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When 3OH!3 singer Nathaniel Motte and his wife moved into their new home in Los Angeles a few years ago, the first thing they did was look for a new couch. The second thing was to start making a couple of upgrades to their 1920s-era Spanish-style abode.
Motte, who recently co-wrote the platinum single “Lights Down Low” for pop singer MAX, started by converting the garage into a home studio, while wife Liz Trinnear (a reporter for Canadian entertainment news show, eTalk), spent hours online sourcing furniture. The final task: turning their new home into a smart home, by outfitting their space with a home automation system that would sync their entertainment, lighting, climate and security devices into one singular hub.
While millions of people are familiar with Google Home and Amazon’s roster of Alexa-enabled devices, smart devices now include everything from light bulbs to televisions to smart thermostats. They let users monitor usage and control settings – even if they’re not at home. Most don’t even need a virtual assistant like Alexa; just a phone or tablet, and a reliable WiFi signal will suffice.
“These devices are very convenient,” Motte says. “They allow you to instantly access what you want to do from one location, like your phone, which these days seems to always be around.”
Adds the self-professed ‘tech geek’, “I don’t use Alexa or Google Home, actually. We route our current accessories through Apple HomeKit, if they are compatible, and if not, we access the controls through their independent applications in iOS.”
While Motte has decked out his pad with everything from a Sonos surround sound system to a smart sprinkler system (“It adapts to the current and forthcoming weather conditions so that you are environmentally responsible and don’t waste water,” he says, “Something very important, especially in California”), you don’t need a ton of fancy gadgets to get started on streamlining your space.
Ready to set up your smart home? Here are five, easy-to-install devices every smart home should have.
1. Amazon Echo Dot (4th Generation)
When it comes to smart speakers, you can’t go wrong with the Amazon Echo. A hands-free speaker that you control with your voice, the newest model of the Echo also delivers on audio too, with Dolby-powered technology that delivers crisp highs and deep bass for crystal clear 360° audio.
Use voice commands to ask Alexa for the weather, to read you the news, for directions, or to ask a “how to” question (I.e. “Alexa, how long does it take to cook a steak medium rare?”) Pair it with your favorite music streaming service and ask Alexa to set a playlist or to call up your favorite song.
What we like: though you can control your smart home devices using your phone, we like setting the Echo as your main smart home hub so you can control hundreds of devices with your voice, from locking the doors to turning off the lights at night.
2. Philips Hue Smart Light Bulbs
There’s nothing worse than coming home to a dark room, especially if your hands are full and you have to fumble for the lights. A smart light bulb will change all that, letting you use your voice to ask Alexa to turn the lights on, so you’re never caught in the dark. You can also brighten and dim the lights, or set them on a timer via your phone.
Philips Hue is the biggest brand out there when it comes to smart light bulbs. Motte says he likes using his Philips Hue bulbs “to easily create scenes and moods for spaces, as well as setting regular scheduled lighting scenes.” It comes in handy when you want mood lighting for a party, say, or when you need to unwind and relax.
Smart bulbs also come in handy when you’re away from home. Pair the lights with your phone and easily turn them on and off, to keep noisy neighbors and intruders at bay. Or set them on a timer, so a “night light” comes on every evening, even when you’re not home.
What we like: Philips says its bulbs last more than 25,000 hours (or approximately 23 years with normal use). Installation is as simple as screwing in your smart bulb like you would a regular bulb. Once you’ve gotten the hang on it, pick up a couple of accessories, like a Hue Dimmer Switch or Hue Motion Sensor to really enhance your lighting set-up.
3. Ring WiFi Enabled Video Doorbell
As someone who’s constantly touring and traveling, Motte found it a no-brainer to install a Ring Video Doorbell. Pair it with your WiFi to answer the door remotely, or to communicate with visitors via the built-in microphone and two-way talk. The Ring will also send alerts to your phone when someone comes to your door — great for keeping track of packages, or to detect unexpected activity.
What we like: the Ring Doorbell streams video in 1080p HD so you can clearly see who’s approaching the door. At night, infrared night vision keeps things visible even when it’s dark out. Says Motte, “It’s great to be able to check in on the house with the Ring system when traveling, or if you just want to get a real-time video view of what your house is looking like when you’re far from home and missing it.”
This works best when paired with a Smart Door Lock (like this well-reviewed one from August), so you can automatically lock and unlock your door from your phone. It’s great for when you’re pulling up to the house with an armful of groceries, and don’t want to fumble with the keys. Another bonus? You can check your phone to see if you locked the door when you leave for the day (if not, swipe to lock), so you never have to worry about leaving the door unlocked again.
4. Nest Smart Thermostat
The best-selling Nest Thermostat lets you control your home’s temperature from your phone or voice assistant (“Alexa, turn down the heat”), making it a great accessory to help you save energy – and save money on your heating and cooling bills. Left the house in a hurry without turning down the heat? Load up the Nest app on your phone and adjust the settings to your desired temps. Before you head home for the night, turn up the heat again so you don’t arrive to an unexpectedly frigid space.
Nest’s easy-to-read display lights up with a leaf icon when you’re choosing a temperature on an energy-efficient setting. The Nest Learning Thermostat is the first thermostat to get ENERGY STAR certified, which means it has shown “demonstrated energy savings and environmental benefits as well as reliable performance and convenience, insight and control.”
5. Hisense Smart TV with Alexa
There’s never been a better time to pick up a Smart TV, which lets you use your voice to change channels, control volume, switch between inputs and more. Hisense Android Smart Ultra HD TV has more than 2,000 solid reviews online, with users praising its 4K 1080p HD picture quality and its super-fast Auto Low Latency Mode for reliable and quick gaming responsiveness.
This model has Google Assistant built right in, which puts all your apps, channels and streaming services on one menu. You can also manage daily tasks, check your calendar, or look up the weather. Connect an HD antenna and you can toggle between live TV and streaming with a simple swipe of the included remote, or a voice command.
This Hisense TV includes multiple input/output options, a USB socket, and added Chromecast to stream from your phone, tablet, or laptop to your TV in an instant.