2014 marked the introduction of Apple HomeKit, a set of smart home-specific protocols programmed directly into Apple's iOS software for iPhones and iPads. The idea was simple: To establish standards for how Apple-friendly smart-home devices should interact with your phone, with each other, and with Siri, Apple's voice-activated artificial-intelligence assistant.
Now, more than a year later, devices built specifically for use with those HomeKit protocols are starting to arrive. Some of them come from fresh startups eager to jump onto Apple's bandwagon -- others come from established names in the space who simply want to ensure that their products don't get left out.
Thanks to the new CNET Smart Home project, we're uniquely equipped to test them all in a controlled real-world environment -- and that's exactly what we've been busy doing. The list is still somewhat limited (less than 10 brands, per Apple) but it's growing fast, and there are already enough products available to build a respectable smart-home setup of your own. Here are the ones we've tested so far, with reviews of each.
The Elgato Eve Room is an $80 smart home sensor that offers accurate temperature, humidity, and air quality readings. Thanks to its integration with HomeKit, you'll be able to check those conditions simply by asking Siri. It's still a little bit limited -- no alerts or push notifications, and no way to use that home data to trigger other devices (at least, not yet) -- but still, it works as promised, and shows plenty of potential as HomeKit continues to develop.
One of the core expectations for the smart home is that it'll be able to switch stuff on and off. Enter the iDevices Switch, a Cylon-looking plug-in gadget capable of automating whatever you plug into it. With HomeKit in play, you'll be able to turn things on and off using Siri commands, or automate your electronics alongside other HomeKit-compatible gadgets. It also features one of the best HomeKit apps we've tested yet, with attractive, easy-to-use controls for both the iDevices Switch and the rest of the products huddling under Apple's umbrella. Key features like remote access from beyond the home are still being tweaked, so consider waiting for those updates before spending $60 to get one.
iDevices makes an outdoor-friendly version of its smart switch, too -- an ideal way to automate your home's holiday or party lighting. It'll track the power consumption of those lights, too. At $80, it's a bit pricey, but it tested well when we tried it out at the CNET Smart Home.
Lest you think there's only one iOption for automating your iStuff, check out the iHome iSP5 Smart Plug. At just $40, it's a more affordable way to add Siri-powered smarts to your home's electronics, but it's not as full-featured as the iDevices Switch, and it doesn't have as good an app. Still, if you're just looking to add an automated desk fan to your HomeKit setup, it'll get the job done.
Apple HomeKit aims to replace the traditional, hub-based smart homes with connected living spaces organized completely within your phone, but that hasn't stopped device makers from making HomeKit-compatible hubs all the same. The first to hit the market was the $150 Insteon Hub Pro, a modified version of Insteon's existing smart home hub. With the Hub Pro, you can bring select Insteon devices into the HomeKit fold, then automate them alongside other HomeKit-compatible gadgets. If it's just Insteon you want, though, you'll find a deeper wealth of compatible gadgets with the plain, non-HomeKit-compatible version of the hub (which also happens to cost less).
Smart thermostats have some pretty clear connected home appeal -- just look at the breakout success of the. But alas, Nest is a Google acquisition and it isn't HomeKit-compatible, nor is it likely to be anytime soon (if ever).
If you're going the HomeKit route, you'll need to turn instead to Ecobee, a brand that's been making smart thermostats for several years now (and since before the time of Nest). Its current flagship model is the $250 Ecobee3, a sleek-looking unit with elegant touchscreen controls and a remote sensor accessory that will monitor conditions away from the thermostat itself. We reviewed that model last year, but when HomeKit was announced, Ecobee quickly jumped on board, packing the necessary HomeKit hardware into the Ecobee3's shell. That muddied the waters somewhat, with both a HomeKit-compatible Ecobee3 and the original, non-HomeKit-compatible version up for sale, so if you're buying in, make sure you're buying the right one. We hope to test the HomeKit version out in the CNET Smart Home in the coming weeks, but for now, check out our review of the original model. They're essentially the exact same product -- save for those Siri smarts.
The Apple-friendly version of Lutron's lighting kit was one of the very first HomeKit products to hit the market this year. For $230, you get a control hub, two plug-in smart switches for your lamps, and two remote controls, too. And yep, you'll be able to turn everything on and off or dim the lights simply by asking Siri.
Philips Hue has long been a high-profile player in the evolving smart home, and Philips has been smart to ensure that its color-changing LED bulbs are compatible with as many products and platforms as possible. Now, the brand is adding in HomeKit-compatibility both for its existing bulbs, and for its new, brighter versions by updating the bridge that controls all of them. Spend $60 on the new bridge (or $40 if you're trading in an old one), and you'll be able to control your lights and change their colors by telling Siri to do it.
With HomeKit, Siri can take control of your door locks, too, but your only option thus far is the $230 Schlage Sense Bluetooth Deadbolt. With a more limited range than existing smart locks from Schlage, it's a bit beholden to Apple TV, which you'll need to access your HomeKit gear from outside the home. Still, it works well, and offers enough features to merit consideration for anyone who's betting big on HomeKit for their connected home.
CNET Smart Home
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