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Best smart home devices to make your life easier in 2021

The smart connected home is the next stage in the evolution of our homes and how we interact with them. Just as lighting has gone from candles, to gas, to electricity, so are the many systems in our homes evolving as technology advances.

In the case of lighting, the next stage is smart wireless control, so you no longer have to flip a switch or even think about lighting a room: the smart home will do it for you using motion sensors, schedules, or by responding to a voice command.

But lighting is just one small slice of what home automation can do to make your home run more smoothly. It can also assist with security, comfort, and convenience in all aspects of home life.

From securing your home with wireless alarm systems and security cameras, to automating your heating and hot water systems, to even cleaning your home for you with a robot, the smart home is rapidly growing and with it the many ways you can put its power to work for you.

While all this new technology may seem daunting and complicated, the advent of the artificially intelligent assistant and voice control has made it a lot easier to adopt. So, when considering any new connected gadget for your home consider first what system you want to use to control it.

There are three main systems we recommend: Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Google Home and Apple’s HomeKit. All three combine voice control and smartphone app control of your devices, making it easy to get everything working together to automate your home.

Here is a list of what we think are the key products you should install if you are looking to build a smart home. Once you have these in place, you can use one of those systems to start stringing them together and automating much of your home life.

Looking for more tech guides? We love cool gadgets here at BBC Science Focus, so we can also help you choose the best wireless earbuds and best soundbars.

Best smart home devices to buy in 2021

  • Best Mesh Wi-Fi Router:  Google Nest WiFi
  • Best Smart Security System: Abode Smart Security Kit
  • Best Smart Security Camera: Arlo cameras
  • Best Smart Video Doorbell: Arlo Video Doorbell
  • Best Smart Smoke Alarm: Nest Protect Smoke & CO
  • Best Smart Lighting: Philips Hue, Lutron Caseta, Lightwave
  • Best Smart Plug: TP Link Mini, Eve Energy
  • Best Smart Speaker: Sonos One
  • Best Smart Display: Google Nest Hub Max
  • Best Smart Thermostat: Nest Learning Thermostat
  • Best Robot Vacuum Cleaner: Roomba i3+

Google Nest WiFi: Best Mesh Wi-Fi Router

Price: From £149 | Works with: Google Home

Google Nest WiFi

If you want to have a smart home – heck, if you just want to use your smartphone in all the corners of your house – a mesh Wi-Fi router is going to make things easier. Designed to spread Wi-Fi signal evenly throughout your home regardless of thick walls or inconvenient layouts, a mesh Wi-Fi router consists of one or more ‘hubs’ you plug in around the house to demolish dead zones.

While not the fastest or most advanced mesh system available, Google’s Nest Wi-Fi fits excellently into a smart home for two reasons: It works as a ‘hub’ for some connected gadgets, and it doubles as a smart speaker. Each ‘point’ is also a Google Assistant voice speaker (essentially the same as a Google Nest Mini), spreading Wi-Fi and voice control all over your home, turning your home smart in one easy step.

Speaking of easy, it’s also an incredibly simple system to set up and run. You manage it all from Google’s Home app on your smartphone, and there are even built-in parental controls which give you the ability to shut down connectivity to your kids’ devices with just a word, ideal for getting everyone to the dinner table on time.

Abode Smart Security Kit: Best Smart Security System

Price: From £299.99 | Works with: Alexa, Google Home, HomeKit

Abode Smart Security Kit
A smart security system is another connected solution that can do double duty. First and foremost, it protects your property thanks to easy-to-install wireless sensors and cameras that you can monitor yourself from your smartphone or pay a monitoring service to do for you.

But these sensors, as well as detecting when a door or window opens or if there’s motion in your house while you’re gone, can also tie into other smart devices, such as lights, locks, and thermostats. Once connected, the sensors can tell other gadgets when to turn off, unlock or change the temperature, making your home more comfortable and convenient without you having to lift a finger.

Our top pick for a smart security system is Abode because it offers a solid DIY home security system with infinitely expandable smart home capabilities. It works with Alexa, Google and HomeKit and can also double as a hub for Z-Wave and Zigbee devices, which are two wireless home automation protocols that really widen the types of devices you can add to your home.

As with most home security systems, Abode requires a monthly fee, but it starts at just over £3 a month. We think the Monitored Immediate plan at £13.99 a month is the one to choose as it gets you professional monitoring, cloud storage for one video feed and other smart features such as geofencing of the alarm (tracking your location by your smartphone) so you don’t have to worry about triggering it accidentally.

Arlo cameras: Best Smart Security Camera

Arlo Pro 3 Floodlight Camera | Price: From £259 | Works with: Alexa, Google Home, HomeKit

Arlo cameras

A smart security camera is an easy way to keep an eye on your home when you’re away. From checking in on your kids if they’re home alone, to getting an alert and a video clip if motion is detected anywhere on your property, security cameras provide peace of mind. They’re also really easy to set up as they use Wi-Fi to send you footage, so no need to run wires through your walls.

There are a lot of good security cameras out there, but our top pick is Arlo’s system. Their small, battery-powered cameras can be easily installed anywhere, and have the option of being hooked up to power if you don’t want to worry about charging them.

They have a wide range of price points, thanks to the new budget Essentials line, plus can record up to 4K if you want super detailed footage. They’re also smart enough to distinguish between people, animals, vehicles, and packages so you don’t get inundated with alerts on a breezy day.

Arlo works with Google, Alexa, HomeKit and more and the system has a smart hub you can opt for if you want to extend the reach of your cameras further away from your Wi-Fi router and prolong the cameras’ battery life.

Arlo Video Doorbell: Best Smart Video Doorbell

Price: £179 | Works with: Alexa, Google Home

Arlo Video Doorbell

Smart doorbells use a camera, speaker, microphone, motion sensor, and an internet connection to detect visitors and activity on your doorstep. You then see and hear live video and chat with whoever’s there through your smartphone or let the camera record a message for you – it’s like voicemail for your front door.

These also double as a security camera, and can keep an eye on comings and goings at your front door, as well as any packages on your doorstep.

The Arlo Video Doorbell is a great choice here, it’s got loads of high-end features – it can tell the difference between people, animals, vehicles, and packages – for a less-than-high-end price. It can also tie in with other Arlo security cameras and has a siren built in that you can set off from the app if you spot something suspicious.

Nest Protect Smoke & CO: Best Smart Smoke Alarm

Price: £109 | Works with: Google Assistant

Nest Protect Smoke

One of the simplest yet most effective home automation devices is a smart smoke alarm. It’s not the most exciting of gadgets, but it’s one of the most important, as it could help save your home. An internet-connected smoke alarm not only alerts you when you’re home if there’s a fire, but also sends you an alarm to your phone so that if you’re away, you can summon help quicker.

Packed with sensors and smarts, the Nest Protect Smart Smoke & CO Alarm is the best device, albeit a particularly pricey one. At £109 a pop, it will cost you a bit to outfit a whole house, but it elevates the smoke alarm experience from noisy nuisance to helpful assistant – delivering an early warning when smoke is building via a calm voice and allowing you to silence any nuisance alarms from your phone.

In the case of a real emergency, it can wirelessly interconnect to other alarms triggering them all to make sure you wake up, it also delivers a voice alert telling you which room the danger is in, and lights your way with a red LED (easier to see through smoke), as well as sending you an alarm to your phone.

Philips Hue, Lutron Caseta, Lightwave: Best Smart Lighting

Philips Hue Starter Kit| Price: From £69.99| Works with: Alexa, Google Home, HomeKit

Lutron Caseta | Price: From $99 | Works with: Alexa, Google Home, HomeKit

  • Not available in the UK

Lightwave Starter Kit Price: From £185 | Works with: Alexa, Google Home, HomeKit

Best Smart Lighting

Smart lighting is the poster child of the smart home, so easy, so fun, and so genuinely useful.

Have your lights turn on when you open your front door to welcome you home, dim as evening approaches to help you wind down, come on gradually in the morning as a natural alarm clock, turn on and off randomly when you’re away to make it look like someone’s is home, the conveniences and benefits of smart lighting are endless. But it can be complicated and slightly overwhelming to choose the best-connected lighting solution.

There are two main routes into smart lights: smart switches that control all the lights on a circuit, or smart bulbs which replace existing bulbs. Both give you wireless control from your phone or via a voice assistant.

Our pick for switches (which need to be hardwired) are Lutron Caseta’s line, which is inexpensive, works with most any wiring set up, and has compatibility with Alexa, Google, and HomeKit. It uses Lutron’s proprietary wireless protocol (via a hub) rather than relying on your home Wi-Fi, which means it responds speedily to commands, essential with smart lighting as if you have to wait more than a couple of seconds for it to turn on you’ll find yourself reaching for a light switch.

Lutron’s Caseta line isn’t available in the UK, but a good alternative is Lightwave, which also works with all the same smart home assistants and similarly uses its own wireless protocol for snappy control.

For smart bulbs, Philips Hue’s line is easily the best, most reliable option, it’s also much more affordable now with a starter kit for just £69.99. This excellent, expandable smart lighting system has bulbs and fixtures for every scenario, and even includes completely wireless switches for physical control when you want it, and excellent motion sensors that intelligently adjust the lighting based on time of day.

Plus, Hue bulbs offer the option of a dizzying array of colours if you want to add a unique ambiance to your home or just have your lamp turn blue to tell you when it’s raining outside.

TP Link Kasa Mini, Eve Energy: Best Smart Plug

TP Link Kasa MiniPrice: From £12.99| Works with: Alexa, Google Assistant

Eve Energy| Price: From £49.99 | Works with: HomeKit

TP Link Kasa Mini

There are still plenty of gadgets you can’t automate, or whose ‘smart’ version is crazy expensive (we’re looking at you, smart kettles). For these a smart plug is a simple solution. Basically, a socket with a chip in it, a smart plug adds voice and/or app control to anything plugged into it, plus lets you turn it on or off on a schedule for generally less than £20.

We love the TP Link Kasa line of smart plugs, as they’re easy to use, work with Google and Alexa and have a really nice app if you don’t want to use a separate smart home system to control them. Plug your push button kettle into one and have it turn on just before you get out of bed each morning or stick one on your space heater (check the voltage requirements) and have a toasty living room ready for you when you get home.

If you’re looking for a good HomeKit smart plug, the Eve Energy is an excellent if slightly pricey choice that also monitors energy use, providing you with a detailed breakdown of consumption over time and the option of inputting your rate for real-time visual of how much that kettle is costing you.

Sonos One: Best Smart Speaker

Price: £199 | Works with: Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple AirPlay 2

Sonos One

Smart speakers do many useful things: play music, read the news, keep your shopping list up to date, but they really come into their own when paired with connected gadgets like lights, plugs, and thermostats. This allows you to control all these things with your voice, either individually or as part of a home automation routine (when a few actions are strung together to happen simultaneously based on one trigger).

The Sonos One is our pick for the best smart speaker as it works with both Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Google Assistant, so you’re not locked into one voice assistant. It also provides excellent sound and hooks into Sonos’s wider world of wireless music, and it works with Apple’s AirPlay system that lets you play music directly from your Apple devices and group with other AirPlay 2-compatible speakers.

Google Nest Hub Max: Best Smart Display

Price: £219 | Works with: Google Assistant

Google Nest Hub Max

A smart speaker with a touch screen attached, a smart display adds another level of interaction with a voice assistant, as well as doubling as a control panel for connected devices. Check out who or what is rifling through the bins on your security camera footage, use it as a video intercom with a doorbell camera, tap to turn on lights in another room or adjust your thermostat, or just watch Netflix while chopping the onions.

The Nest Hub Max is our favourite smart display because it packs a lot of intelligence into a decent sized 10-inch screen. With a built-in camera that doubles as a security camera, it can recognise who is using it and serve up personalised information (your calendar appointments for the day, not your spouse’s) without you even having to say a word – taking the smart speaker to the next level.

Nest Learning Thermostat: Best Smart Thermostat

Price: From £219 | Works with: Alexa, Google Assistant

Best Smart Thermostat

The smart thermostat arguably kick-started the smart home revolution, exciting homeowners with the opportunity to control their heating from anywhere. No more coming home to a freezing cold home, just crank up the heat from your phone while you’re waiting for the train or ask your voice assistant to check on the temperature before you get out of bed and have it toasty before your toes hit the floor.

The big draw of all this smart control, though, was how much money a connected thermostat could save you by intelligently adjusting your heating; turning it down when it senses you’re not home and creating a schedule for you automatically so you can save money without dealing with fiddly and confusing programming buttons.

The original smart thermostat – the Nest Learning thermostat – is still the best. And while there are cheaper options out there, none are as smart or look as good. Plus, the Nest can now control your hot water – an included Heat Link connects to your boiler and talks to the thermostat to turn on and off, or modulate the heat, and creates an intelligent schedule for your boiler, in the same way it does for your heat.

This learning feature is what makes the Nest stand out from the crowd, it uses artificial intelligence to recognise your patterns, based on your adjustments, presence, and other factors to create and continually adapt a schedule that will keep you comfortable while also saving you energy.

Roomba i3+: Best Robot Vacuum Cleaner

Price: £699.99 | Works with: Alexa, Google Home

Roomba i3+

Really the smart home should be all about robots, busy little bees doing everything for you, so you don’t have to lift a finger. Sadly, we’re still a long way from that reality, but in the meantime, there are robot vacuums.

If you haven’t got on this bandwagon yet we’re here to tell you it’s time. More affordable, more intelligent, and way better at vacuuming than ever before, a robot vacuum will help keep your house clean – yes, even under the couch.

Our favourite cleaning bot is iRobot’s Roomba i3+, the newest model from the oldest smart vacuum manufacturer. We like it for its combination of affordability and self-emptying capabilities – it has its own external bin it returns to to suck out all the debris when its on-board bin is full.

This means you only have to empty it every three months rather than twice a week as is the case with non-emptying bots. (If you don’t mind dumping the dust you can save yourself a hundred quid or so and just get the robot without the extra bin).

The i7+ (£649/£879) is also an excellent option. Essentially the same vacuum, the i7+ is more expensive as it can do smart things such as just clean the kitchen, or only vacuum the living room thanks to smart maps you control in the app.

It also has the option of virtual barriers so you can keep it out of the cable clutter underneath the telly just by drawing a line in the app (with the i3 you need to buy a physical device to emit a virtual barrier for that type of control).

Both bots can be controlled by voice using Alexa or Google, so you can ask it to clean, pause, or go home with just a few words.

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