Unless you’ve been living in a van in the Alaskan Outback, have been trekking for months in the Australian Outback, or have been working obscenely long hours at an Outback Steakhouse, you’ve likely heard of “smart home devices.”

The literal array of smart home devices on the market today is dizzying; what once fit into one aisle at a Best Buy is now the entire Best Buy. This is great for those that enjoy living in economies with lots of choices. But, it can be tough to define where to start in terms of a smart home device purchase. In this handy article, we’re going to break down everything you need to know about smart home devices, how they work, whether they can be hacked, and then finish up with six excellent options to choose from (depending on whether you’re an Alexa or Apple fan). 

What Are Smart Home Devices?

What are smart home devices?

A smart home device is any device that can be controlled remotely either via an internet connection or through a networked device. The most common controlled functions in a smart home are the security system, the thermostat, the home theatre, and the lighting. The mechanism to control all these functions is typically a smartphone, game console, laptop, or tablet.

The coolest thing about smart home devices is the artificial intelligence that is part of their DNA. Over time these devices learn things about their homeowner’s schedule, daily routine, likes and dislikes, and adapt accordingly. Following this logic, a smart home device on Day 1 in your home will be drastically different than that same device on Day 400. It will have learned a lot from you over those 400 days, and hopefully, you’ll have been an upstanding citizen.

Wireless smart home devices are much easier to install and manage than hardwired systems. However, hardwired systems are more reliable over time and harder to hack (more on that later). On a global level, the home automation market is multiplying, already valued near the $50 billion mark. Another great perk with a smart home is if you ever decide to sell or even rent your home, the sale (or rental) price is nearly guaranteed to be higher. Like a pool, these extra perks add value to a home, and folks are willing to pay for it.   

Can Smart Home Devices Be Hacked?

Can smart home devices be hacked?

We won’t sugarcoat this one – yes, smart home devices can be hacked. Heck, what can’t be hacked these days. Most of us have some stories surrounding hackers. The vast majority are benign, but now and again, you hear some real horror stories.    

Like your laptop or smartphone, any device connected to the Internet and storing data on an external server can be compromised. Smart TVs, for example, can provide a diligent thief with some valuable information. Personal and financial information stored through an Amazon account or social media apps such as Facebook and Instagram are accessible via a Smart TV.

Regardless of the smart device, a highly secure password is your best route to keeping a potential hacker away. Make it complicated, and be sure to change it every three months or so. Also, a hardwired connection (as opposed to a wireless connection) is challenging to hack. But, you lose the convenience of being on a wireless platform, and most folks value that. 

The bottom line is a skilled hacker could likely break into any smart device, but it takes time. And the time to break into your smart light bulb and “talk” to your Smart TV to then get a hold of your Instagram account is a lot of work for little payoff. With that said, if your password is “1234,” you’ve made their job a lot easier.   

What Smart Home Devices Should You Get?

What smart home devices should you get?

This all comes down to your budget. There are some mind-boggling devices out there with some mind-boggling prices attached to them. Start slow with remote light switches, for example, or door locks and move up from there. A decent smart TV is also affordable and an excellent choice to then use as an eventual control station for the rest of your devices. 

Another item to consider is whether you use Amazon Alexa, Google Home, or Apple Homekit. Consider the other devices you already have and which of these three they are already linked with. In these next two sections, we are going to review six impressive smart home devices. The first three are devices that work with Alexa, and the remaining three are those that work with Apple.  

Smart Home Devices That Work With Alexa

Echo Dot (3rd Gen) Smart Speaker With Alexa

The Amazon Echo Dot 3rd generation works with Alexa.

Hitting its stride in Generation 3, the Echo Dot is a tidy little package weighing a shocking 300 grams. Who knew such technological wonders could fit in such a tiny space. Setup is a snap, and the user functions are very straightforward. The speaker quality has improved since the 2nd Generation Dot, and streaming music from Sirius XM, Amazon Music, Spotify, and Apple Music are all possible.

Alexa can really flex its skills with the Echo Dot, tracking your fitness goals, playing games, and generally making your life easier. Checking the weather, traffic conditions, sports scores, restaurant hours, creating calendar events, and handy reminders are some of the most popular ways people use the Dot and Alexa. A cool feature with this Generation is the ability to pair two Dots in what is called “stereo mode.” This results in the left and right speakers in stereo sound!

Another value-added if you have more than one Dot is the “drop-in” feature. As one online reviewer describes, “…my other favorite feature, ‘drop-in,’ essentially opens a two-way communication channel between any two Echo devices, sort of like an intercom. My wife and I use this feature to communicate from opposite ends of the house.” The 3rd Generation certainly has its perks!

To learn more, click here.

Echo Show 8 HD Smart Display With Alexa

The Amazon Echo Show 8 works with Alexa.

At first glance, the Echo Show 8 looks like an iPad. Once you move away from a one-dimension perspective, however, and view the sides and back of the device, you quickly realize the Show 8 has much more in store than your typical iPad.

The Echo Show 8 is an 8.0″ touch screen with a 1MP camera (plus a built-in shutter) that can show movies, the news, connect with friends and family via video calling, and control a host of compatible devices throughout your smart home. If you’ve ever seen those YouTube tutorials with this device, showing how you can monitor your property and transform the Show 8 into a security camera, you understand exactly where the value lies here.

Alexa shines on the Echo Show 8, bringing to life recipes in the kitchen, playing your favorite tunes once you turn off from work, and is a superb companion with kids providing kid-friendly movies, audible books, podcasts and classic channels like Disney and Nickelodeon.

To take the party even further, when music is played on the Show 8 lyrics scroll across the screen. Via Bluetooth, you can pair it with any other device and then use the Show 8 as your speaker or your karaoke guide for those kitchen evenings that stretch long into the night. Just make sure the camera and video functions are shut off!

To see pricing, click here.

ecobee SmartThermostat With Voice Control, SmartSensor Included

The ecobee Smart Thermostat works with Alexa.

This product has a fan base which like Apple or Nike is a tough thing to cultivate. Controlling your thermostat with the ecobee and Alexa was never so fun. Featuring a sleek, crisp glass finish, a robust quad-core processor, and dual-band WiFi, the ecobee keeps all rooms in the home at a controlled temperature, proven to result in significant energy savings (up to 23% in savings per year).

The hardest thing to do in a home is control the temperature throughout the entire floor space. You might want certain rooms cooler or warmer than others, but unless you have an integrated, smart platform, this is much easier said than done. The ecobee works seamlessly with Samsung SmartThings , Google Assistant, IFTTT, and Alexa, of course. Installation doesn’t take longer than 45 minutes, and some great video tutorials make it even easier. The ecobee is one of the most potent smart thermostats on the market today.  

To read the latest reviews, click here.

Smart Home Devices That Work With Apple

Apple TV 4K (32GB)

The Apple TV 4k works with Apple HomeKit.

No smart home device list is complete without Apple TV. We reached 4K with Apple TV, and this “do-everything” smart device allows you to watch movies, stream your favorite channels, shop online, and listen to music all controlled through Siri. If you’re interested in an Apple TV or have owned one in the past, you should know that the iPhone is designed to run the show here.

Your iPhone can be transformed into your TV remote, a device to display photos and presentations on the TV screen, and you can also, of course, control other smart devices in your home through your iPhone and the Apple TV. Imagine a setup where you’re checking text messages, browsing for a movie while also controlling your thermostat.

The Apple TV 4K comes equipped with Dolby Vision, HDR10 video output, Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 surround sound, and a capacity of 32GB or 64GB. This device runs on tvOS, which is essentially a version of iOS (the platform that runs your iPad and iPhone). Online reviewers rave about the 4K, with roughly 83% of reviewers providing a perfect five stars. This isn’t easy these days as everyone feels the need to critique. We trust Apple when it comes to quality products, and this one lives up to the hype.

Ready to buy? Click here.

Nanoleaf Rhythm Edition Smarter Kit 

The Nanoleaf smart light works with Apple HomeKit.

The Nanoleaf rhythm light panels are another in a wave of “smart décor lighting” products that, in this case, react to music in real-time. Throw on some Beyonce, and the Nanoleaf panels dance via their light reactions to the beat. The idea here is to decorate a room or part of the house with the panels and create designs.

You may then through Siri personalize the setup, color, “dance features” and more. This is similar to mood lighting but on a smart device. Via playlists, as well as the calendar function, the lights will groove to your rhythm at whatever time of the day you set them.

Although it may be considered expensive, you do get your money’s worth; in a standard Nanoleaf box, you receive nine light panels, nine mounting stencils, a controller, a rhythm module, and mounting tape. After that and a couple of AAA batteries, you’re all set to transform your home into a whole new “light scene.”   

Love it? Click here to buy now. 

Eve Door & Window Wireless Contact Sensor

The Eve Door & Window device works with Apple HomeKit.

Eve has a cool slogan for this product – “What happens at home stays at home.” A wireless contact sensor with Apple HomeKit technology, Eve Door & Window is a smart device that understands when your windows and doors are open or closed.

With Eve Door & Window, you consult Siri about whether everything is shut and access this information on an iPhone, iPad or Apple Watch. While you’re away, the application will notify you once a door or window opens, and there is even an interesting insights screen that shows changes in traffic over time. As one reviewer commented, “…works great when it is paired with an Apple TV Gen 4. I added this to my house about a month ago and it seems to do a great job.”

Eve Door & Window is reasonably priced and pairs well with a host of other smart devices. When it comes to home security, this product is a must for any smart home.

To learn more, click here.

To Sum it Up

Living in a smart home sounds like a treat, right? It is, but again, don’t rush out and blow your kid’s college savings on having the smartest home on your block. We discussed starting slow, perhaps with some smart locks, and then moving up from there.

A smart home will invariably increase the value of your home when you choose to rent or sell it, but do take care to make sure your devices are as free from hackers as possible. Expert hackers from the CIA can likely break into your smart microwave, but don’t make it easy for them.

Check out The Best Remote Control Light Switches for more on smart home devices.