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HolidayBuyer's Guide

Where to begin, where to begin...

Insteon Starter Kit


Oso Technologies' PlantLink

Connected by TCP LED Lighting Kit

Quirky+GE Aros Smart Air Conditioner

Quirky+GE Pivot Power Genius

Belkin WeMo Insight Switch

Philips Hue LED




Dropcam Pro

Yale Real Living Touchscreen Deadbolt

Staples Connect


Your smart-home options are booming, and big players like Google, Microsoft, and maybe even Apple seem to be just about ready to take things to another level altogether. Still, if you're looking to get started now, where can you turn? Click on through, and we'll show you.

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We liked Insteon's fee-free network of connected devices when we reviewed it last year, but thought that it needed a fresh jolt of modern energy. Then, along came Microsoft, which recently announced it'd be teaming up with Insteon to bring home automation straight to the live tiles of Windows-powered phones, tablets, laptops, and PCs. Keep your eyes on this new power duo.

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SmartThings has been a home automation darling for the past few years, with a smart suite of sensors, an open API, and a robust network of dedicated tinkerers figuring out new ways to put the system to use. As smart ecosystems go, its one of the most connected that we've tested, with compatibility (both official and unofficial) for a huge number of smart devices.

With big plans for 2014 already under way, and starter kits starting at around $200 with no monthly fees, this smart setup makes plenty of sense to us.

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Wish that thumb of yours was a bit greener? The PlantLink wants to help. Stick it in the soil near whatever it is that you're trying to grow, and it'll give your plant the power to tell you when it needs water, which might just be enough to bring your horticultural reign of terror to an end.

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Looking to automate your lights without breaking the bank? The Connected by TCP kit is just what you want. With simple automation controls through a free app, along with surprisingly rugged, high-quality bulbs, this affordable kit is one of our recent smart-home favorites.

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Summer's here, and if you're looking for a smarter AC solution, we suggest you check out the Aros Smart Air Conditioner, from the team at Quirky+GE. With GE's brawn and Quirky's brain, the result is a connected appliance that left us impressed.

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For an even more affordable entry point to Quirky's smart slate, check out the Pivot Power Genius. Aside from the clever way it bends, this power strip's smarts lie its top two sockets, which you'll be able to control or schedule remotely through the free Wink app.

We wanted a bit more from this power strip in 2013, and in 2014, Quirky came through with news of SmartThings integration and a dedicated IFTTT channel, to boot.

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WeMo products are easy to use and easy to afford, and the WeMo Insight Switch takes things a step further by working to save you money after you buy it. Like the original WeMo Switch, you'll be able to control anything you plug into it remotely, but with the Insight Switch, you get the added ability to track its energy consumption, and even shut it off after too much usage (great for keeping the kids' video game habits at bay.)

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This popular, color-changing LED might seem like a complete novelty (and in many instances, it absolutely is). But once you play with those colors -- including a full palette of natural tones to go with the more audacious shades -- we think that these smart LEDs might win you over.

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For DIY security at its most simple, you might want to check out Korner, a crowdfunded product that's currently in the final week of a highly successful Indiegogo campaign. With a singular focus on unobtrusive entry sensors and no fees for early backers, this kind of minimum coverage might make a lot of sense.

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Scout is another DIY security option from the world of crowdfunding (independent crowdfunding, in this case). We love the high-class looks, the intelligent features, and the attractive price point.

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Piper is yet another DIY security gizmo that won us over this year. With a wide range of smart sensors (including a fish-eye camera that will keep an eye on things at home), this compact little gadget is big on connected brainpower.

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You can't talk about DIY security without mentioning Dropcam, especially now that Google's apparently considering working the cool little camera into its own smart-home ambitions. Even without Google stepping in, we think this camera is a home run, and love the idea of motion sensing Dropcam Tab accessories due out later this summer.

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Of course, if you're concerned with smart security, then a smart lock might be the smartest starting point of all. We like the Tale Real Living Touchscreen Deadbolt. Available with either a Zigbee or a Z-Wave transmitter, this lock is compatible with a wide number of systems, which should help to future-proof your home just a bit.

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At $99, the Staples Connect is a relatively affordable smart hub, and a sensible place to start if you're looking to integrate a wide variety of smart devices under one roof. Don't own any devices yet? Check out the variety of starter kits you can pick up online or in stores.

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Revolv is another master smart-hub option. Like the Staples Connect, the Revolv offers a variety of smart-home starter kits, and might make sense for someone looking to make a big start in home automation.

Caption by / Photo by Colin West McDonald/CNET
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