From smart sprinklers and air conditioners to coolers and backyard grills, here's the stuff we're most tempted to splurge on this summer.
July is upon us, and whether you're busy planning out your next backyard barbecue or cowering inside where it's air-conditioned, it's a pretty decent time to think about the in-home upgrades that can help you make the most of your summer. With that on mind, click onward to see the CNET Smart Home team's top product picks for the summer months -- the stuff we've tested, loved, and would consider buying ourselves.
It's summer, so let's start outside. If you want an easy upgrade for your garden or lawn, consider the Orbit B-hyve smart faucet timer. Screw it in and connect it with your smart phone, and you'll be able to turn the flow of water on and off remotely, or just put whatever oscillating sprinkler you've got on the end of your hose on a schedule. Think of it as a smart plug for your lawn.
If you already have a dedicated sprinkler setup, then you could step up to the Rachio 3, which uses hyper-local weather data to automate your sprinklers as intelligently as possible.
While you're upgrading the yard, you might consider splurging on some new, decorative smart lights, like this Philips Hue Calla pedestal light. Aside from jazzing things up with full color control, smart outdoor lighting can also help keep your home a little more secure by keeping things well lit at night.
If you like smart speakers but wish you could enjoy them outside by your pool, then take a look at the Tichome Mini. It's a battery-powered Bluetooth speaker featuring the full intelligence of the Google Assistant. It doesn't have all of the bells and whistles that you'll get with a Google Home speaker, but it's portable and splashproof, which makes it a decent summer pick.
And hey, while you're out lounging by the pool, it wouldn't be the worst idea to make sure you've got a dependable cooler on hand. Our top value pick: the Igloo MaxCold, a sneaky-great performer that you can get for less than $50.
If you're willing to spend a little more, this Lifetime cooler can be had for less than $100, and it offers more capacity and a much better design than the MaxCold. Plus, it performs just as well.
If you really want to splurge on a new cooler, then you could consider spending hundreds on a fancy, rotomolded model (and the top-notch performance that comes with it). Yeti is the most well-known brand in its class here, but we think that this cooler from Orca is the better overall value.
And wouldn't you know, that grill from the last shot earns our recommendation, too. It's the $299 Char-Broil Performance XL, and it was one of the top performers in our latest grill roundup.
For more of an upgrade pick, consider the Commercial Double Header, also from Char-Broil. At $700, it costs more than twice as much as the Performance XL, but it offers a double grill setup that offers a dramatic improvement in versatility.
If you prefer to do your cooking indoors, keep an eye out for Instant Pot deals. After months of tests, it's still one of our favorite cooking gadgets, and with the new Instant Pot Max recently on sale, the time is right to score a bargain on yesterday's still-terrific models. We've already seen a sale or two, including one coming this week for the Fourth of July
The Fizzics Waytap is another perfect summertime kitchen upgrade, especially if you enjoy a nice, cold glass of beer at the end of a hot day. Just insert your bottle and dispense the suds out through the tap for an improved head and texture that's a lot closer to what you'll get on draft. Pencil this one in as a good gift for recent grads, too.
Summer is a great time to optimize your home's air-conditioning capabilities, and a smart thermostat is a great way to get the job done. Our top pick is still the Ecobee4, thanks to its bevy of features, including Apple HomeKit support and built-in Alexa voice controls.
Want to spend a little less? No worries -- the Nest Thermostat E has the climate-control middle-ground covered. It's an excellent pick for the price, and one of the most attractive thermostats money can buy.
Want smarter cooling from something a little more high-end? Look upward, and consider splurging on the Haiku smart ceiling fan from Big Ass Solutions. With built-in motion and temperature sensors and tons of surprisingly clever features, it's one of the fanciest fans money can buy.
On the flipside, you could also just automate a standard desk fan by plugging it into this Belkin WeMo Mini smart plug. It isn't quite the cheapest smart plug that we've seen, but it's still super affordable and it offers great integrations with Alexa, the Google Assistant, Siri and IFTTT.
For a little less than Belkin, the Eufy Smart Plug Mini doesn't have HomeKit support or the Siri controls that come with it, but it does work with Google and Alexa, and it'll track the energy usage of whatever you plug into it, too.
If energy costs are at the top of your mind this summer, then consider replacing some of your old incandescent and fluorescent bulbs with more efficient options, like this 60W replacement LED from Cree. At less than $5 per bulb, it's about as affordable as brand-name LEDs get, plus it's brighter than advertised and good on dimmer switches.
For something even brighter (and even more efficient, too), consider stepping up to the Utilitech 100W Replacement LED, one of the best value bulbs we've ever tested.
If you're more concerned about the way your lights look, then another option is to go with a classy-looking "vintage-style" LED that mimics an old-school incandescent bulb by arranging its diodes into an artful filament design. You've got a ton of options these days, but the newest offerings from GE would be right at the top of my list.