A top smart home is simply the sum of its parts, so if you’re looking to build the perfect connected home, you’re going to want some brilliant devices.
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, check out our guide to the best cheap smart home tech.
Amazon Echo 2
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, which is still our chosen assistant. Alexa is reliable, if 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 smaller and 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, 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 them 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.
- Alexa is brilliant
- Affordable all-rounder
- Improved design
- Rivals sound better
- Still doesn't look chic
- Competition from other Echo devices
Nest Learning Thermostat
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, but sadly no HomeKit functionality as yet.
- Learning - so less manual input
- Works with Nest and more
- Hot water & cooling options too
- No zone support
- Quite expensive
- No HomeKit options
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 really 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 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
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.
- Alexa and Google Assistant on board
- Easy to use Kasa app
- Power consumption details
- Bulky(ish) design
- Bright light is annoying
- No cost monitoring
Nest Cam IQ Indoor
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, as you get with other cameras. 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 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.
- Full Nest ecosystem integration
- HDR close-up tracking
- Facial recognition
- Expensive cloud plan
- Quite a bulky design
- Mains only – no wireless option
Amazon Fire TV
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".
- Fantastic range of content
- Alexa smarts built in
- Can be controlled with Echo speaker
- Odd design
- Prime is another cost
- No Dolby Vision
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.
- 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
August Smart Lock Pro + Connect
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.
- Feature heavy - mobile app keys
- Works with everything
- Easy to self-install
- Quite expensive
- Big on features
Ring Video Doorbell 2
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.
- Easy to install
- Removable battery
- 1080p streaming
- Bit of a bulky design
- No Ethernet option
- Cloud storage costs extra