Worldwide sales of voice assistant smart speakers from Google, Amazon, and others continue to grow, and the same can be said of the smart home sector as a whole. The technology underpinning these products is always improving and it’s becoming increasingly affordable to bring smart gadgets into your house.
There’s already such a vast number of different products from various companies out there that it’s hard to know which ones are the best, so we’ve put together this list with some of our favorites. Whether you want to just dip your toes in the water with a cheap Google Home Mini or dive into the deep end with smart lights, cameras, thermostats, doorbells, and so on — we’ve got you covered.
Summer 2019 Update
This post was first published at the end of 2018 and has now been updated to add several new products we think are worth buying as of Summer 2019. If you have any other suggestions for things we could consider adding to this list, let us know in the comments!
All prices correct at the time of writing.
Voice-controlled smart speakers
The best — Google Home Max
Budget pick — Google Home Mini/Amazon Echo Dot
This first category is often the gateway to other smart home products, and it depends almost entirely on your choice of ecosystem. In the US, as in many other countries, there are two distinct camps — Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. If you choose the former, there’s a range of Google Home devices at various price points, from the wallet-friendly Home Mini, the aging original Home, all the way up to the audiophile-pleasing Home Max that costs more than a pretty penny. The Home Hub arrived as part of a new product category with many of the same functions, but we’ll get to that later.
If you go down the Amazon route, there’s a similar array of Echo speakers to suit any need. The Echo Dot is a great entry-level unit that can be had for as cheap as $29 during sale periods, then there’s the regular Echo, Echo Plus, and even the new Echo Sub so you can add some bass. Choosing a product here is mostly about price — get the most expensive one you can realistically afford. If music is a key concern, only the Home Max or Echo Plus with Sub will really do your tunes justice, but if you just want to be able to ask the odd question and control some other connected devices, a Home Mini or Dot will do just fine.
If you want something with Alexa or Google Assistant capabilities but built by a company that knows a little bit more about sound, including headphones and earbuds as well as speakers, take a look at our guide to the best audio products you can buy right now. One such product I’ve tested that I can recommend is the Netgear Orbi Voice. It’s a satellite router for the excellent Orbi mesh WiFi system with an Alexa-equipped Harman Kardon speaker built-in (think a Citation One speaker that doubles up as a WiFi extender). So if you already have Orbi or Echo products in your home, this would be a perfect addition, particularly if you need to extend your WiFI coverage.
- Google Home Mini
- Home Max
- Echo Dot
- Echo Plus
- Echo Sub
Netgear Orbi Voice
- With router
- Satellite only
Best — Lenovo Smart Display (10”)
Budget — Google Nest Hub
Smart displays are essentially a smart speaker with a screen glued on (almost literally by the look of the Google Nest Hub). The original Echo Show was the first product of this kind, but it was inelegant and expensive. The new model looks and sounds better, plus there’s a smaller version too, but there’s more competition in the Google Assistant Smart Display space.
Google’s own Nest Hub (known as the Home Hub before Google Nest became a thing) is the cheapest among them, so that’s a good place to start, but Lenovo, JBL, and LG also have options with cameras for video calls and louder speakers. With the largest screen (10 inches) and arguably the nicest design, the Lenovo is probably your best bet. It’s worth noting, that the Nest Hub Max is due to launch later this summer, so keep an eye out for our review of that when it lands.
Best — Nvidia Shield TV
Budget — Roku Express
The inexpensive Google Chromecast has been the obvious choice in this space for years, and while it’s still fine, there are definitely some better options out there if you’re willing to spend a little more, especially if you’d prefer a physical remote. On the budget end, there’s the excellent Roku Express and the Amazon Fire TV Stick is also pretty good — both now have 4K options that beat out the more expensive Chromecast Ultra in terms of features. Although, don’t forget that Google’s 4K dongle will be work with Stadia when the game streaming platform launches later this year.
If you want the ultimate media streaming experience, you’re going to want an Nvidia Shield TV — it’s still the best Android TV box around (see Ryan’s re-review if you don’t believe me), and probably the only one we’d still recommend. It handles 4K HDR video content but is also a capable games console, especially if you look into emulation possibilities (I recently played through Super Mario 64 on my Shield). If you plump for the slightly more expensive edition with the added gaming controller (it already comes with a voice remote), you’ll have access to a wealth of entertainment options that rival ATV boxes simply can’t beat.
As a bonus pick, why not breathe new life into an old sound system with a cheap Chromecast Audio? Connect them up via a 3.5mm jack and you can now stream music from a range of services to your trusty old speakers. I hope you picked one up before it was discontinued!
Nvidia Shield TV
- with remote
- with remote and controller
- Streaming Stick+
- Fire TV Stick
- Fire TV Stick+
- Chromecast Ultra
Hubs and entertainment centers
Budget pick — Samsung SmartThings
Best hub — Hubitat
Best for entertainment — Caavo
When a Google Home or Amazon Echo isn’t quite enough for you, a hub could be the answer. They can combine various smart home protocols such as Z-Wave and Zigbee, giving you more flexibility than a standard WiFi-only setup. Samsung’s SmartThings Hub was our top pick last year, and it remains a good budget option with great compatibility. It’s even cheaper if you own an Nvidia Shield TV as you can simply plug in a SmartThings dongle for the same functionality as the standalone hub. If you want a more robust solution, we’d recommend Hubitat. It’s not for the faint of heart as it’s not the most user-friendly system around, but if you can get past that it has an unrivaled feature set and is great value for money, with Zigbee and Z-Wave support plus local logic storage.
If entertainment is your key concern, the Logitech Harmony Elite is still highly recommended, plus there’s a cheaper Express option now too. Alternatively, Caavo has been making headlines recently and is worth checking out, particularly due to its ease of use and parental monitoring settings.
Budget — C by GE
Best — Philips Hue
Extravagant pick — Nanoleaf Canvas or LifX Tile
Connected light bulbs are a useful, inexpensive introduction to the smart home, with plenty of decent options that work with different protocols. There’s often not much between different brands, with many of them controllable with just a Google Home Mini thanks to WiFi connectivity, such as our previous top pick LifX.
In part due to the added versatility and reliability of the Zigbee protocol that underpins it, but also because its range of different lighting options is now so vast, Philips Hue becomes our number one pick. The recently added custom power-on behavior setting is also a huge plus. LifX is still a great choice for those wanting simple WiFi-controlled lights without the need for a separate Bridge, though.
IKEA’s cut-price bulbs, dimmers, and switches work with Google Assistant, so they’re a great budget pick, although you do need to shell out $30 for the Gateway, so it might only be worth it if you want multiple smart lights and plugs in your home on the cheap. Our new top budget options come from C by GE, with both white and color bulbs now available that work great with Google Home over Bluetooth without the need for WiFi. Anker’s smart home brand Eufy also has some decent, affordable smart bulb options that I’ve been using for a little while now.
We can do better than simply lighting your home effectively, however, with some more elaborate products designed for creativity. Last year’s top pick, the Nanoleaf Aurora (above) is still impressive, but there are some attractive new options too. Nanoleaf now has the Canvas, a light square that can be customized and react to sound. LifX also has similar Tile squares, as well as Beam light bars and Z LED strips — no nook or cranny in your home need ever be left in darkness.
- Single bulb white
- Single bulb ambiance
- Single bulb color
- Starter 4-pack with bridge
- Mini white single
- Mini color
C by GE
- White 2-pack — $24.99 — Best Buy
- White Home Mini bundle — $31 — Google, Best Buy, BH
- Color 2-pack — $54.99 — Best Buy
- Light panels (Rhythm Edition)
Plugs and Switches
Best plug — Belkin Wemo Insight
Budget plug — Eufy Energy Monitoring
Best switch — Ecobee Switch+
Budget switch — Switchbot
If your lights or other gadgets aren’t of the smart variety, you could improve their IQ by plugging them into a smart outlet. Take this as a fun example of what you can do with a smart plug. They range from basic WiFi-connected plugs that can be turned on or off with a Google Assistant Voice command to more sophisticated options like the Wemo Insight Plug that can tell you how much energy you’re using. If you get a smart power strip like the Kasa from TP-Link, you get six smart outlets in one. As with the lights, IKEA now offers enticing budget options (especially useful if you already have the Gateway) and I’ve more recently tested Eufy’s energy monitoring plug which offers tremendous value for money.
Another way to turn your electronics on and off on is to use a smart switch. The likes of Philips and IKEA also do switches that go with their light collections, but the best one out there is the Ecobee Switch+. It may look a bit like an intercom, but this lightswitch essentially has Amazon Alexa integrated so it can be used to control other things around the home, plus you can control the switch with the Google Assistant.
On the budget end, the ingenious SwitchBot is an adorable little robot (above) that can be attached to pre-existing dumb switches to turn them smart. It’s not the most elegant solution, but it’s pretty clever. There’s also a light-up hub that looks like a cloud (below), which is what all hubs should look like if you ask me.
Thermostats and AC
Best — Ecobee4
Budget — Nest Thermostat E
Not much has changed in the world of smart thermostats, with the Ecobee4 still the best out there. It supports Alexa and the Google Assistant, like the Switch+, and comes with multiple sensors to place around your home for optimal temperature measurements. Another good Google Assistant option is the Nest Learning Thermostat, with the Nest Thermostat E being the best choice for those on a budget.
For those of you who don’t live in a home or apartment with ducted thermostats, there are other options to control your ductless AC or heat pump. Both Sensibo Sky and Cielo Breez Eco are good options with Google Assistant support.
There are also products out there to help you regulate more than just the temperature in your home. Netatmo has two interesting products in this area — the Healthy Home Coach measures humidity, air quality, noise, and temperature. The more expensive Weather Station looks at the same metrics with indoor and outdoor modules, also taking internal ventilation and external barometric pressure into account.
Best without plan — Arlo Pro 2
Best with plan — Nest Cam IQ
Budget — Wyze
Using connected devices so we don’t have to get up off the sofa to turn the lights on is all very well and good, but home security is probably the most worthy use case. The Arlo Pro 2 had a few teething problems when it first came out but now leads the way in the no-plan field thanks to its battery-operated cams that can be located anywhere. If you’re willing to pay a monthly subscription, Nest’s Cam IQs are rich in features, with the indoor modules offering 4K. D-Link makes some solid mid-range security cameras, particularly the HD mini which you can get in an affordable 2-pack ($90).
Wyze is now the dominant player in the budget price range, with the Wyze Cam offering HD video and night vision for a miraculous $20. A new Pan model adds 360-degree horizontal mobility and 93-degree tilt into the mix for only 10 bucks more. How they can sell them for so cheap is beyond us, but we’re not complaining.
Best — Simplisafe
Budget — Ring Alarm
After spending some time using Simplisafe for my smart home security needs, I can easily recommend it as the best system I’ve tried. As the name suggests, it’s incredibly simple to set up and the different package options help you kit out your home with exactly the right hardware. My starter kit came with a base station, keypad, camera, motion sensor, and entry sensor, but the custom build tool allows you to add only what you need without adding too much to the cost — there are a ton of other sensors to choose from. The extra peace of mind that 24/7 external monitoring brings can be had for just $14.99, and there are no contracts so you can cancel whenever you like — perfect for when you go on vacation.
If you’re tied into the Google Nest ecosystem, Nest Secure is a solid but expensive option. Amazon-owned Ring also has its own alarm system. One again, Wyze has delivered an incredible value proposition with its Wyze Sense security pack. For just $20, you get two contact sensors, a motion sensor, and a bridge to add to your Wyze Cam, all of which are adorably tiny (see above). As Ryan explains in his full review, the Wyze kit absolutely gets the job done if you’re just looking for basic security and monitoring for the lowest possible price.
Pre-made packages start at:
Nest Secure — $299
Ring Alarm — $199
Wyze Sense — $19.99
Best — Skybell Trim Plus
Budget — Arlo Audio Doorbell
As the commercials would have us believe, burglars always ring the doorbell first to see if anyone’s home. We’re then presented with the solution — a smart doorbell. Something with a camera is the most secure option, allowing you to see who’s at the door and then have a two-way conversation with them. The Skybell Trim Plus is one of the best, although features among the major players are pretty much equal — it offers free cloud recording, unlike many rival products in a similar price bracket. If you already have products from Ring, Nest, or August, they have very similar doorbells to complete your lineup. If you want some of the smarts for less of the money, you can get a first generation Ring Video Doorbell for just $100. Alternatively, why not try an audio-only doorbell like this one from Arlo. You get a phone call to your phone when it rings so you can answer faster, plus if you already have a porch camera it can use that as the video feed for the best of both worlds.
Best — August Smart Lock Pro + Connect
Budget — August Smart Lock
So you’ve got a smart security camera and a doorbell but you’re still using an old-fashioned metal key to get into your house like some person from the past — who are you? Clearly, you need a smart lock, and there are some good ones out there. Rita reviewed the Nuki smart lock this time last year and said it was the best choice for those who live outside the US. Since then, they’ve released a 2.0 model, and Rita is just as convinced by the upgraded hardware. August smart locks are full-featured, and the best looking in my opinion, so its Smart Lock Pro + Connect WiFi Bridge with Alexa integration is my top pick. In a similar vein, Nest has teamed up with Yale for a lock with Google Assistant smarts and Schlage also has an option that works with Google and Alexa setups. The third-gen regular August Smart Lock without the bridge can be had for about $125 now, making that a good budget option.
It may once have been a pipe dream to have a robot do the hoovering for you, but prices have come down so much that it’s now an easily achievable reality for many people. Unfortunately, they aren’t all able to shout and swear like this one. I’ve tested a couple of robot vacuums in recent months, starting with the Eufy RoboVac 30C. I was pleasantly surprised by its ability to pick up even heavier debris thanks to 1500Pa of suction power, and there’s nothing cuter than watching it saunter back to the charging station for a well-earned rest. The included boundary strips allow you to cordon off areas you don’t want it to go, good for avoiding cable tangles and the like.
Taking things to the next level is the Roborock S6. It’s a fair bit more expensive at $650 but it’s also more powerful with 2000Pa suction power. As you’d expect, it can will get the job done faster and with fewer passes by the same area, but another plus is that it’s also quieter. Setting it to work as I get down to my own work is much less distracting than with the Eufy model, and it also goes for longer, so I’m able to clean the whole of my apartment in just one go. Oh, I almost forgot, this one also has a mop function for spillages, too.
The smart home sector is obviously much larger than just those categories above, which means we sometimes get to test various random and more eclectic devices. The strangest of those in recent memory is probably the Moodo smart fragrance diffuser that Rita was rather enamored with.
There are also tons of other sensors you can get that tie into many of the smart home systems mentioned above, but there also are some good standalone products out there too. If you’re worried about potential flooding from a leaky pipe or malfunctioning fridge, the WiFi-equipped Wasserstein Water Sensor will alert your phone at the first sign of trouble and help you avert a costly disaster.