The modern world is moving toward all kinds of smart home automation, and the longer you hold out, the more difficult it’s going to be when your day of conversion finally comes. What you’ll find is that smart homes aren’t as bad as you think.
For the most part, the benefits are well worth your time and money. Most people worry about the cost, but it’s surprising how affordable it really is, not to mention the secondary advantages, such as the fact that certain smart products can increase your property value.
So let’s look at the most trustworthy brands for getting started. Not “trustworthy” in the sense that they won’t spy on you — that’s a different topic altogether — but in the sense that these brands have been around long enough to know how to make products that work.
Nest deserves a lot of credit for how it succeeded in getting the public to become more comfortable with smart home devices. Though it wasn’t the first to take a smart product to market, it was one of the first to shoot up in popularity. The industry owes a lot to Nest.
It’s most famous product, the Nest Learning Thermostat, still tops the charts with its user reviews. You’d be surprised at how well it can cut your energy bill right in half, and if that weren’t enough, there are so many other things you can do with it.
As of now, it has two other products: a security camera called the Nest Cam (which was formerly known as Dropcam) and a smoke + carbon monoxide detector called the Nest Protect. Everything by Nest is an Amazon Best Seller, so you know they aren’t playing around.
If you’re looking for a smart way to monitor your home, then you can’t go wrong with SmartThings (now owned by Samsung). You’ll need a SmartThings Hub, which is one of the best smart home hubs available, but once you have it, the possibilities are endless.
SmartThings has several useful tools: an Outlet, a Motion Sensor (detects motion), an Arrival Sensor (detects presence in an area), a Water Leak Sensor (detects water), and a Multipurpose Sensor (detects vibrations, tilts, and temperature).
The SmartThings Home Monitoring Kit is the cheapest way to get started. It comes with a Hub, an Outlet, a Motion Sensor, and two Multipurpose Sensors, and a couple of accessories all at a discount.
3. Philips Hue
For smart home lighting, you can’t get much safer than Philips Hue. Sure, you can find cheaper alternatives here and there, but Hue products are great because they just work. They’re tested, reliable, and can be set up with minimal effort.
This reliability comes with a price. A Philips Hue Starter Kit costs a whole lot more than a pack of regular light bulbs from Walmart, but Hue lights can be set to any color on demand, which allows them to do all sorts of amazing things using mobile apps.
Combined with tools like IFTTT or with other smart home products, Hue can push your home lighting setup to the next level. It even works with Apple HomeKit, which means you can do some really cool things like using Siri to set the bedroom mood for romance.
Ecobee is pretty similar to Nest in that its primary product is a smart thermostat. Ecobee’s most popular item, the ecobee3 Smarter Thermostat, debuted a few years after the Nest Learning Thermostat — and many consider it to be superior, which makes sense as Ecobee had the opportunity to learn from Nest’s mistakes and shortcomings.
The ecobee3 takes in all kinds of information from your environment and your home energy patterns, then uses that data to heat or cool your home for optimal comfort and bill savings. It mainly uses Wi-Fi, but can also integrate with Apple HomeKit.
What’s nice is that it comes with an ecobee3 Remote Sensor, which monitors the temperature in a room and whether or not people are in it. If empty, that room can be deprioritized. With a few extra sensors, your home can become really smart about its energy.
5. Belkin WeMo
Belkin WeMo‘s main claim to fame is its smart plug product line. The brand itself shares a lot in common with Philips Hue: backed by a big company, high-quality products, reliable and easy to set up, but a steep price tag to match.
For example, the Belkin WeMo Switch, which grants you the ability to plug in any device or appliance and turn it on or off remotely, is quite pricey for one. If you find it useful, you’ll want several of them around your house, and that can get expensive fast.
There are two other notable products: the Belkin WeMo Insight Switch, which is like the base switch but comes with an energy usage monitor, and the Belkin WeMo Light Switch, which lets you remotely control your home’s light switches (and whatever outlets they’re connected to).
Sonos is a lesser-known brand compared to the ones covered above, but those who do know about it are often impressed by how useful and well-made its products are. Sonos specializes in smart speakers, which can really kick up the luxury level of your home.
The Sonos PLAY:1 is a compact wireless speaker that can play and control all of your music with a single app. We reviewed this one and really liked it, albeit found it a little pricey. If the price tag scares you, stop here because it only gets worse.
The Sonos PLAY:3 is a non-compact version that produces slightly better sound, but the Sonos PLAY:5 is the ultimate speaker for home audio fidelity. For home entertainment centers, the Sonos PLAYBAR would be the ideal purchase — but also the most expensive.
For higher-end smart home products that are still at the consumer level, Lutron is a brand that really stands out, mainly because it offers many product types that you can’t get elsewhere. If you don’t use the Lutron Caseta Smart Bridge, you’ll need a Lutron-compatible hub like Wink.
The Smart Lighting In-Wall Dimmer Kit is a good way to get started because it’s easy, straightforward, and practical, but you don’t have to. Other Lutron products include fan controls, timers, presence and daylight sensors, as well as remote-controlled window shades.
If you don’t recognize the iRobot brand, maybe you’ll recognize its flagship product: the Roomba. What you probably didn’t know is that iRobot specializes in all kinds of smart products for home cleaning. Roombas are only the beginning.
It may not be the most affordable robot vacuum, but it’s certainly very good at what it does. The later models, such as the iRobot Roomba 770, are good enough to clean up after pets and clear away most allergens. If you don’t need one for yourself, it also makes for a great gift.
Other cool robots include the Scooba (floor scrubbing), the Braava (floor mopping), the Mirra (pool cleaning), and the Looj (gutter cleaning). None are as good as the Roomba, but they aren’t bad either!
The last one on this list, OpenHAB, isn’t a hardware brand. Rather, it’s an open source software initiative that aims to integrate all the different standards and protocols that exist across smart home products. Ideally, with OpenHAB, you’ll be able to use anything with everything.
It’s nowhere close to being complete, but it’s certainly usable. We’ve shown how you can install OpenHAB on a Raspberry Pi and how to start doing real things with it. And because it’s open source, you can rest assured that nothing sneaky is going on behind the scenes.
Get Started on a Smart Home Now
If you’re thinking of buying your first piece of smart home tech, then you really can’t go wrong with any of the above brands. Just make sure you check each individual product’s user ratings because no company is perfect 100% of the time. (And learn to ignore fake reviews!)
If you’re worried about price, smart home products are actually very cheap when you compare them to other home improvement projects. And while privacy and security are real concerns, you should be fine if you’re smart and careful.
Once you’re ready to build or expand your smart home, start with these smart sprinkler systems to conserve water and cash.