This story originally appeared on Reviews.org.
It seems like all home appliances have the word “smart” in front of them these days. There are smart washing machines, smart air fresheners, smart alarm clocks: The list goes on.
Most of the time, that “smart” label is just an excuse to charge you a higher price. Do you really need a “smart” Crock-Pot? Probably not.
But not all smart devices are all hype and no substance. Some of this stuff can actually make your life a lot easier and your home a little, well, smarter.
The key is to find things that fit naturally into your daily life and that work together.
Following are the most practical smart devices for your money.
1. Smart speakers
If you don’t already have one of these, then you definitely know someone who does. Smart speakers, like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant devices, are just about everywhere — and for good reason.
These little helpers link all your other smart stuff together as well as do regular “assistant” things, like issue reminders and keep track of your shopping list. (You can have a little fun with Alexa and Google too.)
Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are the big two of the smart speaker world. They have similar features, and they work with a ton of other smart home devices, which means you don’t need 15 different apps on your phone just to control everything. All you need is your voice.
If you don’t like Amazon or Google, you can also opt for Apple HomeKit, backed by the famous Siri voice assistant. But HomeKit is much more restricted, and it doesn’t integrate with as many devices. You better be a true Apple devotee before you make that your main support.
Popular smart speakers:
- Amazon Echo
- Google Nest Hub
- Apple HomePod
2. Smart door locks
A good deadbolt is your best defense against break-ins and thieves. But how many times have you left for work or gone to bed and wondered if you remembered to lock your door?
With a smart door lock, you’ll never have to worry again. They let you control your door lock from anywhere and tell you the lock’s status through an app (or a smart speaker). You can check your door’s status on your smartphone and lock or unlock it from anywhere.
There are a few different models of smart door locks out there these days. Some of them replace your entire deadbolt, but some of them just replace the backend to give you smart lock control without swapping out the entire apparatus.
You can install most smart locks yourself in about 30 minutes — or less if you opt for one that modifies your existing lock.
Most smart locks also come with guest access codes, so you can give your baby sitter or dog walker limited access to your house without handing over the keys.
Popular smart door locks:
- August Smart Lock Pro
- Schlage Encode Smart WiFi Deadbolt
- Kwikset Halo Smart Lock
3. Doorbell camera
If you shop online a lot, then you’ve probably had a package stolen once or twice (or a few times). Package thieves are rampant, especially around the holidays when all your gifts get delivered. But there is an easy way to keep an eye on your porch and (hopefully) scare off package thieves: a doorbell camera.
Doorbell cameras give you a 24/7 livestream of our porch and yard. But they do more than just your average security camera. Smart doorbells send you alerts when they detect motion, or when someone rings the doorbell, so you can see who’s visiting. And you can speak to people on your porch through the doorbell’s speaker.
Most doorbell cameras are pretty basic, but the most advanced ones come with artificial intelligence features, like facial recognition. They can tell the difference between cars, animals, packages and people, and tell you what (or who) is on your porch.
You can see when a package has been delivered or when a known person is visiting. And some of them can also tell you when an unknown person picks up a package on your porch. Porch pirates beware.
Popular doorbell cameras:
- Google Nest Hello
- Arlo Video Doorbell
- RemoBell S
4. Smart lights
Smart lights are one of the most convenient smart devices out there. When paired with a smart speaker, like Amazon Alexa, you basically never have to touch a light switch again. You can control smart lights with your voice or through an app, and adjust the brightness, light temperature, and sometimes even change the color.
Smart lights come in bulbs of all sizes, as well as light strips and wall panels. You can create custom wall designs and add flair to any party. Or, you can keep it basic and just tell Alexa to turn off the kitchen lights after you’re already in bed.
Once you have them installed, you can create rules and schedules for your smart lights. If you choose smart lights that work with IFTTT (a connective app), then you can also make them work with your other smart home devices, so that your living room lights turn on when your doorbell camera detects motion at night. Or, your porch lights turn on when your front door locks.
Plus, smart light bulbs couldn’t be easier to install. You just screw them into an existing socket. Some bulbs do require a Wi-Fi bridge before you can control them from your phone, but others connect to Wi-Fi on their own or opt to use Bluetooth instead.
Popular smart lights:
- Philips Hue smart light bulbs and light strips
- Yeelight Smart LED Bulb
- LIFX Mini Smart LED Bulbs
5. Smart thermostat
Smart devices are definitely worth your money if they save you money over the long haul. And that’s exactly what smart thermostats can do.
Smart thermostats let you control your home’s temperature through your phone or with your voice, and they let you set schedules and rules for when your heat or air conditioning turn on. But, most importantly, smart thermostats learn your habits and start to intelligently control your heating and cooling in the most efficient way possible.
These little devices are so good at reducing energy consumption that a lot of power companies offer incentives for installing them. That means you might get some money back on the cost of the thermostat itself, and it can bring down your energy bills over time. Talk about a sweet deal.
Popular smart thermostats:
- Nest Learning Thermostat
- Ecobee Smart Thermostat
- Honeywell T5+ Smart Thermostat
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