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Smart Home Reviews

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Soma smart shades review: Retrofitting your blinds for Google Assistant requires many compromises

Automating the light in your home is easy if you only consider getting some smart bulbs or switches or plugs. But once it comes to natural light, the equation gets a bit more complicated. Smart shades/blinds/curtains aren't as ubiquitous, and the current solutions aren't ideal. You either have to replace your entire shades (Ikea, Lutron), the motor (Neo Smart Blinds), or if you're not feeling particularly adventurous, you can try to retrofit your existing window coverings.

The solution for that is both a little genius and ridiculous: there's a cord to control your shades, so how about adding a motor that just pulls on that cord instead of you?

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Review: The GE C-Life is an affordable smart light bulb perfect for Google Home, no Wi-Fi necessary

Most smart home products use one of four connectivity options — WiFi, Zigbee, Z-Wave, or Bluetooth Low Energy. Bluetooth products are a little less popular, because they can only be controlled locally via a smartphone, or remotely if the company makes its own Bluetooth to WiFi hub. General Electric's C-Life A19 bulbs use Bluetooth too, but they're special because they're one of the few products that can use a Google Home speaker as their hub.

The C-Life Smart Bulb has no separate account to manage, no additional hubs to plug into your router, and no Wi-Fi connections to deal with. All you need is a Google Home, the Home app, and you're set.

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Harman Kardon Citation One review: The high-end Google Home you’ve been waiting for

In the Samsung-owned Harman audio empire, consisting of JBL, AKG, and others, Harman Kardon is the original brand and it still has a fairly decent reputation for making products with relative audiophile appeal. The group is no stranger to Google Assistant-equipped devices, but the Citation/Enchant range of speakers, subs, towers, and soundbars really caught our attention when it was announced last summer. This could be the versatile Sonos competitor we've been waiting for.

The range went on sale last month, and I've been able to test the cheapest speaker in the lineup, the Citation One. At $200, it's competing with the Sonos One (I wonder where it got the name from), as well as other Assistant speakers from Sony, LG, JBL, and many more.

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Marshall Stanmore II review: A powerful but pricey Assistant speaker

You are no longer stuck with a few Google-branded speaker options if you want to invite Assistant into your home. There are speakers from JBL, Sony, and many others—including Marshall. The updated Marshall Stanmore II speaker launched recently, and it looks like a feasible alternative to Google's best-in-class Home Max. It combines classic Marshall styling with modern voice assistant features, but it comes with a steep $400 asking price.

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RealitySwitch Plus review: Rent-friendly smart lights that (mostly) work

Smart light bulbs are great, but you have to give up the use of your wall switch — if the switch is powered off, the smart bulb stops functioning. One solution is an in-wall smart switch, but if you live in an apartment or other rented property, you might not be able to replace fixtures or change electrical systems. If so, smart home company Third Reality has the product for you — the RealitySwitch Plus.

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Arlo Audio Doorbell and Chime review: Easy setup, questionable value

Ding-dong; the future's here! With smart-home technology making it more affordable than ever to outfit your domicile with everything from high-resolution, subject-identifying security cameras to wireless, effortlessly hooked up door and window sensors, who's really thinking about installing something as seemingly archaic as a doorbell and chime? We've already spent some time getting to to know Arlo's wireless camera systems, and I recently set out to see how that setup might be enhanced by the addition of the $80 Arlo Audio Doorbell and the $50 Arlo Chime.

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Philips Hue Play review: Impressive media-syncing light bars, but with room for improvement

As well as offering simple light bulbs and accessories for your home, Philips has been pushing its Hue lights for entertainment purposes more and more. The Zigbee-toting Hue lights can now be used as accent lighting for music, film, and even gaming, which may seem gimmicky or cool, depending on your outlook. I would say it’s a bit of both, or at least that’s how I view the latest addition to the lineup, the Hue Play.

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Nanoleaf Canvas review: The funkiest smart lights get cooler, better

Over the past couple of years, Nanoleaf has made a name for itself as the brand for cool, funky, unusual, and colorful smart lights. I dubbed its Aurora panels "the coolest and most extravagant smart lights you can own" when I reviewed them, and they're still just as awesome as they were back in 2017. But you can't sit still while the world moves on, so Nanoleaf is back again with the Canvas.

Square tiles with multiple connection points replace the triangle ones, but the real advantage is in the touch reactivity and built-in Rhythm mode that follows your music.

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LG ThinQ View smart display review: It's $250, loud, and kind of ugly

Google Assistant-powered smart displays all do pretty much the same things, and, except for the Google Home Hub, run identical software on similar internal hardware. That uniformity leaves device-specific critiques to nuances in external hardware, and while LG's ThinQ View display doesn't outright fail in any respect, for $250, its functional similarity to cheaper, prettier devices makes it a bad buy.

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The best smart home devices you can buy right now (Winter 2018)

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.

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