Wink

If you're looking to create a Smart Home, this guide is for you! To help you set up a Smart Home that actually works, we've tested a huge range of gear to make sure that you're not just getting something that's been hyped on KickStarter or Indiegogo, or been tested in an office cubicle in Silicon Valley, but something that actually works in the real world or a real Smart Home! We know these products not only work, but work well and work consistently. And that's a challenge in the Smart Home space, as a lot of start-ups have arrived with great new ideas, but their first-gen products don't always pass with flying colors in real-world testing. It's still a Wild West out there when it comes to picking products, as many come, and many more will go before it's all over. 

To create your Smart Home, you're going to want two things: a Wink Hub and an Amazon Echo. Yes, there are alternatives, but no, they aren't worth buying. Wink's new Hub 2 is way ahead of its competitor SmartThings, and also makes infinitely more sense than a proprietary hub such as those that optional with so many individual Smart Home products. So, yes, get a Wink - every other device we list in this guide is certified to work with it! As for Echo, we learned during our one-on-one meetings with various Smart Home companies at CES 2017 that despite Google, Apple, Samsung, and Microsoft all getting into the voice control business, there's one platform that every device manufacturer is going to support: Amazon's Alexa voice service. It's built into every Echo, so please do yourself a favor and pick up at least one Echo Dot (it's a bargain at $50!). You'll quickly realize that the next generation of the Smart Home really has arrived.

Echo Dot

Of course, no Smart Home is complete without a bit of Smart Lighting, we've picked out our favorites in that category, including the best bulbs and switches (from Cree and Lutron, respectively). from the very early days, we start with a number of lighting products that will help you automate and enliven your home. There's really nothing better than coming home to a fully-lit home at sunset, or being able to turn off every light in your house with a single voice command. The promise of Smart Lighting is here and it's real!

The other devices that we trust as part of our Smart Home system are also profiled in this guide, including the best thermostat and lock products on the market. By the way, you'll also need a wireless router to run your Smart Home, and if yours is more than a few years old, you should probably check out our Wireless Networking Buyer's Guide for potential upgrade options!

Prices shown in this guide use real-time pricing engines, so they are always up-to-date. Note that due to limited availability of these products around the world, we can't always link to products in the other markets we follow (Canada, the UK, and Germany). If you decide to purchase one of the cards we profile, please use the links we provide, which helps support continued development of this guide. 

Smart Home - Winter 2017

    The Bargain Smart Home Hub:

    Wink Hub

    It all starts here: the connected hub. This hub will work with every other device listed in this guide, providing true home automation and integration. Want your lights to turn off when you lock the door behind you? No problem. Want the heat to turn on when you arrive? No problem. Want to turn on every single light in your house with a single voice command. It's possible!

    The Guru's Tip:

    Wink is phasing out the original Hub, launched in 2014, so it won't be on store shelves that much longer, but while it is, grab it! It's a great way to get started setting up your Smart Home.We've tested both the Wink Hub and the new Wink Hub 2 extensively, and we're confident that anyone who wants to get their feet wet in Smart Home without spending a lot of money, the Wink Hub is a great option

    The Best Smart Home Hub:

    Wink Hub 2

    If you'd like to step into next-generation Smart Home control, go with the new Wink Hub 2, launched in October 2016. Building on everything Wink learned with the original, you get a wired connection to your router for the most reliable operation, along with the option of either  2.4GHz or 5GHz wireless if you'd prefer. You also get 8x the internal memory of the original, which means many more functions work locally, rather than needing to go to the cloud for  processing. That includes all lights, locks, and Robots, which is Wink's system for triggering one device with another (e.g., camera sense motion, light turns on).

    The Guru's Tip:

    To learn more about the Hub 2 and how to set it up, see our full review! With the Hub 2, Wink has jumped a full generation ahead of Samsung's SmartThings in the smart hub market, and we found it telling that Samsung didn't even bother showcasing SmartThings this year at CES, despite having the largest showfloor of any manufacturer. That can only mean bad things for SmartThings are ahead!

    The Bargain Voice Controller:

    Amazon Echo Dot (2nd Generation)

    Even if you want to do nothing more than listen to your favorite radio station or streaming music channel, you should pick up the new Amazon Echo Dot. We've been using the original $90 Echo Dot for months now, having received one of the last units before it went out of production. We guessed that Amazon wouldn't bring it back because it was cutting into Echo sales too much. Well, Amazon did the unthinkable: it re-released it at around half the price, with improved functionality. Frankly, every home should have an Echo of some sort, and with the $50 Echo Dot, it's finally really affordable. Just note that its internal speaker isn't ideal for serious music listening, so you may want to hook it up to a Bluetooth Speaker, like this iClever model, which we've reviewed and think is nearly as good as the full-size Echo's internal speaker!

    The Guru's Tip:

    To make Echo Dot the center of your Smart Home, you'll need to pair it with a hub, and we recommend the Wink Hub above. It will then allow you to use your voice to control lights, thermostats, and other appliances, using the lighting and thermostat products listed later on this page. The possibilities are nearly limitless!

    One Controller to Rule them All:

    Amazon Echo

    Like the Echo Dot, the Echo can function as the heart of your Smart Home system. The Echo has one major advantage over the Echo Dot: a really good built-in speaker. Whether that's worth paying nearly 4x more for is up to you! We definitely think it makes for a great compact HiFi system.

    The Guru's Tip:

    If you're just interested in the Smart Home aspects of Echo, get the Dot, or better yet, get four of them for around the cost of a single Echo! Once you realize the potential of having a connected helper in your home, you'll want one in every room of your home!

    The Connected A19 Bulb:

    Cree 60W-Equivalent 2700K Dimmable

    There are lots of connected bulb manufacturers out there, and even more peddling the "latest and greatest" LED bulbs. Among all the players, we think U.S.-based Cree is most committed to advancing the state of technology and bringing it to consumers at a fair price. Cree's bulbs have the three features we think are most important: they're dimmable, offer 60W-equivalent light at under 12W of power draw, and have a 2700K color temperature (anything higher is not pleasant for a home environment). Oh, and they're actually high quality too, unlike some of the cheap knock-offs that will never come close to their rated lifespan and buzz like crazy.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Note that we do not recommended using connected bulbs for multi-light fixtures requiring a wall switch, such as track lighting. Not only do they often require something other than A19-style bulbs, they're also better served by a single smart switch, which we profile later in this guide. It's easier to control and saves you money.

    The Appliance Switch:

    Leviton Decora Plug-in Appliance Module

    This switch allows you to remotely control small appliances. It's perfect for turning on and off a humidifier, air purifier, or coffee machine remotely or on a schedule!

     

    The Guru's Tip:

    This will also let you control floor-standing and desk lamps that are equipped with non-standard bulbs. Just note that if a lamp can take a standard A19 (60W-equivalent) bulb, we recommend you use the Cree Connected bulb instead, as it's cheaper and just as functional.

    The Deluxe In-Wall Dimmer:

    Lutron Caseta Dimmer with Pico Remote

    Lutron's been in the lighting business longer than most smart-tech companies have been in existence, and these switches are the very best in-wall models on the market. In addition to allowing automated, smartphone, and wall switch control, this model comes with a free-standing remote. That's perfect for placing next to your couch for quick controls without reaching into your pocket for a phone. The remote will even work from across the house! By the way, if you're looking for excellent dimmable "dumb" bulbs for use with Lutron's dimming switches, we suggest Philip's latest BR30 models.

    The Guru's Tip:

    One of the very best uses of the Lutron Pico remote, included in the box with this switch, is in 3-way lighting applications. All you need is the Pico wall plate adapter! You don't even need wiring to make this happen - it's all wireless!

    The World's Best Dimmer:

    Lutron Caseta Wireless ELV Dimmer

    OK, this product requires a bit of explanation. It's nearly twice as much as the standard Lutron Caseta dimmer profiled above, and yet include neither the faceplate nor the handy Pico Remote that you get in the box with the cheaper model. While it does add the "favorite" button in the middle that returns it to a preferred dimming level, that's not enough to justify the higher price. So what's the deal? The deal is Electronic Low Voltage, or ELV for short. We've been testing LED bulbs for years and have asked multiple manufacturers how to address buzzing, flickering, and the inability to turn on at low dimming levels. The answer they've always given us: ditch your magnetic dimmers and go ELV. Until now, that was impossible if you also wanted a Smart Home dimmer, but it's impossible no more! Lutron's ELV dimmer is the future of Smart Home, and we anticipate that once prices come down, ELV will take over the market. 

    The Guru's Tip:

    ELV dimmers are not the same as other "LED-compatible" dimmers, which often work terribly with LEDs. If you want guaranteed smooth dimming, no flickering, and most important to us, no buzz, you want to go ELV. As an added bonus, ELV dimmers also dissipate far less power as heat than magnetic dimmers. There's just one little catch: this dimmer requires a neutral wire, so make sure your home has a neutral available before investing in ELV.

    Smart Lock:

    Schlage Connect Camelot Touchscreen Deadbolt

    While plenty of companies are peddling smart locks nowadays, there's one company out there that's been in the business of making really good locks for a long, long time. And no matter how good the connected features of a lock are, if it doesn't properly secure your door, you're out of luck. That's why we believe the Schlage Connect lock is the only one to go with. Not only does it have seamless integration with the Wink Hub, it also has a nifty touchscreen to allow for locking and unlocking without a key. You'll never need to fumble for a key (or a smartphone) to get into your home again!

    The Guru's Tip:

    Keep in mind that you cannot control this lock, or most locks, with voice controls via Amazon Echo. That's based primarily on the potential for a security breach by an intruder using voice control to gain access to your home.

    Smart Thermostat:

    ecobee3 Smarter Wi-Fi Thermostat

    There are a lot of contenders for "best" smart thermostat, but we think the ecobee3 takes the prize for being a truly smart thermostat, going beyond just giving you a digital display and remote monitoring and control. By using its stand-alone sensors, the ecobee3 can monitor temperature all around your home, not just in the room where you mount it on the wall! The ecobee3 comes with one remote sensor in the box, but you can buy extra sensor 2-packs for around $80.

    The Guru's Tip:

    It will take a little adjustment to start setting your temperatures based on the average of your home's rooms, rather than just one room, but once you get the hang of it, you'll wonder why you ever did anything else!

    Security Device:

    Canary

    There are lots of options for home security out there, and all of them are half-baked. That's because true security requires more than a little alarm going off in your house whenever a burglar, or more likely your dog, steps in front of the camera. But for home surveillance, along with home automation, the Canary camera is a great option. Use it to turn on your lights and turn up your thermostat when you arrive home, or just to check in on things, including temperature and air quality, when you're away.

    The Guru's Tip:

    We'd love to be able to recommend a fully-wireless, battery-operated outdoor solution to you, such as the Arlo, the Canary Flex, or the Ring StickUpCam. But the truth is that battery technology just isn't there yet, meaning these wireless cameras don't work like you might want them to. They only turn on when motion is detected, and if a particular motion hasn't been detected, well, oooops! And furthermore, they can't be controlled remotely without engaging a battery-draining mode, because their WiFi signal is shut off by default to preserve battery until motion is detected. That means you can't check in on your home from afar. Basically, we're about 5 years away from this concept actually working.