Some people get to start their smart home from scratch with a new house. They can decide where all the wires go, install anything you like - with the nod from housemates and family of course - and not have to worry about going anywhere anytime soon.
For the rest of us who are renting or just not sure how long we're going to be in this flat/house/sofa bed we call our own, it doesn't quite work like that.
We can't wire up a smart doorbell or a fancy smart thermostat without permission and it'd be a waste to leave it behind when we move. And smart fridges, locks and connected garden cams just don't always make sense (or aren't allowed) when you live in an apartment building.
But that doesn't mean you can't smarten up the place in other ways. Here's a beginner's guide for building a great smart apartment.
Keep it streamlined
Moving house is a real pain so limit the number of unnecessary gadgets to take with you. Think about what will actually save you time, money and brain energy when choosing which new devices to add to your flat, house (or room if you sharing with Luddite strangers). The whole Nest or Hive shebang can wait.
If you're living with friends, it might be a good idea to buy devices individually based on your priorities then you can take them away when you go your separate ways.
Think simple and portable
These days you can fit a starter kit smart home in a backpack. Seriously. You want Wi-Fi devices that add on to the TVs, speakers and appliances you already own, for starters. You're not so interested in anything that needs a bridge (OK, maybe a Hue one) and proprietary cables should be kept to a minimum - these will get lost.
This is a little controversial but we also wouldn't worry too much about jumping in with one platform - Apple HomeKit/Google Assistant + Works With Nest/Amazon Alexa etc - at this stage. Especially if you're buying cheap and cheerful for now.
With easy-to-use platforms like IFTTT, Yonomi and Stringify to connect everything up, and bearing in mind that plenty of gadgets work with multiple smart home ecosytems, the only potential issue is dealing with more than one app. You'll handle it.
As we mentioned earlier, you might not be able to take advantage of every smart home gadget - it depends on your new setup, and whoever owns the building. Here are some basics we'd recommend, though, for getting started.
Smart bulbs are fairly easy to pack up and re-install so we'd say go with the best and splash out on Philips Hue. You'll need the Hue bridge too, but it's not like that takes up a lot of space and you'll be getting a nice hassle-free smart light system, and the new generation-three bulbs offer deeper, richer colours. Maybe you want a nice warm wake-up light for the mornings, or something atmospheric for those late-night movie sessions. Choose Lux if you don't need changing colours or Hue Go for a portable light ... bowl.
Alternative: Ikea's Trådfri lights for those who want affordable smart bulbs without too many features.
The smart speaker
These damn lazy millennials, wanting to order anything at the push of a button or, well, the ask of a question. The $50 second-gen Amazon Echo Dot is a little puck that connects to your existing speakers via cable or Bluetooth. You can voice control Spotify/Pandora, other smart home gadgets like Hue, order pizza, call an Uber, listen to recipes & more. It's also tiny compared to its Echo tower sibling, making it more ideal when space is limited.
Alternative: Google's Home and Home Mini now do Bluetooth out so you can hook up to existing speakers.
The security cam
Flats still get broken into, even if you're up on the fourth floor. Connected security cameras these days don't need to hooked up around the house, just sit them on a desk or a bookshelf. We're fans of the Netatmo Welcome camera and the slightly cheaper Nest Cam IQ, both of which are portable and fast to get started with. Welcome has face recognition, Nest has 'night vision'.
Alternative: The affordable 720p EZVIZ Mini HD.
The smart TV stick
The $69 4K Google Chromecast Ultra is a good shout smart TV streaming stick wise. With 4K and HDR support, it's future-proof and easy to switch between TVs. You'll get smooth streaming of Netflix, iPlayer, Now TV, YouTube, Google Play and Spotify, among other apps. We're also big fans of the refreshed Amazon Fire TV Stick, which gives you another way of accessing Alexa. Just remember: despite what the pretty pictures might have you believe, you still need to plug these devices into a wall socket.
Alternative: Apple TV 4K if you want to go all in with Apple HomeKit.
The smart plug
Think about grabbing yourself a $35 TP-Link smart plug or three. These go into your existing outlets and allow you to remotely turn kitchen appliances, speakers and, yes, hair straighteners on and off, saving you money on electricity bills in the process. These are perfect for a smart apartment setup.
Alternative: Elgato Eve Energy for a HomeKit compatible smart plug that tells you energy usage
The smart lock
Obviously if you're renting, you're limited in what modifications you can make, which can be tricky when it comes to security systems. However some smart locks are ones you can add easily without having to get the drill out. The August Smart Lock Pro is one of the best out there, giving you control of your front door wherever you are. You can even create virtual keys for friends and family, and grant access to other guests who might need temporary access (for dropping off a package, for example). It also plays nice with Alexa and even the Apple Watch. Just make sure you have a deadbolt that will work with it.
Alternative: Friday Labs' smart lock is super stylish and easy to install.
The forever renter
Once you've got going with these basics, you can add more Amazon Echo Dots, for instance, more security cams or smart switches as you like. And don't fret, if it's what you really want, one day you'll have a smart garden door lock to call your own.