Photo: deposit photos.com
Smart home systems are no longer the wave of the future. They are the wave of the present. Motion sensors, security cameras, refrigerators, heating and cooling systems, door and window locks, light bulbs and lighting fixtures, and even ovens can all be connected to a single smart home system. This allows you to control your entire home from your smartphone, tablet, computer, or even by voice or custom programs using protocols like IFTTT (If This Then That) that can activate virtually any part of a smart home system automatically.
However, with any smart home system, you’ll need to add compatible devices to get the maximum benefit. For instance, a single system paired with a single smart light bulb can control the light in the room where the bulb is installed, but that’s only the beginning of having a connected household. You can expand your smart home system with a combination of additions like more lights, a security system, a thermostat, and more. Ultimately, you can select the best smart home system for your household by choosing the devices you want to connect and customizing your home to suit your needs and your tastes.
- BEST OVERALL: Echo Dot (3rd Gen) with Echo Auto
- RUNNER-UP: Samsung GP-U999SJVLGDA 3rd Generation SmartThings Hub
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Smart IR Remote Controller
- BEST FOR RANGE: Smart Leak Sensors, YoLink
- BEST FOR SECURITY: Arlo Accessory – Smart Hub
- BEST FOR CONVENIENCE: Broadlink RM4 Mini Smart Home Wi-Fi Remote Hub
- EASIEST TO USE: Sengled Smart Hub
Photo: deposit photos.com
What to Consider When Buying a Smart Home System
Before investing in a new smart home system, consider these important product features to be sure you purchase a system that meets your needs.
Any device connected to the internet, including something as basic as a smart light bulb, is potentially vulnerable to hacking. This is an inescapable risk of having access to a global network like the internet. However, smart home system manufacturers and service providers are aware of these vulnerabilities and have designed smart devices with built-in security to help protect your home from cyber attacks.
However, security isn’t really a feature you can find in a product description because smart home system manufacturers avoid giving specifications about their security so as not to aid a hacker in penetrating the system.
Instead, you can base your decision on a few important factors:
- How frequently is the smart home system app updated?
- More frequent updates make it difficult for hackers to learn the security protocols.
- How popular is the smart home system?
- Larger, established companies likely have more money to spend on security features and security professionals.
- What do customers say about the security of the system?
- You can read customer reviews that reveal security vulnerabilities the manufacturer may have missed. Thankfully, customer reviews also help security professionals detect the same issues, and manufacturers can frequently release fixes to address them.
If you’re new to the concept of a smart home system or you prefer a more basic interface that is easy to understand and practical for carrying out a few small tasks, then you’ll want a system that is simple and straightforward. Avoid overly flexible smart home systems with so many different configuration options that you may quickly become overwhelmed as a novice user.
However, if you’re an experienced user who wants to transition to full home automation, you need a complex smart home system equipped with IFTTT (If This Then That) script support so you can fully customize and control your smart home.
Customer reviews are an ideal gauge for deciphering the complexity level of a smart home system because they give a full breadth of experience from novice to expert; you then know what to expect and how your own knowledge and abilities measure up.
Any smart home system has a range of devices and computer protocols with which it is compatible, but it won’t be compatible with everything. Before you select a smart home system, decide which devices you want your system to communicate with and which ones to leave out.
Typically, a device will be compatible with the most popular smart home systems, like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, as well as other devices made by its own manufacturer. However, some devices offer a broader range of compatible services, giving you a wider variety of smart home systems from which to choose.
One very useful service is the IFTTT (If This Then That) scripting system. If a smart home system and the connected devices are compatible with IFTTT scripting, then you can automate many functions around your home using IFTTT programming protocols. For example, if the smart TV is on, then the living room lights will automatically dim.
How a smart home system connects to your wireless router can be an important factor in determining which smart home system is right for you.
Corded smart home systems may give the impression that every smart device on the network needs to be plugged directly into the system, but that isn’t the case. Only the smart home system itself needs to be connected to the wireless router with an ethernet cable. This ensures constant communication between the system and the router, instead of relying on the stability of a wireless signal. The downside is that you may have to tether your smart home system to your router with the ethernet cable.
Cordless smart home systems don’t need to be connected to the wireless router with an ethernet cable. They only need to be within range of the router to communicate with it, which means you can place the smart home system wherever you choose within that range, without worrying about cables. However, you may run into connectivity issues if the wireless signal becomes unstable.
The sensors on smart home devices allow them to communicate with the smart home system and provide the necessary connectivity to make the most out of it. However, more expansive homes, like country bungalows, may be too large for a single smart home system to have the range to connect to all of the home’s smart devices.
Before choosing a smart home system, look at the product information to learn the range of the device and the network on which it operates. For instance, a device that is only compatible with the Bluetooth network will not benefit from a powerful WiFi network, while Z-Wave and Zigbee are both mesh networks that can use compatible smart home devices to boost the network signal. This means that each new device extends the signal strength and range of the smart home system.
However, keep in mind that Z-Wave and Zigbee devices are less popular, so the range of compatible smart devices is significantly less varied than WiFi- and Bluetooth-compatible devices.
When the power goes out, you likely won’t be able to use the smart lights connected to your smart home system. However other smart devices, like security sensors, should remain on at all times to help keep you and your family safe. To ensure that your smart home system remains active during a power outage, invest in a system, and compatible devices that all have a built-in battery backup.
The battery backup most frequently used is a set of AA or AAA batteries to provide power when the electricity goes out. However, if you don’t want to worry about changing batteries on your smart home devices, you can find devices with rechargeable batteries that automatically charge when the electricity is on so they always remain powered during an outage.
Mobile App Usability
When you invest in a smart home system, you aren’t just choosing the system itself, you are also selecting the interface that you will use to control the system. Many mobile apps are very intuitive and simple to use, but some can be clunky, confusing, and so complex that it makes having a smart home system almost pointless.
Before choosing a smart home system, consider browsing its app so you can understand the controls and decide whether you like the interface. You can also gain a sense of how frequently the app is updated, which is an important factor for system security. If the app was updated over a year ago, it is more likely the program has several bugs and vulnerabilities in the coding that can expose the smart home system to hackers.
Professional monitoring services give you the peace of mind that your smart home system is being monitored 24/7 by security professionals. This service is usually included as an additional feature in a smart home security system, but it doesn’t come free. To have 24/7 protection, you’ll need to pay an ongoing subscription fee that can range from as low as $10 per month to higher than $100 per month.
This feature is often a matter of preference. Some people do not like the idea of anyone watching over their home while they are away or sleeping, while others are able to relax more knowing they don’t have to be as vigilant to keep their home secure.
The cost of a smart home system should always be a consideration, especially if it offers monthly or yearly subscriptions for additional services. Weigh the benefits included with the plan against how often you will actually use the service. For instance, a subscription that lets you keep up to 1 year of security footage on a smart home security network may be a very attractive option for some people, but others may prefer to view their security footage on a more frequent basis and would never need to keep a year’s worth of video files. In this case, the additional price for the subscription isn’t worth the cost for how little you’d use the service.
Our Top Picks
We chose our top picks on the basis of quality, price, and customer satisfaction to help you find the best smart home system for your household.
When you purchase the compact Echo Dot, you bring one of the most comprehensive smart home ecosystems into your home. The Echo Dot has numerous features that you can access through the Amazon Alexa app, including playing music, answering questions, reading the news, checking the weather, and controlling compatible smart home devices. You can control the Echo Dot either through the Alexa app or with your voice. It can also be set up using IFTTT protocols to respond to (If This Then That) prompts.
You can even link multiple Echo Dots to set up an in-home intercom system to call individual rooms. For households with small children, you can enable Amazon FreeTime in the Alexa app to automatically filter explicit songs, add approved contacts, set time limits, and review online activity. The Alexa app also has a security feature called Alexa Guard that will send alerts through the Echo Dot or to your smartphone if a connected device detects the sound of smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms, and even breaking glass, providing an added layer of security in your home.
With a range of 50 to 130 feet, the Samsung SmartThings Hub connects to your WiFi and to other compatible smart devices listed as ‘Works with SmartThings.’ Set up is easy with guided instructions on the SmartThings app. When you connect this smart home system with Google Home and Amazon Echo smart speakers, you can control it with your voice.
Use your new SmartThings smart home system to connect with over 40 different partner brands and devices, including lighting products, video doorbells, smart door locks, security cameras, speakers, motion detectors, smart TVs, and more. You also receive automated 24/7 monitoring that notifies you via your smartphone when there is unexpected activity in your home. The SmartThings Hub has many other great features to discover as well, including IFTTT protocols.
If you have a small apartment, or the bulk of your appliances and media is on one floor of your home, then this very affordable smart home system is an excellent option. The reason limited space is best is not the range—in fact, the range is about 160 square feet—but because infrared light has a difficult time passing through or around walls. This can create connection dead zones in the smart home system. However, for a large living room or a combined living room/kitchen, the wide-open space is ideal for this system.
This smart home system is voice-controlled through a connected Amazon Echo or Google Home smart speaker, or you can control the system using the Smart Life/Tuya app on your smartphone. The system works on 2.4GHz WiFi and includes a simple installation guide so you can get started right away.
With the YoLink Smart Leak Sensors, you won’t have to worry about placing your smart home system as close to your devices as possible. This system uses a dedicated smart home protocol—instead of WiFi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, or Z-Wave—to extend the sensor range of the system to 1/4 mile or 1,320 feet in open air. Inside your home, the range drops off dramatically, but it is still long-range at over 300 feet.
This smart home system is compatible with Amazon Echo smart speakers for voice control, and it can use IFTTT script protocols to set up automated functions with compatible devices. This system also connects with over 200 smart devices and can be configured to send customized alerts directly to your smartphone. However, keep in mind that this system only works in the United States and Canada.
If you want a smart home system for home security, the Arlo Accessory – Smart Hub is a definite option. It can securely connect with any Arlo smart security system product, including the Arlo Ultra, Ultra 2, Pro 3, Pro 3 Floodlight Camera, Pro 2, Pro, Wire-Free, Video Doorbell, and Audio Doorbell. You can access and manage all of these devices through the Arlo Smart app, but there is a subscription fee after the first three months.
The Arlo smart home system has a range of 300 feet, providing long-range connectivity for the security cameras you pair with the system. You have the option to back up your security videos for 30 days before deleting them, allowing you to review the files and download them if necessary. For voice control, you can connect an Apple HomeKit, Amazon Echo, or Google Home smart speaker, and the system works on 2.4GHz WiFi.
If you have a number of infrared-controlled devices in your home, such as a smart TV, air conditioner, or fan, then a smart home system that can connect to a wide variety of devices could be the ideal choice. With over 50,000 supported infrared-controlled devices, the Broadlink RM4 Mini Smart Home Wi-Fi Remote Hub also adds the convenience of voice control with a connected Amazon Echo or Google Home smart speaker.
IFTTT script protocols let you fully automate your smart home system and the compatible devices on the same network so, for example, you don’t have to remember to turn on the outside lights at night or turn off the television before bed. Control of your smart home system and straightforward installation instructions for any BroadLink smart home device are available through the BroadLink app.
The Sengled Smart Hub has an indoor range of 150 feet and offers a simple, straightforward interface for your smart home system, including a guided setup process to quickly get you started. The hub connects through WiFi, so you won’t have to worry about an ethernet cable. Control this smart home system with the Sengled Home app, or, if you are a more experienced user, you can customize automated systems with compatible IFTTT script protocols.
If you aren’t ready to jump into IFTTT protocols, the app is easy enough to use without worrying about full home automation. However, you do have the option to connect and control up to 64 Sengled Element smart devices with this smart home system. You can also control the Sengled Smart Hub with your voice with an Amazon Echo or Google Home smart speaker.
The Advantages of Owning a Smart Home System
- Create full-home connectivity and centralized control. As you add compatible devices to your smart home system, you can begin to control your television, refrigerator, thermostat, and other appliances around your home. You can even connect smart lights and smart home security systems, allowing you to centralize the control of your entire home.
- View and control your home from anywhere via a smartphone, tablet, or computer. You can also control all of your home’s smart devices anywhere there’s connectivity using your smartphone, tablet, or computer. This means that, for example, you can monitor your front door for an expected package while you are at work, or unlock the door for your children when they arrive home from school instead of having them keep track of a house key.
- Experience complete home automation, including appliances, lighting, security, and more, with an IFTTT-compatible smart home system. Connectivity lets you control all of your home’s smart devices, but automation actually allows the house to complete these actions for you on a preset schedule or set of rules using IFTTT (If This Then That) protocols. These rules allow you to set custom parameters your smart home will automatically follow. For example: If the smart security system detects the front door opening, then the smart lights turn on in the front hallway. With enough custom parameters, you can move around your home without ever touching a light switch or speaking a word and still have optimal lighting. Of course, this automation can also extend to other smart home functions, allowing you to fully automate your home.
FAQs About Your New Smart Home System
Continue reading to find answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about smart home systems.
Q. How does a smart home system work?
A smart home system cannot work with any electronic device. It must be paired with devices that have compatible computer protocols, sensors, and network connectivity capabilities. If a smart home system and a device are compatible, then you can use the system itself or an associated app to communicate with the device.
In this way, a smart home system is able to communicate with other smart devices on the same network. This lets you use voice commands, app-controlled commands, or computer-controlled commands to set the thermostat, turn on lights, view your home through the security camera, lock or unlock doors and windows, and many other functions if you have the required smart devices.
Q. How do you troubleshoot a smart home system?
Follow these simple steps to troubleshoot your smart home system.
- The first step in any troubleshooting process is to review your actions to ensure you didn’t make a mistake. It happens to everyone, and checking for human error can often save a lot of time and frustration.
- Reboot the system by turning it off and on again. Many issues can be fixed with this simple step.
- Check the wireless signal and reboot the router if your network connectivity is unstable.
- If the issue continues, consider moving the router to a better location in your home.
- Update all software on your smart home devices.
- Hard reset the smart home system to return it to factory settings. Don’t forget to uninstall and reinstall the associated app from your smartphone as well.
- If you have tried all of the above steps and the system still is not working, you may have to call the manufacturer to help you troubleshoot the problem or possibly complete a warranty return request if the system seems to be faulty.
Q. Can a smart home be hacked?
Yes, any piece of technology connected to the internet can potentially be hacked, including smart home systems, smart TVs, and even your wireless router. However, many of these devices operate using an app that’s frequently updated by the manufacturer to help protect you from hackers.