Your guide to must-have products for the smart home


The benefits offered by a smart home sometimes seem like the luxurious domain of those who can afford to live on the boundary of science fiction.    A house that modifies its environment for its inhabitants, cameras monitoring every cranny in your home, gadgets for pets to feed themselves, and for rooms to clean themselves. But the reality is that smart home technology has been around for enough time that it’s no longer out of reach for most, and can be built in to even a starter home or apartment. There’s still some uncertainty out there about affordable and easy-to-use smart home solutions, so we wanted to put together some must-have products for your smart home that can all be managed straight from your mobile device.

Chances are, if you’re looking to deck out your house with smart home tech, you’re at least a little interested in geeking out over the latest connected gadgets and devices—and we’ll get to those in a second—but if that’s all you came for, then you’d be missing out on possibly the greatest benefit of a smart home: a connected home monitoring camera that’s entirely under your control, right from the palm of your hand.

Check out this connected camera from VTech, the VC931 Wireless HD Pan & Tilt Camera. If you’ve ever wanted an extra set of eyes and ears then this is the smart home camera for you. With the VC931 you can have true peace of mind knowing your home—and everyone in it—is safe. The VTech VC931 is easy to install and can be set up in minutes using the free MyVTech Cams mobile app for both iOS and Android. It can be controlled both manually, via the app, with pan, tilt, and zoom (up to 10x) and can notify you automatically with sound and motion alerts. The picture will always be clear under every circumstance, with true-to-life color and automatic night vision, and video that can record straight to your smartphone or tablet. You can also purchase a microSD card that can be added to the camera or use the cloud recording service for additional storage if needed. But what really sets the VC931 apart from the competition is its price: all these great features come in at under $150.

Once you’ve got yourself a connected home monitoring camera, it’s time to start thinking about what smart devices will help make routine aspects of your life easier. The best connected devices are those that can be accessed straight from your smartphone, allowing you to have multiple smart home products all easily controlled from an app on your phone. For example, avid coffee drinkers might want to check out Mr. Coffee’s line of connected carafes, which allow you to schedule brews from your phone. Or, apply that same line of thinking to your pet, with the Petnet SmartFeeder, which dispenses regular feedings—perfect for taking care of your pet while on vacation, or guaranteeing their meal doesn’t go forgotten when you have to run out the door.

For those of us who lack green thumbs, devices like CounterCrop and the Smart Herb Garden by Click & Grow take the guesswork out of gardening by automating water, light exposure, and in some cases even fertilization and soil pH-level testing. GreenIQ even makes various gadgets that can monitor the soil around outdoor plants and control irrigation for larger yards and gardens.

And as for keeping the indoors clean, iRobot has now integrated their popular Roomba vacuums to your smart phone and other IoT devices, making it easier than ever to keep your floors clean. If in the market for a new vacuum, don’t forget to compare the popular Roombas with Neato’s similar line of connected cleaners.

Once those herbs are growing and those floors are clean, you’ll probably want to get a better idea of just how much cleaner your smart home is. Awair is one of a number of products that monitor your home’s air, providing data on CO2 levels, humidity, allergens, and a number of other things you might want to be aware that you’re inhaling. Pair it with an air purifier from Holmes or a connected A/C from Frigidaire or Quirky to automate your air quality. In some cases, you might even be able to set up recipes on IFTTT, allowing, for example, your air purifier to kick in once a certain allergen is detected.

The sky’s the limit for what you can do, just remember that a good way to start is to think of tasks you do routinely, and look for products or services to automate those processes. Even a smart starter home should be a personalized thing. Now that home monitoring and IoT devices are more affordable and reliable than ever, there’s no better time to get started with your smart home. The benefits early adopters enjoyed are available to all, just without the formidable price tags and kinks.