The best smart home devices: The top picks from our buying guides

The best of the best from our extensive reviews

​The best smart home devices

A top connected home is simply the sum of its parts, so if you’re looking to build a smart home, you’re going need to choose top-notch smart home products, devices and gadgets.

At The Ambient, we’re dedicated to testing and recommending the best smart home devices. We have guides to pretty much every category – and are always updating the reviews and recommendations within those.

This is our compendium of the best smart home devices. Our official best list. Everything is tried and tested, and you can read our verdicts for each. But if you're looking to do the smart home on a budget, also check out our guide to the best cheap smart home tech.

The best smart speaker

The best smart home devices: The top picks from our buying guides

Amazon Echo 2

$99.99, Amazon

Of all the huge array of smart speakers out there – and even within that, a huge range of Amazon Echo speakers – it's the standard second generation that gets our pick.

The Echo 2's main selling point is, of course, Amazon's Alexa, who is still our chosen assistant. Alexa is reliable, despite not perfect 100% of the time, and we have noticed a slight improvement in voice recognition thanks to some new noise cancelling and wake word processing on board.

The new Amazon Echo is sleeker in design than its more gadgety-looking predecessor, and it's a damn sight cheaper too. There are six colours of fabric finishes to choose from, plus it's smaller, and definitely more pleasing to the eye than the plastic first generation.

You still get 3.5mm line out, which means that you can wire an Echo 2 up to your existing speaker system, or connect via Bluetooth. And the plaudits keep rolling: it's still quite a bit cheaper than rivals, Alexa is beginner and family friendly and it's super easy to build a system by adding Echo Dots to one 'main' Echo 2.

Check out our full Amazon Echo second generation review.

the ambient verdict
Amazon Echo 2
The Echo 2 is an awesome buy for the money - you get the best voice assistant in a nicely designed package. Sound quality is the only mild disappointment but there's ways round that.
  • Alexa is brilliant
  • Affordable all-rounder
  • Improved design
  • Rivals sound better
  • Still doesn't look chic
  • Competition from other Echo devices

The best smart home devices: The top picks from our buying guides

Also consider...Google Home Mini

$39 | Google

OK – while we're giving the Echo the nod, the obvious counter option is a Google Assistant – and we're picking out the Google Home Mini. The tiny smart speaker is one of the most affordable – alongside the Echo Dot.

Soft fabric finishes ensure it blends in with your home, and it's a cheap way to try out what Google Assistant has to offer – if you're not ready for a more expensive commitment. But remember, it's not a powerful sound and there's no 3.5mm out to your existing speakers, same as its rival the Amazon Echo Dot.

The best thermostat

The best smart home devices: The top picks from our buying guides

Nest Learning Thermostat

$249, | Amazon

For our thermo pick, be upstanding for the Nest Learning Thermostat. Named as such after its ability to learn and create a schedule for you based on your heating behaviour, it's the closest option you have to never thinking about your heating ever again.

It does this by studying and then mimicking your manual actions based on its first few days of learning. Once created, the schedule will be fine tuned every time you make more manual tweaks.

Of course you can also choose your own schedules, and the True Radiant mode learns how long your home takes to warm up, and will adjust accordingly. We've found it to be pretty spot on.

Sadly, you don't get zone options or individual radiator control with Nest. However, there are third-party smart radiator valves you can use, which enable the thermostat to act as a maximum temperature controller.

Nest is brilliantly open, and that means Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa control – there are loads of IFTTT goodies already drawn up, too, but sadly no HomeKit functionality as yet.

the ambient verdict
Nest Learning Thermostat
A fantastic option, especially as you're looking to dive deeper into the smart home world as the Nest plays nicely with a wide range of other connected kit. If you just want to plug a thermostat in and never think about heating again (well, after a few days' usage) then this is your best bet. It looks the part too, with its slick display and mini info apps.
  • Learning - so less manual input
  • Works with Nest and more
  • Hot water & cooling options too
  • No zone support
  • Quite expensive
  • No HomeKit options

The best smart home devices: The top picks from our buying guides

Also consider...Hive Active Heating

£249 (with Hub) in UK, £199 (no Hub) / $16.99 per month in US, | Amazon

While the Nest is still our go-to thermostat, Hive is well-suited to less technical people in smaller homes. And there are some key advantages – it’s battery powered and the controller will last around six months on a set of four AAs.

In terms of heating control, it's a stripped back experience that enables you to remotely turn heating on and off and set up schedules based on room temperature – pretty standard stuff. There’s also holiday mode, which stops heating your home until you return, but stops short of automating based on your smartphone’s location like Nest.

But if you're starting out with the smart home, Hive can do more than just heat your home. It's an ecosystem with smart plugs, bulbs, door sensors and home security cameras – which can all be used in the same app. They’re all easy-to-use and reliable, and make for a vibrant smart home set up.

The best smart bulbs

Best smart home devices

Philips Hue

From $14.99 up to $200+, | Amazon

Philips Hue lit up the smart bulb market back in 2012, and despite excellent options from the likes of Lifx and Hive, it's still the best system available.

To get the purest Hue system, you'll need the Philips Hue Bridge, which offers the most complete control over your bulbs, colours, brightness and schedules. It's possible to use Hue bulbs without, but it limits your options to basic on/off functionality for 10 bulbs.

The quality of the light is excellent, with white temperatures between 2200K and 6500K and coloured bulbs packing 16 million colours. They're fast and responsive, and some of the quickest to turn on and off in our testing. The fittings are fairly universal, as well.

But what really pleases is how they work with virtually any smart home system. IFTTT, Xfinity and Logitech, Works with Nest, Google Assistant, Apple HomeKit and Amazon Alexa are all supported. If you have a Zigbee hub – like the Amazon Echo Plus – you can just plug and play Hue bulbs too.

Compatibility: Android, iOS, E26/27, E12/14, B22, GU10, PAR16, mains.

the ambient verdict
Philips Hue
Hue remains the undisputed heavyweight king in an ever-expanding division and with good reason. It’s unrivalled in terms of choice, compatibility and quality. Lifx, in particular, is pushing Hue hard but if we had to recommend just one smart bulb brand we wouldn’t have any hesitation before offering up Philips’ smart home baby.
  • The original and still the best
  • Huge choice of bulbs and fittings
  • Friends of Hue platform
  • Not the cheapest
  • Still reliant on Hub
  • Default scenes won’t go away

The best smart home devices: The top picks from our buying guides

Also consider...Lifx

From $24.99 up to $249.99, | Amazon

Hue is great, but can be costly – and this is where Lifx comes in, with great prices and a Wi-Fi set up that works regardless of the tech inside your home. And numbers stack up with Lifx bulbs boasting 16 million colours – 1,000 shades of white alone – and a maximum brightness of 1,100 lumens.

But unlike so many systems, Lifx bulbs don't need a hub. Just screw in one of the bulbs and you're good to go, with all pairing worked out with the smartphone app and Wi-Fi network. That means you don't need a smart speaker, hub, white box or anything to get started – although Lifx plays nicely with every major ecosystem, including Apple HomeKit.

The best smart plug

Best smart home devices

TP-Link HS110

$29.99, | Amazon

When it comes to smart plugs, TP-Link has been in the game since the beginning. And when it comes to the best, most feature rich plugs out there, the HS110 gets the crown.

In terms of digital assistants both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are signed up, which is a great start. The Kasa app lets you monitor kWh energy use over daily, weekly or monthly time periods, so you can get clued up on how much electricity you're using.

Of course, this is the fancy stuff, and the TP-Link is adept at the basics too. Schedules and remote control are done with aplomb, and you can quickly add the HS110 into Alexa and Google Assistant groups/routines as well. There's also an Away mode, where you can set regular recurring days or times where you want things powered on or off.

the ambient verdict
TP-Link HS110
TP-Link's best smart plug is a fantastic option for people wanting a bit more than remote on/off controls without breaking the bank. As always, the design isn't the best but the Kasa app is easy to use and dual digital assistants on board make it a great option for most smart home setups.
  • Alexa and Google Assistant on board
  • Easy to use Kasa app
  • Power consumption details
  • Bulky(ish) design
  • Bright light is annoying
  • No cost monitoring

The best smart home devices: The top picks from our buying guides

Also consider... Amazon Smart Plug

$24.99 | Amazon

OK this is just for the Alexa squad out there – the new Amazon Plug was developed for super-easy pairing with Echo devices.

It's all about a new service called Frustration Free Setup, which means the Echo speaker and plug can talk to each other and authenticate within 30 seconds. No skills, apps, set up, button pressing. It's all about making the experience really easy. And that's why it gets our alternative nod.

The best smart home camera

Best smart home devices

Nest Cam IQ Indoor

$299, | Amazon

The king of the smart home camera is the Nest Cam IQ Indoor – although the caveat is that it's pretty damn expensive. At $300 for a camera – plus the minimum of $5 a month to unlock video storage, it's pretty outrageous. But you get a lot for your money.

You get night vision, a 4K still image sensor, motion and sound alerts, snapshot history, 1080p live views and close-up tracking view. It's a big features list – and that's just the stuff you get out-of-the-box. With the Nest Aware subscription, you get facial recognition and full playback, so you can scrub through the entire day, not just motion alerts. Facial recognition really helps a camera become useful, cutting false positives and enabling you to make full use of alerts without getting a notification every time your kids go to the fridge.

What's more, now Nest is under the spell of Google once again, Nest is making all of its devices work better together, so your camera will talk to your door lock or Google Home speaker, alerting you as to who's home.

And it's that ecosystem that helps make Nest the powerhouse it's become. It works with Alexa as well, leveraging the powerful Works with Nest platform to show feeds on your Amazon Echo Show/Echo Spot, making it a great baby monitor as well as home camera.

the ambient verdict
Nest Cam IQ
The Nest Cam IQ is one of the most sophisticated and advanced home security cameras you can buy. Nest has been in the game a long time and it shows – not only does the IQ add a raft of killer features, but it also ties in brilliantly with your existing smart home system.
  • Full Nest ecosystem integration
  • HDR close-up tracking
  • Facial recognition
  • Expensive cloud plan
  • Quite a bulky design
  • Mains only – no wireless option

The best smart home devices: The top picks from our buying guides

Also consider...Arlo 2 Pro

$449.99, | Amazon

While it's hardly a cheaper alternative, you do get a very different proposition with the Arlo 2 Pro. The footage is great from this 1080p camera – although not quite as sharp as the excellent Nest Cam IQ Indoor/Outdoor.

However, you get two cameras in the pack, and they're 100% wire free, offering about a month of battery life for indoor and outdoor use. That means you won't need to run wires outside, which is a criticism of the Nest Cam IQ Outdoor.

But there's even more reasons to consider the Arlo 2 Pro. One part is the free seven days of storage, playback and downloading of recorded clips from motion or sound alerts, meaning there's no need for a subscription. For Nest, you'll need a subscription starting at $5, just to watch your footage back.

The best streaming stick

Best smart home devices

Amazon Fire TV

$69.99, Amazon

When it comes to feature rich streaming, the Amazon Fire TV stick is pretty high on the list, and with Alexa built right in, it's a smart home winner.

In terms of 4K smarts you get 2160p up to 60fps, HDR and Dolby Atmos audio, which is a decent showing in terms of the visual quality. It's also got the widest range of content, especially if you’re an Amazon Prime member – and if you're plumping for Fire TV, you really ought to be.

Netflix, Prime and BBC iPlayer, Disney Life, Showtime and HBO are all supported, so there's a wealth of Ultra HD stuff to sink your teeth into.

We already mentioned the presence of Alexa, but unlike Siri on Apple TV it's not just for searching movies (although she can do that). It's the full-blown Alexa experience, which means you can tell her to turn your lights off, start your robot vacuum, show your security camera stream etc. Basically, you can turn your TV into a giant Echo Show, which is pretty cool. Plus, if your TV supports HDMI-CEC, you'll also be able to power it on from standby simply by saying a Fire TV command such as, "Alexa, show me movies with Tom Hanks in them".

the ambient verdict
Amazon Fire TV
The latest Amazon Fire TV may not win any prizes on the design front – although for some TVs it may be more practical than a stick shaped device – but on the features front it's doing just fine. If you're platform agnostic and you cherry pick from the best streaming services, the Fire TV has you covered. It's also a bargain price to get Alexa even more engrained in your life.
  • Fantastic range of content
  • Alexa smarts built in
  • Can be controlled with Echo speaker
  • Odd design
  • Prime is another cost
  • No Dolby Vision

The best smart smoke alarm

Best smart home devices

Nest Protect

$119, | Amazon

A clear leader right now in the smart smoke alarm world is the Nest Protect. It's set to detect both fast and slow fires, plus carbon monoxide. It comes with wired and battery versions, and the latter will last a couple of years between replacements, which is highly impressive.

What's more, the Nest Protect packs its own microphone and health-checks the whole system once a month for you, so no wondering if the system is actually working.

The alarm on the Protect is a human voice. At first signs of something awry, she’ll say: "Be aware. There's smoke in the [room]". If it’s major it’ll be: "Emergency! There's smoke in the [room]." You'll also get a notification to your smartphone if smoke is detected, and another if the alarm sounds – which is useful if you're in a different room, and a bit of peace of mind if you're away as well.

The Nest Protect can also help guide you round a dark house at night using the pathlight feature – essentially a white ring of light that comes on when it detects motion. Nest is making strides getting your smart home in sync, and the Protect's motion detecting will assist your Nest Cams and Thermostat, determining whether you're home or not.

the ambient verdict
Nest Protect
The Nest Protect is the king of the smart smoke alarm gang. If you've got other Nest products they'll make it even more useful, but it's fine tapping into other third-party smart home setups as well. No Google Assistant on board just yet though… keep your eyes peeled for a third-generation that could pack that.
  • Extra smart home features
  • Calming voice rather than alarm
  • Cool looking for your stylish home
  • Steam sets it off
  • Pricey compared to dumb rivals
  • No AI assistant

The best smart lock

Best smart home devices

August Smart Lock Pro + Connect

From $279, | Amazon

The Smart Lock Pro is August's third-generation, and brings new features and enhancements to the table. The lock motor is now quieter and offers double the lifespan using the same four AA batteries.

The Smart Lock Pro replaces the inside end of your deadbolt, and you can install it yourself with a screwdriver – and pretty much anyone can give this a go. It's not all about the smart stuff either; you can still use your existing key from the outside, which makes a neat backup in case it all goes wrong.

August connects to your Wi-Fi via the included August Connect bridge to offer full control of the lock from wherever you are. It will auto-lock and will unlock based on your proximity to your house, saving you the hassle of fumbling for keys. You can also give mobile app keys to friends, pet-sitters and the like via the August app – and you can revoke that access when required as well.

It also offers unrivalled compatibility with the leading smart home platforms: Apple's HomeKit, Amazon' Alexa, and Google Assistant all offer the ability to control the lock via spoken commands.

the ambient verdict
August Smart Lock Pro + Connect
August's latest lock wears its 'Pro' designation well. It's smarter than the average smart lock, even if you have to pay a bit more for all of those handy extras. It might be a bit too much for some people, both in terms of money and features, but there are other smart locks with fewer frills out there. August's does it all.
  • Feature heavy - mobile app keys
  • Works with everything
  • Easy to self-install
  • Quite expensive
  • Big on features
  • Bulky

The best smart doorbell

Best smart home devices

Ring Video Doorbell 2

$199, | Amazon

There are plenty of rivals in the smart doorbell market now, but the easiest to recommend is Ring 2. First, it's cable-free, and it works via a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, so you don't need to worry about having wires hanging from your doorframe – which, believe it or not, is pretty rare in the smart doorbell world.

In terms of tech there's full HD 1080p camera with a 160-degree field of view at 15fps, which is a little low, but it's a doorbell after all. There's also two-way audio, but recorded motion and rings will cost you £25 per year.

There are other hidden costs too; you’ll need to purchase a plug-in Chime if you want to hear the doorbell in the house. You can, however, make do with the loud ring from your smartphone, if you don't want to fork out.

Check out our full Ring 2 review.

the ambient verdict
Ring 2
Nine times out of ten, the Ring 2 just works, although you will suffer the odd outage, missed ring or dropped connection – however, for our money, it’s one of the best systems out there. The app is easy to use and the audio and video is decent quality. Our one beef is the charges for storing video, and we’d like to see 24 hour playback thrown in for free. Otherwise, Ring is a superb system that comes highly recommended.
  • Easy to install
  • Removable battery
  • 1080p streaming
  • Bit of a bulky design
  • No Ethernet option
  • Cloud storage costs extra

The best robot vacuum cleaner

The best smart home devices: The top picks from our buying guides

Dyson 360 Eye

$999.99, | Amazon

If ever you catch yourself thinking about vacuum cleaners, the first name you'll think of is probably Dyson, and it just so happens the suction giant's 360 Eye is the undisputed champ of automated home cleaning.

As the name suggests, the device is able to navigate through your home using the 360-degree panoramic camera sitting on top, which is constantly surveying the room to see where it's going and where it still needs to visit. This not only means that the Dyson is one of the best at not getting stuck, but also that it's good to go right out of the box. There's nothing to set up with regard to barriers or virtual walls, and the Dyson Link app is one of the slickest in the business.

It allows you access to the live status of your cleaner, while also letting you start and schedule cleans and check the map showing previous ones. If it's too much hassle to control the cleaner from your smartphone, integration with Alexa lets you to start or stop cleans with the power of your voice.

Its cycles aren't the longest – only around 45 minutes – but thankfully the vacuum is smart enough to charge itself and resume the job exactly where it left off when fully juiced up.

the ambient verdict
Dyson 360 Eye
The most complete robot vacuum cleaner on the market, the Dyson 360 Eye is your zero-faff gateway to a cleaner smart home. Despite being too tall for some areas of your home, it still brings the best navigation and pure cleaning power of the elite crop. Sure, it's expensive, like most of its competitors, but this rounded experience is well worth the outlay.
  • Comprehensive cleaning
  • Neat app and Alexa control
  • Excellent navigation
  • Doesn't come cheap
  • Too tall for some areas
  • Short battery life

The best robot lawn mower

The best smart home devices: The top picks from our buying guides

Husqvarna Automower 450x

$3,495.95, | Amazon

If you need the definitive lawn mower to keep your garden in shape – and we mean really keep it in shape – then there's no better option than Husqvarna's Automower 450x.

The price tag is lofty, sure, but what you get in return is perhaps the only mower that can handle big, hilly gardens – specifically, the 450x will be able to cover areas of over an acre and gradients of up to 23 degrees. And it doesn't tire easily, either, with the car-like design chomping on grass for well over four hours from just an hour of charging.

You'll still, unfortunately, need a boundary wire, despite the built-in GPS helping the device to navigate around your garden (even narrow passages), but the fact that it can customise cutting patterns, tap into weather reports and sound an alarm if it's taken out of its cutting zone all help this become the most advanced and complete automated mower in the game.

the ambient verdict
Husqvarna Automower 450x
There's a definite risk of overkill with the 450x if you have a small garden, but there's no denying the fact that this robot mower does a fantastic job of operating discreetly and effectively around your green patch. It's bulky and doesn't come cheap, but the raft of features (including Apple Watch control and Alexa support coming later in 2018) make this the go-to robot lawn mower for those with a suitably sized garden.
  • Elite navigation skills
  • GPS and 3G support
  • Top-level cutting
  • Wildly expensive
  • Chunky design
  • Boundary line needed

The best smart baby monitor

The best smart home devices: The top picks from our buying guides

Arlo Baby

$199.99, | Amazon

Upon first gaze, the Arlo Baby is one of the neatest designs you can find for a smart baby monitor, letting you change its look by dressing it as a rabbit, dog or cat. And while that helps it blend into your child's nursery, it does plenty too.

This is a seriously feature-packed camera, coming complete with an in-depth app that's easy to use. Users can set the Arlo to record video or take a snap when motion or audio is detected, while alerts can also be pushed through your smartphone or email. That video being recorded can also be tailored to suit the room – 360p to 1080p is the range you can work with, and the field of view can be set to between 90 and 130 degrees.

Naturally, parents can view this on their phone in real-time, but integration with Alexa means viewing the feed can take place on the Echo Show or Echo Spot, too (Google Assistant is in the works).

You'll have to sift through Arlo's subscription plans if you're looking for storage or camera linking, though we imagine many will find its free option adequate. All in all, this rounds out as a camera which comfortably holds the smart baby monitor crown – at least until the 7-inch touchscreen display Arlo Baby Monitoring camera lands later in 2018, that is.

the ambient verdict
Arlo Baby
Smart devices with subscription plans aren't ideal, but the amount of features at your disposal helps propel the Arlo Baby to the top of the smart baby monitor class. With this camera, you'll get portability, customisation and integration, as well as the basics such as two-way audio, video recording around the clock and even room temperature monitoring.
  • Two-way audio
  • Integration with Alexa
  • Temperature and humidity tracking
  • Not cheap
  • Expensive subscription plans
  • Slight video delays

TAGGED   smart home

Recent stories

google Google Assistant guide: The missing manual to your Google Home
amazon Amazon Echo Show 2018 review
televisions Netflix is now live on Sky Q boxes

What do you think?

Reply to
Your comment