I’m not much of a techie.
I have a paper calendar on my wall – with actual events penciled in. I carry a bound planner, and I’m always reading a real, physical book. I reminisce about the days of dropping off a roll of film and, an hour later, picking up an envelope of prints with anticipation, not certain if any shots turned out well.
Despite my Luddite tendencies, I find the range of offerings in the new smart home category intriguing and, dare I say, somewhat inspiring. From cameras to lightbulbs to lawnmowers, having control and insight into the goings-on in my home – whether I’m there or not – offers many distinct benefits.
A smart speaker is a great starting place to dip a toe into the smart home waters. Offering a range of price points and features, several different companies are currently providing smart speaker options. The primary function of smart speakers may be to stream music on demand, but their utility does not stop there.
Functioning much like the digital assistants that are included in many phones today, smart speakers will seem familiar. With Wifi and Bluetooth connectivity, making verbal requests from your speaker can yield you the information you want without needing to pick up your phone. Information about the weather, prices of certain products, or interesting facts pertinent to dinnertime conversation are all just a voice command away.
Additionally, many speakers can be connected to other smart devices, transforming them into the hub of control.
A simply voiced directive through the speaker can adjust lights throughout the home, turn appliances on and off and lock doors, among other functions on a list that is growing practically daily.
Priced from $50 to $400 depending on features, the main options for smart speakers currently available are Amazon Echo, equipped with the digital smart voice Alexa and Google Home, which comes with the helpful Google Assistant. Joining the ranks in 2018 will be Apple HomePod with well-known Siri. Many other companies are following suit behind these giants, including Samsung, Sonos, JBL, Microsoft, and possibly even Facebook.
For hubs without the speaker feature, some options include Wink Hub 2 and Samsung SmartThings Hubs. These pieces of hardware are generally in the $50-100 range.
After a smart speaker or hub is integrated into home life, it is time to accessorize. Here are just a few of the options:
No longer are expensive home security systems a requirement to have cameras installed in your home. Many of today cameras – both for indoor and outdoor use – are small, affordable and easy to install. They connect to the home’s hub via Wifi or Bluetooth and can be accessed via Web or app. Text, email and push notification, are all options to let you know immediately if something is awry.
The many options make them easy to customize and match your unique needs. Some features include video recording, motion sensor control, or direct links to a home security company such as ADT. Two-way communication speakers are a common addition, and some include facial recognition software to enable the differentiation between a human and a paper bag blowing in the wind. Amazon, Netgear, LG, and Nest are some available brands among others and range from $50 to over $400. Advanced features are available as additional subscription-based services.
Other DIY security addition options are door locks. August, Schlage, and Kwikset all offer digital units, among others. Typically, smart locks fully replace existing deadbolts. Connectivity is through Wifi and Bluetooth, and many are equipped to integrate with Amazon Alexa and/or Apple HomeKit.
Benefits of smart locks include voice control, notifications via email and push and the ability to lock or unlock the door with your smartphone or speaker hub.
Many locks display color coding to indicate the status of the lock, and they can be quickly locked or unlocked on the inside using the touchscreen. Some will record an activity log which can be accessed through an app, citing each opening and closing through the day, and when and for how long the door is left ajar. Prices range from $150 – $250 per locking unit.
Thermostats have been semi-smart for a long time. After all, their whole purpose is to “know” when the temperature in the house gets out of range and then adjust accordingly. This new generation of thermostats does a whole lot more. With Wifi and Bluetooth connectivity, they can be controlled remotely by tablet or smartphone or through voice commands. The EcoBee4 includes multiple sensors, allowing the thermostat to adjust the temperature in individual rooms to eliminate hot or cold spots. The Nest Learning Thermostat remembers your daily routines and adjusts the temperature to match. Both are $250.
Smart lighting has been available for several years, and the choices have expanded annually. These bulbs are energy saving LEDs that are controlled by a smartphone, tablet, or hub, and can be adjusted for brightness, color and timing. Lighting can be changed as needed, scheduled or can respond intuitively according to room usage. Some lights can be synced to movies or TV shows.
Lights can be integrated with cameras and other smart devices.
Additionally, If This Then That (IFTTT) technology allows you to create “recipes” for lighting actions, such as, “If I sleep past 7, turn on to max brightness!” IFTTT is also applicable to the programming of many other smart devices. Phillips Hue is a prolific bulb choice and ranges from $15-30 per bulb while boasting a 22-23 year lifespan.
Smoke and CO Detectors
Smart detectors run about $100, but provide a high level of comfort and security. A popular model is Nest Protect. The device can be setup via smartphone app. Alerts are sent through the app, and the alarm can be controlled remotely. Detecting both smoke and carbon monoxide – whether you are at home or away – is a valuable feature for any home dweller.
The list of smart devices for home hardly ends here.
Appliances, both large and small, detectors of various types, doorbells and beyond all serve the purposes of making life simpler, more streamlined, safer and/or just more convenient. With so many options and price points, smart tech will undoubtedly find its way into every home. Probably even mine.
Sara Kennedy is a special education teacher in the Anchorage School District. She likes to swim, bike and run around Alaska, and camp and fish with her family. To reach Sara, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.