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 sorted through a huge range of gear to make sure that you're not just getting something that's been over-hyped on KickStarter or Indiegogo, or only been reviewed in an office cubicle in New York City, but something that will actually make your real home smarter! 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.

The big news for Summer 2018 is that Smart Home gear has finally moved beyond early-adopter status. Amazon has drawn its "big guns", introducing an Amazon Echo voice controller with a built-in Smart Home hub, and in fact bought one of the biggest Smart Home camera companies out there, Ring. With Amazon throwing its weight behind Smart Home, it's really taking off. And there are other reasons we think Smart Home is coming into its own. The quality of Smart Home lighting products has gotten dramatically better over the past few years, and the options for additional functionality are multiplying as companies push the innovation envelope and truly tap into what Smart Home technology can do to actually improve our lives, not just make them more "techie"!!!

And the good news is that you can get started with something very simple, like the awesome Ring Spotlight Cam pictured above, without the need to invest in a "system." But if you'd like to do a whole lot more, you'll want to step up to a Smart Home hub, and we recommend the Amazon Echo Plus for simple systems or the Wink Hub 2 for more sophisticated setups. With its half-dozen built-in radios, the Wink hub can communicate with virtually anything, and allows for integrating the functionality of more devices, allowing them to control each other, rather than relying on you to control them. To help our readers decide what products make the most sense for them, we've divided this guide into three categories:

  1. Stand-alone devices - products that connect directly to the Internet via WiFi and allow you to control them through their own free smartphone apps, but can also be integrated into a full Smart Home system
  2. Hubs - products that allow you to integrate multiple brands and types of Smart Home devices into one cohesive system
  3. Products that require hubs - products that cannot directly connect to the Internet, but provide excellent functionality when paired with a hub

Note that unlike with wireless routers, there are actually multiple communications standards used by Smart Home devices: Zigbee, Z-Wave, Bluetooth LE and Lutron Clear Connect. While Zigbee is built into the most hubs, a majority of devices use one of the other standards, so a universal hub is the simplest option. Getting back to the topic of wireless routers, you'll need one 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. 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 - Summer 2018

Stand-Alone Devices

    Smart Thermostat:

    Ecobee4 Smarter Wi-Fi Thermostat

    There are a lot of contenders for "best" smart thermostat, but we think the ecobee4 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 ecobee4 can monitor temperature all around your home, not just in the room where you mount it on the wall! The ecobee4 comes with one remote sensor in the box, but you can buy extra sensor 2-packs for around $80.

    The Guru's Tip:

    The huge new feature that the ecobee4 added over the ecobee3 is that it has Amazon's Alexa voice service built in, which means you can speak commands directly to it, and can actually use it for may of the same things you'd use a stand-alone Echo Dot for. Despite this huge improvement, it costs the same as the previous version!

    The Ultimate Security Camera:

    Ring Spotlight Cam Battery

    There are lots of options for home security out there, and just about all of them are half-baked. There's just one system that we think is truly worth considering for a serious Smart Home system: Ring's new Spotlight Cam. A WiFi-based battery-equipped camera capable of 1080p video and two-way audio, this is the solution enthusiasts have wanted for years. It includes extras such as a motion-activated spotlight for safety and security, as well as a manual alarm, and can even be powered indefinitely using the solar panel below.

    The Guru's Tip:

    This device can be used alone with the Ring app, or integrated into a full smart home system using a hub, allowing it to activate lights, locks, and other devices.

    Solar Panel:

    Ring Solar Panel

    For true outdoor security and versatility, you really need a solar panel system for power. While there are dozens of outdoor cameras available that plug into the wall, that's inconvenient and unsightly. And while the Ring Spotlight Cam will run for months on a battery, to get the most out of it, hook it up to this solar panel for truly unlimited run time.

    The Guru's Tip:

    The only limitation to using this solar panel is that the camera will have to be relatively close to a sun-lit area.

    Connected Robotic Vacuum:

    Shark Ion Robot 750

    Yes, we know robotic vacuums have been around a very long time, but the Shark Ion Robot 750 is truly the next generation of robots. In addition to working really well as a vacuum, it can be controlled via WiFi by Amazon's Echo, allowing you to launch, pause, and return it via your voice.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Other nifty "Smart" features of this vacuum that can be called up by voice include checking the battery level (it reports an exact percent, not just low, medium, or high as on the device itself), getting a problem report, and even having the vacuum play a sound if it's gotten lost somewhere in the house!

    The Bargain Voice Controller:

    Amazon Echo Dot (2nd Generation)

    Frankly, every home should have an Echo of some sort, and with the Echo Dot, it's really affordable. It's the perfect low-cost voice controller for a Smart Home system. Heck, even if you want to do nothing more than listen to your favorite radio station or streaming music channel, you should pick up the Dot.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Although the Echo Dot can control any Alexa-compatible WiFi devices, to make it the center of your Smart Home, you'll need to pair it with a hub, and we recommend the Wink Hub 2 later in this guide. It will then allow you to use your voice to control lights, locks, and other devices that require a hub.

    The Ultimate Voice Assistant:

    Amazon Echo Show

    Like the Echo Dot, the Echo Show can function as a voice controller for your Smart Home system, but it does so much more. With its 7" touchscreen, it can really start to feel like a personal assistant. Call up video news reports, movies, and TV shows using just your voice, see song lyrics as you sing along to Amazon Music's 2 million free songs, view security cam live feeds, and of course control all your smart devices! One of the coolest features of the Show is the ability to make video calls just using your voice, either to another Show device, or to any Android or Apple smartphone.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Remember, the Echo Show has no built-in hub, so it can only directly control devices connected via WiFi, which excludes all the lighting products listed in this guide.


    The Zigbee Hub/Voice Controller:

    Amazon Echo Plus

    This changes everything. We'd been waiting years (literally) for Amazon's other foot to drop into the Smart Home ring, and it finally happened with the October 2017 release of the Echo Plus. From the beginning, the Echo allowed for voice control of various devices, but it always relied on third-party hubs for most of this functionality. Now, Amazon has built the hub directly into the Echo Plus, meaning it's a "one-stop shop" for a true Smart Home experience! And the best part is that you can use either the Echo Plus as a voice controller, or the Alexa smartphone app as a manual controller - all devices connected to the Echo Plus will show up in the app, meaning you can also control devices from afar. For a limited time, the Echo Plus even comes with a free Philips smart bulb!

    The Guru's Tip:

    There's one catch, and it's a pretty technical one, but also significant. The Echo Plus has just two modes of communication available to connect with Smart Home devices: Zigbee and WiFi. It cannot control devices that use competing standards, including Z-Wave, Bluetooth LE, or Lutron Clear Connect. That limits you to very select third party devices, and we recommend several Zigbee-based lighting products later in this guide.

    The Universal 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. 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 can individually control or schedule devices like lights and cameras, or you can use Robots, which is Wink's system for triggering one device with another. With built-in Zigbee, Z-Wave, Bluetooth LE, and Lutron Clear Connect radios, it can interface with virtually any Smart Home product on the market, allowing for limitless possibilities. Trigger lights and switches with cameras or motion sensors, unlock doors from the other side of the world, lower shades when you turn on the lights... the list goes on!

    The Guru's Tip:

    To learn more about the Hub 2 and how to set it up, see our full review

Hub Required

    The Tunable Zigbee A19 Smart Bulb:

    Sylvania Smart+ A19 Bulb

    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 Sylvania is doing the best job making quality smart bulbs at a great price. They will work with either the Amazon Echo Plus or the Wink Hub 2, thanks to their use of the Zigbee wireless standard. And this model even allows you to select a full range of color temperatures.

    The Guru's Tip:

    To be clear, this bulb actually does require a hub to operate, but it will work directly with the Amazon Echo Plus' built-in Zigbee controller.

    The Tunable Zigbee BR30 Smart Bulb:

    Sylvania Smart+ BR30

    If you need a smart BR30 bulb for use in track or recessed lighting, this is the best pick around. We set it up on the first try, and it took all of 30 seconds. That is most definitely not par for the course in this market. Better yet, it responds instantly to commands. And like the A19 model above, this one allows you to select a full range of color temperatures.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Again, this is a Zigbee-equipped bulb, allowing it to communicate with either the Amazon Echo Plus, or alternatively the Wink Hub 2 (described earlier in this guide) for more sophisticated Smart Home setups. 

    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, bug zapper, or coffee machine remotely or on a schedule! Note that because it uses the Z-Wave standard, it requires the Wink Hub 2 to operate.


    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 a Smart 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! Note that because it uses the ClearConnect wireless standard, it requires the Wink Hub 2 to operate. 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 costs nearly twice as much as the standard Lutron Caseta dimmer profiled above, and yet includes 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! Note that because it uses the ClearConnect wireless standard, it requires the Wink Hub 2 to operate.

    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 Z-Wave integration with the Wink Hub 2, 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 unlock this lock, or any lock, with via Amazon Echo voice controls. That's based on the potential for a security breach by an intruder using voice control to gain access to your home. You can, however, check the status of the lock, as well as lock it, via voice. You can, however, lock the Schlage Connect via voice, which is still pretty cool!