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 from our buying guides and our extended and on-going testing – and we've updated it with our picks from the all-new The Ambient Smart Home Awards as well – you'll see the winners scattered through this guide. If you're looking to build out a smart home but don't know where to start, consider this your cheat sheet guide.


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. 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.

Check out our full Amazon Echo second generation review.

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

Google Home Hub

$149, google.com

It may be dwarfed by other smart speakers in size, but Google’s 7-inch screen-toting smart speaker strikes the perfect balance of design and features, while giving the Google Assistant the face it always deserved. The 1024 x 600 resolution is sharp enough for the types of things you’ll be doing with it – namely smart home control, music playback, all with a well designed interface that makes it the best smart display out there by a mile.

Check out our full Google Home Hub review.

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

Sonos One

$199, Amazon | sonos.com

The Google Home Hub does a lot, but purely as a dedicated speaker, the Sonos One won our smart speaker award for 2018. Quite simply, the Sonos One offers one of the best third-party Alexa experiences, in one of the best sounding speakers reasonable money can buy. Punchy but balanced, it’s Sonos’ versatile sound through and through, wrapped together with the leading smart home assistant.

Check out our full Sonos One review.

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

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.


The best thermostat

The best smart home devices

Nest Learning Thermostat

$249, Amazon | nest.com

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.

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.

Hive Active Heating

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

Hive is well-suited to less technical people in smaller homes. 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. 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.

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

Ecobee4

$249, Amazon | ecobee.com

The weather outside is frightful, but the Ecobee4 is so delightful - and won our award for the best smart thermostat of 2018. You can make schedules and enable home and away mode, so the thermostat can optimise the temperature in your home based on your location – and set it remotely of course when you're on the way home.

The most unique of which is built-in Alexa and plays nicely with HomeKit, SmartThings, Google Assistant, IFTTT and everything in between. If you're building a smart home, rest assured that the Ecobee4 will fit right in.


The best smart bulbs

Best smart home devices

Philips Hue

From $14.99 up to $200+, Amazon | meethue.com

The quality of Hue bulbs 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.

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.

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

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

Lifx

From $24.99 up to $249.99, Amazon | lifx.com

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.


The best smart plug

Best smart home devices

TP-Link HS110

$29.99, Amazon | tp-link.com

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. 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. What's more, 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.

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 | nest.com

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.

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.

Arlo 2 Pro

$449.99, Amazon | arlo.com

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 free seven days of storage, playback and downloading of recorded clips from motion or sound alerts, means there's no need for a subscription.


The best smart lock

Best smart home devices

August Smart Lock Pro + Connect

From $279, Amazon | august.com

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 best smart doorbell

Best smart home devices

Ring Video Doorbell 2

$199, Amazon | ring.com

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 best smart smoke alarm

Best smart home devices

Nest Protect

$119, Amazon | nest.com

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.

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 best streaming stick

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

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K

$50, Amazon

Amazon's best streaming stick yet, the Fire TV Stick 4K does exactly what that imaginative name suggests. It's cheaper than a Fire TV (see below) but still gets you high end features like 4K streaming, HDR10+ and Dolby Vision.

The Stick 4K has a power cable and is slightly longer than last year's but is easy to plug and play - if you need it at an angle, there's a dongle to help. It gets you access to services including Prime Video, Netflix, HBO, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Disney, Curzon, Plex and more - a very solid selection in both the US and UK.

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 not only do you get a huge range of streaming services, but also full blown Alexa for smart home control.

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, with 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. 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 best robot vacuum cleaner

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

Neato Botvac D6 Connected

$799, Amazon | neatorobotics.com

The D6 Connected essentially gives you the best cleaning Botvac offers, for less money. All it’s missing from the D7 is the upcoming Zone Cleaning feature, but you still get a robot vacuum that cleans well, multiple ways to control your vac and enough battery life to give your house a through clean in one session.

The bigger brush makes it great for pet hair, and it’s light enough to cart around your house. Put simply, it's up there with one of the best robot vacuum cleaners you can get into your home.

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

iRobot Roomba i7+

$949.99, Amazon | irobot.com

The i7+ is arguably one of the smartest robot vacuums out there. Its best feature is its ability to empty out its own bin, which makes maintenance far easier and cleaner. While there are some niggles – like battery life – it makes up for it with top mapping features and fantastic cleaning performance on a host of surfaces.


The best robot lawn mower

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

Husqvarna Automower 450x

$3,495.95, Amazon | husqvarna.com

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.
PROS
  • Elite navigation skills
  • GPS and 3G support
  • Top-level cutting
CONS
  • 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 | arlo.com

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.
PROS
  • Two-way audio
  • Integration with Alexa
  • Temperature and humidity tracking
CONS
  • Not cheap
  • Expensive subscription plans
  • Slight video delays


TAGGED   smart home

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