The Best Smart Home Devices For 2021: From Hubs to Doorbells

Starting your own smart home is no longer a luxury investment that requires professional consulting and white-glove assembly. In fact, let’s say you wanted to completely outfit an entire house with the latest and greatest gadgets. We’re talking a smart speaker that you can talk to, a smart thermostat for on-the-go temperature controls, a smart security system for your peace of mind, and a smart vacuum to clean up the cereal you keep dropping in the kitchen (no one’s perfect). Believe it or not, with a positive attitude and a free weekend day, you could probably build an entire smart home in a few hours.

While installing the hardware is quick and simple now, it’s figuring out what smart tech to purchase that can be a real chore. Not to worry though, for we here at Digital Trends were born to accelerate your every technological investment. For those looking to jump on the smart home wagon, we’ve rounded up some product recommendations to help you get started. Let’s learn more about these top smart devices, and what they can do for you and your home.

1. A voice assistant

Nest Hub Max front view.
John Velasco/Digital Trends

The first thing you’ll want to get is a virtual assistant to help you control your smart devices with just your voice. You can opt for a smart speaker, which only has audio, or you can go with a smart display, which has a touchscreen that lets you visually interact with your assistant as well.

The Amazon Echo is Amazon’s smart speaker that features Alexa, Amazon’s virtual assistant. The Echo 4th Generation has excellent sound quality, so you can clearly hear your playlist from music streaming services like Amazon Music, Apple Music, or iHeart Radio. The redesigned Echo 4 retails for $100, and it comes in charcoal, twilight blue, and glacier white. Amazon’s latest smart speaker also functions as a Zigbee hub, allowing you to control other Zigbee-specific smart home gear, such as lights, locks, and cameras.

If you want a more affordable Echo speaker, the Echo Dot with Clock retails for only $60 and does almost everything the Echo does, except its speakers aren’t quite as powerful (and it doesn’t have a Zigbee hub). The Dot with Clock has an LED display on the front face that can show you the time, the weather, or a timer. You can also go with an Echo Flex, which is a mini Echo that plugs into your wall, and only costs around $25. One of the reasons these gadgets should be on your smart home shopping list is that they work with many of the other products you buy. Alexa responds to short commands that make life easier and more fun. You can set alarms, ask questions, order pizza, shop, play games, and more — just by using your voice. Plus, compatible gadgets let you depend on Alexa to tweak aspects of your smart home by doing things like turning down the thermostat or turning on a light.

If you’d prefer a smart display that has a screen and lets you make video calls, see song lyrics, and watch your security camera and video doorbell feeds, the Echo Show 5 is a great option because it’s even more affordable than a regular Echo speaker. The Show 5 is a compact display, though, and if you’re looking for a larger screen, the upcoming Echo Show 10 may be a better option. Featuring a rotating base that adapts to your movements, Amazon’s latest Show is designed to follow and respond to your face and body, keeping you in frame during video calls.

On the other hand, maybe you’d rather go with a smart speaker not associated with Amazon, but love the easy-to-move design of the Echo Dot. In that case, look no further than the streamlined Nest Mini. The Nest Mini (2nd Gen) has an eco-friendly design, and it comes in chalk, charcoal, a bright coral color, or a bright blue color. Similar in size and shape to the Echo Dot (3rd Gen), the Nest Mini 2 is powered by Google Assistant, which, in many ways, is smarter than Alexa. The multilingual assistant can control your smart devices, create a shopping list, answer questions, and much more. Plus, it connects to oodles of smart home devices for voice control. However, Alexa is compatible with more smart devices.

Want a larger, louder speaker? The Nest Audio is Google’s newest smart speaker. Featuring premium sound, adaptive audio, and an attractive design, you can find Google’s premium smart speaker in chalk, charcoal, sage, sand, and sky. If you want a Google Assistant-powered smart display, we really like the Nest Hub Max. It has a 10-inch display, gesture control, built-in security features, and it even has a built-in Nest Cam.

Check out our picks for the best smart speakers

2. A smart lock

August Smart Lock Pro Review keeps you safe.

When your home has a smart lock, there’s no need to worry about fumbling for your keys when it’s dark or having to leave a key under the mat for a pet sitter. Today’s options install in minutes and give you convenience combined with peace of mind.

We like the August Smart Lock 3rd Generation because it retrofits over your existing deadbolt, making it super-easy to install. You can usually find the 3rd-gen August Smart lock for around $100. Alternatively, we like the Schlage Encode as well. The deadbolt allows users to lock and unlock a door by keypad or voice controls through a compatible Amazon Alexa device.

Check out our picks for the best smart locks

3. A security camera and video doorbell

Netgear Arlo Pro 3 video door bell keeps watch.
Terry Walsh / Digital Trends

Investing in a video doorbell lets you see who’s knocking at the door without getting up from the couch. A security camera can provide added peace of mind too, as most outdoor models allow you to watch the happenings around your house from anywhere, all through an app on your phone. Many provide two-way audio, night vision, and motion alerts as well.

Nest is one of the leading brands in the smart home market and offers both indoor and outdoor security cameras. The Nest Cam Indoor, for example, comes with a magnetic stand and has a speaker, so you can talk to a person or pet even if you’re not nearby.

The Arlo Pro 4 is our favorite camera overall. The lens delivers crisp day and night images, a built-in speaker and microphone for natural two-way audio, and a weatherproof casing. Our favorite video doorbell is the Ring Video Doorbell 3. The bell runs on battery power, detects motion, features two-way audio, and can be customized with the Ring app.

Check out our picks for the best video doorbells, best home security cameras, and best home security systems

4. A thermostat

Ecobee SmartThermostat works with Alexa.

Your heating and cooling system is probably a part of your home you don’t think about too often — until the temperature’s not quite right. A smart thermostat could make climate controls even more integrated into your life.

Our favorite smart thermostat is the Ecobee SmartThermostat. It has Alexa built-in, and it comes with a room sensor to help heat and cool your house more efficiently.

Check out our picks for the best smart thermostats

5. Lightbulbs or switches

Philips Hue light bulbs are smart.

You may already use energy-efficient light bulbs in your home, so installing smart bulbs is the next logical step to take. Besides saving money, they let you customize the way your home looks and even turn lights on and off from another location, as long as you have internet access and the complementing app.

Philips Hue bulbs respond to voice commands and settings changes from your smartphone app. Some bulbs, like Sengled A19 smart bulbs don’t require a hub, which can make it easier (and cheaper) to set up smart lighting in your home.

You don’t have to opt for light bulbs with smart technology to get some “smart” features. Combine regular bulbs with smart light switches instead. With this switch, you can turn lights on and off using voice commands, and you can avoid the trouble of having to switch out smart bulbs. We will say that intelligent light switches can be frustrating because they require some extra legwork for installation. We recommend WeMo’s Smart Light Switch for the most painless installation.

If you install smart plugs around your house, you’ll be able to use your voice to control all of your connected devices. Users love this feature and find it can be extremely handy in different circumstances. This is convenient for holiday decorations when a tree might make it difficult for you to reach the light plug. Using your voice is much easier than risking ornaments falling off as you crawl underneath your tree.

Read more about our picks for best smart light bulbs, best LED light bulbs, and best smart plugs for inside the home

6. A robot vacuum

Image of Roomba i7+ in action.

It might sound like an unnecessary luxury, but we certainly recommend adding a robot vacuum into your cleaning routine based on the time it will save you alone. Like the Ecovacs Deebot Ozmo 950, some of these vacuums have mopping capabilities, too, so you don’t have to break out the sud bucket. Our all-time favorite robot vacuum on the market is the iRobot Roomba s9+. It is the superior robot vacuum thanks to its self-emptying feature and its ability to contain allergens. Plus, it will keep your floors spotless.

Check out our picks for the best robot vacuums

7. Streaming devices

The Fire TV Stick 4K connected to a TV.

Last but not least is the one place in the home where everyone gathers — the TV. When it comes to watching your family’s favorite shows and movies, one of the best smart TV accessories you can net yourself is the incredible and affordable Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K.

Unlike traditional streaming devices, the Fire TV Stick occupies no space on an entertainment center. Instead, it connects directly to a free HDMI input on a flatscreen and is light enough to hang out of the port. Once setup is complete and you’re connected to Wi-Fi, the Fire TV Stick will let you stream movies, shows, and music from a number of popular platforms, including Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Video. And, as the name would indicate, you get to enjoy these flicks and episodes in full UHD resolution (where 4K streaming is available).

Best of all, with a Fire TV Stick, you can include your Alexa-powered Echo speaker for some truly smart workarounds. You know when you’re feeling lazy, and, even though the TV remote is a few feet in front of you, the laze in the air demands you don’t flex an inch to grab it? Well, if your Echo Dot is nearby and there’s a Fire TV Stick plugged into your TV, sink deeper into your couch cocoon, dear friend, for Alexa can execute a number of TV commands that it will obey, including power on/off, volume adjustments, input switching, in-app searches, and more.

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