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Nest Thermostat, Amazon Echo, Philips Hue: The best smart home tech of the decade

Commentary: These are the most groundbreaking smart home products of the 2010s.

Megan Wollerton Former Senior Writer/Editor
8 min read

The Nest Learning Thermostat was first introduced to the world in 2011 and it inspired many other brands to think about "boring" home appliances in a new way. 

Jon Garnham/CNET

We're jumping into a time machine to revisit some of best, biggest and the not-so-good in tech from the last 10 years. We've already covered influential people, memorable TV shows -- and even the worst tech trends of the decade. Now it's time to talk about the smart home

Smart home tech refers to a broad range of devices that connect to your phone, TV or voice assistant. While some smart home products existed before the 2010s, like Simplisafe's first-gen DIY home security system (2008), this decade ushered in the modern smart home industry -- an entire tech category comprised of thermostats, lights, security cameras and even fridges that do much more than their non-smart predecessors. 

But 10 products stand out more than the rest. Here are the biggest smart home hits of the decade, ranked in ascending order. 

Belkin WeMo Switch
Ry Crist/CNET

10. Belkin Wemo Smart Switch (2012)

Ah, the humble smart plug. These handy gizmos plug into outlets and make it possible to control lamps, space heaters and other dumb home appliances from your phone -- or with a voice command. It's a simple, affordable entry point into the smart home, and the Belkin Wemo Smart Switch was an early favorite. 

Its $50 price, straightforward app and early adoption of IFTTT, a service that helps devices from different manufacturers work together, made it a popular product recommendation in the early days of CNET's smart home coverage. Belkin replaced this particular switch with the Belkin Wemo Insight Switch (2013) and the Belkin Wemo Mini Smart Plug (2017), but the original Wemo Smart Switch is a legacy smart home product that inspired other brands to introduce easy-to-use app-enabled smart plugs. 

Read more: The best smart plugs of 2019

SimpliSafe Home Security Ultimate Package
Colin West McDonald/CNET

9. Piper (2013)

Piper was the original all-in-one home security system. This self-contained security device, now discontinued, cost $239. It came with an HD security camera, two-way audio and motion, audio, humidity, temperature and ambient light sensors. Piper was outfitted with a siren, so you could scare away potential intruders with a screaming 105-decibel alarm. 

Piper got its start on Indiegogo and expanded to online stores like Amazon after Icontrol Networks purchased the startup. Icontrol then released an improved version of the original Piper with night-vision called the Piper NV. Many other brands followed suit with all-in-one home security systems, but Piper led the charge for this smart home product category. 

Alarm.com purchased the Piper division of Icontrol Networks in 2017 and the Piper and Piper NV products were discontinued. 

Read more: All-in-one home security systems should be much more popular (commentary)

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

8. August Smart Lock (2013)

The August Smart Lock, first introduced in 2013, was pretty revolutionary at the time. Instead of replacing your entire deadbolt -- a standard step for many smart locks, even today -- August's inaugural smart lock retrofit over most standard deadbolts. The installation required minimal time and effort and you could lock and unlock your door from the August app. August has since introduced next-gen versions of its classic Smart Lock, but the installation and overall simplicity remains the same. In 2017, Assa Abloy, the parent company of lock maker Yale, purchased August

August also sells a smart video doorbell, the square August Doorbell Cam Pro.

Read more: The best smart locks of 2019

Chris Monroe/CNET

7. Samsung Family Hub (2016)

Most of the large appliances we've seen with integrated smart home tech aren't actually all that smart. The Family Hub fridge by Samsung is one of the few exceptions -- it was the first large appliance that impressed us with its smart tech. 

At $5,600, the Family Hub is an expensive refrigerator -- Samsung has since introduced other, slightly more affordable models. Samsung's goal: to make Family Hub the hub of your house. Not only do the fridges have an app, they have built-in cameras where you can see what's inside when you're at the grocery store. Not sure if you need more milk? Just check the camera. They also come with a giant touchscreen display on the outside, complete with a calendar, music apps and much, much more.  

As there hasn't been much innovation in the category since the Family Hub's debut, Samsung's line of smart fridges still dominate the category today by default. It's not something you need to rush out and buy, but the Family Hub was a good first step for the category that showed us the potential of smart large appliances. 

Read more: 5 mistakes to avoid when buying a fridge

Sarah Tew/CNET

6. Dropcam Pro (2013)

The Dropcam Pro influenced the entire DIY security camera industry when it first hit the scene in 2013. Its 2012 predecessor, the Dropcam, was a solid camera, but the 1080p Pro really set the standard for the security hardware to come. Priced at $199, the Dropcam Pro had a straightforward app for live streaming, motion alerts and two-way talk. 

Startup Nest (now owned by Google) purchased Dropcam in 2014 and the Nest Cam Indoor was largely inspired by the Dropcam Pro. But its influence goes far beyond the Nest Cam Indoor. The Dropcam Pro marked the beginning of an era of $200 1080p HD home security cameras. That trend has only recently given way to more affordable models, like the $20 Wyze Cam

Read more: The best home security cameras of 2019

SmartThings Know and Control Your Home kit
Colin West McDonald/CNET

5. SmartThings Hub (2012)

SmartThings began on Kickstarter. The idea was simple -- this single, router-connected hub would control all (or at least, most) of your smart home devices. And the related SmartThings app would be your one-stop spot for monitoring and managing the settings of each device. When we tested the first-gen version, we liked it. It did a decent job unifying devices so you didn't have to switch between a ton of apps and settings menus. Instead, everything was in one place. 

After Samsung bought SmartThings in 2014 it introduced next-gen hubs with similar, updated functionality around the same time as the first Amazon Echo. By comparison, SmartThings and hubs from other companies (like Wink and Revolv) were clunky and hard to use. Even so, the original SmartThings hub, and its competitors (Wink and Revolv deserve honorable mentions here), paved the way for smart speakers and other devices that unite all of your smart home gadgets under a single device. 

SmartThings in its current form is still available as a hub, but has also expanded to Samsung TVs and fridges

Read more: The only way to save the smart home hub is to kill it (commentary)

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

4. Ring Video Doorbell (2014)

Before Ring was Ring, founder Jamie Siminoff launched the Bot Home Automation Doorbot. The Doorbot had a lot of design and performance problems, but the company rebranded quickly as Ring. The $199 Ring Video Doorbell was among the first solid smart doorbells to reach store shelves. It's still sold today, at the reduced price of $100. Ring now offers a variety of other doorbells, security cameras and smart lights

Amazon purchased Ring in 2018. Ring has come under fire for its partnership with local police stations in the United States; customers have the option to share their camera's footage with law enforcement, raising questions about privacy and profiling

Many smart doorbell companies have emerged since Ring, but this brand has been the most prevalent in this still-growing product category. 

Read more: The best video doorbells of 2019

Philips Hue Connected Bulb starter pack
Colin West McDonald/CNET

3. Philips Hue (2012)

Color-changing LED bulbs may not seem like a new thing today, but back in 2012 they were pretty wild -- and Philips was at the forefront of the category. Originally sold for $200 in a three-pack with a required Zigbee hub, the color-changing starter kit now includes four bulbs for the same $200 price. Monitor and manage your lights individually and by room in the app. Set schedules, automations with other devices and more. 

The smart bulb market is much more saturated in 2019, and Philips itself has expanded to meet the growing industry. The company now sells white-light LEDs, Bluetooth-enabled bulbs and even light strips, but they aren't our favorite color-changing bulbs anymore. That title goes to the Lifx Mini.

Read more: The complete guide to Philips Hue

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

2. Amazon Echo and Alexa (2014)

The original Amazon Echo emerged during a time when we were all trying to make sense of the smart home. Hubs like SmartThings and Wink were important precursors, but it wasn't until the Amazon Echo arrived in 2014 that the smart home really took off. This cylindrical speaker, powered by voice assistant Alexa, would open up the smart home world to entire families in a way that the trickier-to-operate hubs never could. 

Kids could ask Alexa to tell them a joke. Adults could set kitchen timers, play podcasts, get weather reports -- and control their connected devices with a simple command, "Alexa, turn on the kitchen lights." A lot has changed in the smart speaker category since this first product -- Google Assistant and Siri have swooped in with smart speakers of their own. And the Alexa of 2019 has grown up a lot in five years, connecting with thousands of different skills, creating thousands of potential ways to interact with the newest, ever-growing lineup of Amazon Echo products.

There are privacy concerns associated with owning and using smart speakers. Amazon has been in the news for keeping transcripts of your Alexa conversationsThe company has since announced privacy updates, making it possibly to automatically delete Alexa recordings, as well as a "Home Mode" for Ring cameras that turns off audio and video recording when you're home. 

Amazon isn't the only company updating its privacy policies in an effort to give customers more control over their data. You can now ask Google Assistant to "delete the last thing I said/delete everything I said last week."  

Read more: The best Alexa devices of 2019

John Kim/CNET

1. Nest Thermostat (2011)

The 2011 Nest Learning Thermostat, dreamed up by Matt Rogers and Tony Fadell (known as the "father of the iPod), marked the start of the modern smart home industry. Before the $249 app-enabled Nest launched, there were other thermostats (and other devices in general) you could control with your phone. But Nest was the startup that first considered design in a major way. It took something utilitarian and boring -- a thermostat -- that typically hides on the wall in a hallway, and made it a statement piece.

Read more: The best smart thermostats of 2019

Yes, $249 is a heck of a lot of money for a thermostat, but a lot of people bought it. It's now in its third generation as the Nest Learning Thermostat. Nest also sells the Nest E Thermostat with a similar design as the Learning Thermostat at a more affordable $169 price. Google bought Nest in 2014 and has rebranded to Google Nest, now offering smoke detectors, smart locks, doorbells, security cameras and security systems that work with Google Assistant. 

There are dozens of smart thermostats today and our current favorite isn't even a Nest model -- it's the Ecobee SmartThermostat. But Nest made people excited about buying smart home products and I think it's one of the main reasons the larger category has grown so fast in ten years. 

Read more: Thermostats used to be ugly. Nest changed all that (commentary)

Originally published on November 2, 2019.