It’s 2021, and despite all the adversities that brings, there are still some bright spots in this technological era.
We’re still shy of the “Smart House” envisioned by the Disney channel original movie by the same name. But there are numerous conveniences available, if you’re willing to spend the time setting them up.
Here is my guide to making your home smart with the Internet of Things.
Back in “the old days”, you might have five, or even ten internet connected devices on your local wireless network. With the rise of smart phones, you can easily double that number.
But once you start adding internet-connected smart-devices? You can double that number again. And you’re going to need a router to handle it.
Netgear Orbi RBK852
In my experience, the best routers to handle this typically use a mesh network. Something like Netgear’s Orbi system. This way, no matter where your device is in your home, it has a good connection. The RBK852 is pricey. But it’s basically bulletproof. With new WiFi 6 capability, you’re getting as close to full gigabit speeds over WiFi as any system on the market.
Alternative: Google Nest Wifi
This is much cheaper mesh system. While you will notice a slight decrease in speed, the lower price point makes it more feasible for many buyers.
The next thing you need is a hub; something to keep your network of disparate devices connected. Two leaders emerge: Amazon’s Echo devices, or Google Home.
This will become your hub. From here, you can execute voice commands to turn on lights, lock doors, or change the temperature on your thermostat.
Alternative: Apple Homekit
I’m deep down the Apple ecosystem, but I ran into several problems with Apple Homekit. The worst is that it won’t integrate with my thermostat. According to the manufacturer, Apple Homekit requires them to install a special chip into the device. And since mine is a professional-grade model (bad upgrade call on my part), there’s no way to use it. That’s a non-starter for me.
Avoid: Amazon’s Alexa
I used to own predominantly Amazon based devices, but I’ve moved away for several reasons. The first is privacy concerns with Amazon’s new “mesh” network. And second, because they turned off the whole-house music setup. While I had used this feature previously, their customer support rep informed me it was no longer available with that package. And if there’s anything I despise, it’s a company that eliminates features after you’ve purchased.
Google’s Nest Thermostat
I had a Google Nest Learning Thermostat with my old HVAC system and loved it. One of the best features in my opinion is its Hot and Cold setting. For those spring days when it’s hot enough to run the AC in the day, but cold enough at night for the Heat. the Nest system does a great job setting a min and max, and knowing which system to turn on.
I actually have to use a Honeywell thermostat, and not one of the standard ones you’ve heard of. My HVAC requires the professional installer option. But their main product line is well respected.
I don’t use these. Though I hear great things for people with large lawns.
Kasa by TP-Link — Switches and Plugs
When I moved into my town home, I went ahead and pulled the trigger on re-wiring all the electrical switches to smart switches. For this, I chose Kasa by TP-Link.
There are many benefits of the Kasa ecosystem, but the biggest benefit for me was the 3-way switch. This is where two switches control the same light, often from opposite sides of the room. Or, in my case, one switch at the top of the stairs and one switch at the bottom.
Additionally, I have Kasa plugs for lamps that I’d like to turn on and off selectively. I keep one handy for the Christmas Tree every winter.
Somewhat kidding here, but once you can crawl into bed and tell Google to turn off all lights, without having to roam the house looking for every single switch? You’ll never go back.
Philips Hue — Multi-color Bulbs
I like to have some accent lights in addition to my bright white bulbs. That’s where Philips Hue comes in. Their Hue Bloom devices allow you to choose any color of the rainbow, and tune it to your exact specifications.
I can also tie this in with things like timers to give me a flashing red light as a visual que to let me know the timer is done.
I’ve used Apple TV for nearly five years now. And while it hasn’t changed much in that time, some would consider that a plus. The interface has improved. They recently released a new remote. But the set-top box has mostly remained constant.
Apple TV allows you to watch just about any streaming platform, including Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, HBO, and Peacock.
Alternative: Google Chromecast
Safety and Security
I currently own the Arlo Ultra setup as well as the Arlo Doorbell. And while it is my primary recommendation for security, I have a couple issues:
- When I originally bought the Pro 2 system, there was free 7-day cloud storage. With the Ultra and all newer models, you are required to pay for their service in order to access your videos remotely, even if you store them on the local hub.
- The Arlo product line is becoming seriously fragmented. At the time of writing, when I go to their site to purchase a camera, I am presented with Ultra 2, Pro 4, Pro 3, or Essential cameras. Which one is right for me? I have absolutely no idea. I’m guessing most people don’t know either.
Although Eufy recently had a significant bug expose many of their users videos, they still provide solid hardware, and at a lower price point than the Arlo system.
I used to have a Ring doorbell when they were the only game in town. The issue is Ring’s lack of transparency in turning over video footage to Law Enforcement Agencies. I avoid this at all costs.
August Smart Lock
August smart lock is one of the top reviewed smart locks, period. When you add the August Connect system, you can lock and unlock your home from any location. This is incredibly helpful for opening your home to cleaning services or contractors while you’re at work, etc.
Another perk of a smart lock is integration with my home hub. When I say, “Okay Google, Goodnight” Google automatically checks my door lock, and either tells me it is already locked, or goes ahead and locks it.
Nest Smoke and CO2 Detectors
You need smoke detectors in your home. You need carbon monoxide detectors in your home. The price for “dumb” versions of these devices can be significant. For a small additional cost, why not go ahead and get them internet connected?
Having connected devices doesn’t stop a fire. But they give me earlier warning when I’m traveling or away from the house. For peace of mind, there’s nothing better than the Nest Smoke and C02 Detectors.
Garage Door Openers
I can’t say much here as I haven’t personally set this up yet. But MyQ offers a separate device that should easily connect to your existing garage door opener.
Health and Fitness
Apple Health, while not technically an Internet of Things device, is the centralized location that I use to gather and review all my IoT generated data. Here, I can collect my daily weight and BMI (via Bluetooth scale), my blood pressure (via Omron blood pressure cuff), my heart rate (via Apple Watch), and more.
Most doctors don’t yet have the tools or the mindset to make use of this aggregated data. But one day, hopefully soon, they will. Apple is especially aware of the potential here, even pushing studies to see if the Apple Watch can use your pulse data to detect signs of Covid-19 before symptoms arise.
Alternatives: Samsung Health or Google Fit
I haven’t personally used either of these and can’t recommend them either way. Just a jumping off point if you’re not into the Apple Ecosystem.
If you’re using Apple Health, it just makes sense that you’re using an Apple Watch. I am personally still back on the Series 5 which includes standard heart rate monitoring and ECG functionality. The Series 6, currently available, also measures blood oxygenation. This is pretty handy as it reduces the need for an additional, bulky device like a Bluetooth ring pulse oximeter.
Rumors for the Series 7 include possible blood glucose monitoring. The addition of a non-invasive measurement tool could be life changing for many diabetics. And, if you’re into the ultra-measuring lifestyle of Tim Ferris, could also help many people looking to lose weight.
Omron Bluetooth Blood Pressure Cuff
You can find a wide variety of blood pressure cuffs available online. But in my experience the Omron brand is one of the best. Their devices wirelessly sync with the app on your phone which is able to connect to, you guessed it, Apple Health. It’s just one more step towards total health monitoring.
Kinsa Smart Thermometer
I’ve got several reasons why I like this smart, Bluetooth thermometer.
- The built in app syncs to Apple Health and allows me to track my temperature over time.
- Kinsa’s anonymized data system allows you to see an aggregate of the health of a population across the United States. Kinsa was actually able to identify local Covid outbreaks prior to major symptoms by observing the increasing temperature checks by Kinsa users.
One of the hottest home-health items during the Covid-19 pandemic lock down has been the Peloton Bike. After a huge wave of orders, Peloton used the interest to launch their updated Bike+ product.
You can connect your Peloton heart rate monitor for better workout tracking. Newer Bike+ models allow you to sync your Apple Watch, rather than a dedicated heart rate monitor.
Another selling point for Peloton is the included subscription. When you’re not riding the bike, you also have access to floor and strength workouts, as well as foam rolling and stretching. I can play these on the Bike itself, or, much more conveniently, on my Apple TV.
All of this gets synced to the Peloton Digital app, and can sync with Apple Health.
Smart Scale — Renpho
The brand for your smart scale really isn’t important, in my opinion. The RENPHO Bluetooth Body Fat Scale is $29.99, a price that is hard to beat. The key here is the ease with which you can step on, measure, sync, and continue with your day. It eliminates the need to manually enter daily weight. And it does basic BMI calculations. Which some take issue with BMI, and it is true that this scale will not actually measure circumference, the electrical impulses which it uses should get you in the ballpark.
HidrateSpark STEEL — Bluetooth Water Bottle
Okay, this might be the silliest product in the entire list. But if you’re looking to track your water intake and are willing to regularly charge and drink only from this water bottle? It does what it promises.
I get regular reminders to drink water, both via push notifications and flashing lights on the bottle itself.
Oral-B Electric Toothbrush
Some number out of some group of dentists agree that electric toothbrushes clean better.
I’m still using my original series 7000 from 2017, but the latest and greatest is the Series 9. All the Oral-B models have wireless charging and replaceable brush heads (though the old series X000 model heads and the new Series 7,8, 9 model heads are not compatible).
In addition to cleaning better, all this data goes into my Apple Health for a fuller, more complete picture.
Alternative: Philips Sonicare
PetSafe Interior and Exterior Cat Door
Full disclosure, I haven’t purchased this yet. It’s on my wish list. Right now, I have to manually lock and unlock the cat door. But the benefit for this kind of door is that it doesn’t require your pet to wear a special collar. Instead, this door uses your pet’s pre-injected microchip. It can however, use the included key fob.
PetSafe Automatic Food Dispenser
This is great for traveling, or just to keep the pet from waking you up every morning wanting to be fed. It’s wifi-connected system allows you to schedule the amount and time of day you want to feed your pet.
Furbo Treat Dispenser
This one goes above and beyond, but who doesn’t do that for their pets?
This differs from the above food dispenser in that you can use the video camera to see your pet, and then dispense a special treat. Especially handy when you’re at work.
On the Go
As you’ve probably guessed, I’m big into the Apple Ecosystem. Which means that the AirTags were a no-brainer for me. These small, coin-sized devices allow me to track the location of virtually anything: backpack, keys, luggage, etc.
Additionally, they are powered by easily replaceable CR2032 coin batteries which you can pickup in multi-packs anytime your battery starts to get lower.
Alternative: Tile Tracker
I’ve been a Tile user since 2014 when I took a trip and someone took my suitcase (accidentally, they claimed) from the baggage claim. After that, being able to track my luggage brought a definite benefit. Recently, Tile was finally able to upgrade its trackers to use the CR2032 coin batteries, rather than forcing you to throw away the entire tracker when the battery ran out.
I see two major benefits with Apple AirTags vs Tile Trackers:
- Apple AirTags let you leverage the entire Apple FindMy network. That means that every Apple iPhone helps you find your stuff. Compare this to Tile Trackers which require someone to have the Tile app on their phone and have given that app location permission always.
- Apple AirTags also leverage Ultra Wideband technology. This means that you get more than a generalized area in which to search. Instead, you get precision directions that guide you toward the location of your AirTag.
And, if you’re convinced on the tech, but are still an Android user? There’s an app scheduled for later this year that should bring much of this same functionality to Android devices.