Amazon and Google are in great competition to control your house.
Here are the smart home products that are most worth your time in 2020.
If you’ve already connected the various devices and fixtures around your home — perhaps it’s something you’ve paid more attention to now that many of us are spending more time at home — you’ll know there are many different ways to approach the problem. You might just need one device to address a particular issue, like a smart plug to put a lamp on a regular schedule. You might also already have an Amazon Alexa- or Google Assistant-powered smart speaker, or even Siri and Apple’s HomeKit smart home service, and now you’re thinking about how to build on what you already own.
I tend to think of the voice assistants as the starting point for building a do-it-yourself smart home. They offer a convenient way for family members or roommates to interact with the various devices without worrying about who has what access in a given app. Many, but not all of the products on our list of the best smart home products will work with multiple voice assistants.
Before you dive in, keep in mind that Amazon has announced a whole new set of smart home speakers and other devices from its own line and from its Ring subsidiary. The devices will come to market over the next six months, starting in October with the new spherical Echo speaker. Google is rumored to have a new smart speaker out soon as well. It’s likely the products below will have some changeover before the end of the year, so you might wait to read our ongoing coverage before making a new purchase. We will keep this list updated as new products make the cut.
Our list focuses narrowly on the best product in each smart home subcategory. If you want to know the best smart thermostat or the best smart lighting kit, regardless of which voice platforms support it, we have you covered. What this list is not is a road map for a single, coherent smart home installation (you won’t get far trying to pair an Amazon smart speaker with a Google smart display). For that, please refer to our platform-based lists linked below:
The best Amazon Alexa devices of 2020
The best Apple HomeKit devices of 2020
The best Google Assistant devices of 2020
In each subcategory section, I’ve also added a link to the best list for that particular product type. If you’re looking for more options for lighting or locks, you’ll find a list of our favorite products if you’d like to see a broader selection. We regularly update this list as we review new products.
Google Nest Mini
The other best smart speaker
Google’s new Nest Mini smart speaker improves on its predecessor, the Google Home Mini, in a few ways.
Google improved the audio quality in the Nest Mini, giving its bass output more oomph. It also added a wall mounting notch to the underside it, if that’s what you’re into. An interesting new presence detection method that uses the speaker and microphone to determine your proximity to the Nest Mini helps it trigger LED indicators that help you make better sense of the otherwise obscured physical volume controls.
That’s all fine, but the thing that puts the Nest Mini over the edge is the machine learning chip embedded inside the tiny speaker. With that chip, Google says the Nest Mini can learn what commands you give to it most often, and it will then begin to process those commands locally, rather than on Google’s servers.
Anything that helps to keep control of your smart home inside your home is worthwhile. Letting you still issue certain voice commands even if the internet goes out, and improved response times are great, too. For all of that, the machine learning chip puts the Google Nest Mini at parity with the Amazon Echo Dot and its distinct audio-input jack. Now let’s see a speaker that has both.
Google Nest Hub
The best smart display
Amazon may have introduced the smart display with the Echo Show, but Google refined the concept with the Nest Hub (formerly the Home Hub) both in terms of its design, and in the way, it leverages its voice assistant.
You get the same Google Assistant features in the Nest Hub that you get with the Google Home speaker line, along with a screen interface that gives you just the right amount of visual feedback. It will show you your spoken commands so you know Google heard you correctly, it can deftly walk you through a recipe from popular cooking websites, and it works seamlessly with Google-supported smart home cameras and video doorbells to display their camera feeds onscreen.
Google prudently opted out of including a video camera on the Hub itself, getting ahead of some privacy concerns, and likely prompting Amazon to include a manual video shutter on its new, smaller Echo Show 5 display. If you really want a Google-based smart display that allows for video chatting, a few third-party options can make that happen. Even without it, the Nest Hub is the best, most affordable marriage of a voice assistant and a display interface on the market.
Amazon Echo Show 8
The best smart display for Alexa
Amazon’s midtier smart display is the best one in its line. For $130, the Echo Show 8 has great audio quality, a highly visible screen, and a convincing nod to privacy with a physical shutter you can slide over its camera. We still like the interface better on the Google Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max. Those Google Assistant displays also have the edge in the useful video due to the voice-activated YouTube integration, which Amazon’s lineup lacks. Regardless, for those of you who are committed to an Alexa-only ecosystem, the Echo Show 8 is the best smart display.
Google Nest Wifi
The best mesh router
Wi-Fi is everything — particularly once you start spreading things like smart speakers, smart lights, smart plugs, and smart all else from room to room. After all, those connected doodads won’t do you much good if they can’t, you know, connect.
That’s why a mesh router that’s built to spread a strong, speedy signal throughout your house might make for a particularly smart upgrade — especially if you’re living in a big home. And, of the ones we’ve tested, we think the Nest Wifi is the smartest pick. At $269, the two-piece starter kit was able to fill the 5,800-square-foot CNET Smart Home with decent signal strength, and it never once dropped our connection as we moved around conducting speed tests after the speed test. On top of that, the range extender doubles as a smart speaker, so as you spread a reliable connection from room to room, you’ll be spreading the Google Assistant’s footprint in your home with it.
The Nest Wifi doesn’t support the newest, fastest version of Wi-Fi, called Wi-Fi 6, but you really won’t notice the difference Wi-Fi 6 makes unless you’re already paying for super-fast internet speeds of 500 Mbps or more. What you will notice with is the ease of installation, the simple network controls that sit right alongside your smart home controls in the Google Home app, and advanced Wi-Fi features like device prioritization, WPA3 security, and 4×4 MU-MIMO support, which lets the Nest Wifi boost speeds to devices that use multiple Wi-Fi antennas, like the MacBook Pro.
The Nest Wifi is obviously best for Google smart homes, so Alexa users will likely want to stick with the Eero or Netgear Orbi, our honorable mentions in the mesh category. But if you just want rock-solid Wi-Fi that you and your growing number of internet-connected gadgets can rely upon, put the Nest Wifi right at the top of your list.
TP-Link Kasa Smart Plug Mini
The best smart plug
We often point to smart plugs as the entry point for anyone interested in trying out a connected home device. They’re cheap, they’re simple to install and they perform a function that’s pretty easy to grasp, toggling power on and off remotely.
You can find a lot of smart plugs out there. TP-Link’s Kasa Mini is our favorite. It includes a single outlet that connects to your network via Wi-Fi. The app is well-designed and lets you program the plug to turn on or off on a schedule or even based on your location. It works with Google Assistant and Alexa, and it doesn’t cover up the adjacent outlet on a standard two-outlet wall fixture.
Philips Hue White LED
The best smart light bulbs
Philips Hue smart light bulbs have been our top pick for years, and with good reason. The company’s range of products is the broadest in the category, encompassing standard A19 bulbs, floodlights, light strips, fixtures, and most recently an entire range of outdoor lighting options. That kind of variety makes it easy to bring the lighting scheme for your entire home onto the Hue service. It also helps that Philips supports Amazon, Google, and Apple’s voice assistants.
The Hue line came to prominence with its color-changing bulbs, but the best way for most people to get started is with its standard white light bulbs. For $70, you can get a set of two bulbs and the Hue hub to get them online. Already own an Alexa or Google Assistant device? $30 will get you the new Bluetooth version of the bulbs, no extra hub needed.
Honorable mention: Wyze Bulb. This $8 smart bulb works with Alexa and Google Assistant, and it doesn’t require a hub. It’s not quite as fully featured as Philips Hue (it only comes as a standard A19 bulb, no HomeKit support), but it’s the best deal in this category.
The best smart thermostat
Like its competitor, the Nest Learning Thermostat chief among them, the Ecobee SmartThermostat is a WIFi-based thermostat that lets you control your home heating and air conditioning system with an app or with your voice. A few features help it stand out.
Ecobee set itself apart with its earlier products by including a remote temperature sensor in the box with the thermostat. The thermostat itself can read the ambient temperature of whatever room it’s in and adjust accordingly. If you want it to adjust the temp based on the conditions in another room, just switch it over to the remote sensor. This is a useful accessory if your thermostat install point isn’t in a central location, or if you want to make sure a nursery or your home office is the focal point for the Ecobee’s temperature readings, rather than a far-flung hallway.
You can buy the same accessory for a Nest thermostat, but Ecobee includes one in the box. Ecobee is also more agnostic about working with voice assistants than its Google-owned competitor. Where Nest will work with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa (maintained perhaps as a legacy function from before Google purchased Nest), Ecobee supports Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri.
Perhaps most unique, the Ecobee SmartThermostat is itself an Amazon Echo speaker. You won’t be impressed by its audio output for playing music, but as a basic extender for Alexa around your home, the Ecobee does an admirable job. Maybe you actually want Alexa in that far-flung hallway.
Arlo Pro 3
The best home security camera
The Arlo Pro 3 is our new favorite smart home camera, taking over the crown from its predecessor, the Arlo Pro 2. It’s not cheap to get started with Arlo cameras. The most affordable starting package for Arlo Pro 3 costs $500 and includes two Pro 3 cameras and the required wireless base station. If you can get past that initial investment, you’ll be able to take advantage of the most versatile video camera set up on the market.
Every additional Arlo Pro 3 will cost $199. That’s expensive, but it also about the same as a single Nest Cam Outdoor, another well-regarded outdoor Wi-Fi security camera. If you already own an Arlo Pro base station from an earlier kit, the Arlo Pro 3 will work with that as well.
We have always liked Arlo’s cameras for their battery-powered, weatherproof design that makes that suited for use indoors or outdoors. You can power them with a cable, or with the included, rechargeable battery for up to six months. An easy-to-install magnetic base also gives you almost infinite flexibility in terms of how you want to position each camera. They can also stand by themselves without a base on any horizontal surface. In short, you can put these cameras anywhere, or move them between locations with incredible ease.
What’s new with the Arlo Pro 3 is a higher resolution video feed than its predecessor (2K versus 1080p), and a siren built into the camera, as opposed to the base station. Now you have an outdoor deterrent for any would-be intruders. For the sake of your neighbors, please use it with restraint.
Want just an affordable indoor cam? The Alexa-supporting $30 Wyze Cam Pan is our current favorite. No other camera comes close to the Wyze in terms of features for the dollar. But for an indoor/outdoor, whole-home installation, the Arlo Pro 3 gets the nod.
The best home security system
Cameras are one thing, but if you’re really concerned about security across your entire home, your best bet is the SimpliSafe 3.0 kit. It starts at $229 for the base station, a keypad, a motion sensor, and an open/close sensor. That’s a start, but one of the things we like most about SimpliSafe is the ability to customize your set up from a selection of eight different sensors, from smoke to glass-break.
Unlike many whole-home security systems, SimpliSafe requires no contract to lock you into its service plan. You can opt into a $15-a-month professional monitoring package, but it’s not required, and you can cancel at any time.
Competing systems from Ring, Nest, ADT, and Vivint all offer similar-seeming combinations of hardware and a la carte service, but they all offer either too few features if you don’t opt-in to a service package, or start at significantly higher price points than SimpliSafe without making up the difference in better hardware. The one system we like that comes close is Abode, which has a higher starting price, but deeper integration with other smart home devices. Look into Abode if you don’t mind paying a little more upfront and you want it to work with other products. As a standalone product, SimpliSafe is our top pick.
The best video doorbell
The hardwired Nest Hello video doorbell connects to your Wi-Fi network so you can see who’s at the door in real-time. It can also capture and store three hours’ worth of video clips for free. But the most compelling thing about it is the owner-controlled facial recognition feature.
Facial recognition has its controversies, but the way Google uses it in the Nest Hello doorbell seems like the right way to do it, at least until the next data privacy scandal. Unlike many commercial systems which pull from existing databases to make a match, Nest Hello helps you build your own personal facial recognition database based on the people that come to your door. Once you tag the most common visitors, the app will eventually recognize them and alert you when they show up at your door.
The Nest Hello’s normal listing price is $230, which is on the high end of the scale.
August Wi-Fi Smart Lock
The best smart lock
Smart locks make people nervous because they insert another point of failure between you and your physical security. With a smart lock, a malicious hacker, or even a plain old technical failure or connectivity issue could all of a sudden compromise the entry point of your home.
There might be some truth to that. A keyless design with no physical failsafe could indeed lock you out but the August Wi-Fi Smart Lock isn’t one of those locks.
The August Wi-Fi Smart Lock is a breeze to install. It fits over the internal thumb latch of most existing deadbolt designs, and you can set it up in 10 minutes. Because it doesn’t replace the lock mechanism itself, you can still use your original, physical key. It’s good looking too, and 45% smaller than older August models.
The lock itself connects to your phone via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, and from the August app, you can assign and revoke timed virtual keys to anyone you like, from your in-laws to your dog sitter, at no extra cost. Many other locks will charge extra for virtual keys.
Because this model has Wi-Fi built-in, you won’t need to purchase the August Connect accessory to enable remote access. Simply set up your lock with Wi-Fi in the app, and you can not only control the lock from anywhere, but you can also connect it to Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri (be sure to make each of them require a PIN to accompany the unlock command) for added convenience.
Another accessory included with the Wi-Fi Smart Lock model is the tiny open-close sensor. This lets the lock tell you if it’s locked or unlocked and lets you know if the door itself is open or closed. It’s the most complete product available on the market for now.
Arlo Pro 3 Floodlight Camera
The best outdoor floodlight camera
Our favorite all-around security camera maker released a floodlight camera this spring that’s also a best-in-class product. It has all of the things we like about the Arlo camera line in general, long-lasting battery, a sharp HD video feed, mounting hardware that’s both flexible and easy install, and compatibility with all three major voice platforms.
Along with all of that, Arlo has added the most powerful array of LED lighting in its category, leaving competing products from Ring and others in the darkness. The 2,000 lumen light (3,000 if you add the optional Outdoor Charging Cable) will light up your entire backyard if you want that kind of power. It’s also dimmable, which is useful if you still want your neighbors to like you.
The best smart speaker
Apple’s smart speaker — the HomePod — hit stores in early 2018. It delivers excellent sound quality and solid, albeit limited, third-party Siri voice integrations for controlling smart home devices. Pair two HomePods together to create a stereo pair or set up multiple HomePods throughout your home for multi-room audio.
Over the two years since the HomePod launched, Apple has dropped its price from $349 to $299 and added new features to remain competitive.
Even so, the HomePod — much like Apple’s smart home platform, HomeKit — still lags behind Amazon and Google’s ever-growing lineup of branded smart speakers and partnerships with other companies that enable so many integrations with a simple “Alexa” or “Hey, Google” command.
There is one potential benefit to HomeKit and the HomePod’s slow third-party growth: improved security.
Again, this doesn’t mean Apple is immune to privacy breaches, but its smart home has remained relatively untouched when you consider the Amazon and Google headlines. That makes the HomePod a decent option for someone who’s a bit leery of smart speakers, particularly when it comes to user privacy.
We’re also keeping an eye on crowdfunded smart speakers, like the Mycroft Mark II, which claims to give “you the power of voice while maintaining privacy and data independence.” Interesting.
Honeywell Home T9 Smart Thermostat
The best smart thermostat
The $200 Honeywell Home T9 is a nice-looking smart thermostat at a reasonable price — especially because it comes with a remote sensor that tracks temperature, humidity, and motion. The remote sensor called a “Smart Room Sensor” is powered by two AAA batteries and is supposed to have a 200-foot range. Additional sensors cost $40 each (steep, I know) and you can add up to 20.
If you aren’t interested in buying the T9 bundled with a Smart Room Sensor, the thermostat costs $170 on its own.
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