What if all the devices in your life could connect to the internet? Not just computers and smartphones, but everything: clocks, speakers, lights, doorbells, cameras, windows, window blinds, hot water heaters, appliances, cooking utensils, you name it. And what if those devices could all communicate, send you information, and take your commands? It's not science fiction; it's the Internet of Things (IoT), and it's a key component of home automation and smart homes.
Home automation is exactly what it sounds like: automating the ability to control items around the house—from window shades to pet feeders—with a simple push of a button (or a voice command). Some activities, like setting up a lamp to turn on and off at your whim, are simple and relatively inexpensive. Others, like advanced surveillance cameras, may require a more serious investment of time and money.
There are many smart home product categories, so you can control everything from lights and temperature to locks and security in your home. They also happen to make fantastic gifts, whether you're shopping for the holidays or buying a housewarming present.
Here's a rundown of the best products we've tested for every room of the house.
The Echo is a Bluetooth speaker powered by Alexa, Amazon's handy voice assistant. Alexa works with a number of smart home devices directly, as well as with If This Then That (IFTTT) to control plenty of others via "recipes" you can create yourself. It'll take some work, but you can use Alexa to control most of the gadgets in your house by the sound of your voice. If you already have a favorite speaker, the inexpensive Echo Dot can connect to it and add Alexa functionality. And if you want a touch screen to see search results and make video calls, check out the Echo Show or Echo Spot.
This third-generation smart lock offers all the bells and whistles you get with the HomeKit model, and adds a few new features, including August's DoorSense technology, Z-Wave compatibility, and Wi-Fi connectivity. It's easy to install and can be controlled remotely or with Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri voice commands.
The Nest Learning Thermostat has Wi-Fi so you can remotely control the temperature from phone, tablet, or PC. This latest generation also has a larger display and a few more sensors than its predecessors, in addition to geofencing support and a furnace monitor.
The Philips Hue line lets you control not only the intensity of the light, but also the color. The Hue ecosystem has been around long enough that it works with just about every other system out there, from Alexa, to IFTTT, to Siri (using the Philips Hue Bridge)
If you're interested in sous vide cooking—where food sealed in plastic is immersed in a hot bath to cook to perfection—you need an immersion circulator to get started. The Anova Culinary Precision Cooker uses Wi-Fi connectivity so you control it from anywhere, even when you're not home. A big dial lets you set the desired temperature to within a tenth of a degree, display shows the set and current water temperature, and an app keeps you notified of the cooking process every step of the way. It makes cooking sous vide as simple as can be.
If you hate cleaning, the Ecovacs Deebot N79S is something to invest in. In addition to long battery life and manual steering, it supports features we typically see in far more expensive models such as app control and Amazon Alexa compatibility.
Using technology at home to make you healthier just makes good sense. For tracking fat, BMI, water, muscle mass, bone composition, and even pregnancy, look no further than the QardioBase 2. It shares the info it reads with a smartphone app for your easy access.
The robot lawn mover 315X works with a well-designed mobile app that lets you use your phone to start and stop the mower, monitor its progress, create schedules, and see where it's been on a map of your property. Its best known for its user-friendly programming options, outstanding cutting performance, and quiet operation.