We took Google and Amazon out of the running (just this once) to see what other great smart home devices are out there.
Google and Amazon dominate the smart home market. Beyond Amazon’s growing lineup of Echo smart speakers, the tech giant also owns home security brands Ring and Blink — and Wi-Fi router brand Eero. Smart thermostat maker Ecobee gets funding from Amazon. Google owns Nest and brought the company further under its control this year, rebranding most of its connected devices from “Google Home” to “Google Nest,” like the Google Nest Mini and the Google Nest Hub.
Our current list of best smart home devices features 12 products; seven of them are Amazon or Google devices — or devices made by Amazon- or Google-owned (or funded) companies. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. They’re all solid gadgets and we heartily recommend them. As much as Google and Amazon (the latter especially) deserve credit for bringing some much needed organization to the smart home category via their popular voice assistants, it’s easy to forget that the smart home industry is bigger than these two companies.
That’s part of the purpose of this post — to look at the smart home in a different way and to see what else is out there when you remove some of the most obvious players. That said, Alexa and Google Assistant are compatible with…well, pretty much every smart home gadget at this point. For better or for worse, this would be an exceptionally short list if we stuck to devices that are totally independent from Google Assistant and Alexa compatibility. It would be even shorter if we left off products that use backend support like Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud.
Larger questions about market consolidation and data stewardship emerge the deeper down the rabbit hole you go on Amazon and Google’s omnipresence in our lives. There’s also the question of privacy. Amazon and Google dot headlines for misusing user information and collecting health care data without informing people. Amazon’s home security company, Ring, has been the subject of numerous CNET reports for its partnership with over 725 law enforcement agencies across the United States.
I had to draw a line somewhere for this story, so for the purposes of this product roundup, Amazon, Ring, Blink, Eero, Ecobee, Google and Nest-branded devices are out.
Of course, the brands I list here aren’t impervious to data breaches either. Apple, which I nominate below for best smart speaker and best smart display display, had an iPhone security flaw that allowed hackers to gather personal information from websites. And an issue with Apple’s FaceTime app made it possible to listen to a person receiving a call, even if they didn’t answer the call.
Still, this is a particularly great list if you have concerns about the privacy of Amazon and Google products.
Now that all of that is out of the way, let’s get into this list of the 10 top smart home devices that aren’t made by Amazon or Google.
Apple’s smart speaker — the HomePod — hit stores in early 2018. It delivers excellent sound quality and solid, albeit limited, third-party Siri voice integrations for controlling smart home devices. Pair two HomePods together to create a stereo pair or set up multiple HomePods throughout your home for multi-room audio.
Over the two years since the HomePod launched, Apple has dropped its price from $349 to $299 and added new features to remain competitive.
Even so, the HomePod — much like Apple’s smart home platform, HomeKit — still lags behind Amazon and Google’s ever-growing lineup of branded smart speakers and partnerships with other companies that enable so many integrations with a simple “Alexa” or “Hey, Google” command.
There is one potential benefit to HomeKit and the HomePod’s slow third-party growth: improved security.
Again, this doesn’t mean Apple is immune to privacy breaches, but its smart home has remained relatively untouched when you consider the Amazon and Google headlines. That makes the HomePod a decent option for someone who’s a bit leery of smart speakers, particularly when it comes to user privacy.
We’re also keeping an eye on crowdfunded smart speakers, like the Mycroft Mark II, which claims to give “you the power of voice while maintaining privacy and data independence.” Interesting.
Read our Apple HomePod review.
If you don’t already know how I feel about smart displays, this commentary should do the trick: I have enough screens in my life. I don’t need a smart display, too.
So, if we’re ruling out the variety of Amazon- and Google-branded smart displays for the purposes of this post, I’m going to side-step all of the third-party displays out there too.
Instead I’d suggest a regular ol’ tablet: the Apple iPad. I know, I know. Two Apple devices in a row, but CNET’s Scott Stein recommends the newest iPad — the 10.2-inch, seventh-generation model released in 2019 — as “an obvious affordable choice” at the top of his list of favorite tablets.
The iPad has the same Home app as an iPhone, meaning you can check in on and control all of your smart home devices on the iPad’s larger display. It also has Siri built in, so you can use a voice command to turn on the reading light or open the living room shades.
Read our Apple iPad (2019) review.
Netgear took a significant departure in price from the inaugural Orbi it introduced back in 2016 with this new Orbi Mesh Wi-Fi System. We liked the original model, but it cost a whopping $400. Fast-forward three years and Netgear is back with a whole new Orbi, this time for just $150.
For your money, you get a two-pack Orbi system that’s designed to cover up to 3,000 square feet and works with Alexa and Google Assistant voice commands. 3,000 square feet isn’t quite enough to blanket the large CNET Smart Home in Wi-Fi, but Netgear does offer three- and four-pack kits for $230 and $300 if you have more ground to cover.
At close range, the Orbi clocked the fasted top speeds during our testing, impressing us with its signal strength and general ability to keep up with the pricier Nest Wi-Fi and Eero systems.
The Netgear app could use a redesign, but the Orbi Mesh Wi-Fi System offers a great overall value and is well worth considering if you’re not quite ready to make the move to Wi-Fi 6 (but want a solid Wi-Fi connection throughout your house).
Read our Netgear Orbi review.
If you’ve overlooked the lowly smart plug up until now, you might want to reconsider. The $30 TP-Link Kasa Smart Plug Mini, available for less on Amazon (as of writing this, it’s just $15), makes it incredibly easy to control everyday household devices.
Connect your smart plug to a wall outlet, then plug in a desk fan, lamp, or other small electronic device for easy on/off control straight from your phone — or with an Alexa or Google Assistant voice command. In addition to the Kasa Smart Plug Mini’s reliable performance, I really like that this particular smart plug doesn’t block any other outlets — something that strangely isn’t always the case (including with TP-Link’s own Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Plug with Energy Monitoring).
The Kasa Smart Plug Mini can also be set to control a device automatically on a schedule. For example, if you want your entryway lamp to turn on at 6 p.m. and off at 10 p.m., just go to the app and schedule it. As long as your Wi-Fi connection is solid, your TP-Link Kasa Smart Plug Mini will control your devices for you, so you can focus on more important things.
Read our TP-Link Kasa Smart Plug Mini review.
The Wyze Bulb is an unassuming choice for best light bulb. It only costs $8, a fraction of what Philips or Lifx charges — and yet, it earned top marks in our testing. That only makes its incredible value all the more impressive.
Wyze’s smart bulb is a dimmable white-light LED with a scheduling function and an adjustable color temperature.
Download the Wyze app, screw in the Wyze Bulb and follow the simple setup steps — and you’re just a few minutes away from having app-controlled lighting. Wyze Bulbs work with Alexa and Google Assistant as well, if you want to use a voice command to adjust them.
While the app is easy to use and the dimming, scheduling and color temperature settings work well, I do wish the app had a sunrise/sunset setting that automatically adjusted the schedule based on the time of year. I have three Wyze bulbs in covered outside light fixtures and have to occasionally adjust my schedule to account for the changing seasons.
Note: Wyze Bulbs are technically indoor lights, so make sure to follow Wyze’s guidelines when you install these yourself.
Read our Wyze Bulb review.
The $200 Honeywell Home T9 is a nice-looking smart thermostat at a reasonable price — especially because it comes with a remote sensor that tracks temperature, humidity and motion. The remote sensor, called a “Smart Room Sensor,” is powered by two AAA batteries and is supposed to have a 200-foot range. Additional sensors cost $40 each (steep, I know) and you can add up to 20.
If you aren’t interested in buying the T9 bundled with a Smart Room Sensor, the thermostat costs $170 on its own.
The Honeywell Home T9 Smart Thermostat is easy to install and the app provides straightforward step-by-step instructions to get it connected to your Wi-Fi and paired to the app. As always, make sure to consult an electrician if you have any questions about how this thermostat will work with your particular home setup.
If you want to branch out from the app, the T9 thermostat also works with Alexa and Google Assistant voice commands.
Read our Honeywell Home T9 Smart Thermostat review.
Let’s get the annoying stuff out of the way first. At $500 for a two-camera pack, the Arlo Pro 3 is expensive (it’s currently discounted to $450 on the Arlo online store). That $500 kit also includes a required hub that you have to connect to your router. Arlo claims the hub helps extend the Wi-Fi range of its Pro 3 cameras and improves the battery life of each camera’s rechargeable battery, but feel superfluous compared to all of the non-hub Wi-Fi security cameras out there.
That said, the Arlo Pro 3 is my favorite home security camera. It’s weatherproof and can go anywhere, as long as your Wi-Fi network reaches it. It has easy-to-remove rechargeable batteries that can last for months on a single charge (battery life will vary based on use). And the camera itself has a built-in spotlight and siren to startle potential intruders.
With an Arlo Smart subscription, starting at $3 per month, you’ll receive custom motion alerts that tell you whether it sees a person, a car, an animal or a package — and get 30 days of access to recorded motion clips. Arlo cameras are compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant.
Read our Arlo Pro 3 review.
Simplisafe bridges the gap between professional security systems like Vivint or ADT and standalone home security devices like the Arlo Pro 3 camera. It’s a complete, scalable home security system you install yourself. The $229 “Foundation” security kit comes with basics, including a hub, a keypad, a door/window sensor and a motion sensor. Add extra sensors and other devices as needed.
For $25 per month, you get professional security monitoring from a remote call center and access to the Simplisafe app where you can also check in on things yourself. Unlike professional security companies, Simplisafe doesn’t come with an “early termination” fee — or otherwise lock you into a contract. If you decide to cancel, or decide to move, you can either move your system to your new home or cancel without extra charges.
Simplisafe’s security system recently underwent a design overhaul, too, making it much easier on the eyes than the last version. Overall, it’s an ideal system for someone craving the accessory options of an ADT without the contract.
Read our SimpliSafe Home Security review.
Unlike the pricey (but awesome) Arlo Pro 3, the $150 Arlo Video Doorbell is reasonably priced for a smart doorbell. The Arlo Video Doorbell has all the basics, including HD live streaming, motion alerts, night vision and two-way audio. It also has a wide 180-degree field of view in a 1:1 aspect ratio (meaning it’s easier to see packages left on the front porch than a traditional landscape view).
When the doorbell detects motion, or if someone rings the bell, a motion alert goes to your phone so you can see who’s there — and talk to them. The doorbell also comes with prerecorded messages if you don’t want to talk to them directly.
This hardwired doorbell has a built-in siren like the Arlo Pro 3 camera and offers the same optional Arlo Smart cloud subscription plan, starting at $3 a month. With Arlo Smart, you’ll get 30 days of saved custom video clips that specify whether the motion was a person, a car, an animal or a package being delivered.
Read our Arlo Video Doorbell review.
The $229 August Smart Lock Pro is a Bluetooth-enabled smart lock. It comes bundled with a plug-in Connect Wi-Fi module so you can also control your lock beyond Bluetooth range from the August app. Like other locks from August, which is owned by the same company as Yale, this model retrofits over most existing deadbolts and makes for a simple installation.
In addition to the lock and the Connect module, the Smart Lock Pro kit includes a door sensor and a related feature called “Door Sense.” With this feature, you can confirm whether your door is open or closed, as well as locked or unlocked straight from your phone. The app is easy to use, from following the step-by-step instructions to install your lock, to checking whether your door is open or closed — and customizing your lock’s feature in the settings menu. The August Smart Lock Pro supports Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri voice commands.
Read our August Smart Lock Pro review.
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World news – CA – The best smart home products of 2020 that aren’t made by Google or Amazon