If you’re not already invested in a smart home, you would’ve undoubtedly heard the term used. What a smart home offers is the ultimate in convenience for today’s busy lifestyle. Devices can include sensors, lighting, plugs, security, and even pet technology. And the good news is, for just 20 bucks you can be up and running with a smart bulb.
Why should I get involved?
There are many reasons to start a smart home and that can extend to providing security right down to syncing coloured LED lights to suit your mood. On the security front, for a fraction of the cost that a tradesman would charge to install a system, you can put up your own wireless cameras. The cameras are controlled through a smartphone and you can take them with you when it’s time to move on. Inexpensive sensors work well to protect a forced entry on a door or window, or to activate lighting when you walk through the door, arms laden with shopping. Smart lighting can be used to simulate that someone is home via a pre-programmed schedule. And the best bit? You can activate all these devices through voice assistance. It’s next-level convenience.
Where do I start?
As we’ve already mentioned, getting started on a budget is relatively easy. Initially, you need to establish what ecosystem you intend to use and this generally comes down to what smartphone you own. The three main voice assistant systems are Google Assistant, Alexa and for Apple users, Siri. A smart speaker makes an excellent smart home hub. Most – but not all – devices will support either Google or Alexa, giving you plenty of scope to add different products. You can then begin to add a light bulb, LED strip, or a door sensor that connects to the ecosystem seamlessly through an app. When you leave the house, every smart product hooked up to the internet can be controlled and tweaked via a smartphone.
Tips for getting started:
- Lighting is a good, inexpensive place to start. You’ll be able to turn the bedroom light out with a voice command.
- Although you can start with a single camera to monitor your main point of entry, camera multi-packs often offer a substantial discount over single units.
- If you’re looking at a budget security system, sensors are your best bet. Locate them on a window or door, and if the link is broken, a push notification is sent to your phone.
- Setting up a smart home can also save you energy costs. Fitting light sensors and devising ‘scenes’ (pre-programmed sequences that can include lighting) means that you won’t have lights on all over the house.
Depending on which voice assist system you intend to lead with, the most cost-effective way to invest in a smart speaker is picking up either a Google Nest Mini (Google Assistant) or an Amazon Echo Dot (Alexa). Both punch above their weight for a budget smart speaker, and both offer excellent voice recognition; you can summon music from a streaming service, set an alarm or timer, consult the internet for a Trivial Pursuit answer, or more importantly, operate your smart home simply by using your voice.
For the bedroom, it’s worth considering a smart clock. What’s that all about? Well, think of it as an augmented alarm clock packed with smart functionality and a speaker to boot. From the comfort of your own bed it’s possible to control all the smart household devices without even having to lift your head off the pillow. Lenovo cover a range of smart clocks and our pick is (no prizes for inventiveness here when it comes to product naming) the Lenovo Smart Clock. There is no camera on this one, so that should allay any privacy concerns. It features a 4” touchscreen display, Google Assistant voice support, and a good speaker for music or a bedtime podcast.
Probably the easiest pathway to a smart home is a progressive collection of smart bulbs. You can start by swapping out your lamp bulbs and then progress to downlights or an LED strip behind the TV. The range is practically inexhaustible but the Philips Hue White Bluetooth 90mm downlight, the Lenovo Smart colour bulb and Lenovo Smart LED two-metre lightstrip will get the ball rolling. A word of warning here though: once you start down the smart lighting route it can quickly become addictive. Before you know it, you’ll have the whole home looking like the Opera House.
Buying a multi-camera pack is the best way to get bang for your buck. For a simple internal camera solution, look at the Eufy Security Indoor 2K camera that captures great vision both day and night and has two-way audio. Externally, our pick is the easy-to-connect weatherproof Eufy 2C wire-free HD two-camera kit that comes with a Home Base. We’ve opted for Eufy here because you get 16GB of free local storage within the Home Base unit – that means you don’t have to get tied up in a costly monthly subscription service. For a video doorbell, the Ring Video Doorbell Gen 2 is hard to beat for price and comes with a rechargeable battery, advanced motion detection (great if you have a tree in the line of sight that continues to trigger the video doorbell), two-way talk and 1080p HD video.
A cost-effective security solution, a simple sensor will send a push notification to your smart device alerting you of an intruder. The Eufy Security Motion Sensor has a range of nine metres and a 100-degree field-of-view and can be positioned anywhere around the house. And as it says on the box the Lenovo Smart Window/Door sensor connects to any door or window protecting that point of entry. The Samsung SmartThings Vision Sensor is a unique proposition in that, unlike a camera, it captures just the outline of the object and sends the clip to your phone. On top of that it doubles as a wall light that comes on and off when it senses you. That will come in handy during the midnight trip to the toilet.