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It's simple: Alexa still dominates all smart home integration. And with recent developments, Amazon's voice assistant allows even more impressive integrations from smart thermostats to smart bulbs

Last year, Amazon released dozens of new products and Alexa features, including our new favorite Amazon Echo smart speaker. But other companies have been innovating, too: Last year alone, popular camera developer Wyze released the Wyze Cam v3, the Wyze Cam Outdoor, the Wyze Thermostat, the Wyze Video Doorbell, the Wyze Robot Vacuum, the Wyze Sprinkler Controller and -- incredibly enough -- even more

And to follow up on last year's launch, Amazon released another round of smart home products during the fall product event on Sept. 28, 2021. We got a first look at several new Ring and Echo devices such as the Ring Always Home Cam, the AZ2 processor chip, the Astro robot and the Echo Show 15. We'll update this list once we've tested those products, so check back periodically for the most up-to-date recommendations. 

Chris Monroe/CNET

Amazon's third-gen Echo Dot with Clock was our previous favorite Alexa speaker, but with this year's new product line, the flagship fourth-generation Echo speaker gets the nod. At $100, the spheroidal speaker is more expensive than the $50 fourth-generation Echo Dot, but the improvements in sound quality and some intriguing smart home features justify the additional cost. 

This smart device's shape sets Amazon's newer Echo speaker apart. Where the third-gen Echo offered a barely noticeable sound quality improvement over its predecessor, the ball-shaped fourth-gen version has noticeably better audio output, including respectable bass for a speaker in its price range. 

On the smart home front, the fourth-gen Echo also gets a built-in Zigbee receiver, carrying over a feature from the now-defunct Amazon Echo Plus. The Zigbee receiver lets the new Echo function as a smart home connectivity point for compatible light bulbs, plugs, and other Zigbee-based accessories. That means you can use the Echo itself as a hub, without the need for an additional piece of hardware to get those devices online. 

The newest Echo Dot has the same shape as the new Echo speaker, but the improvement over the third-gen Echo Dot isn't very apparent. It also costs $50, where you can regularly find the third-generation Echo Dot still on sale for $30 or less. 

Read our Amazon Echo (2020) review.

 

Wyze

The third-gen Wyze Cam, like its earlier iterations, costs only about $30, but this smart home device is one of our favorite cameras overall, despite the low price. It comes with weatherproof housing, sharper night vision than its predecessor, a wider field of view, a loud siren and more -- including 14-day video clip storage and a built-in microSD card slot for local storage.

If you have an Echo Show smart display, you can also throw the Wyze Cam's feed onto the screen with a simple voice command.

Read our Wyze Cam (2020) review.

 

Lauren Routt/CNET

Ring's $150 Peephole Cam is a unique product for the Amazon-owned company. Rather than mounting to a door frame or somewhere else to the side of your door, the Peephole Cam replaces a traditional peephole.

That means this Amazon Alexa compatible device is perfect for folks living in apartments who want a smart doorbell, but don't want to deal with a hardwired device -- or otherwise messing up a door frame for the installation. None of Ring's main competitors offer this sort of seamless solution for apartment-dwellers, making this doorbell particularly innovative alongside the other devices available today. 

Not only that, but the Peephole Cam has the easiest installation of any doorbell I've tested to date. It also has advanced Alexa integration. Yes, you can pull up the live feed on an Amazon smart display, but you can also chat with whoever's at your door via the built-in speaker on the smart display with the command, "Alexa, answer the front door."

That two-way talk feature via an Alexa smart display is unique to Ring devices.

Editor's note, Dec. 14: Ring has been called out for its partnership with local police departments in the US, leading privacy advocates to express concern about the data Ring shares with law enforcement and how they use that information. In December 2019, thousands of Ring users' personal information was exposed, leading us to stop recommending Ring products.

Ring has since updated its security policies, from offering customers a Control Center dashboard to more easily access privacy and security settings to requiring two-factor authentication. We have resumed recommending Ring's products with this caveat: If you have concerns about Ring's privacy policies, make sure to familiarize yourself with its privacy statement. You can read more about how we factor Ring's privacy policies into our recommendations here.

Read our Ring Peephole Cam review.

 

Chris Monroe/CNET

The Ecobee Smart Thermostat is a $250 connected thermostat with Alexa compatibility. This model replaces the Ecobee4 smart thermostat, but has a lot of the same great features.

Control your Smart Thermostat via the Ecobee app and use Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri voice commands to adjust the temp of your smart thermostat. It's Alexa's voice control that really stands out here, though, since the thermostat itself has a built-in Alexa smart speaker.

That means you don't need a separate Echo device -- just connect your thermostat, enable the speaker and start asking Alexa questions.

Read our Ecobee SmartThermostat review.

 

Chris Monroe/CNET

The Amazon Echo Show 8 is Amazon's latest smart display. For $110, you get an eight-inch screen with the best resolution of any Echo Show yet, a camera shutter and all the smarts of previous Amazon smart displays.

The Echo Show 8 has a built-in Alexa speaker. That means you can use this smart display to ask your Alexa digital assistant to do your bidding, whether that be asking it to play music, relay the weather or just tell you a joke. And, since it's a smart display, it also offers advanced compatibility with Alexa-enabled security cameras.

Ask Alexa to "answer the front door" when someone rings your Ring Peephole Cam and you can see the live feed on your Show 8 -- and actually talk to the person, straight from the smart display.

Read our Amazon Echo Show 8 review.

 

Chris Monroe/CNET

August's Wi-Fi Smart Lock is a great smart lock. It retrofits to most standard deadbolts, so you don't have to deal with a complicated installation. The built-in Wi-Fi makes it possible to access and control your smart lock remotely via the Android or iOS app without needing an August Connect module.

This product comes with an open/close sensor, too -- called DoorSense -- that attaches to the door where your Wi-Fi Smart Lock is installed. That way, the app can not only tell you whether the door is locked or unlocked, but also if the door is open or closed. 

The August Wi-Fi Smart Lock is an Alexa compatible device, so you can lock and unlock your door from an Alexa-enabled smart speaker using your voice.

Read our August Wi-Fi Smart Lock review.

 

Chris Monroe/CNET

SimpliSafe is a solid DIY home security system with a ton of accessories, so you can scale the system up as needed. The starter kit costs $160 for the hub, keypad, entry sensors and motion sensor. 

SimpliSafe also works with Alexa, so you can arm the system and check its status with simple voice commands.

SimpliSafe doesn't require a contract, but monthly fees start at $15 to access the app and go up to $25 if you want professional monitoring.

Read our SimpliSafe review.

 

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The latest version of the Philips Hue White LED smart bulb works with ZigBee and Bluetooth. The addition of Bluetooth is significant for Philips Hue, because it means you don't need a Philips hub to get these smart bulbs to work.

Instead, the smart bulbs connect directly to your phone -- and they work with Alexa voice commands. Ask Alexa to turn on the living room lights, or dim the dining room smart lights to 70%. 

Philips Hue White LEDs cost just about $13 each, meaning you don't have to dish out a ton of cash for these straightforward Alexa-enabled bulbs.

Read our Philips Hue White LED article.

 

Chris Monroe/CNET

The TP-Link Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Plug Mini is a big name for a tiny smart plug that costs right around $12. A smart plug like this one connects via your Wi-Fi connection directly to a wall outlet and converts your nonsmart lamps, fans and other gadgets into smart devices.

Use the TP-Link app to connect and control devices -- or enlist Amazon Alexa and use your voice. Say, "Alexa, turn on the reading lamp" to get the Plug Mini smart plug to control the devices connected to it with ease.

Read our TP-Link Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Plug Mini review.

 

Chris Monroe/CNET

Sometimes the best products can be the ones that are most unexpected. And this small gadget is a huge delight. The Amazon Echo Flex is a tiny smart speaker that plugs directly into an outlet. For $25, it offers all the smarts of Alexa, plus a USB port for additional modules -- like a motion detector and night light.

As the name suggests, the Flex can fit many functions, helping to strengthen your home security and widen Alexa's range of hearing for when you need help in less central corners of your home.

The addition of a motion sensor also means Alexa can create automations based on your movement, switching on lights when you enter a room or delivering your morning news when you sit down for breakfast.

Read our Amazon Echo Flex review.

 

The Alexa landscape

Amazon's voice assistant makes it easier to control the devices in your home, set timers and find out how long your commute to the office will take. But privacy has become an increasing concern as smart speakers and displays grow in popularity.

Reports that Amazon keeps transcripts of your voice conversations, even after you've deleted the Alexa audio recordings, led to concerns over user privacy. Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, wrote a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos seeking answers about Amazon's Alexa user data and how it's stored. Amazon has since introduced the "Alexa, delete everything I said today" feature. The tech giant says it's also working on new ways for customers to delete their transcripts.

For example, the Echo Show 8 comes with a built-in camera shutter, unlike earlier Echo Show devices.

Amazon isn't alone. Facebook, Google, Ring and other major tech companies have faced their own privacy issues, prompting questions about data usage. 

Fortunately Amazon and others appear to be working to win back our trust. Have these privacy concerns kept you from buying a voice assistant (Alexa or otherwise)? Weigh in in the comments section below.

Still have questions? Read more about Alexa.

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