The best wearable devices you can buy right now (Winter 2018)
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The best wireless headphones, USB-C earbuds, and smart speakers you can buy (Winter 2018)
The best smart home devices you can buy right now (Winter 2018)
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Worldwide sales of voice assistant smart speakers have seen tremendous growth in the last year alone, and the same can be said of the smart home sector as a whole. The technology underpinning the products will continue to get better as prices come down, and new categories will keep springing up, but there’s a lot out there worth investing in right at this moment.
With that in mind, and to ensure you won’t end up gifting (or being gifted) a dud this holiday season, we’ve put together a list of the best smart home devices you can buy. Whether you want to just dip your toes in the water with a cheap Google Home Mini or dive into the deep end with smart lights, cameras, thermostats, and doorbells, we’ve got you covered.
Voice-controlled smart speakers
The best — Google Home Max
Budget pick — Google Home Mini/Amazon Echo Dot
This first category is often the gateway to other smart home products, and it depends almost entirely on your choice of ecosystem. In the US, as in many other countries, there are two distinct camps — Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. If you choose the former, there’s a range of Google Home devices at various price points, from the wallet-friendly Home Mini, the aging original Home, all the way up to the audiophile-pleasing Home Max that costs more than a pretty penny. The Home Hub arrived as part of a new product category with many of the same functions, but we’ll get to that later.
If you go down the Amazon route, there’s a similar array of Echo speakers to suit any need. The Echo Dot is a great entry-level unit that can be had for as cheap as $29 during sale periods, then there’s the regular Echo, Echo Plus, and even the new Echo Sub so you can add some bass. Choosing a product here is mostly about price — get the most expensive one you can realistically afford. If music is a key concern, only the Home Max or Echo Plus with Sub will really do your tunes justice, but if you just want to be able to ask the odd question and control some other connected devices, a Home Mini or Dot will do just fine.
If you want something with Alexa or Google Assistant capabilities but built by a company that knows a little bit more about sound, including headphones and earbuds as well as speakers, take a look at our guide to the best audio products you can buy right now.
- Home Mini —
$49$29 (until February 2nd)
- Home — $129
- Home Max — $399
Best — Lenovo Smart Display (10”)
Budget — Google Home Hub
This category has grown into its own since last year’s post, now that Google has entered the field of play. Smart displays are essentially a smart speaker with a screen glued on (almost literally by the look of the Google Home Hub). The original Echo Show has been out more than a year, but the first generation was inelegant and expensive. The new model looks and sounds better, but there’s more competition in the Google Assistant Smart Display space.
Google’s own Home Hub (above) is the cheapest among them, so that’s a good place to start, but Lenovo, JBL, and now LG also have options with cameras for video calls and louder speakers. With the largest screen (10 inches) and arguably the nicest design, the Lenovo is probably your best bet.
Google Home Hub — $139 from Google, $149 elsewhere
Amazon Echo Show
Lenovo Smart Display
- 10-inch —
- 8-inch —
JBL Link View — $249.99
LG WK9 ThinQ View —
Best — Nvidia Shield TV
Budget — Roku Express
Another new category for this year, for which we couldn’t find space in any of our other lists, is media streamers. The inexpensive Google Chromecast has been the obvious choice in this space for years, and while it’s still fine, there are definitely some better options out there right now, especially if you’d prefer a physical remote. On the budget end, there’s the excellent Roku Express, which plays nice with both Google and Amazon apps. If you’re heavily tied into Amazon Prime, a Fire TV Stick is just as good, and both now have 4K options that beat out the more expensive Chromecast Ultra in terms of features.
If you want the ultimate media streaming experience, you’re going to want an Nvidia Shield TV — it’s the best Android TV box around (see Ryan's re-review if you don't believe me). It handles 4K HDR video content but is also a capable game streaming device. So if you plump for the slightly more expensive edition with the added gaming controller (it already comes with a voice remote), you’ll have access to a wealth of entertainment options that rival ATV boxes simply can’t beat.
As a bonus pick, why not breathe new life into an old sound system with a cheap Chromecast Audio? Connect them up via a 3.5mm jack and you can now stream music from a range of services to your trusty old speakers.
Nvidia Shield TV
- with remote — $179.99
- with remote and controller — $199.99
- Express — $29.99
- Streaming Stick+ —
Best — Samsung SmartThings Hub
Extravagant pick — Logitech Harmony Elite
When a Google Home or Amazon Echo isn’t quite enough for you, a hub could be the answer. They can combine various smart home protocols such as Z-Wave and Zigbee, giving you more flexibility than a standard WiFi-only setup. Samsung’s SmartThings Hub was our top pick this year, and it remains number one thanks to a cheaper third-generation device that was launched this year and still beats out the competition.
You may have noticed there’s no budget pick here, and that’s because there really isn’t anything cheaper than the SmartThings Hub that we think is worth buying. If you have an Nvidia Shield TV already, you can turn that into a hub with the Samsung SmartThings Link dongle and save yourself a few pennies. If money’s no object and you don't need sensors over Zigbee or Z-Wave, you might be interested in a Logitech Harmony Elite, which pairs a hub with a powerful universal remote that can be used to control your entire entertainment setup via IR, plus some smart home devices.
Best — LifX+
Budget — IKEA Trådfri
Extravagant pick — Nanoleaf Canvas or LifX Tile
Connected light bulbs are a useful, inexpensive introduction to the smart home, with plenty of decent options that work with different protocols. There’s often not much between different brands, with most of them controllable with just a Google Home Mini thanks to WiFi connectivity. Our favorite is the LifX+, since it offers more than 16 million colors but also improves your security camera’s night vision by providing additional infrared light. If you want something cheaper, a Philips Hue starter kit is a good mid-range choice, plus it uses ZigBee so it will keep working even if your internet drops out. IKEA’s cut-price bulbs, dimmers, and switches now work with Google Assistant, so they’re a great budget pick, although you do need to shell out $30 for the Gateway, so it might only be worth it if you want multiple smart lights and plugs in your home on the cheap.
We can do better than simply lighting your home effectively, however, with some more elaborate products designed for creativity. Last year’s top pick, the Nanoleaf Aurora (above) is still impressive, but there are some attractive new options too. Nanoleaf now has the Canvas, a light square that can be customized and react to sound. LifX also has similar Tile squares, as well as Beam light bars and Z LED strips — no nook or cranny in your home need ever be left in darkness. For the gamers out there, the Philips Hue Play can create ambient backlighting to enhance your gaming sessions.
- Mini White Single —
- + Single —
- Tile Kit — $249.99
- Beam — $149.99
- Single bulb — $14.99
- Starter Pack with bridge — $99.99
- Play (single) — $69.99
- Play (pair) — $129.99
Plugs and Switches
Best plug — Wemo Insight
Budget plug — IKEA Trådfri
Best switch — Ecobee Switch+
Budget switch — Switchbot
If your lights or other gadgets aren’t of the smart variety, you could improve their IQ by plugging them into a smart outlet. Take this as a fun example of what you can do with a smart plug. They range from basic WiFi-connected plugs that can be turned on or off with a Google Assistant Voice command to more sophisticated options like the Wemo Insight Plug that can tell you how much energy you’re using. If you get a smart power strip like the Kasa from TP-Link, you get six smart outlets in one. As with the lights, IKEA now offers enticing budget options — especially useful if you already have the Gateway.
Another way to turn your electronics on and off on is to use a smart switch. The likes of Philips and IKEA also do switches that go with their light collections, but the best one out there is the Ecobee Switch+. It may look a bit like an intercom, but this lightswitch essentially has Amazon Alexa integrated so it can be used to control other things around the home, plus you can control the switch with the Google Assistant.
On the budget end, the ingenious SwitchBot is an adorable little robot (above) that can be attached to pre-existing dumb switches to turn them smart. It’s not the most elegant solution, but it’s pretty clever. There’s also a light-up hub that looks like a cloud (below), which is what all hubs should look like if you ask me.
Best — Ecobee4
Budget — Nest Thermostat E
Not much has changed in the world of smart thermostats, with the Ecobee4 still the best out there. It supports Alexa and the Google Assistant, like the Switch+, and comes with multiple sensors to place around your home for optimal temperature measurements. Another good Google Assistant option is the Nest Learning Thermostat, with the Nest Thermostat E being the best choice for those on a budget.
For those of you who don't live in a home or apartment with ducted thermostats, there are other options to control your ductless AC or heat pump. Both Sensibo and Cielo Breez are good options with Google Assistant support.
There are also products out there to help you regulate more than just the temperature in your home. Netatmo has two interesting products in this area — the Healthy Home Coach measures humidity, air quality, noise, and temperature. The more expensive Weather Station looks at the same metrics with indoor and outdoor modules, also taking internal ventilation and external barometric pressure into account.
Best without plan — Arlo Pro 2
Best with plan — Nest Cam IQ
Budget — Amcrest
Using connected devices so we don’t have to get up off the sofa to turn the lights on is all very well and good, but home security is probably the most worthy use case. The Arlo Pro 2 had a few teething problems when it first came out but now leads the way in the no-plan field thanks to its battery-operated cams that can be located anywhere. If you’re willing to pay a monthly subscription, Nest’s Cam IQs are rich in features, with the indoor modules offering 4K. Logitech’s Circle 2 is a good mid-range single-cam alternative, but if you really don’t want to break the bank, Amcrest has a number of cheaper cameras that will still give you peace of mind.
Best — Skybell Trim Plus
Budget — Arlo Audio Doorbell
As the commercials would have us believe, burglars always ring the doorbell first to see if anyone’s home. We’re then presented with the solution — a smart doorbell. Something with a camera is the most secure option, allowing you to see who’s at the door and then have a two-way conversation with them. The Skybell Trim Plus is one of the best, although features among the major players are pretty much equal — it offers free cloud recording, unlike many rival products in a similar price bracket. If you already have products from Ring, Nest, or August, they have very similar doorbells to complete your lineup. If you want some of the smarts for less of the money, you can get a first generation Ring Video Doorbell for just $100. Alternatively, why not try an audio-only doorbell like this one from Arlo. You get a phone call to your phone when it rings so you can answer faster, plus if you already have a porch camera it can use that as the video feed for the best of both worlds.
Best — August Smart Lock Pro + Connect
Budget — August Smart Lock
So you've got a smart security camera and a doorbell but you're still using an old-fashioned metal key to get into your house like some person from the past — who are you? Clearly, you need a smart lock, and there are some good ones out there. Rita reviewed the Nuki smart lock this time last year, and she says it's the best choice outside the US. They have since released a new version, too. August smart locks are full-featured, and the best looking in my opinion, so its Smart Lock Pro + Connect WiFi Bridge with Alexa integration is my top pick. In a similar vein, Nest has teamed up with Yale for a lock with Google Assistant smarts and Schlage also has an option that works with Google and Alexa setups. The third-gen regular August Smart Lock without the bridge can be had for about $125 now, making that a good budget option.
Best — SmartThings ADT
Budget — Ring Alarm
There’s not been a lot of movement in this category in the past year, with Samsung’s joint effort with security company ADT and Nest Secure still two of the best options out there, while Wink Lookout works well as a budget alternative. Ring has also released its own alarm system this year, which could be worth checking out if you’re already tied into that ecosystem — it's also far cheaper than its competitors.