How Smart Should Your Home Be?

Not every new gadget is worth it. Let us help you decide which ones are and aren't.

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Best Smart Home Devices - illustration of cross-sectioned house
Photo: Samuel Ellison Kalda

When it comes to making your house smart, it's tough to know when to buy, when to hold off, and when to save your money altogether. Our pros go room-by-room for advice about what's worth the investment right now—and what's worth waiting on.

Set Up

No time for wimpy WiFi.

Gadgets are only as good as your WiFi signal: The more smart devices you have, the more robust your WiFi needs to be. "Keep your router out in the open, away from any obstructions," says Joel Crane, a certified wireless network expert. "If you still experience connection issues, then a home mesh WiFi solution (like Eero, Google Wifi ($129;, or Orbi) can fill in the dead spots fairly effortlessly." In a power outage, some battery-operated devices may still function, but smart features won't work if your WiFi is down. When the power comes back on, most devices reconnect automatically but, if not, a quick reset should do it.

Please say a command.

When your hands are full or your phone is out of reach, voice control really brings smart homes to life. Voice assistants (like Amazon Echo and Google Home) are must-haves for any smart home—and with smaller units available for $50 or less, you can position a few throughout your space.

Your phone is your command central.

If a TV that requires two remotes brings you to your knees, you don't want that frustration multiplied in every room of the house. With Apple's HomeKit, Google Assistant, or Amazon's Alexa, you can unify control of third-party products and manage dozens of smart devices with your phone, tablet, and voice. Look for your hub's icon on the packaging. (To date, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa are compatible with thousands of products, while HomeKit connects with over 100 vetted items.)


A Jetsons-style homecoming starts before you even hit the welcome mat. Whether at the front door or through the garage, a few smart gadgets can make your life easier—as long as your WiFi signal is strong enough.


Smart Home Devices: Doorbell
Courtesy of manufacturer

Pros: With a smart doorbell, your phone's screen shows you who's at the door, and you can talk to them even if you're not home. Also, thanks to a fish-eye lens, you can check out your garden while you're out of town.

Cons: Many smart doorbells require existing doorbell wiring, but if you don't have wiring set up, you can use a battery-powered doorbell (like Eufy or Amazon's Ring). There's also an ongoing debate about whether we really want cameras plastered everywhere.

Bottom line: Go for it if you're looking for added security, but it's not a necessity. Call it a "maybe someday" purchase.

Our pick: Eufy's security battery-powered wireless video doorbell offers a good balance of price, image quality, and features. ($200,


Smart Home Devices: Deadbolt

Pros: The right smart lock can be a game changer, letting you open the door without fumbling for keys. Some unlock automatically as you arrive home, and others unlock via a code or a touch of your finger. You can also create temporary codes to allow your dog walker or mother-in-law in when you aren't there.

Cons: To enable certain features (like Alexa), you need to integrate most smart locks with a home hub. While some smart locks connect to the internet via their own WiFi hub, others (like Z-Wave locks) require a separate purchase (like Samsung's SmartThings hub). Most also require replacing your existing deadbolt, which may not be possible if you're a renter.

Bottom line: Once you start unlocking your door by touch, taking out your keys feels archaic and time-consuming. If you access your front door often, this is well worth the money. Of course, the lock can also go on the back door, or the door from the garage—whichever you use most.

Our pick: The Ultraloq U-Bolt Pro, a newcomer to the scene, lets you unlock your door in six ways, including via a fingerprint scanner. ($175;

Alternative: If your landlord won't OK replacing the deadbolt, August's smart lock is a retrofit option that works with your existing hardware. ($230,

Garage Door Opener

Secure View™ Ultra-Quiet Belt Drive Smart Opener with Camera, LED Corner to Corner Lighting™ and Battery Backup
Secure View™ Ultra-Quiet Belt Drive Smart Opener with Camera, LED Corner to Corner Lighting™ and Battery Backup.

Pros: Back in the 1970s and '80s, the remote garage door opener was the gateway to smart home tech. Now you can open the garage from your phone, whether you're in the kitchen or miles away, and LiftMaster has even partnered with Amazon to allow delivery drivers to put packages in your garage. Most importantly, these openers alert you when the door has been opened by someone else.

Cons: If you've never set up a garage door opener, it may be intimidating to start with smart tech. You may need to hire a pro if you're replacing the opener entirely.

Bottom line: If you're the forgetful type—or just enjoy the peace of mind knowing the garage door is closed—this is great tech to have.

Our pick: The Secure View™ smart opener with camera from LiftMaster offers door openers as well as add-on kits for existing garage doors. Pro installation is required. (from $449 plus installation,

Living Room

Smart TVs are now widely available, and you can augment their features with a few other gizmos to create the perfect movie night.

Streaming Set-Top Box

Smart Home Devices: Apple TV
Courtesy of manufacturer

Pros: Standalone streaming boxes are usually better than the smart software built into your TV. They're often faster and easier to navigate, and they continually get software updates for increased efficiency.

Cons: It may be hard to justify the added cost of a box when your TV can already stream your favorite shows. Plus, you have to figure out an attractive setup. (Plugging a box into a wall-mounted TV can be especially tricky.) You still have to pay the monthly subscription fee for HBO, Netflix, or other streaming services.

Bottom line: It's not imperative, but a streaming box can enhance your TV-watching experience, especially if your TV's smart system is slow and clunky, which is often the case with older or lower-cost sets.

Our pick: If you're an Apple household, consider Apple TV ($180, for a familiar interface and easy integration with your other devices. Everyone else can try the Roku Premiere ($40,


Smart Home Devices: Soundbar
Courtesy of manufacturer

Pros: As TVs get thinner and lighter, their speakers are getting smaller (case in point: those 70-inch monsters you have to strain to hear). A soundbar is a compact speaker that raises volume, sharpens sound, and creates more immersive action scenes.

Cons: Soundbars introduce more complexity to your setup. While they're simpler to install than a receiver with individual speakers, you may have to fiddle with cable configurations and settings to get everything working. Plus, unless you have a universal remote, you're stuck with one more clicker.

Bottom line: After you try a soundbar, you'll never go back to relying solely on TV speakers. The clearer dialogue alone makes this a must-have.

Our pick: Vizio has a huge selection of quality soundbars, ranging from 20-inch models to large, multi-speaker surround-sound setups with big subwoofers. We like their 20-inch, 2.0 channel model. ($70,

Smart Shades

Smart Home Devices: Shades
Courtesy of manufacturer

Pros: If you're constantly adjusting the blinds, motorized shades might be worthwhile. You can set them to open and close on a schedule, or control them with your voice using Alexa or Google Assistant. You can even create a single voice command to turn on the TV and lower the blinds at the same time.

Cons: Smart blinds are costly, especially if you need custom sizes and professional installation.

Bottom line: If your blinds are a pain point in your day, smart shades may be worth the price, and may even lower your energy bill.

Our pick: Lutron's Serena system offers a number of styles and colors, along with custom options. (from $350,

Alternative: Ikea's Fyrtur shades are more affordable, though they don't come in as many styles and colors. (from $150,


With the exception of water-saving options, the cost of smart kitchen appliances makes them harder to recommend than gadgets in other areas of the home.


Smart Home Devices: Faucet
Courtesy of manufacturer

Pros: Turn on a smart faucet with a wave of your hand (helping you wash up without spreading germs) or use your voice to dispense a certain amount of water, so you can fill a pot without waiting at the sink.

Cons: High-end smart faucets cost about seven times as much as basic pull-down faucets, and about three times as much as the least expensive hands-free models.

Bottom line: In this age of germ and water-waste sensitivity, this might be one of the best smart home upgrades you can make.

Our pick: Kohler's Malleco touchless model is the one to beat right now. ($270,


Smart Home Devices: Fridge
Courtesy of manufacturer

Pros: High-end models let you check refrigerator contents while you're at the grocery store, glance at your calendar on the door's touchscreen, and control its temperature from your phone (not that you'd ever need to).

Cons: Smart fridges are costly, at least 20 to 30 percent more than regular models. Considering most people don't upgrade their refrigerators on a whim, that's a hard sell.

Bottom line: This should live in the "low priority" category, but if you're renovating your kitchen and in the market for a fancy fridge, you may want to splurge on one with a few smart features.

Our pick: Samsung has a wide variety, from top-of-the-line touchscreen models to mid-range options with basic temperature controls. We like their 28-cubic foot, four-door touchscreen model. ($3510,

Range and Oven

Smart Home Devices: Range
Courtesy of manufacturer

Pros: Some models connect to WiFi, so you can control them with your phone or voice. (Imagine preheating the oven from your lounge chair on the back deck.) You'll even get a phone notification when your meal is ready.

Cons: Safety features often limit the convenience of these products. Having to press a button on the oven before you turn it on with your phone sort of defeats the purpose.

Bottom line: If you do a lot of baking, WiFi connectivity is useful for preheating—but not feasible if you're on a tight budget.

Our pick: Samsung offers a number of gas and electric ranges with WiFi connectivity, such as their 5.9 cubic foot freestanding electric range in stainless steel. ($1800,

Laundry Room

This hardworking space may be small, but it's ripe for smarter tech and WiFi-enabled shortcuts.

Washer and Dryer

Smart Home Devices: Washer and Dryer
Courtesy of manufacturer

Pros: You can start and stop cycles remotely, get notified when the laundry is done, and receive reminders when your appliance needs maintenance (such as filter changes or tub cleaning).

Cons: Upgrading from your current washer and dryer is a costly ($1000-plus) investment.

Bottom line: The notifications are convenient, and if you need a new washer and dryer anyhow, many new models have smart features as standard. But if your current laundry machines work fine, there's no need to upgrade—just use Alexa or Google to set a timer instead.

Our pick: LG is one of the best brands in the laundry sphere, and they have plenty of ThinQ models with Wi-Fi features, such as their 5.8 cubic foot, large-capacity, WiFi-enabled washer ($2000, and 9 cubic foot, large-capacity, smart dryer ($2000,

Robot Vacuum

Smart Home Devices: Vacuum
Courtesy of manufacturer

Pros: While plenty of robot vacuums clean floors, some advanced models come with WiFi, so you can start a cleaning cycle with Alexa and get alerted when the vacuum is stuck or needs its bin emptied. Some even map your house for more reliable cleaning.

Cons: WiFi-connected models aren't always as cheap as serviceable competitors, and only some models can do things like clean a specific room on demand.

Bottom line: Robot vacuums are a godsend, especially if you have kids or pets—and the extra utility you get from the app and voice commands is quite useful when you're running out the door.

Our pick: iRobot has a number of WiFi-connected Roomba models, the most high-end of which have automatic dirt disposal. We like the Roomba 675. ($170,


Good sleep is practically a status symbol—and a few splurges may help you rest and restore better.

Smart Light Bulbs

Smart Home Devices: Light Bulbs
Courtesy of manufacturer

Pros: Controlling lights with an app or voice command is great if your switch is on the other side of the room. Color-changing bulbs let you adjust the color temperature, so you can program sun-mimicking light for waking up and warmer, sleep-friendly light for reading before bed.

Cons: If you have a lot of light fixtures, switching out these bulbs is expensive. Smart switches might be more cost-effective—though they require a more involved setup.

Bottom line: If you're new to a smart home, start here. When coupled with a smart assistant, smart bulbs are incredibly convenient.

Our pick: Philips' White Ambiance bulbs have lots of features—including color-temperature adjustment—and great support from Philips. Try their two-bulb starter kit. ($70,


Smart Home Devices: Thermostat
Courtesy of manufacturer

Pros: Many thermostats are clunky to program, requiring confounding button-pressing sequences. With a smart thermostat, you can set a daily schedule with just a few taps. Some models even learn your habits over time and adjust themselves when you're out of the house. Nest says their systems have saved its customers 10 to 15 percent on their heating and cooling bills.

Cons: Wiring a smart thermostat can be complicated and, depending on your home's climate control system, some thermostats may not be compatible. You can usually check compatibility with different models online. For best results, contact a pro.

Bottom line: If you're picky about your thermostat schedule, a smart model is absolutely worth it.

Our pick: The Nest Thermostat E (from $130) offers the best balance of cost and convenience, though you may need to step up to the higher-priced Nest Learning Thermostat ($250) if your wiring isn't compatible. Visit to find out if the unit will work in your space.


Your bathroom may not be the first place you'd think to bring Alexa, but the right tech can make your morning routine more streamlined and luxurious.

Shower Controller

Smart Home Devices: Shower Controller
Courtesy of manufacturer

Pros: Smart controllers connect to your plumbing to let you manage water temperature or start the shower with your voice.

Cons: These controllers are expensive and usually require professional installation.

Bottom line: If you're looking for a truly deluxe shower setup, a controller like this can be amazing—but the cost is high.

Our pick: Moen's two-outlet controller is easy to use and offers multiple options for different setups. ($790,


Smart Home Devices: Toilet
Courtesy of manufacturer

Pros: WiFi-connected toilets aren't ubiquitous yet, but Kohler has one on the way. Right now, smart toilets consist of seats with warming functions, automatic lids, and bidets.

Cons: High-tech toilet seats aren't cheap. They can also be complex to install, and require an electrical outlet nearby.

Bottom line: Once you've used a high-end bidet, you'll never want to go without one (or worry about hoarding toilet paper).

Our pick: Toto's C100 electronic bidet seat is feature-rich without completely breaking the bank.($430,

Alternative: If your wallet can't handle the full-suite seat, try a retrofit model for your current toilet. It won't heat the seat, warm the water, or do your taxes, but it's under $100. ($50,

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