you then switch seamlessly to your wife and kids for more of the same.
If you like the idea of this smart speaker but find the price a little steep, check out our look at the whole stable of Google Assistant devices for more cost-effective options. If, on the other hand, you don’t mind the modest investment for a show-stopping smart speaker, Home Max is the way to go in 2019.
- Thunderous sound for a smart speaker with thumping bass but no muddiness or distortion
- Multiple mics and far-field recognition means Assistant will hear you even across a noisy, crowded room
- Voice footprint allows Home Max to return personalized responses while also affording you complete control over your smart home devices
One of the most common entry points with home automation is a smart thermostat and ecobee has that niche on lock.
While not exactly cheap, the energy-efficiency of this thermostat allows you to save money on your power bills month in, month out. You should see a fairly rapid return on investment and that’s before considering the convenience angle…
You can use a Google Home device for control with Assistant while Alexa comes built in. As well as making use of your preferred virtual butler for voice control, you can also take charge remotely in-app.
Smart sensors help keep those bills down further by intuiting whether or not a room is occupied and regulating temperature accordingly. You’ll also kiss goodbye to those tiresome hot spots or pockets of cold that can crop up with older, standalone thermostats.
Design is uppermost with ecobee and the ultra-compact device fits pretty much anywhere with a crisp, clean aesthetic showing you a readout with all you need and nothing you don’t.
For a smart thermostat that punches above its weight, ecobee is a serious rival to the stellar Nest Learning, and it’s getting better with each generation.
- Works a treat with all digital assistants, IFTT, HomeKit and SmartThings
- Sensors mean you won’t be blighted with inconsistent delivery and hot or cold spots
- Alexa voice service baked in so no need for a supplementary device
Maybe you’re not sure about completely automating your home, but you’d like to test the waters. If so, this mini WiFi smart plug from Wemo works over WiFi with no call for a third-party hub.
You can use the app for control but also Alexa or Google Assistant if you want to embrace the magic of voice commands. You’ll also be able to create If This, Then That recipes and use the plug in tandem with Nest Learning Thermostat.
For practical use, try connecting your coffee maker to the smart plug then asking Alexa to make your morning latte as you finish getting ready upstairs. You can take charge of lighting, heaters and fans, too.
Scheduling gives you an extra layer of security when you’re not at home. Program for lamps to come on as it gets dark or for your radio to start playing making your house seem lived in. This is a great way to get used to automating your home before committing to building out a more wide-reaching ecosystem.
We chose the Wemo Mini for its versatility but an honorable mention should go out to the classic Insteon Remote Control Dual Outlet. It’s more expensive and a little more limited but a superb alternative for Insteon fans.
- Switch your appliances on or off from your smart phone so no more crouching down or reaching behind the couch
- Schedule your lights to kick into action or power down in-app
- Slots neatly over existing installation in seconds
Philips dominates the smart lighting sector. Their broad spread of starter kits makes the ideal entry point if you want the benefits of smart lighting without needing to conduct any rewiring.
With so many starter kits to wade through, the choice can seem overwhelming. Focus on the 3 main types of bulb available first and foremost:
- White Ambiance
- White & Color Ambiance
The straight-up white bulbs offer dimming while the white ambiance give you more scope with shading. With the range-topping white and color ambiance kit, you’ll get a staggering 16 million colors so you can fully customize your lighting without needing an electrician.
Alongside the regular A-19 sizing, you can get LED strip lights and downlights too.
You can control your bulbs without needing a hub if you’re content with more limited functionality. We’d strongly suggest investing in the Hue Bridge, though. The bonus of buying a starter kit is that the gateway is included.
Voice control is possible as long as you have an Echo device for Alexa and the app, in its uprated version, is now straightforward to use from installation to automation.
- Choice of multiple bulbs to personalize your lighting throughout your home
- Use with or without the Hue Bridge so you won’t be committed to buying a hub unless you want one
- Improved app is a dramatic step up on the irksome older version
Smart door locks take on many forms and we could have offered up any number of worthy options. We chose the Kwikset for its versatility and almost universal appeal even though other brands like August might deliver greater functionality.
This deadbolt is designed as an alternative to your existing hardware. Although ostensible simple, it comes with a few hidden gems.
You can store up to 30 codes so this should be more than enough for even large families with service staff. It also works well for streamlining check-in if you rent your home on Airbnb. Alongside this, you can also enter using a key. What you won’t get is that fear of losing your smart phone and simultaneously being locked out. This is an issue with some other smart locks and part of the reason we chose the Kwikset.
Z-Wave compatible, as part of this ecosystem you can lock or unlock your door remotely. This is excellent as it means you can step up the tech if you want to or keep things basic.
Crowned with a lifetime warranty, if you’re looking to start automating your entry system without going all-in, think seriously about this electronic deadbolt from a brand you can rely on.
- Touchpad gives you keyless convenience without bewildering anyone in the family uncomfy with tech
- Auto-locking feature gives you complete peace of mind if you’re forgetful
- Take remote control as part of a Z-Wave system
Security specialists Ring have a stated mission to make neighborhoods safer. The Video Doorbell Pro sits between the entry-level model and the hard-hitting Elite.
Hardwired and able to use either 2.4GHz or 5GHz WiFi, the connection you’ll enjoy is remarkably dependable. Installation is straightforward using your existing doorbell wiring.
The core purpose of this video entry system is allowing you to communicate with incoming guests without needing to jump up to greet them if you’re busy. You can also stay fully abreast of who is coming and going remotely, perfect for ramping up security in your home.
The app works a treat on any smart phone whether iPhone, Android or Windows. HD video streaming with highly effective night vision and clear two-way audio combine to deliver outstanding comms remotely.
A wide 160-degree field of vision affords you a great sweeping view and eliminates blind spots. Human detection stops the doorbell being triggered by passing animals and minimizes false alarms.
Particularly valuable if you work from home and don’t want to miss incoming business but equally useful if you simply want an automated entry system, Ring Video Doorbell Pro is a smart home essential for 2019 and beyond.
- Hardwired so you won’t have any concerns about batteries dying on you
- 1080p HD video and two-way audio means you can talk with incoming guests without getting up off the couch
- Live view allows you to see what’s happening on your property remotely so a nice extra safety touch
We could have chosen literally hundreds of devices today but limited ourselves to just 10 to get things started.
Come back soon for more of the best smart home news. We update our home automation blog daily Monday through Friday. Early next week we’ll be looking at how smart home tech might develop in 2019 so we’ll have some more adventurous devices than today’s functional collection.