Last week, I was pretty hard on the state of the smart home. And so this week, at the prompting of one of my Twitter followers, I decided to take a look at all of the connected devices that I have tried over the last five years and share what works for me, in particular how various devices have fared in my home over time.
If you’re looking to upgrade a few of your in-home devices, or have a specific use case, below is a list of products, each of which I’ve spent my money on and have owned happily for more than a year. Maybe you’ll find something to gift to your mom or dad this month or next for Mother’s or Father’s Day.
Let’s start with lights. While you can visit this story for my take on the switches vs. bulbs debate, in my home I use both. I have tried dozens of connected bulbs — from fancy LIFX bulbs to basic GE connected bulbs — and so far my favorites are the second-generation Philips Hue color-changing bulbs and Lutron switches. Note that both of these products require a smart home hub such as the Wink 2 or SmartThings.
Which I don’t mind, because the hub enables me to link these products to HomeKit, Google Home, and Amazon’s Alexa whenever I feel like it. People who hate hubs will likely want to avoid these particular lights and switches, though. I also use the Hue motion detectors to turn on and off bulbs in my closet, toilet room, and laundry room. But again, I don’t have strong feelings either for or against the necessary sensors.
I also use smart plugs liberally for lamps and holiday lights. Inside the house, I use three WeMo outlets (one is the energy-monitoring Insight switch) and a Z-wave outlet from SmartThings’ first smart home hub kit. I’ve had one of its outlets for six years and it still works. Outside, I use four Jasco’s Z-wave outlets. I love them because they enable my holiday lights to turn on without me having to go out into the cold.
Speaking of hubs, if you get serious about this whole smart home plan, you may want to consider getting one. I use both the Wink 2 ($99) and the SmartThings ($85) hub. And for 90% of you, I’m going to recommend the Wink 2 hub, both because it’s the easiest to work with and because it has better uptime. SmartThings is for those of you who want to program custom apps, download drivers to increase functionality of your devices, and generally spend a lot of time customizing your smart home. If you aren’t excited about spending a few hours every few weeks customizing your smart home automations and changing devices, the SmartThings hub is not for you.
In the home security and access category there are so many contenders that it’s tough to pick just a few. However, based on my criteria of owning it for more than a year and spending my own money on it, I’ll start by recommending the Chamberlain MyQ garage door opener ($80). Not because I want to open my garage door from my app instead of the HomeLink function in my car, but because I can set it to tell me when my garage door has been open for more than 10 minutes. This is important for me because someone has broken in by breaking and opening my garage door. They stole quite a lot and I had to look for someone who did Garage Door Repair in West Chester. I also gave one to my in-laws so they could confirm their garage door is closed as they drive away from their home. As a bonus, the MyQ links up with the Wink 2 hub, which enables the door opening to be used as a trigger to turn on my porch lights after dark. I’ve had the MyQ since 2014 and I’ve so far had to change the battery in the sensor once.
The other access technology I get the most questions about are door locks. I’ve tried a great number of connected door locks, but the one I own is the Kwikset Z-wave lock. It’s located on the door that leads into the garage. Admittedly, I rarely use the connectivity; my family likes it largely because of the keypad. I highly recommend keypad locks. I change the battery on the lock about every six months, and every four months when it’s super cold (the cold sucks batteries dry). The only place I don’t have a connected lock is on my front door; the locking mechanism on it is weird. It frustrates me to no end, though, because I’d love to ditch my key.
As for home security, I’m not terribly worried about break-ins. I have two Netgear Arlo cameras I set up inside and outside to capture any weirdness when we leave town. I used to have a Netamo Welcome camera set up to monitor the home’s inside, but now I forgo that extra step since I have a dog sitter whom I assume appreciates privacy. I’ve also had a doorbell camera for the last year, but I wouldn’t recommend that particular device to anyone. Which is a shame, because I do think a good doorbell camera is nice to have.
Now onto thermostats! I’ve tried half a dozen of them and currently have the Kono, from Lux Products, installed downstairs ($80 on Amazon). I find it to be a good budget thermostat. I don’t like some things about it, such as its refusal to pre-cool my house to the set temperature ahead of schedule, but the CEO told me that customers hated that feature because it cost them more money. Prior to the Kono, I had an Ecobee Si ($167) installed and loved it as a cheaper version of the more glamorous Ecobee 3 and 4 thermostats. It also provided the outside temperature on the face, which was awesome. Upstairs, I have a second-generation Nest thermostat, which has worked for years and does save me a bit of money. All of my thermostats are connected to my smart speakers.
I also have motorized shades made by Somfy in my living room, stairway, and bedroom. Those I’ve hooked to the Wink hub using a proprietary controller made by Somfy. Somfy makes a new one now, but I haven’t tried it. It supports far fewer channels, so I’d need two to do what I can currently do with my one older one. I linked my blinds through Wink so I can schedule them to open in the morning and close once the sun starts shining in.
And speaking of speakers, one of the first things I put in my newly built home in 2012 was a set of Sonos speakers for every room. I still use them, although my daughter prefers to use the Amazon Echo. I have half a dozen variations of Alexa around my home, including the Echo Show. I don’t get a ton of use out of the Show’s video screen, but my daughter loves it. I have also taken to calling her on it when I’m traveling, and she’s a huge fan of that. I have the Google Home, too; I use it for asking many of the tougher questions that stump Alexa. I still prefer Alexa to Google Home, but I’m trying it every few months to see if that’s changed. And it has gotten significantly better.
Also on the entertainment front, I have a Harmony home hub made by Logitech. For $99, I connected my TV to Alexa and Google Home, so sitters, my parents, and anyone else can turn on our TV with a voice command. Otherwise trying to figure out which HDMI channel you’re supposed to be on and which remote to use is too confusing. I have not tied my lights or anything else to the Harmony hub, although it can act as a control for those devices as well. Instead I use software from Yonomi to create movie time commands that make a variety of connected devices work together without me having to shout at Google or Alexa for 10 minutes.
Finally, let’s move on to the kitchen. There, I only have one beloved connected device: my June oven. This is a connected oven that has weight sensors in the feet, a camera, a temperature probe, and the smarts to recognize the food I put into it. Based on the data it collects it knows what I am cooking, how much of it there is, and when it is cooked through. At $1,495, it’s pricey, but it also acts as a second oven and can do everything from cooking a whole chicken to making toast. I find it’s less awesome at baking breads or cakes, but the salmon, roasted broccoli, and even the toast it makes is amazing. We use it daily.
I’m sure I’ve forgotten a device or two that I truly do love, and I have dozens more devices that haven’t found a permanent place in my home yet, but the ones I’ve listed are tried and true smart home devices. If any of them fit a use case you have, you can feel comfortable buying them. In the meantime, I’ll continue to try out stuff so I can update this list with more devices that might interest y’all.