Start with a Smart Speaker
How to Build a Smart Home the Easy (and Cheap) Way
So you want to build an entry-level smart home and you don’t want it to cost a fortune. Good news: that’s totally possible. The first thing you want to do is decide whether you want to have an Apple, Amazon or Google smart home — Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant?
There’s a good chance you already own a smart speaker. Roughly 25-percent of US households already do. If not, you’re probably already comfortable talking to a virtual assistant, so when it comes to deciding between Apple, Amazon or Google, there is probably already a way you are leaning. If not, then you’ve got the chance to make a big choice before you get started. Here are the reasons to choose Apple, Amazon, or Google, and the best entry-level devices to get you off the ground.
The Apple Smart Home
Apple’s smart home ecosystem has some pretty pronounced pros and cons. On the plus side, the HomePod and its assorted gadgets are uniquely suited to work well with other Apple products and services like your iPhone and Apple Music. Apple is also very committed to privacy in ways that its harder for data-slurping companies like Amazon and Google to be, even despite their promises. But Apple’s hardware is also on the more expensive side, and you basically need an iPhone to get the most out of the setup. All that said, Apple is a great choice for iOS die-hards, go figure.
The Smart Speaker: Apple HomePod
The HomePod is still one of the best-sounding smart speakers you can buy. Apple was one of the first companies to bake an autotuning feature into a smart speaker; no matter where you place it, the HomePod will adjust its EQ settings so that it sounds the best that it can. The big catch with the HomePod is that in order to use one to its full potential, you really need to have an iPhone and be a subscriber to Apple Music. This is because the HomePod has some pretty neat iPhone-centric features that no other smart speaker has; you can send iMessages, make calls, handoff audio to and from the HomePod, and listen to voicemails, all with “Hey Siri” voice commands. And you need to be an Apple Music subscriber to summon music with your voice.
The Smart Home Camera: Logitech Circle 2
Most smart home cameras, somewhat surprisingly, aren’t compatible with Apple’s HomeKit. Of those that are, Logitech’s Circle 2 is the most popular. It can be set up indoors or outdoors (yes, it’s weatherproof), and you can swap out its traditional base with a wall/window mount. A little forewarning: the Circle 2 can be purchased in wired or wire-free models, but HomeKit only works with the wired model. This smart security camera is also compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant.
The Baby Monitor: Arlo Baby ($200)
The Smart Light: LIFX Mini White
The LIFX Mini White is our favorite smart light that works with Apple HomeKit. At just $20, it’s one of the most affordable smart lights you can buy. And, because all of LIFX’s smart lights have built-in Wi-Fi, it’s really easy to install and setup — you don’t need to buy a separate smart home hub or bridge.
The Upgrade: LIFX Mini Color ($45)
The Smart Plug: Wemo Mini Smart Plug
The Wemo Mini Smart Plug is a super-popular smart plug that is compatible with Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. From the perspective of an Apple smart home, this little plug is a great way to control various electronic devices — such as lamps, tabletop fans, diffuser, space heaters and A/C units — from your iPhone or iPad, or with even your voice. Using the Wemo mobile app, you can also set automatic schedules for various plugs to turn on and off.
The Upgrade: ConnectSense Smart Outlet 2 ($60)
The Smart Doorbell: Netatmo Smart Video Doorbell
This is really the only smart video doorbell that’s currently compatible with Apple HomeKit and, unfortunately, it’s not actually available yet. Netatmo announced it last January and it’s expected to be released before the end of 2019. Like other video doorbells, it promises to give you 24/7 live feed of your door as well as send you smartphone notifications whenever somebody rings your doorbell.
The Google Smart Home
The biggest strength of a Google smart home is that Google’s Assistant is by far the smartest of the currently existing bunch with the ability to understand questions in context, process complex search queries, and more Google-service-related superpowers every day. Google’s ecosystem is a great pick if you’ll be relying on the assistant as much for question-and-answer work as you will be for home automation, or if you’re already deep in Google’s ecosystem in terms of using services like Calendar, or a Pixel phone.
The Smart Speaker: Google Home
At around $100, the Google Home is a great middle-tier smart speaker. It sounds significantly better the the Nest Mini, Google’s new entry-level smart speaker, and it allows you summon music from most streaming services with your voice (the big absentee is, go figure, Apple Music). Maybe more importantly, it gives you a direct line of access to the smartest virtual assistant available today, Google Assistant.
The Upgrade: Sonos One ($169)
The Smart Home Camera: Wyze Cam Pan
What makes the Wyze Cam Pan really great is that, in addition to being pretty cheap, it’s one of the few smart cameras that allows you to “pan” and tilt the camera’s view from within the app. You don’t have to perfectly position the camera in just the right spot to see who is entering or leaving your house, or what the dog is doing, because within the app you can get the camera to rotate left and right 360 degrees, or tilt up or down. This camera also works with Amazon Alexa.
The Smart Light: GE-C Smart Bulb
GE’s smart bulbs are probably the best entry-level smart bulbs for a Google smart home as they work seamlessly with Google Assistant. In fact, Google actually sells smart light starter kits ($29) consisting of a GE-C Smart Bulb and a Google Home Mini.
Affordable Option: Wyze Bulb ($5)
The Smart Plug: Aukey Wi-Fi Smart Plug
Google doesn’t makes its own smart plugs, so you’re going to have to look to a third-party solution. These by Aukey are a great affordable option. They’re easy to setup and, afterward, you’ll be able to control your home appliances and electronics with your voice.
The Upgrade: Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Plug Mini ($15)
The Smart Doorbell: Nest Hello
The Nest Hello is probably your best bet when it comes to smart doorbells that work with Google Assistant. Google owns Nest, meaning this Nest device is going to be easiest to integrate into a Google smart home. It doesn’t hurt that this is also one of the best-reviewed smart doorbells you’ll find.
Affordable Option: Ring Video Doorbell 2 ($129)
The Amazon Smart Home
Amazon’s Echo speaker kicked off the smart speaker craze and, as a result, got in on the ground floor. A huge amount of products play nice with Amazon’s Alexa assistant. Alexa also has the distinction of being able to directly order things from Amazon, which makes this the obvious choice if you’re a Prime member and/or are constantly making orders. The downside? Alexa isn’t the smartest assistant of the bunch, but she’s excellent at her strength of navigating Amazon for you.
The Smart Speaker: Amazon Echo (3rd Gen)
Amazon’s third-generation Echo was released this past fall and delivers iterative upgrades over its predecessor. It sounds slight better and looks a little bit nicer. If you’re looking for Alexa smart speaker that’s affordable and is pretty good for listening to music, this is the perfect entry-level smart speaker.
The Upgrade: Sonos One ($169)
The Smart Home Camera: Ring Indoor Cam
Amazon owns Ring, so any of its smart home cameras are going to work seamlessly with the Alexa app. The Indoor Cam, specifically, is a great entry-level option because it’s super affordable and delivers many of the same features as Ring’s and Amazon’s more expensive smart cameras.
The Upgrade: Ring Stick Up Cam ($100)
The Smart Light: Wyze Bulb
At $5, you’re not going to find a cheaper smart bulb than the Wyze Bulb. The other cool thing about this bulb is that you can use “Alexa” voice commands to turn it on, per usual, but you can also adjust its brightness or color temperature, too.
The Upgrade: Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance ($200/4-pack)
The Smart Plug: Amazon Smart Plug
The Amazon Smart Plug is specifically designed for people who have an Alexa smart speaker in their house. You can plug a much of different things into this smart plug — lamps, Christmas lights, fans or a coffee maker — and you can then turn it on and off using Alexa voice commands.
The Upgrade: Koogeek 2-in-1 Smart Plug ($13)
The Smart Doorbell: Ring Video Doorbell 2
The big thing with Ring Video Doorbell 2 is that it uses a rechargeable battery, meaning there’s no wire work to worry about and it’s super easy to install. The Alexa integration is great especially for people who have one of Amazon’s smart displays, or a Fire TV, because you can summon a live 1080p feed on the screen with your voice whenever you want.
The Upgrade: Ring Doorbell Pro ($249)
It doesn’t matter if you’re building a smart home around Alexa, Google Assistant or Apple’s HomeKit – there’s a smart home camera that’ll work for you. Read the Story