YourTechExplained Holiday Gift Guide 2017: Smart Home Edition
Welcome back to the next edition of our holiday gift guide. This one will cover smart home products for that special someone in your life who is looking to tech out their home. In particular, this year has been pretty exciting for smart home devices. We’ve had more smart speakers come out, more devices that work with them released, and Apple, unfortunately, dropped the ball and their smart speaker won’t be around for Christmas. There is more to a smart home than just a smart speaker though. Check out our guide to see some of our favorite products to make your home smarter.
WeMo Smart Outlet
I like my WeMo Smart Outlet quite a bit. I don’t use it as much as most probably will, but when I do, it’s never failed me. The app is simple and so is the functionality. Whether you want to set a schedule or impress your friends by turning on the living room table lamp, it’s all at your fingertips. They are also cost-efficient. For less than $40 you can add a little flair to your smart home setup.
Kuna Maximus Video Security Light
The Maximus Video Security Light is by far my favorite smart home device at our house. One of my main issues with adding WiFi-enabled cameras in the past has been having to figure out a way to power them. I don’t have the time to add more dedicated power to simply add a video camera, and I don’t want another rechargeable device to add to my arsenal either. Kuna has created a great solution that kicks both problems by simply replacing your existing porch light. It uses the power and switches already in place and all you have to do is steer it towards your network.
TicHome Mini for Google Home by Mobvoi
The official Google Home releases have gotten most of the media coverage, but one you may not have heard of is the TicHome Mini. It has all the same features as all the other Home devices but it’s completely portable. And it kinda looks like an Amazon Echo Dot. It has a rechargeable battery and a nice carrying strap. We will have an official review coming soon so stay tuned. The only drawback is that the price may scare some off at $99 it’s $50 bucks more than the new Home Mini from Google, but if you use the promo BFMINI you can knock off 40%.
Amazon Echo Dot
Google Home has stolen a lot of the spotlight in the past year with Assistant and it’s smart speaker. However, Amazon got there first with Alexa and their range of Echo devices. For that reason, Alexa still has a much wider range of smart home devices it works with. While I find Alexa is not quite as smart as Google’s Assistant she works perfectly for controlling smart home devices. Alexa also has a database of over 25,000 skills with lots of fun games to play with your friends or family. Don’t forget that you can now make calls, use Echo devices as an intercom, or just send messages to friends who also have an Echo device.
The Echo Dot is one of the cheapest ways to get Alexa into your household for controlling your smart devices. The sound from this slick looking little hockey puck isn’t great but works fine for streaming some music. If you’re interested in better sound quality, hooking up an external speaker is quick and simple. Amazon usually runs some pretty great deals on their Echo products around the holidays so keep an eye out and pick one up for cheaper than usual.
When expanding your smart home the first product most people look to add is Philips Hue for some lighting. I think that’s a mistake because once you get bitten by the smart home bug you’re not going to want to stop at just lighting. SmartThings is an all in one hub that provides support for lightbulbs, smart switches, smart plugs, smart locks, smart outlets, temperature sensors, thermostat support, and more. The list could go on and on with all of the products that are supported by SmartThings, in fact, there is a list. If you ever plan to expand beyond light bulbs and trust me you’re going to want to, then start out with an all in one hub and you won’t have to add on more hubs in the future.
To start my list we look at Sonos’ new speaker, the Sonos One. This was almost listed with the audio review since Sonos is a great bring to invest in for multi-room audio. With the addition of Alexa however, the One becomes a smart speaker that can handle any Alexa commands and can also control your whole suite of Sonos products as well. The One will also be getting Google Assistant and hopefully Siri support next year, so this product is a great future-proof investment. Sonos’ speakers don’t go on sale often or generally for a lot of money, grabbing one now would be your best bet.
Smart Lights – Hue and LifX
Now lastly, for anyone interested in starting or improving their smart home, lights are a great first step. Whether you get Hue or LifX, I highly recommend getting one of these instead of the cheaper third-party ones (sans the Ikea ones, but I haven’t tested those yet). Choosing which brand to get depends on a few simple questions that you can find in my comparison review. Yet, with both brands going on sale a lot during the holidays, being able to automate your lights, change their colors and brightness, and save money as well, choosing smart lights are a no-brainer.
Google Home Mini
My pick for the holidays is the Google Home Mini. This year I plan on adding more smart devices to my home and the best way to control those smart devices is via the Google Home Mini. It’s already the most popular item in our home and my kids get a kick out of “Hey Google! Self-destruct!” Keep an eye on Black Friday pricing putting this at $29 at various retailers. Some retailers will be giving out gift cards with a Google Home Mini purchase and if you purchase from Walmart, you’ll get $25 to make a Walmart purchase on Google Express.