By Justin Ferris
You’ve got your trusty smartphone, your too-big-for-the-room smart TV and maybe a smart thermostat. So why not take the leap and smart-ify your entire home? The only obstacles are the cost and the bewildering array of options. Fortunately, you can limit both with a bit of planning.
To start, any good smart home needs a central point of control. Jumping between 10 apps to control 8 gadgets is in no way “smart.” Lucky for you, most newer smart gadgets support hubs from the Big Three platforms: Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple’s Homekit.
You just need to decide which one makes sense for you.
Amazon’s got skills
The Amazon Echo ($99.99) boasts a high-quality microphone array that can hear voice commands across a noisy room, as well as the powerful Alexa assistant. It will control any Alexa-compatible gadget and can tap into Amazon’s vast library of third-party “skills,” which even includes ordering pizza. If you own Amazon products, such as the FireTV, it will control those as well. To save a bit of money, try the Echo Dot ($49.99), which drops the Echo’s high-quality integrated speakers but retains everything else.
Google goes to 11
A newcomer to the market, the Google Home Mini ($49.99) boasts the voice-activated Google Assistant and Google’s wide array of services. If you own an Android phone, or extensively use Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Search, then this is probably where you should start. Music lovers will also find something to enjoy. In addition to the built-in speaker, Home Mini can connect to any and all Chromecast-enabled TVs or speakers to play music throughout your living space. You can add Chromecast Audio to any speaker that offers a 3.5mm line-in for $35.
Apple brings down the house
For fans of Apple, it should come as no surprise that your best option is Apple’s slick and simple Siri-powered HomeKit platform. In true Apple fashion, the only Apple-made hub, the HomePod, costs a staggering $349. Fortunately for the budget-conscious, any recent iPhone, iPad, Mac or Watch running the Home app (apple.com/ios/home) can also function as a controller for HomeKit-enabled gadgets. That potentially means one less thing to buy. Apple also sells compatible smart gear in its store, which removes a lot of the guesswork.
Before you settle on any of the above, consider what gadgets you already have and what you want to get. Some smart gear, such as the Philips Hue light bulbs work with everything, while other smart bulbs, thermostats, plugs, TVs, door locks, doorbells and alarms might not. No surprise: HomeKit is usually the odd one out.
No matter what gadget catches your eye, always check for a less-expensive option than the flagship offering. Nest, for example, offers the Nest Thermostat E, which costs $80 less than the regular Nest but keeps the major features.
All the money you save through smart shopping can go to show-off smart gear like the stylish Nanoleaf music-controlled, multi-color light panels ($229, nanoleaf.me).
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