I can’t remember exactly when I realized that there were too many smart home devices. Maybe itâs when I heard that Amazon was releasing an Alexa-enabled microwave. Maybe itâs when I read that Huggies was planning to bring smart diapers to the US. Maybe itâs when I realized that someone has been selling smart egg trays since at least before 2013. Smart egg trays, people.
But I will say, as someone with a bedroom crowded with no fewer than five active Alexa and Google Assistant speakers, that a few of these devices can actually improve your life. There are some tasks that are easier or more fun to accomplish using your voice or an automated routine. And you can take the plunge for as little as $200. If youâre interested in building out a simple and inexpensive smart home, here are the first three devices you should consider.
A smart speaker is the anchor to your smart home, since it’s the main way you’ll be interacting with your connected devices. Deciding which one to get can be tricky, but the safest bet is just to get a budget offering from Amazon or Google. The Amazon Echo Dot and Google Home Mini are functionally the same as any of the flagship offerings from either company, but have a much smaller speaker. When you’re ready to upgrade your system, maybe so that you can trigger an assistant to listen to music, you should consider the Sonos One.
Choosing between the two major voice assistants might have once presented a challenging big decision, but both Google and Amazon have become good enough to handle most of your day-to-day needs. For instance, neither should have any trouble playing Billie Eilish on command, telling you exactly how old Billie Eilish is, and making you feel bad for how little you’ve accomplished in so many more years of life. The general consensus is that Alexa is slightly better at controlling smart home devices and managing routines, while the Google Assistant is a bit better at answering questions and managing multiroom audio. (Note: You can use the items on the rest of this list without a smart speaker. But itâs way more fun to use a voice assistant, especially when youâre yelling across the room.)
Smart bulbs allow you to customize the color and brightness of your lights to create different moods or scenes, which amounts to an immediate functional upgrade over any kind of conventional lighting. Itâs simple to mess around with these settings and try out different goofy color combinations, like creating a warm scene for just before bed (“the night train”) or a bright scene for cooking (“dinner party”). Especially fun: finding a few lighting scenarios that are so deeply uncool youâll be embarrassed to turn them on in the company of anyone youâll have to look in the eye (one of mine is named âalien timeâ).
The best smart lights available, according to literally everyone, are the ones made by Philips Hue. The company has been making smart lighting since 2012 and offers a range of smart lighting products (including indoor bulbs, outdoor bulbs, light strips, switches, and sensors) with support for all the major smart home platforms (Alexa, Google Assistant, HomeKit, IFTTT, and more). The bulbs are incredibly easy to swap in and set up, even though you also have to install a Wi-Fi hub (which comes with the starter kit). In my experience, the Philips Hue bulbs react to a command from a smart speaker or their mobile app almost instantaneously, which makes them the most powerful basic addition to any smart home. Once you have the starter kit, which comes with four bulbs and the hub, you can add additional bulbs for $40.
A smart plug is an extremely simple catch-all device that can add a lot of functionality to any of your electronics. You can add one to your AC or space heater, so that you can adjust the temperature of your bedroom as youâre walking home. You can add one to your ancient, but reliable non-programmable Mr. Coffee machine, so that you can prepare and schedule a brew the night before. You can add one to your string of Christmas lights, so that they turn on automatically when the sun goes down.