The first crop of smart home gadgets from a few years ago weren’t actually very smart, but times have changed, and there’s now plenty of good reasons to upgrade your vacuum cleaner, microwave, and even your sound system, with a bit of AI-enhanced smarts.
The best whole home Wi-Fi solution
Who are you?
Your gadget-packed home is hopelessly dependent on a solid Wi-Fi network, but with multiple floors and countless rooms, your house is just too big for a single wireless router to provide adequate coverage for every last device.
Our pick: Eero ($629 – $999)
The second-generation Eero mesh networking system somehow managed to be even more impressive than the first, and not only when it comes to blanketing a large indoor space with a rock-solid wireless network. You know how you’re always having to turn your Wi-Fi router on and off to get it to work properly every so often? You’ll never have to worry about that with Eero, which spreads the traffic load across multiple hubs and beacons so effortlessly that you’ll rarely experience even the smallest hiccup with connectivity. Setup and installation is a breeze, and the robust mobile app gives you complete control of your network and its security. You’ll pay a premium for that reliability, but even the small starter kit ($450) will revolutionise your Wi-Fi experience.
If your home is in desperate need of a whole home Wi-Fi system but you don’t want to dump half a grand into switching over, Linksys’ Velop offers a cheaper mesh networking solution, letting you get started with its $388 two-pack. You’ll be limited to a dual-band network instead of Eero’s tri-band, which could limit your maximum performance and range, but it’s an affordable way to test if a mesh networking system will solve your Wi-Fi woes. If it does, you can keep adding nodes as needed.
The Best robotic vacuum
Who are you?
You like to keep your home neat and tidy, but you don’t always have the time to go over all of your floors with a manual vacuum. You also don’t want to pay for a housekeeper, but you don’t mind splurging a little to eliminate one weekly chore from your to-do list.
Our pick: Neato Botvac D7 Connected ($1,480)
Neato might not be the first name that comes to mind when you think of robotic vacuum cleaners, but the company’s Botvac D7 packs some of the most advanced navigation technology of any autonomous cleaner on the market. Using lasers, it creates a detailed map of every room in your home, and through a free accompanying mobile app, you can draw virtual “no-go” lines to prevent the vacuum from wandering into areas that aren’t ready for cleaning just yet. (Think a messy bedroom.) You can also name specific rooms and areas in your home, and Neato has promised smart assistant functionality one day, allowing you to simply tell the vacuum to go and clean the kitchen.
If you’re especially lazy, iRobot’s Roomba i7+ (which sadly hasn’t appeared in Australia yet) is the first robotic vacuum that can actually empty itself when full, which is useful given how small the dirt bins are on these tiny autonomous cleaners. At $US950 ($1310) you’re going to pay a little more for that convenience, which requires an elaborate dock that sucks dirt and debris out of the robovac when it’s parked, but you also get iRobot’s smartest robot to date, with room mapping, scheduling, and the ability to limit the vacuum’s cleaning routines to just a specific area using a mobile app.
The best smart home hub
Who are you?
You’re hopelessly addicted to asking your smart assistant questions about the weather, movie times, and even how long you should put that roast in the oven, but sometimes find voice commands and spoken responses a limited way to control your entire smart home. It’s time to add a touchscreen into the mix.
Our pick: Google Home Hub ($219)
Despite having a few years head start, Amazon’s Alexa has already been surpassed by Google Assistant when it comes to both its capabilities, and sales of the Google smart speakers the AI powers. At $219 (but it’s currently on sale for $199), the new Google Home Hub is the cheapest touchscreen-equipped hub currently available, and just $20 more than a Google Home speaker (well, usually. At the time of writing the Google Home Speaker is on sale for $129). It’s not necessarily the best device for consuming music or video, but it’s a great way to start tying all of your smart home devices together with a unified, seven-inch, tappable interface. It particularly excels at finding and reformatting recipes in the kitchen so they’re easy to follow while you’re juggling ingredients.
Given Alexa was the first smart assistant to market, your home life might already be completely entrenched in all things Amazon. You’ll want to opt for the second-generation Echo Show in that case, which has a larger touchscreen, a front-facing camera for making video calls, better speakers, and even native support for the wireless protocols that connect smart lightbulbs like Philips’ Hue system, making them easier to control. But at $350, you’re paying a premium for all of those upgrades.
The best smart plug
Who are you?
If you’ve ever held your TV remote and wondered why every single device in your home can’t be controlled remotely, then a smart plug is for you. Or if you’ve wondered what all the smart home buzz is about, a smart plug is an easy and cheap way to get started.
Our pick: Belkin Wemo Mini Smart Plug ($129))
First introduced over six years ago, Belkin’s Wemo was one of the first robust smart home systems to hit the market, and it’s since been refined to the point where it’s now one of the easiest and cheapest ways to make your home smart. The $U129 Wemo Mini Smart Plug sits between an outlet in your home (without blocking others) and almost any device or appliance that plugs in for power. It connects to your home’s Wi-Fi network (without the need for a separate hub) and through an iOS or Android app lets you remotely control or schedule when something turns on or off. It’s also compatible with all of the popular smart home assistants, so you can easily make lights, fans, or random appliances voice-command compatible.
If you’re already an Alexa user, Amazon’s new Smart Plug is an even cheaper solution at $US25 ($34) (It’s not available in Australia yet, sorry). It can make any dumb appliance smart, without the need for an extra hub, or a complex installation process. It’s all handled through the Alexa app on your mobile device, so you can finally start the coffee maker in the morning by just yelling at it, instead of having to climb out of your warm bed.
The Best smart lighting
Who are you?
You’re away from home a lot, but don’t necessarily want your home to look like it’s empty. And when you’re not travelling, you want your home to be an oasis of relaxation with soft mood lighting that can be endlessly adjusted without ever having to get off the couch.
Our pick: Philips Hue ($70 – $180)
The first smart home product that was more helpful than hassle, the Philips Hue lighting system has been around since 2012, and over the years has expanded to include almost every type of light bulb and fixture any modern decor could require. Using a mobile app, the bulbs can be remotely activated, dimmed, scheduled, triggered by a motion sensor, tinted, and even connected to a voice-activated smart assistant like Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant. They’re not natively Wi-Fi, however, so you’ll need a hub if you want to give all the lighting in your home a smart upgrade. We recommend starting with the $120 E27 Hue White Starter kit which includes the hub and two white-only bulbs, and then expanding from there.
If you want a simpler, cheaper, hub-free smart lighting solution, you’ll want to consider the Sylvania Smart+ LED A19 soft white light bulbs which can be found for as cheap as $20 each. They rely on Bluetooth to connect to your smartphone directly, so they’re incredibly easy to set up and control. But there’s a catch: they’re currently only compatible with Apple’s HomeKit, Siri, and iOS mobile devices.
The best smart security camera
Who are you?
You’re a little uneasy heading to work every morning given your sprawling gadget collection, and you’d like to be able to keep an eye on your home while you’re away. You might also have a new addition to your family, but can’t bring yourself to spend hundreds of dollars on a dedicated baby cam that looks like a baby’s toy.
Our pick: Logitech Circle 2 ($413 – $904)
What sets most of the smart home security cameras apart isn’t the wide field-of-view of their lenses, or the resolution of their sensors; it’s the software they all rely on for actually monitoring your home. The Logitech Circle 2 is one of the easiest to set up, and through the mobile app and an online service, with a simple tap you can get a condensed timelapse review of everything the camera saw throughout a 24-hour period – without a monthly fee. It’s also waterproof, shoots in the dark, starts around $413 if you’re OK with it being tethered to a power cord, and offers basic image detection features like recognising human beings (but not individual faces) or focusing its motion detection on a specific area of its expansive 180-degree view of a room.
If you’re after a little more intelligence in a security camera, which will help reduce the number of alerts you need to pay attention to, and false positives, the Lighthouse knows the difference between kids and adults, or man and beast. You can also set up custom alerts, so if the camera recognises your kids’ faces when they get home, but not their new friend that’s tagged along, you’ll be prompted. However, at $US299 ($412) plus a monthly fee to take advantage of all the AI-powered features the Lighthouse offers, it’s a little pricier than our first choice. It also doesn’t seem to be available in Australia.