It seems like everyone is talking about smart homes these days, but are they really that exciting or just another passing fad? What can a smart home do and why would you want one?
To be sure, the Internet of Things (IoT) shows no signs of abating, with more and more tech companies entering the fray. While Amazon and Google continue to be the leaders in an increasingly crowded space with their Alexa Echo and Google Home Hub, Apple and Microsoft are both looking to enter the market along with many smaller companies.
Electronic assistants, such as those mentioned, are extremely handy and do increase productivity. It is more than just convenient to be able to check the weather, time of day, news headlines, and traffic situation before you leave your house. In addition, more and more household appliances and chores are becoming connected and automated.
Why Are Smart Homes Becoming So Popular?
If you can imagine a climate controlled home with a refrigerator which inventories its contents and automatically orders groceries, lights that automatically adjust to the situation and turn on and off when you enter and leave a room, and window blinds that automatically close at dusk, you are starting to see the allure.
Maybe you don’t need to be able to control the TV’s volume or change channels from another room, but it sure is nice, and it definitely comes in handy when your hands are full or the phone rings and you can’t find the remote. They can also save you money by monitoring appliances and energy usage, among other things.
Not to mention the fact that smart homes are just plain cool! Despite their practicality — despite the time, energy, and money they can save – smart homes are enjoyable and a lot of fun to show off to friends and family.
Smart Home Setups
While Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Home appear to be the most well-known hubs in the US, full-scale smart home systems such as Hive and Belkin’s Wemo (below) are also very popular.
Alexa is the wake-up call for Amazon’s line of voice-controlled personal assistants. There are several models available, from the upscale Echo Show (including video) to the palm-sized Dot (audio only). All can be used without a Prime subscription, although one is highly recommended to get the most out of the service – and those on assistance get a special discount, as do students.
Similar to Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Home is a digital personal assistant which employs the full range of Google products – which is admittedly larger than Amazon’s when it comes to everything but media. (However, you need a monthly Prime subscription to access Amazon’s media libraries.)
The Philips Hue is the most popular lightbulb which works with your digital assistant. They have a wide range of settings, including colors, dim settings, and more. Smart lights do not require much setup aside from a smart plug.
As one might expect, smart home doorbells can do a bit more than alert you to a visitor’s presence. The high-end models include video conferencing. Paired with smart lighting sets, the smart doorbell can overcome hearing disabilities by flickering the lights or changing their color when a visitor arrives! Unlike smart lighting though, these doorbells require some wiring to install.
In their own way, thermostats are already smart devices if you strictly define them, as they automate climate control based on manual settings chosen by the homeowner. However, smart apps, such as the popular Nest, go far beyond that: You can control your thermostat remotely, by voice, and more. Nest capable thermostats help you save money and benefit the environment. Better still, Nest has an entire line of smart products including doorbells, security, and more. If you have a boiler, you may need a 3rd-gen Nest controller.
The Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator is revolutionary in that it makes your refrigerator almost literally the hub of your home. It allows you to remotely see what is inside your fridge while shopping, see who is at the door on your refrigerator’s touchscreen, and more. There are even smart dishwashers, toilets, and sinks that are designed to save you money and learn your habits to make using them less a chore.
But, before you poo-poo the idea, consider that the kitchen can reasonably be argued to be the center of the home, and think about whether or not you wouldn’t enjoy being able to start a fresh cup of coffee from your bedroom so it was ready when you got dressed for work and made it to the kitchen? With the Smarter Coffee Maker, you can do that and more. Smarter also makes the iKettle and a FridgeCam similar to Samsung’s.
One of the best things about a smart home is the range of media and entertainment options. To get the most of them, you will first need a multi-room audio setup. Sonos is probably the most well-known, though there are others. In fact, any Bluetooth speaker should work with both the Echo and Google Home assistants, and you can use your device or voice commands to change inputs – that way, you can have the audio follow you into another room, or change from the TV to the radio, and more.
Arguably the best smart device available, robot vacuums, like the iRobot Roomba, clean your floors day and night, and some models can even detect when spills occur! Of course, you can command your iRobot to clean or avoid certain areas, as well. While these work well on both carpet and other floorings, newer models include mop options, can deep clean carpets, and even buff floors for that commercial sheen. They even mow yards!
Plugs and Switches
Mentioned above, many “dumb” electronics can be controlled through “smart” plugs, like the Belkin Wemo. But the Wemo does a lot more than just allow you to turn a device off and on; the full array of Wemo products includes motion sensors, bulbs, cameras, and more to make your entire home truly smart. There are other smart plugs and sensors, but you are probably better off choosing one brand to eliminate troubleshooting should anything go wrong or not work as expected.
Remote controls have been the center of home entertainment since at least the 1980s, but the Logitech Harmony Elite takes “universal remote” to an entirely new level. It claims to work with basically every smart tech device on the market today, including Alexa, Roku, Sonos, and more. Open your blinds in the morning with the touch of a button, then have a cup of coffee waiting on you when you get to the kitchen! There are other universal remotes for your IoT network, though the Logitech Harmony gets top ranking on almost every list.
While most discussion of smart homes center on the living room entertainment or kitchen, the bedroom is another area where the IoT is doing amazing things. The Withings Sleep Tracking Mat, for example, tracks your sleep patterns and habits to help you achieve a better night’s sleep. Beautyrest makes a sleeptracker, as well. Your home assistant can also help you make the most of your bedroom, with numerous white noise and sleep tracking apps you can enable.
These have actually been around for a while now, as anyone with a recent make car knows. Smart locks for the home, like the market leading front door lock, Yale Conexis, can be controlled via Bluetooth, device app, or even voice commands (if part of a network). With the Conexis, you can also send visitors a virtual key and keep track of everyone’s comings and goings via the app to your front door lock. A smart front door lock’s full potential is realized with similar apps and devices, such as home security systems and doorbells with visual conferencing.