Best Smart Home Gadgets and Choosing the Right Voice Assistant

WriterEmily Thompson

2 March 2024

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Best Smart Home Gadgets and Choosing the Right Voice Assistant

The number of smart home devices on the market today is intimidating to say the least. With so many companies in the game now, and different IoT standards and voice assistants to consider, it can get confusing to even know where to start building a smart home ecosystem from scratch. But we at Engadget can help: before you dive in, we recommend not trying to outfit your whole home in one go. Not only can this be quite expensive, but also we think it’s generally best to buy just one or two items first to see if you like them. You should also pick a preferred voice assistant and stick with it. Below are the best smart home gadgets you can get right now, plus some advice on how to choose the right voice assistant for your needs.

Best smart home gadgets: Smart speakers

Our recommendation for the best smart speaker is the Sonos Era 100. It’s compact enough to fit in most areas in your home, but more importantly, it delivers excellent audio quality that’s superior to a lot of other smart speakers out there. When tuned properly to the acoustics of your room — which requires the iPhone app — the sound is fantastic, with punchy bass and clear highs. Unfortunately, the Android app doesn’t have TruePlay tuning (Sonos has not said whether it’s in the works), but the speakers should still sound admirable. It’s also compatible with a slew of streaming services to play music, including major ones like Spotify and Pandora. The main benefit that a Sonos speaker brings over the competition is that it’s a gateway to a multi-room audio setup that you can build out over time. It’s also convenient if you plan on building a home theater setup later on, as the Era 100 integrates well with Sonos soundbars.

Best smart home gadgets: Smart displays

Our favorite Google-powered smart display is the second-generation Nest Hub. It has a 7-inch screen, which makes it just big enough to fit in most rooms in the house. The size also makes it work well as a digital photo frame. You can set it up to pull in pictures of friends and family from your Google Photos library, and there’s a smart algorithm that automatically uses the best shots while avoiding the blurry ones. As you might expect, you can also use the display to watch YouTube, Netflix and other streaming services. Plus, a smart display without a camera is great if you want to place it in more intimate places like the bedroom, where you might be more protective of your privacy. If you place it by your bedside, the Nest Hub also has a sensor that can track your sleep patterns, if you opt in. If you prefer a display with a camera, we recommend splurging on the higher-end Nest Hub Max. Its built-in camera can be used for video calls with Google Duo, Google Meet and Zoom. This smart gadget also has an optional face-tracking feature that lets the camera follow you around during calls. One benefit of the camera is that it gives you the option for Face Match, a feature that automatically recognizes individual members of the house and then displays the information that’s pertinent only to them, like calendar alerts. Additionally, the camera adds a unique gestures feature that lets you play and pause media simply by holding up your hand to the screen, which is convenient if you need to stop the music without having to shout across the room. The Google Nest Hub Max also has better audio quality than the Hub thanks to its larger speakers.

Best smart home gadgets: Smart lights

Best smart home gadgets: Security cameras

Best smart home gadgets: IoT gear

Smart plugs are the easiest way to add a bit of connectivity to your home without spending a ton of money. Connect your regular non-smart lamp and voila, it’s internet connected and you didn’t have to spend a fortune. The best one we’ve tried is from TP-Link: the Kasa Smart Plug Mini. Out of all of the smart plugs we tested, this one was the only plug that provided a truly seamless experience from the jump. It was easy to set up, thanks in part to the Kasa mobile app's clean and intuitive UI, and it supports all of the features you'd expect from a smart plug: timers, schedules, vacation mode and custom scenes. The updated version of the Smart Plug Mini supports HomeKit in addition to Google Home, Amazon Alexa and Samsung SmartThings, so it should fit into any existing smart home ecosystem you have.

How to pick the right voice assistant before you buy

While plenty of the best smart home devices are platform agnostic, there are some — smart speakers and smart displays in particular — that require you to choose your voice assistant. Currently, that means deciding if you’ll use the Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa on a regular basis (I’ll address Siri in a moment.) They’re both compatible with various smart home products from light bulbs to robot vacuums, but there are certain devices that work best with either Google or Amazon. Nest products, for example, are more compatible and have more functionality with Google-powered speakers and displays. They can still work with Amazon devices, but certain features might be disabled. The same holds true with Amazon products: They work better if they’re in the same ecosystem.

Amazon Alexa

So how do you choose between Alexa and Google Assistant? It really depends on your personal preferences. Do you listen to Audible, watch Prime Video and tend to do a lot of shopping on Amazon? Then you might lean toward an Alexa-powered smart home device.

Google Assistant

If you want a voice assistant that’s great at answering questions, Google Assistant tends to be better than Alexa. Amazon’s helper, on the other hand, currently supports more smart home products. The company’s smart speakers and displays also support the Zigbee smart home protocol, and some devices even have built-in smart home hubs. Both Google and Amazon devices can sync with your calendar, though Google’s tend to work better with Google services. Plus, if you already have an Android phone, you might be more comfortable with Google Assistant anyway.

Siri

But what about Siri? Apple’s assistant supports voice commands as well, but it doesn't have as many compatible devices as Google or Amazon. The HomePod mini and the full-sized HomePod are the only Siri-compatible speakers on the market at the moment, too. That said, it’s not too hard to find Apple HomeKit-compatible gear as more third-party companies add support for it, but you currently have a smaller pool of devices to choose from.

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Emily Thompson
Emily Thompson
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Emily Thompson is a renowned Vacuum Tech Analyst and Writer, known for her in-depth reviews and cutting-edge news on the latest in vacuum technology. With a knack for breaking down technical jargon into easy-to-understand language, Emily has become a trusted voice in the vacuum tech community.

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