Smart home tech is nothing new — hobbyists have been geeking out over home automation for decades now — but in recent years, it’s marched closer to the mainstream than ever before. High-profile connected home gadgets like the Amazon Echo, the Nest Learning Thermostat and the Ring Video Doorbell have all become breakout hits by offering attractive designs and tangible benefits, many of them at prices that aren’t unreasonably high.
The result? A mainstream smart home market with an awful lot of momentum. A recent study from GfK found that over half of US households now include at least one smart home gadget — over a third of them include two or more.
Of course, that leaves about half of us who still haven’t bought in. Many might be put off at the thought of connecting everything under their roof and sharing data picked up by sensors, security cameras and microphones with Silicon Valley — but with a wide variety of smart devices available in your local hardware store, others simply might not know where to start. To that end, here’s a look at how to answer a not-so-simple question: Which smart home product should you buy first?
Plan for a purpose-driven smart home
To figure out what you want, think about the things you do at home on a daily basis and look for improvements that you’d find meaningful. Do you tend to wander from room to room before bed turning off lights that the kids left on? Smart bulbs that you can turn off with a single voice command or tap on your phone might make sense. Do you shop online a lot, and worry about thieves stealing packages off your porch while you’re at work? A video doorbell with a feed you can view remotely might be a good fit.
Ponder your platform options
Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each of those options can go a long way toward helping you build out a smart home setup that makes sense for you, particularly if you’re planning on using multiple types of gadgets. The smart home is just better when things work together.
That said, most devices offer their own, dedicated apps and controls, and can be used independent of any broader platforms right out of the box. That means that you don’t necessarily need to make any commitments right away. On top of that, a growing number of products support multiple platforms — starting with smart devices like those can help you keep your options open if you’re undecided for now. Here are a few quick suggestions that fit the bill:
I’d also add that if you have any interest in voice controls, then starting off with either an Amazon Echo Dot or a Google Home Mini is one of the smart home’s biggest no-brainers. Even if you ignore the smart home integrations that let Alexa or the Google Assistant control things like lights and thermostats, each device is arguably worth the $50 asking price for the voice-activated music, podcasts, news headlines and cooking timers alone.
Do your homework
But hey, that’s where we come in! Our product reviews, best-of lists, buying guides, how-to content, explainer posts and featured dispatches from the CNET Smart Home are all aimed at helping you understand what a more connected living space has to offer (and where it falls short). If you’re looking for ideas as to how you might put a smarter home to work, we’ll help you brainstorm. If you’re stuck trying decide between two seemingly identical gadgets, we can help with that, too. If you want to dive deeper into privacy and security concerns before buying in, we’ve got you covered.
Bottom line: There’s never been a better time to try your hand at home automation. Explore your options, and you’ll find plenty of ways to start your smart home off right.