Talk to your house with these voice-activated smart-home systems

Voice control looks to be the next big thing in the connected home -- here are the devices that want to make it a reality.

Ry Crist Senior 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.
Expertise Smart home technology | Wireless connectivity Credentials
  • 10 years product testing experience with the CNET Home team
Ry Crist
5 min read

Until recently, controlling your smart home tech boiled down to apps and automation -- scheduling a smartened up lamp to turn on at sunset, for instance, or using your phone to turn it off after you've climbed into bed. But what if you could simply tell your smart home to turn it off?

It might sound like the stuff of "Star Trek" or "The Jetsons," but recent advancements in speech recognition technology have made a voice-controlled smart home completely attainable, and many of the gadgets that promise to get the job done are already available. Some come from ambitious startups while others come from the titans of the industry, but all of them want to give your smart home a set of ears.

8 gadgets that'll let you talk to your smart home (pictures)

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We expect voice control to continue to play a central role in the development of the so-called Internet of Things, which seeks to connect everyday devices and appliances with each other and with their users. For now, here's a rundown of the voice-centric gadgets on the market today, along with a few potential up-and-comers.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Amazon Echo

It started as a smart speaker capable of streaming whatever music you asked it to play, but it quickly became clear that Amazon Echo was capable of a whole lot more. Sync it up with your Belkin WeMo Switches , your Philips Hue Smart LEDs , or your Wink Hub-connected gadgets, and "Alexa," the cloud-connected AI that powers Amazon Echo, will help you turn things on and off with simple voice commands. There's also an Amazon Echo channel on IFTTT, the popular online automation service that'll allow you to connect Alexa with Twitter, Facebook, or a whole host of compatible smart gadgets. Deeper smart home integrations are sure to follow, since Amazon released a software development kit for Echo that allows manufacturers and tinkerers to craft their own custom uses for Alexa's voice-controlled smarts. Stay tuned -- Alexa is just getting started.

Read the full review of Amazon Echo.

Watch this: Full steam ahead this fall for Apple's HomeKit smart-home line

Apple HomeKit

The elephant in the voice-controlled smart room is Siri, the AI assistant found in Apple devices like the iPhone, iPad and the Apple Watch. Apple granted her smart-home access with HomeKit, a set of control protocols built into the latest versions of its iOS operating system. Purchase and install a HomeKit-compatible smart-home gadget, and you'll be able to control it directly through your device by telling Siri what you want to do.

There are only a handful of compatible devices for sale so far, but more are expected to arrive this fall and next year. HomeKit's development also seems somewhat tied to the Apple TV streaming box , which already acts as a sort of HomeKit hub to let you use those Siri-powered voice controls from beyond your home's Wi-Fi network. Rumors point to a possible Apple TV update in the near future, perhaps as soon as September -- such a reveal might bring new HomeKit functionality with it.

Read the full preview of Apple HomeKit.


Athom Homey

Based out of the Netherlands, Athom is a startup that wants to bring voice control to the smart home via Homey, a colorful, futuristic-looking sphere. Plug it into your router, and Homey promises to control a wide range of smart home products, complete with multilingual voice recognition.

Homey surpassed its crowdfunding goal on Kickstarter back in 2014, and plans to begin shipping out beta units in September before a formal launch in October. For now, it's only available outside of the US and Canada, with a focus on European smart-home enthusiasts.

Read the full preview of Athom Homey.


CastleOS CastleHub

Lest you think there's only one voice-controlled smart-home sphere on the market, there's the CastleHub, from CastleOS. Billing itself as the first smart hub to run off of Windows 10, the CastleHub is basically a round PC built to control the connected home. Sync it up with Microsoft Kinect, and you'll be able to tell it what to do. If you're an advanced user, you can even program your own custom commands. Unlike Homey, CastleHub ships worldwide, but at $500 (about £320 or AU$675, converted roughly), it won't come cheap.

Read the full preview of the CastleOS CastleHub .

Tyler Lizenby/CNET


Insteon has a long history with the connected home and hundreds of connected gadgets to its name, but its focus on voice control is a recent development. Its first play was to partner with Microsoft and allow users to put gadget-specific Live Tiles directly into the home screens of their Windows device of choice. That also brought Microsoft's AI assistant Cortana into play -- ask her to turn off an Insteon switch or dial up an Insteon thermostat, and she'll take it from there.

Insteon also sought out voice control by hopping in with Apple HomeKit, and introducing a HomeKit-compatible version of the Insteon Hub. Plug it into your router, and you'll be able to control your Insteon devices by chatting up Siri.

Read the full preview of Insteon's HomeKit Hub.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Ivee Sleek

Ever wish your alarm clock could do more than just wake you up? Then consider taking a close look at Ivee Sleek, a clever, connected alarm clock that responds to your voice commands for hands-free control of third-party smart-home devices, including the Nest Learning Thermostat. We liked Ivee when we put her to the test, but so-so performance soured the experience just a tad.

Read the full review of Ivee Sleek.



Another clockish spin on the smart-home voice controller, Mycroft is an open-source AI device that promises comprehensive smart-home management. Along with locks, lights and thermostats, you can sync Mycroft up with your streaming services like Netflix, Pandora, and Spotify, then stream the desired content straight to a Roku or Chromecast. And, of course, you'll do all of it just by asking nicely.

Read the full preview of the Mycroft Smart Home AI Platform.

Colin West McDonald/CNET


Oh, Ubi. Ubi, Ubi, Ubi. It's a product that holds a special place in the collective heart of the CNET smart-home team, but for all of the wrong reasons. With promises of smart-home voice control and quick answers to simple questions, Ubi has the look of a legitimate competitor to the Amazon Echo -- but when we tested it out, it failed to deliver. To be blunt, it failed spectacularly (and, in many cases, hilariously), with nonsensical, oddly overconfident replies to simple commands and questions (question: "What are the names of the Ninja Turtles?" answer: "Huey, Dewey and Louie.")

I can't recommend anchoring your smart home around this gadget, but I highly recommend you spend two minutes watching Megan Wollerton's video review of it.

Read the full review of Ubi.