Buying Guide

Best Smart Home Devices for You

Smart Home Automation 101
A person talking to a voice assistant.

Even if you don’t consider yourself particularly tech-savvy, there are a lot of affordable, easy-to-use smart devices you can set up and start using right out of the box. 


Gadgets and items like smart bulbs, smart locks, smart appliances and smart thermostats, the things you use and interact with daily, are the best starter devices for learning how to make smart home technology work for you. 


If you're new to home automation, here are a few smart products to consider.


  • Smart bulbs. Smart light bulbs can be programmed to turn on and off automatically or turn on and off at your command. Compatible motion and contact sensors will make smart lighting even smarter and more energy efficient.
  • Smart plugs. Smart plugs let you enable ordinary, everyday items to be automated and smarter when plugged in. Think lamps, space heaters and more. 
  • Voice assistants. With simple voice commands like, “Okay, Google” or “Hey, Alexa,” you can get answers to questions, control your smart devices, play music, order pizza and do other tasks with Google Home or Alexa voice assistants and coordinating smart speakers. 
  • Smart thermostats. These smart devices save money, conserve energy and keep your home at your desired temperature, whether you’re at home or away. Some thermostats can learn your preferences over time and adjust themselves accordingly. 
  • Smart cameras. Feel secure in knowing you can always keep an eye on your property from anywhere. As part of your smart home security systems, smart cams can also send you phone alerts or emails if they see or hear something that needs your attention. 
  • Smart bundles and starter kits. All-in-one bundles or kits are available with compatible smart devices designed to connect and work together seamlessly. Some smart brands also offer kits that typically include a hub plus one or two smart home gadgets or devices.
Understanding Device Compatibility and Protocols
A person programming a smart home device with a smart phone.

Wondering what's compatible with your devices? Figuring out which smart devices and gadgets will work together has gotten a lot easier. In the store, check for the “Works With” compatibility info on the packaging of most major smart brand products.


Smart brand websites also provide a complete list of smart devices that you can use to connect your home. Knowing a little about how your smart items communicate can help you choose the right devices for your setup.


Zigbee and Z-Wave are the two major wireless “languages” that most smart devices and hubs use to talk to one another. For speedier interactions, both employ a mesh networking technology that allows devices on the same home network to relay instructions back and forth to each other.


Z-Wave:

  • Many consider it the most popular and widely used home automation protocol.
  • Offers an easy setup and a broad range of device compatibility. 
  • Runs on a 908.42 MHz frequency that is less prone to interference from other devices.
  • Requires a smart hub to send signals and control devices.


Zigbee:

  • An open standard wireless protocol used by thousands of smart devices.
  • Offers excellent range and speedy communication between devices.
  • Low power consumption; battery-operated devices can run for years on a single set.
  • Runs on a 908.42 MHz frequency.


Insteon:

  • Dual-band, mesh networking protocol; communicates via radio frequency or over power lines.
  • Optimized exclusively for home automation and control.
  • Compatible with older X10 devices.
  • Operates on 902 to 924 MHz frequency bands.


Wi-Fi:

  • No hub is needed to control devices connected on a Wi-Fi network.
  • Wi-Fi operates on 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands.
  • Wi-Fi consumes lots of power, so it's not ideal for battery-powered devices.


Bluetooth:

  • Short-range communications technology, limited to about 32 feet (10 meters).
  • Can automatically detect and connect up to eight different devices at once. 
  • Ideal for connecting and streaming data between nearby devices like connected Bluetooth speakers, headphones and wearables.
Smart Hubs, Voice Assistants and Apps
A diagram of a smart home automation networking setup.

If you want to create a true automated home experience, smart hubs are essential. The hub is the brain center of an automated home system, connecting all your wired devices, facilitating communications between them and enabling remote control of the devices from a single access point.


Here are some of the most popular smart hubs and smart home products they're compatible with.


Wink 2:

If you’re a new user looking for a home automation hub system that’s easy to setup and connect your favorite devices, this one checks all the boxes. You can use the Wink app, Amazon Echo or Apple’s Siri to control all your connected devices. Wink 2 starter kits also offer you a nearly fail-safe way to jump-start your home automation experience. It supports Bluetooth LE, ZigBee, Z-Wave and most smart home protocols.


Works with Amazon Alexa, Nest, Philips Hue, Schlage, Ring and much more.


SmartThings:

Setting up and connecting with your favorite devices is relatively simple and everything you need is in the box. You can put your automation plans in high gear with a variety of different SmartThings starter kits. Advanced users can receive support from an active developer community for third-party integrations to use with the hub. Supports Z-Wave, ZigBee and most smart home protocols.


Works with Google Home, Amazon Alexa, Nest, Philips Hue, Schlage and much more.


Homekit:

Homekit is Apple’s app-based home automation platform. From the Home app, you can control all your Homekit compatible devices and accessories using an iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch or with Siri voice commands.


Homekit does not require a physical hub, but if you want to take advantage of the Homekit app automation features, you’ll need to own or buy a fourth-generation Apple TV, an iPad running iOS 10 or the HomePod smart speaker assistant.


Works with Ecobee 3, Kwikset, Lutron, Philips Hue and more.


Alexa:

The Amazon Echo smart speaker is better known as simply Alexa, which is Amazon’s voice control system. Just say “Hey, Alexa,” and you have voice control of your connected devices from almost anywhere within earshot. While it’s not yet ready to replace a well-programmed smart hub, Alexa possesses many skills you can use to manage your smart home, answer questions, play music and shop.


Works with Nest, Philips Hue, Ecobee 3, Wink, Samsung SmartThings and more.


Google Home:

Powered by the Google Assistant voice-recognition system, Google Home is an all-in-one Wi-Fi speaker, digital assistant and smart-home controller. It provides seamless integration with Google services like Gmail, Calendar or Keep and leverages Google’s industry-leading search and voice control expertise to provide more contextual information when answering your questions.


Works with Samsung SmartThings, Philips Hue, Nest, Belkin WeMo and more.


Nest:

Nest is not just a smart thermostat. The Nest app is smart and has robust hub capabilities that allow it to automate and control dozens of products, including lighting, door locks, smart plugs and more. Some models offer HD video with HDR.


Works with Google Home, Phillips Hue, Lutron Caseta, Amazon Alexa, Samsung Smart Home and more.

Home Networking Tips
A person connecting a smart home device to a router.

Wi-Fi Routers, Wi-Fi Extenders and Mesh Networking Kits:


In a typical home, wireless signals have to travel through walls and floors as well as bounce off surfaces like metal or concrete to reach their destination. Wi-Fi routers, Wi-Fi extenders and mesh networking kits can be used to create additional access points in areas of your home where Wi-Fi connectivity may be weak.


Here are a few tips to help you get better performance from your smart home network.


  • Position your hub for a clear line-of-sight path to devices when possible, or with no more than one floor or wall between them.
  • Keep your smart hub a few feet away from large metal objects to prevent signal loss. 
  • Orient the hub’s antenna towards the center of the house to allow the electromagnetic signal to travel in all directions.
  • Space smart devices as far apart as possible to reduce the chance of interference.
  • The more devices, the stronger the network. Smart plugs, outlets and motion sensors can act as repeaters to help relay messages back and forth from devices to the hub.
  • Check into services like IFTTT to get efficient smart home applets and reduce complications if you have multiple devices.

From smart sprinkler controllers to smart security systems and smart light bulbs to smart locks, you can benefit from smart home automation inside every room and outside your home.