Automate this: Smart devices for every corner of your home
With a veritable boom in home automation, your options are expanding every day. We're here to help you take advantage of some of the most interesting and ingenious smart products we've seen -- and they're surprisingly affordable, too.
Ry CristSenior Editor / Reviews - Labs
Originally hailing from Troy, Ohio, Ry Crist is a writer, a text-based adventure connoisseur, a lover of terrible movies and an enthusiastic yet mediocre cook. A CNET editor since 2013, Ry's beats include smart home tech, lighting, appliances, broadband and home networking.
ExpertiseSmart home technology and wireless connectivityCredentials
10 years product testing experience with the CNET Home team
When you talk about smart appliances, the first things that come to mind for most people are Wi-Fi-enabled washing machines or refrigerators with touch screens built into the door. But some of the smartest upgrades of all might actually lie in the world of home automation, where an explosion of new smart gadgets is offering homeowners entirely new levels of functionality for their day-to-day lives. Best of all, unlike that Internet-ready washer or touch-screen fridge, a home automation upgrade isn't likely to cost you thousands of dollars.
With more and more products rolling out each month, from both established names in home appliances and independent, crowdsourced upstarts, we'll be working hard to get our hands on as many devices as possible to help keep you ahead of the curve, and feel confident that your smart home upgrades will indeed live up to the name. Here's a rundown of everything we've reviewed so far.
At a price of $49.99, the Belkin WeMo Light Switch is a home automation solution for budding DIYers. The installation is fairly painless and the corresponding app is compatible with both Android and iOS. That way, you can control your lights from anywhere you have an Internet connection. With the Belkin WeMo Light Switch, you can set custom lighting schedules and even design one-of-a-kind home automations with the ever-popular IFTTT app.
For affordable home automation, it's hard to do much better than the Belkin WeMo Switch, which retails for just $49.99, or $79.99 if you bundle it with the WeMo motion detector. In addition to the price, we loved the WeMo Switch's simplicity. Just plug it in, plug something else into it, then pull up the free WeMo app on your smartphone to turn that something else on and off remotely, or to program it to turn on automatically at certain times.
The motion detector makes things even more interesting, allowing you to program things like lights and air conditioners to switch on as soon as you walk into the room. Add in the fact that both the WeMo Switch and the motion detector are programmable via the popular, free web service IFTTT -- which means you'll be able to connect appliances to services like Google Drive, send a motion detected tweet, or any number of other crazy possibilities -- and you can start to see why we think this nifty product might be a home automation home run.
It might not be as flashy as the Philips Hue Starter Kit, but the value of the Connected by TCP Wireless Lighting Kit is impossible to deny. With three high-quality LED bulbs, a handy remote, and a mercifully small-sized routing hub, TCP's hardware is as solid as we've seen. Their software impressed us, too, with a well-designed smartphone app that made automation and scheduling a cinch. Best of all is the price: $142 for a three bulb kit isn't bad at all, but if you shop at Home Depot, you'll find it for $109. That's one of the best smart home deals we've seen yet.
If you're going smarten up your locks and your lights, why not smarten up the ol' garage door, while you're at it? That's the thought behind Garageio, a $149 device that connects to your existing garage door opener, then lets you open and shut up to three separate doors via your Wi-Fi connected Android or iOS device. You'll be able to check the door's status, too -- perfect for those late-night anxiety attacks where you can't remember whether or not you remembered to close it before hitting the sack. You can also grant access to other smartphone users, then track their comings and goings. And, unlike other systems that rely on Bluetooth (and thus, restrict your range of control to about fifty meters), you can control the Garageio from any place with a Wi-Fi connection.
The Hiku Labs Hiku is a clever little device that can scan bar codes or listen to voice commands in order to build a convenient shopping list right on your smartphone. We aren't sure that it beats a good old fashioned pencil and paper, but it's pretty nifty nonetheless, and could one day streamline list-making and shopping in general. Gizmophiles will definitely want to add it to their list.
Honeywell designed this $249 thermostat to compete directly with the $249 Nest Learning Thermostat. Both models learn your energy usage habits and adjust your home heating and cooling system to help save you money over time. And each one comes with a free app so that you can monitor and adjust your heat or AC remotely. The Honeywell is also a bit more complicated to install, but the main difference between them is cosmetic. The Honeywell looks more like a regular digital thermostat, and the Nest was designed by former Apple employees. Not everyone likes tidy Apple-style design, so the Honeywell may find its fans by offering a beefier-looking alternative.
In the past, automating your lights meant hooking your lamps up to remote enabled dimming modules, installing special light switches into the wall, or even rewiring your lighting setup altogether. Now, with bulbs that feature built-in remote capabilities, there's a better way, and the $29.99 Insteon LED Bulb is one of the best examples we've seen. Screw it in like a normal lightbulb, then add it to an existing home automation network -- you'll be automating your new light in no time. Best of all, the bulb is a quality piece of hardware. With just 8 watts of power consumption, it's ultra efficient -- and at three hours of use a day, it's rated to last you fifty years.
Crowdsourcing success story iSmartAlarm (which we saw at CES 2013) is a budget-friendly security alternative for DIY-minded homeowners. Packages start at just $199 and include motion sensors, panic sirens, contact sensors for doors and windows, keychain remote controls, and an optional camera that you can access from your smartphone, or program to automatically snap pictures during a break-in. With the exception of the frustratingly finicky camera, we were completely impressed with how well the iSmartAlarm system performed. Most exciting of all is that there are no contracts or subscription fees to deal with, making it one of the most affordable options in legitimate home security currently available.
The first of a new generation of smart locks to hit the market, the Kwikset Kevo Bluetooth Deadbolt uses Bluetooth 4.0 to detect the phone in your pocket (or a fob on your keychain), then let you in with a simple touch. We were stunned by how well this touch-to-enter tech worked, especially the built-in sensors that are able to detect whether your phone is outside or inside of the door. At a price of $219, you aren't necessarily paying for a more secure lock, but you're definitely paying for a more convenient one.
If you're looking for a simple entry-point into the world of color-changing smart bulbs (and if you'd rather not spend $200 on a Philips Hue Starter Kit), then you might want to take a look at the Lumenation Lumen LED Color Smart Bulb. At a price of $69.99, the Lumen offers complete color-changing controls over a Bluetooth connection. This means that you'll only be able to control it locally, but it also means that you won't need a separate hub, as you will with Phillips. The Lumen app has a variety of preset modes, including a wake-up light, a proximity sensor, and a music-sync mode, but it was a bit buggy for our tastes, and not as powerful as we'd like. Still, for now, this bulb merits consideration.
The Nest Learning Thermostat preceded Honeywell's version by almost two years, showing us a life beyond the typical beige, plastic temperature control dial. Beyond its sleek looks, the Nest not only gives you remote, app-driven thermostat control, it also studies your energy usage patterns, with the ultimate goals of promoting energy efficiency and helping you save money on your power bill. Expect Nest and Honeywell to compete fiercely in the marketplace and in their ongoing court battle. Regardless of who emerges on top in either arena, Nest deserves credit for raising our expectations for home temperature control.
With its boutique good looks and cleverly designed features, the Nest Protect is the smoke/carbon monoxide detector you never realized you wanted. Some will appreciate smart features like remote monitoring via mobile device, others will find more subtle touches like waving off false alarms with your hand to be the smartest of all. Wherever you stand, we say this is the best smoke detector on the market, and a worthy follow-up to the Nest Learning Thermostat.
If you're interested in purchasing an automated Schlage deadbolt or Trane thermostat, then you'll need to spend $59.99 on a Nexia Bridge in order to unlock their true potential. The fact that Nexia will charge you $8.99 a month after that to use their home automation services is especially hard to stomach. Still, the Nexia Bridge -- essentially a router for your automatable gizmos -- is compatible with over 200 devices, so if you're planning on building an elaborate home automation network and you want it all to work together through one convenient service, Nexia isn't a bad way to go. Also, it doesn't hurt that the Nexia Bridge, for the cost, performed admirably in our tests, or that the Web site it offers to subscribers is one of the finest home automation control centers that we've seen.
While not the most affordable DIY security package that we've seen, the Oplink Security TripleShield Package still impressed us with its high-quality smartphone app and its flawless suite of sensors. The cameras worked especially well -- turn the lights off, and they'll automatically switch into night vision mode. If the alarm ever gets triggered, they'll automatically record what's happening and save the footage directly to your phone, which is invaluable information for the police (and for your insurance provider, too).
Colored lighting might be among the more frivolous products out there, but there's something undeniably attractive about the Philips Hue app-driven LED light bulb set. Beefing up a holiday display or setting a multicolored mood will appeal to some people, but the real draw here is the Hue's impressive programmability. Beginners can create schedules, set the lights to go on automatically when they arrive at home; advanced users digging into IFTTT can tie lighting behavior to stock price fluctuations, Facebook alerts, and the scoring activity of their favorite football team.
Philips asks $199 for the Hue starter set, and you don't need to pay that much if all you want is to put your lights on a timer. If you like the idea of messing around with all that customization though, the Hue bulbs offer a nearly infinite set of possibilities, and without overwhelming you. With all of that potential, it's not hard to imagine how a dedicated user might integrate Philips' bulbs might integrate seamlessly into his or her universe of devices.
If you love eggs, but have a habit of wasting them after you've lost track of the expiration date, then Quirky and GE might have the perfect product for you. The Quirky Egg Minder is a clever little tray designed not just to hold fourteen eggs, but also to track their freshness. Using the free Wink app on your Android or iOS device, you'll be able to receive alerts when eggs go bad or when it's time to buy more, and you'll also know which ones to use first. It's a quirky idea for sure, but a clever one, too.
Quirky's original pivoting power strip is one of the startup's all-time best-sellers, so it's no surprise that they've pushed forward with a new smart model that adds remote control and automation to the picture. The Quirky Pivot Power Genius boasts two smart outlets -- you'll be able to turn anything you plug into them on and off remotely via the free Wink app. You can also set them to turn on and off automatically at certain times of day, which is perfect if you're like me and need to have a pot of coffee brewing before you can even fathom getting out of bed in the morning.
Perhaps the most ambitious product in Quirky+GE catalog is the Quirky Spotter, a compact environmental sensor that's designed to track changes in temperature, humidity, motion, sound, and light. Using the free Wink app, you'll be able to receive notifications on your Android of iOS device when anything's amiss. You'll also be able to connect your Spotter with the Pivot Power Genius, and let those environmental triggers turn your appliances on and off automatically.
The Spotter still has some less endearing performance quirks, but with dozens of additional Quirky+GE-branded products coming out in the coming months, we're excited to see how things play out. This is a gizmo worth keeping an eye on.
Your home is your castle, but drawbridges aren't always practical. That's where the Schlage Camelot Touchscreen Deadbolt comes in, packaging the highest quality deadbolt into a sleek, sophisticated, and very smart case, all for a price of $162. With the Camelot, you'll be able to keep your key ring in your pocket and unlock your door by punching a code into the keypad. The Camelot can store up to thirty of them, so you can even assign unique codes to everyone who needs access.
The built-in alarm is another welcome feature, capable of deterring both forced entry and lock picking. However, some of the Camelot's best features, like remote smartphone controls, home automation rule creation, the ability to create temporary or time-specific codes, and the power to see who's opening the door and when, are all only accessible if you purchase a Nexia Bridge for $59.99 and agree to pay $8.99 a month for Nexia's home automation services. This will be a justified deal breaker for some.
After making a name for themselves by designing automotive accessories, Viper made a move into the smart home this year with a new line of DIY security products. The Viper Home Starter Kit works in conjunction with their car products, and performed quite well in our tests. The monthly fees are less expensive than what you'll pay with some other DIY kits, making it an intriguing option for those who want a camera-based system they can rely on. Consumers looking for something simpler and fee-free will want to stick with iSmartAlarm, or perhaps look into an all-in-one unit like Piper or Canary.
Smart lock options keep expanding, but the two-year-old Yale Real Living Touchscreen Deadbolt remains an excellent choice. Fully programmable and capable of being controlled by a wide variety of home automation systems, this smart lock is available in both Z-Wave and ZigBee models. You can even get a key-free model with no cylinder or keyhole whatsoever -- just make sure to keep plenty of spare batteries on hand.