It may have taken years to become a reality for many of us, but the smart home is now a firmly ensconced feature of modern life as we know it. Once kept at arm’s length and held in dubious suspicion, smart devices — designed, as they are, to turn your home into a smart hub — are more popular than ever. Not surprising, really, given the sheer amount of time we’ve all been spending in our own homes of late. We bet that ten years ago you’d never have thought you could use just your voice to control your central heating, lock your doors and play your music — but, thanks to the ever-shrinking devices in our living spaces, this utopia is now a happy reality.
Affording users a wide variety of supported apps in a compact cylinder the size of a pint glass, the best at-home smart devices on the market today don’t herald in new technology so much as repackage existing ones. But, as the market becomes saturated with technological choice, it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to investing in the best. So we’ve done the hard work for you, and can consequently offer up our curated list of the very best home smart devices. Read on if you’re looking to make life a whole lot simpler…
Best for efficiency: Google Nest Mini
Key features: With a bass that’s two times stronger than the original Mini, this is a smart device to be reckoned with — and at a mere £49, it’s the best bargain you’ll see for quite some time. Made with the planet in mind, its durable fabric top is made from 100% recycled plastic bottles; and its voice recognition is such that you can ask it for help from across the room. As you’d expect, it’ll play all your favourite tunes on demand — just link it up with YouTube or Spotify (and that’s just a start, where the apps are concerned).
Where to put it: Anywhere, really: with colour options that include chalk, charcoal, coral and sky, its softly muted palette will look at home wherever you choose to set it down, depending on which colour you go for. But given its secretarial abilities to keep track of pretty much your entire life, we’d suggest keeping it in the room where you spend the most time. We’d assume that’s the living room, or the kitchen — but you’re the expert there.
What to ask it: What not to ask it would probably give a more concise answer. Ask it anything: and we mean anything. You can ask it to play music from your Spotify, of course: or you can opt for a reading of the latest news, or for a specific playlist: workout, party, you name it. Or if you’ve had enough of the tunes for a while, you can ask it to dim the lights, or to set a timer for anything you choose. You can set an alarm, or check in on your activities for the day. We could go on; but we assume you’ve got the idea.
Google Nest Mini
Best for lighting: Philips Hue
Key features: Undeniably one of the coolest smart home gadgets you can kit out your living space with, smart lighting offers an environmentally-friendly alternative to the classic lightbulb. The Philips Hue has been leading the charge in this arena for years and continues to get better over time. This particular iteration is designed with an integrated LED, and can be controlled with the Bluetooth app and any compatible voice-controlled device. Plus, if you connect to a Philips Hue Bridge, you can set timers, programme light routines and automate your whole smart home lighting set up. Don’t say we don’t try to make your life as easy as possible.
Where to put it: It depends what you think you’ll use it for, really — and in that regard, the opportunities are endless. If you’re thinking of lighting up a party with a wave of cool white light, you might want to position it in the living room (or your party venue of choice); or if you’re thinking more along the lines of a bedside lamp for your bedtime reading, the bedroom might be a more appropriate home.
What to ask it: Would it be too obvious if we said — ‘light up’?
On a more serious note, you can ask it for any sort of light imaginable. For a vibrant set-up, you can ask it for a colour-changing array; if you need it for an efficient, work-oriented purpose, it can highlight a particular feature in your space — or if you simply want to light up the room, it can wash an entire wall with light. It’s your call (literally).
Philips Hue LED Smart Table Lamp
Best for Wifi: Google Nest Wifi
Key features: Well, it covers your whole home. That’s no mean feat — typically, a single router has limited coverage and may get patchier the further away you are from it. Not so, with Nest Wifi. It’ll cover your entire home, maintaining a strong signal throughout — and each of the Nest Wifi points is also a smart speaker with the Google Assistant. Just one wifi point can handle 200 connected devices at any given time, and can stream multiple 4K videos simultaneously; and its advanced security chip keeps your network protected.
Where to put it: Anywhere. Literally, anywhere. That’s the beauty of it. It can reach any point in your house. And don’t fret if your house is somewhat larger than the norm: there’s the option to buy the router itself, and also a point, which works with the router to expand coverage (as well as simultaneously operating as a smart speaker). For 120 square metres, you should be good with a router: for 210, you’d be looking at one router and one point; and for 300 square metres, you may want to go with one router and two points. Regardless of the router/point ratio, though, you can place it anywhere. The result will be the same.
What to ask it: We mentioned that the Nest Wifi point also operates as a smart speaker — and the happy result of this is that you can ask it to do anything that your Google Assistant can do. It’s efficiency exemplified, to put it simply.
Google Nest Wifi
Best for sound quality: Bose Smart Speaker 500
Key features: Sound. But as sound goes, the Bose 500 really takes the audible biscuit. The speaker contains two custom drivers, which point in opposite directions to bounce sound off the walls. The result is a speaker of astonishing power, with the ability to fill any room with unparalleled stereo performance. Its screen demonstrates what’s playing, and its superior voice pickup and built in voice assistants mean it’s attuned (if you will) to your every whim. Plus, with its Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Apple AirPlay 2 compatibility, you can wirelessly stream according to your wants and needs.
Where to put it: Where do you like to listen to music? We’d assume that would be downstairs, in the main living areas — the Bose 500 has got you covered with subtle dinner music, or a vibrant party playlist — but if you’re partial to a shower tune or two, we’re not here to disagree. Just don’t get it wet — this isn’t a speaker to mess around with.
What to ask it: We assume you’ve got the idea that you can ask it to play music — but it doesn’t just ‘play’. It pauses; it shuffles; it offers you a choice of millions of songs and playlists, all on the tip of your tongue. And with Google Assistant and Alexa built in, you can ask it for so much more than just music. This is another smart device that can answer pretty much anything you throw at it.
Bose Smart Speaker 500
Best for working from home: Meeting Owl Pro
Key features: Ok, it’s not cheap. But bear with us: because this could be the answer to all your home working woes. Gone are the days of blurry screens and crackling audio: with the Meeting Owl Pro, you’ll get a 360-degree camera, mic and speaker in one. It creates an unshakeable illusion of in-person participation in meetings; and if you’re thinking you’ve already got several perfectly good conferencing platforms — it’ll integrate seamlessly with those. With a 1080p camera, tri-speaker and smart mics that equalise your speaking volume, it’ll be as if you’re in the room with your colleagues.
Where to put it: Where do you work? This is one to stay firmly on your desk — set it up, and let it become that working-from-home staple that you can’t cope without. After your first meeting, you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it.
What to ask it: Well, it’s not so much about what you ask the Owl — it’s more about what you’ll ask your colleagues (or whoever you’re using the Owl to meet). With its automatic zoom that responds to whoever’s speaking at a given moment, you’ll be able to ask your colleagues anything — no more fears about dodgy audio.
Meeting Owl Pro
Best for socialising: Google Nest Hello
Key features: Now that we can finally wander freely in and out of each other’s houses again (a bizarre novelty, if ever there was one), the Nest Hello doorbell is the indispensable smart device you need when it comes to welcoming your friends into your home this summer. It even sounds friendly, doesn’t it? Its HD video means you can see exactly who’s there, at any time — and the picture is just as crisp and clear at night.
Of course, its uses extend beyond welcoming people in — it may be that privacy and security are on your mind, in which case Nest Hello will give you all the information you need. Its 24/7 streaming means you can check in at any time, and its three hour snapshot history means you can scroll back in time, if you’ve got any concerns regarding dubious activity on your doorstep.
Where to put it: We’d be mildly concerned if you put it anywhere other than by your front door, to be honest. But it’s not for us to interfere in a gentleman’s home life…
What to ask it: Again, this is more about what you’ll ask the people on your doorstep. Noise and echo cancellation mean your visitors voices will come through clear as a bell (if you’ll allow us to make the overly obvious comparison); and if you can’t answer, you’ll have the option to leave a range of pre-recorded messages. And thanks to its WiFi connectivity, you’ll be able to see who’s calling round even when you’re not at home — assuming you’ve got it set up on your phone, of course — so you could say you’ll be an omniscient (if not omnipresent) host. Who could say fairer than that?
Google Nest Hello