How To Make Your Home A Smart Home

Published: 02/03/2021

Smart home technology has shot up in popularity over the last few years, and has come a long way since its introduction to the market. Once a luxury enjoyed solely by the super rich, these nifty, almost futuristic-like gadgets have dropped in price considerably, making them more accessible than ever before. Gone are the days of pining over these devices while watching aspirational reality shows like MTV Cribs or techno-thrillers like Panic Room, as now we can all get our hands on these innovative tech upgrades, regardless of budget. 

To help you navigate this dynamic new world, we’ve put together this helpful buyer’s guide. It features a few ideas to get you started before exploring some of the best smart home devices on the market today. Let’s get started!


Why go smart?

smart home

One way you can benefit from investing in smart home technology is the increased control you get over your home. With a smart home system in place, you can issue precise commands to common household appliances with your voice in seconds. Not only is this more efficient and cool, but it's a great idea if you’re prone to losing remote controls.

You can even use your smart home system to save those all-important pennies by improving your energy efficiency. With a set of self-monitoring, self-adjusting smart home devices running your heating and lighting, you can save a lot of cash on your energy bills over time. Not only that, you can also enhance your home security with these nifty gadgets. With a variety of smart home gadgets like security cameras, remote-activated locks and intelligent doorbells, you can turn your humble home into a technological fortress that will keep you safe from all kinds of threats.

Smart by name (and by nature!), these are just some of the many reasons why you should consider upgrading your home with these nifty gadgets. If the above hasn’t quite convinced you, get a load of this: many smart home devices use a system called If This Then That (IFTTT) that lets you customise your smart home system to suit you. With IFTTT, when one of your smart home gadgets completes an action, it acts as the trigger for a different device to complete another. All this is done through tiny customisable programs called applets. For example, you can create an applet that ties your smart home hub to your smart lighting system so that when a timer completes, the lights in your home change colour to alert you. With IFTTT and the right smart home technology, the possibilities are truly endless!


Which is better, Amazon Alexa or Google Nest?

Which is better, Amazon Alexa or Google Nest?

As with most tech categories, you have a wide range of smart home devices to choose from, with each manufacturer trying to outdo the other in order to attract customers. To work effectively in your home, smart devices need to be connected to a single smart assistant, and there are two frontrunners in the market right now: Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. 

So, which is better? Well, as with almost all tech-based choices, it depends on how you want to use your smart home technology. If you’re only interested in a dedicated smart home manager, then Amazon Alexa is the better bet. That’s because substantially more smart home devices are compatible with Alexa than with Google Nest (previously called Google Home). 

Don’t count Google out just yet, though, because their smart assistant is likely to be far more integrated with your life than Alexa is. If you own an Android smartphone, you’re already carrying the voice activated controller for the Google Nest with you wherever you go. In this case, it’ll be much easier to sync your smart home technology with the rest of your life if you go with Google. For example, you can sync your Gmail calendar with Google Nest and get audio notifications wherever you are in the house. Plus, Google Nest has the world’s biggest search engine at its beck and call. Ask Google Nest a random question and it will give the answer in much more than Alexa typically will.

Whichever assistant you choose, you’ll need to make sure that all of your new smart home gadgets are compatible with it. You don’t want to unwrap a new smart security camera only to find out it won’t connect with the rest of your system! To help you out, we’ve made a compatibility note on each of the product entries on this list. Now, let’s bring on the smart home devices!


Smart home speakers and hubs

Smart home speakers and hubs

Smart home speakers and hubs act as the command centre of your new intelligent home. They tie all of the enabled devices together into a single cohesive unit. Once you’ve connected all your smart devices to them, it’s simple to get them to do exactly what you want. Smart speakers are relatively self-explanatory, while smart hubs feature a screen that lets you watch media or make voice calls, as well as issue commands to your smart home gadgets.

These devices start listening to everything you say after you say the right command phrase. If you’re concerned about your smart device listening in on all your most private conversations, don’t fret: almost all smart speakers and hubs come with a visual sign to let you know it’s active, which can vary from on-screen indicators to blinking coloured lights. Additionally, most come with a physical mute button, which completely deactivates the microphone until you manually turn it back on again. 

Still unsure what to go for? Take a look at our line-up of the top five smart speakers and hubs you can find on the market right now to make your choice even easier.

Amazon Echo 4th Generation

Amazon Echo 4th Generation

Compatibility: Amazon Alexa

Amazon’s Echo Dot series has gone through a lot of permutations since its original release back in 2016, morphing from an unsightly plastic disk into the spherical design you see here. The new round shape isn’t just an aesthetic choice, it allows the Amazon Echo to work as an omnidirectional speaker. And it’s a fairly great speaker at that, with two 20mm front-firing speakers and a 76mm woofer that provides a surprisingly effective bass response for such a small speaker. It won’t hold a candle to the more expensive speakers on this list, but it’s perfectly suited to podcasts, audiobooks and a quick dance in your kitchen.

Google Nest Mini

Google Nest Mini

Compatibility: Google Nest

The Google Nest Mini is the smallest and cheapest smart speaker around. It’s a great choice if you want access to smart home features on a budget or if you want a smart speaker in every room of your house without blowing your budget.

Its low cost comes with a drawback in the sound department, though: It’s notably less impressive than the Amazon Echo, and is blown out of the water by some of the other speakers on this list.

Amazon Echo Show

Amazon Echo Show

Compatibility: Amazon Alexa

Amazon’s answer to the smart home hub is the Echo Show series. In this collection, there are three screen sizes to choose from: 5”, 8” and 10”. All three have touch screen controls and a front facing camera that lets you participate in video calls. 

The Echo Show 10 is by far the best, with a rotating stand that can pivot and follow you around the room, but it is the most expensive. On the other end of the scale, the Echo Show 5 is the cheap and cheerful option, although its screen might not be large enough to be practical. The Echo Show 8 is a compromise between both, and is our favourite pick of the bunch for most users.

Google Nest Max

Google Nest Max

Compatibility: Google Home Nest

Unlike Amazon’s offering, we can only recommend one of the smart home hubs made by Google - the Google Nest Max. This is because the regular Google Nest Hub lacks a front facing camera, which is a strange absence for such a useful feature. 

That said, the Google Nest Max is a firm competitor to the Amazon Echo Show, and even trumps it in a few areas. With integration with Google Photos, it doubles as a digital photo frame, meaning it’s ideal for use in the living room. Another bonus is the fully-functional Youtube app, which gives you access to thousands of instructional videos - offering hands-free help in the kitchen for all you budding home cooks!

Panasonic GA10 Smart Speaker

Panasonic GA10 Smart Speaker

Compatibility: Google Nest

We’re finished with the products made by Amazon and Google for the moment - let’s see what other tech companies have to offer! First up is this excellent GA-10 Smart Speaker from Panasonic. The Panasonic has Google Assistant already built in, rather than simply allowing a connection to it, so you can use it as a control nexus if you want.

This speaker’s metallic base and fabric cover look amazing, and they hide powerful audio equipment inside. A pair of offset soft dome speakers sit on top of a muscular 8cm woofer. These speakers have custom diffusers that spread the sound around, so even though it’s only a single speaker, it will fill an entire room with rich, detailed sound. 

Its asking price is much higher than either the Google Nest Mini or the Amazon Echo and it’s only compatible with Google smart home controls, but if you’re looking for a fantastic Bluetooth speaker that can control your smart home, you’ll find the Panasonic GA10 is one of the best smart devices around!


Smart Security

Smart Security

You should always feel safe in your home, and the following smart devices can ensure exactly that! Many home security cameras and alarms are compatible with smart home technology, and we’ve included some of the best here.

Yale Sync Smart Home Alarm Kit

Yale Sync Smart Home Alarm Kit

Compatibility: Amazon Alexa, Google Nest

The Yale Sync Smart Home Alarm Kit is a fully-functional burglar alarm, containing everything you need to detect intruders in your home. But unlike a traditional alarm system, this one can fit into your smart home system. You can arm and disarm the system or check if you’ve left any doors open remotely.

With a massive 200m range and a piercingly loud 100 decibel alarm system, you can protect your whole house with this awesome smart home device. Thanks to its long-lasting battery lift, it will keep your home safe even through a power cut.

August Pro Smart Lock

August Pro Smart Lock

Compatibility: Amazon Alexa, Google Nest

The August Pro Smart Lock is both part of a smart home system and an ordinary key lock! This device is reassuringly bulky and heavy thanks to its solid aluminum construction. Rather than replacing your existing deadbolt, it fits onto the inside of your front door’s single cylinder deadbolt. This makes for an easy installation and means you can still keep your keys. 

This gadget is especially useful for those of us prone to leaving our keys at home. With the August Pro Smart Lock, your phone becomes your spare key, letting you lock (or unlock) it automatically. If you want to use it in a smart home setup, you’ll need to purchase a version with the Connect accessory, which is how it connects to your smart home management system. Once this simple setup process is complete, you can unlock or lock the door with just your voice, as well as having your smart home system read aloud the status of your door and any activity at your front door.

Ring Spotlight Camera

Ring Spotlight Camera

If you want your own eagle eye watching over your home while you’re away, the Ring Spotlight Camera is a brilliant choice. This awesome camera has a built in motion detection system, which automatically starts recording as soon as someone walks within sensor range. 

You can also activate a Live Viewing mode, which streams footage to your PC, smart home devices or mobile device at any time, no matter how far away you are from home. Built-in spotlights and an infrared recording mode allow you to see unexpected visitors clearly, even at night. So what’s the downside? In a word, subscription. In order to get the most out of this smart home technology, you’ll need to pay a monthly subscription to Ring’s Protect service.

The Ring Spotlight Cam supports both Amazon Alexa and Google Nest, to a degree. Unlike other security system products in our guide for buyers, Ring is owned by Amazon. As Google Nest is a direct competitor to Amazon’s Alexa ecosystem, you won’t have access to the same functionality with Google Nest as you would with an Alexa system. The biggest difference is that you can’t stream video from the camera to your Google Nest Max or any other ChromeCast devices, only your phone. This is a pretty important feature for a security camera, so if you’re set on using a Google Nest device, you might want to consider another security system.

Anker Eufycam

Anker Eufycam

Compatibility: Amazon Alexa, Google Nest

The main competition for a quality home surveillance camera comes from the Anker Eufycam. This little surveillance camera has plenty of strengths and weaknesses compared to the Ring Cam. 

The first is that you don’t need to worry about playing for an extra cloud service. All of its features are available right out of the box and, rather than storing footage in the cloud, all captured video is streamed directly to the Homebase storage accessory that’s included in the box. The Homebase sits inside your home, so there’s no risk of it being stolen by opportunistic thieves caught on camera. With 16 GB of total storage, there’s enough space for about a month’s worth of clips at a time.

Another advantage the Anker Eufycam possesses is its IP67 weather proofing standard, which gives it additional protection against moisture versus the Ring Spotlight’s IP65. It can also be controlled just as efficiently with a Google Nest setup as with Amazon Alexa.

However, the Anker Eufycam is less flexible than the Ring Spotlight when it comes to recording. There’s no 24/7 surveillance option and you can’t stream the camera’s video directly to your phone from outside of your house, either.

Ring Doorbell

Ring Doorbell

Compatibility: Fully compatible with Amazon Alexa, limited compatibility with Google Nest

If you’re looking for something a little more discreet, take a look at the Ring Doorbell. These inconspicuous smart home gadgets replace your ordinary doorbell with a little camera. When someone presses the ring button, a chime will sound and a live feed will appear on any connected screen. You can also set this device to start streaming when it detects motion as well. 

As a Ring device, the Ring Doorbell suffers from the same problems as the Ring Spotlight Cam, namely that its compatibility with Google Nest is limited, and that you’ll have to pay extra for that all-important Ring Protect subscription.


Smart heating

Smart heating

One of the most attractive prospects of installing smart home devices is using them to control your heating. From detecting temperature fluctuations to remotely triggering smoke alarms, these smart home gadgets make an excellent choice for a wealth of reasons. What follows is some of the best smart heating products you can find on the market today.

Nest Learning Thermostat

Nest Learning Thermostat

Compatibility: Google Nest, Amazon Alexa

The Nest Learning Thermostat is more than just a voice-activated temperature control unit, it uses its past heating history to automatically optimise its settings, saving you a bunch of time and money. You can create your own schedules or allow this machine to program itself. With the right usage, it can help you save up to 12% on your heating bill every year!

As with all the best smart home devices, controlling this thermostat is wonderfully easy and intuitive. Adjusting the temperature is as simple as rotating the wheel, and clicking the wheel down allows you to access its data menus.

Despite being a product manufactured by Google, the Nest Learning Thermostat is still compatible with Amazon Alexa’s infrastructure. All you need to do is add the Google Nest ‘skill’ (which is Amazon’s name for Alexa apps) on your Alexa smart hub or speaker and pair it with the device to issue it voice commands.

Nedis Smart Convection Heater

Nedis Smart Convection Heater

Compatibility: Google Nest, Amazon Alexa

If you can’t install a smart thermostat to control your boiler, this Nedis convection heater is the next best thing. It's a fully-independent electric radiator that can be wheeled from room to room and will efficiently convert electricity to heat, letting you get your bedroom or living room nice and toasty. 

Its smart features are accessed through its own separate app, available for both iOS and Android devices, which you can then pair with the smart home assistant of your choice. This will allow you to change the temperature with your voice or program the heater to turn on before you arrive home.

Nest Protect Smoke Alarm

Nest Protect Smoke Alarm

Compatibility: Google Nest

The Nest Protect Smoke Alarm uses a split-spectrum sensor that allows it to differentiate between fast-flaming fires and smouldering slow burners, alerting you as necessary. It will detect fires faster and notify you sooner than other fire detectors, and is less susceptible to false alarms from showers and burnt toast too.

This already puts the Nest Protect above most fire alarms, but its smart home features are where it really shines. When it detects a fire, it will automatically send an alert to your phone, letting you know exactly what’s going on and when the fire started. With a little extra effort, you can even program these smart home gadgets to send messages to your email or social media accounts as well.

It also ties in with other Google Nest smart home devices. For example, if you’ve installed the smoke alarm in the same system as the aforementioned Nest Thermostat, the thermostat will automatically switch off your heating in the event of a fire. The only downside to this gadget is that it can’t be used at all with Amazon Alexa.


Smart lighting

Smart lighting

Smart Lighting is one of the simplest starting points for smart homes, and great entry-level devices to ease you into the wonderful world of smart technology. Regardless of whether you’re looking for a dramatic effect, romantic ambience or simply wanting to control your lights without having to get out of bed, these gadgets have got you covered, letting you change the tone and brightness of the light in your room with just your voice.

Philips Hue Starter Kit

Philips Hue Starter Kit

Compatibility: Amazon Alexa, Google Nest

Possibly the most well-known smart lighting system around is the Philips Hue. This innovative system from the Dutch electronics company is a brilliant starting point for your smart home technology collection. There are multiple Hue packages available, but this ambient Philips Hue Starter Kit is our favourite. 

It comes with two rich colour bulbs, which you can sync together or set at different colours, whichever you prefer. Both bulbs can be activated by your voice when you connect them to your Alexa or Google Nest systems, and you can program them with light ‘recipes’ developed by Philips.

Also included is the Hue Base Station, which is an additional control panel that unlocks extra features like synchronizing lights with music and films playing in your home for maximum ambience, or controlling your Hue lights from home - perfect if you often leave the lights on by mistake!

Nedis Wi-Fi Smart Light Switch

Nedis Wi-Fi Smart Light Switch

Compatibility: Amazon Alexa, Google Nest

The Philips Hue system is great, but if you’d rather choose your own bulbs or keep your options open, the Nedis Wi-Fi Smart Light Switch would be a fantastic choice for you. This smart home gadget can control two sets of lights at once. A pair of touch-activated switches on the face plate allow you to turn on the lights the old fashioned way, but integrate it with your smart home system and you can turn them on with your voice. As with most of the products on this list, it's compatible with both Amazon Alexa and Google Nest.


Time to upgrade your tech!

upgrade your tech!

And so ends our buyer’s guide for smart homes. If you’ve made a decision on what kind of smart home devices would suit your household, head on over to our smart home category. Here, you’ll find every kind of smart appliance we’ve discussed in this guide, from smart thermostats to smart lighting, as well as an extensive selection of smart speakers to add to your collection of connected devices. Are you ready to enjoy the future of home tech, today?