What Is Smart Home Technology?
What if all the devices in your life could connect to the internet? Not just computers and smartphones, but everything: clocks, speakers, lights, doorbells, cameras, windows, window blinds, hot water heaters, appliances, cooking utensils, you name it. And what if those devices could all communicate, send you information, and take your commands? It’s not science fiction; it’s the Internet of Things (IoT), and it’s a key component of home automation and smart homes.
Home automation is exactly what it sounds like: automating the ability to control items around the house—from window shades to pet feeders—with a simple push of a button (or a voice command). Some activities, like setting up a lamp to turn on and off at your whim, are simple and relatively inexpensive. Others, like advanced surveillance cameras, may require a more serious investment of time and money.
Smart Home Hubs and Controllers
Amazon Echo Family
The Echo is a Bluetooth speaker powered by Alexa, Amazon’s handy voice assistant. Alexa works with a number of smart home devices directly, as well as with If This Then That (IFTTT) to control plenty of others via “recipes” you can create yourself. It’ll take some work, but you can use Alexa to control most of the gadgets in your house by the sound of your voice. If you already have a favorite speaker, the inexpensive Echo Dot can connect to it and add Alexa functionality. And if you want a touch screen to see search results and make video calls, check out the Echo Showor Echo Spot.
Wink Hub 2
Our current Editors’ Choice for home automation hubs, the Wink Hub 2 works with devices that use Z-Wave, Zigbee, Lutron Clear Connect, Kidde, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi. It is also for the future. That includes just about everything in the smart home spectrum, from Philips Hue lighting and the Netgear Arlo camera, to Google Home. It’s the most reliable, widely supported hub we’ve tested.
The Brilliant Control is a unique wall switch that uses Wi-Fi to connect to and control various smart devices in your home. It has a 5-inch color touch screen with user-friendly button controls that let you play music, control lighting, set thermostat temperatures, and see who is at your door, among other things. It works with many popular smart home platforms including Ecobee, Nest, Philips Hue, Ring, and Sonos, and it has built-in Amazon Alexa voice support that allows it to do almost everything an Echo device can do. It’s fairly pricey and requires wiring knowledge to install, but it’s a smart addition to a high-tech home.
Logitech Harmony Elite
Don’t like talking and prefer controlling things the old fashioned way: by pushing buttons? The Logitech Harmony Elite is the ultimate universal remote for a reason: it controls a lot more than just TV and stereo. The pricey unit connects with the included Harmony Home Hub to control other Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Zigbee, Z-Wave, or infrared devices in your house.
For more, see What Is a Smart Home Hub (And Do You Need One)?
iHome iSP6X SmartPlug
While we’ve yet to find a smart switch that does absolutely everything, the $29.99 iHome iSP6X SmartPlug comes pretty close. It lets you easily controls gadgets and appliances from your smartphone, while delivering an unparalleled level of third-party smart home integration. Not only does it support Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice control, it also works with Apple HomeKit, Nest, Samsung SmartThings, and Wink. It lacks energy monitoring, but makes up for it with robust scheduling options, an intuitive app, and painless installation.
See The Best Smart Plugs for more.