The best strategy for renters who want to try out smart home tech? Look for plug-and-play solutions that don't require a complicated installation. A smart speaker like the Amazon Echo is a perfect example -- just plug it in, connect it to your Wi-Fi network, and enjoy voice-activated access to "Alexa," Amazon's smart-home-savvy AI assistant. An added bonus: Smart speakers will have an easier time hearing your commands in a smaller apartment setting, and an easier time filling your living space with sound, too.
You can also consider the Amazon Echo Dot, the $50 mini version of the full-size Echo. It's a great fit for bedrooms, and you can connect it with existing speaker setups.
Amazon isn't alone in the smart speaker category anymore. You could also consider going with the Google Home, Alexa's top competitor. It doesn't have as many smart home functions at this point, but it's catching up quickly, and it's arguably better for voice-activated home entertainment.
The Belkin WeMo Mini Wi-Fi Smart Switch is another good plug-and-play starting point for a smarter apartment. Just plug it in and plug something else in behind it and you'll be able to automate when it turns on and off using WeMo's app, or using one of Belkin's many third-party integrations (IFTTT, Alexa, Google Home, etc.). The cost? Just $35.
WeMo gear doesn't work with Apple HomeKit, though, and that means you can't control those switches using Siri commands. For that, you'll want to upgrade to the HomeKit-compatible iDevices Switch.
If you want to automate some lights on your porch or balcony, iDevices makes an outdoor version of its smart switch, too.
You could also go with this HomeKit-compatible smart plug from iHome. Plenty of options!
Let's talk lights -- smart lights, to be specific. One of my favorite brands is Lifx, a startup from Australia that makes high-quality color-changing bulbs. Just screw the bulbs in and connect with them over Wi-Fi using the Lifx app.
Lifx makes floodlights, too!
I'm also a fan of the Lifx Z light strips. You can stick them up under cabinets or behind your TV for a really cool, design-minded effect.
One last Lifx product that I'll mention: the Lifx Plus LED. It adds in infrared diodes that put out invisible light when the bulb is switched out. You can't see that light -- but your night vision cameras can. In the GIF above, you can see the bulb effectively extending the range of a night vision camera in the CNET Smart Apartment.
Your other big smart lighting option is Philips Hue. Like Lifx, the color-changing bulbs are pretty expensive, but Philips also offers simple smart lights that don't cost very much. This Wireless Dimming Kit is a good start -- it comes with a remote that doubles as a stick-up smart switch. No hardwiring necessary.
The Philips Hue White Starter Kit is another terrific way into the Hue ecosystem. It's the cheapest starter kit that comes with the Hue Bridge -- you'll need that bridge to add in other Hue bulbs to your setup, or to connect your lights with Alexa, Google Home, or with Siri via Apple HomeKit.
Once you've got that Hue Bridge, you can add in full color Hue bulbs a la carte -- just be prepared to splurge.
You'll find plenty of renter-friendly smart lighting options beyond Lifx and Hue. Take these BeOn Bulbs, for instance. They include built-in batteries to keep the bulbs on during power outages, along with microphones that listen for the sound of your doorbell or alarm. When they hear something, they'll turn on automatically.
These funky-looking Nanoleaf Ivy bulbs put the diodes on the outside, and they work with both Siri and Alexa.
Some of the coolest smart bulbs aren't bulbs at all. Just take a look at Nanoleaf Aurora, a modular set of color-changing panels that you stick to the wall. Like Nanoleaf's bulbs, they work with both Siri and Alexa for voice-activated lighting changes. Plus, they're totally ooh-and-aah-worthy.
Canary is another home monitoring option. Aside from the camera, it includes built-in environmental sensors to keep track of things like air quality in your home.
You could also consider Piper NV, which currently keeps an eye on the CNET Smart Apartment.
You might not be able to swap your thermostat out for the Nest, but you can definitely pick up the Nest Cam to keep watch over your apartment.
You've got options for a smarter kitchen, too. I'm a big fan of FirstBuild's Paragon Induction Cooktop. Not only does it bring smart sous vide cooking into play, but it also offers a dedicated induction cooktop -- an interesting way to try out induction cooking without breaking the bank.
Recently acquired by Electrolux, Anova offers connected cooking, too. It's worth a look if you're interested in trying out sous vide.
You've also got a lot of options for home security -- something renters didn't always have easy access to. SimpliSafe takes a DIY approach, letting you stick up sensors around your home and keep tabs on everything from your smartphone. They also offer professional monitoring.
iSmartAlarm also makes a range of budget-friendly Wi-Fi cameras, like the Spot.
iSmartAlarm is another renter-friendly DIY security option. It's cheaper than SimpliSafe and doesn't come with any fees or contracts, but it doesn't include professional monitoring.
You could also consider Stack's LED floodlights -- they include built-in presence sensors, and work with Alexa and Nest.