So you want to build an entry-level smart home and you donât want it to cost a fortune. Good news: thatâs totally possible. The first thing you want to do is decide whether you want to have an Apple, Amazon or Google smart home â Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant?
Thereâs a good chance you already own a smart speaker. Roughly 25-percent of US households already do. If not, youâre probably already comfortable talking to a virtual assistant, so when it comes to deciding between Apple, Amazon or Google, there is probably already a way you are leaning. If not, then youâve got the chance to make a big choice before you get started. Here are the reasons to choose Apple, Amazon, or Google, and the best entry-level devices to get you off the ground.
Appleâs smart home ecosystem has some pretty pronounced pros and cons. On the plus side, the HomePod and its assorted gadgets are uniquely suited to work well with other Apple products and services like your iPhone and Apple Music. Apple is also very committed to privacy in ways that its harder for data-slurping companies like Amazon and Google to be, even despite their promises. But Appleâs hardware is also on the more expensive side, and you basically need an iPhone to get the most out of the setup. All that said, Apple is a great choice for iOS die-hards, go figure.
The HomePod is still one of the best-sounding smart speakers you can buy. Apple was one of the first companies to bake an autotuning feature into a smart speaker; no matter where you place it, the HomePod will adjust its EQ settings so that it sounds the best that it can. The big catch with the HomePod is that in order to use one to its full potential, you really need to have an iPhone and be a subscriber to Apple Music. This is because the HomePod has some pretty neat iPhone-centric features that no other smart speaker has; you can send iMessages, make calls, handoff audio to and from the HomePod, and listen to voicemails, all with âHey Siriâ voice commands. And you need to be an Apple Music subscriber to summon music with your voice.
Most smart home cameras, somewhat surprisingly, arenât compatible with Appleâs HomeKit. Of those that are, Logitechâs Circle 2 is the most popular. It can be set up indoors or outdoors (yes, itâs weatherproof), and you can swap out its traditional base with a wall/window mount. A little forewarning: the Circle 2 can be purchased in wired or wire-free models, but HomeKit only works with the wired model. This smart security camera is also compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant.
The Baby Monitor: Arlo Baby ($200)
The LIFX Mini White is our favorite smart light that works with Apple HomeKit. At just $20, itâs one of the most affordable smart lights you can buy. And, because all of LIFXâs smart lights have built-in Wi-Fi, itâs really easy to install and setup â you donât need to buy a separate smart home hub or bridge.
The Upgrade: LIFX Mini Color ($45)
The Wemo Mini Smart Plug is a super-popular smart plug that is compatible with Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. From the perspective of an Apple smart home, this little plug is a great way to control various electronic devices â such as lamps, tabletop fans, diffuser, space heaters and A/C units â from your iPhone or iPad, or with even your voice. Using the Wemo mobile app, you can also set automatic schedules for various plugs to turn on and off.
The Upgrade: ConnectSense Smart Outlet 2 ($60)
This is really the only smart video doorbell thatâs currently compatible with Apple HomeKit and, unfortunately, itâs not actually available yet. Netatmo announced it last January and itâs expected to be released before the end of 2019. Like other video doorbells, it promises to give you 24/7 live feed of your door as well as send you smartphone notifications whenever somebody rings your doorbell.
The biggest strength of a Google smart home is that Googleâs Assistant is by far the smartest of the currently existing bunch with the ability to understand questions in context, process complex search queries, and more Google-service-related superpowers every day. Googleâs ecosystem is a great pick if youâll be relying on the assistant as much for question-and-answer work as you will be for home automation, or if youâre already deep in Googleâs ecosystem in terms of using services like Calendar, or a Pixel phone.
At around $100, the Google Home is a great middle-tier smart speaker. It sounds significantly better the the Nest Mini, Googleâs new entry-level smart speaker, and it allows you summon music from most streaming services with your voice (the big absentee is, go figure, Apple Music). Maybe more importantly, it gives you a direct line of access to the smartest virtual assistant available today, Google Assistant.
The Upgrade: Sonos One ($169)
What makes the Wyze Cam Pan really great is that, in addition to being pretty cheap, itâs one of the few smart cameras that allows you to âpanâ and tilt the cameraâs view from within the app. You donât have to perfectly position the camera in just the right spot to see who is entering or leaving your house, or what the dog is doing, because within the app you can get the camera to rotate left and right 360 degrees, or tilt up or down. This camera also works with Amazon Alexa.
GEâs smart bulbs are probably the best entry-level smart bulbs for a Google smart home as they work seamlessly with Google Assistant. In fact, Google actually sells smart light starter kits ($29) consisting of a GE-C Smart Bulb and a Google Home Mini.
Affordable Option: Wyze Bulb ($5)
Google doesnât makes its own smart plugs, so youâre going to have to look to a third-party solution. These by Aukey are a great affordable option. Theyâre easy to setup and, afterward, youâll be able to control your home appliances and electronics with your voice.
The Upgrade: Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Plug Mini ($15)
The Nest Hello is probably your best bet when it comes to smart doorbells that work with Google Assistant. Google owns Nest, meaning this Nest device is going to be easiest to integrate into a Google smart home. It doesnât hurt that this is also one of the best-reviewed smart doorbells youâll find.
Affordable Option: Ring Video Doorbell 2 ($129)
Amazonâs Echo speaker kicked off the smart speaker craze and, as a result, got in on the ground floor. A huge amount of products play nice with Amazonâs Alexa assistant. Alexa also has the distinction of being able to directly order things from Amazon, which makes this the obvious choice if youâre a Prime member and/or are constantly making orders. The downside? Alexa isnât the smartest assistant of the bunch, but sheâs excellent at her strength of navigating Amazon for you.
Amazonâs third-generation Echo was released this past fall and delivers iterative upgrades over its predecessor. It sounds slight better and looks a little bit nicer. If youâre looking for Alexa smart speaker thatâs affordable and is pretty good for listening to music, this is the perfect entry-level smart speaker.
The Upgrade: Sonos One ($169)
Amazon owns Ring, so any of its smart home cameras are going to work seamlessly with the Alexa app. The Indoor Cam, specifically, is a great entry-level option because itâs super affordable and delivers many of the same features as Ringâs and Amazonâs more expensive smart cameras.
The Upgrade: Ring Stick Up Cam ($100)
At $5, youâre not going to find a cheaper smart bulb than the Wyze Bulb. The other cool thing about this bulb is that you can use âAlexaâ voice commands to turn it on, per usual, but you can also adjust its brightness or color temperature, too.
The Upgrade: Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance ($200/4-pack)
The Amazon Smart Plug is specifically designed for people who have an Alexa smart speaker in their house. You can plug a much of different things into this smart plug â lamps, Christmas lights, fans or a coffee maker â and you can then turn it on and off using Alexa voice commands.
The Upgrade: Koogeek 2-in-1 Smart Plug ($13)
The big thing with Ring Video Doorbell 2 is that it uses a rechargeable battery, meaning thereâs no wire work to worry about and itâs super easy to install. The Alexa integration is great especially for people who have one of Amazonâs smart displays, or a Fire TV, because you can summon a live 1080p feed on the screen with your voice whenever you want.
The Upgrade: Ring Doorbell Pro ($249)