Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About The Smart Home Devices But Were Afraid To Ask

What started as a couple of light bulbs and some smart switches has turned into an avalanche of devices that includes everything from coffee makers to entire security systems that can be controlled by Alexa.

In this section, we’ll go over the major categories in smart home tech and let you in on some of the fantastic things you can now easily control with your voice including feeding your pet and yes, those old devices that you thought could never get connected to a smart hub. Let’s get started…


Smart Lights

This is where most people start when setting up their smart home system. You can purchase lights that will turn on or off or you can get multi-bulb systems that can dim and change to one of millions of different colors.

Smart lighting is essential to any home automation setup, and if you have no experience, this is where I would start.

Best - Philips hue starter kit with included hub

Best - Philips hue starter kit with included hub

Budget - TP-LINK Kasa Smart Wi-Fi LED



Smart Plugs

This is the next step in your journey to smart home awesomeness.

Smart plugs can be used to control many “dumb” appliances. For example, if you have a basic coffee maker with an on/off switch (just a simple switch with no computerized controls), you can turn it on and off with Alexa.

You can also control wall or window installed air conditioners, bathroom appliances, and pretty much anything that has a simple on/off switch.

You may opt for a smart plug instead of a smart lighting system in the beginning because if you connect it to a power bank, you can control multiple lights at once for a much cheaper price.

Best - TP-Link Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Plug

Budget - Mini Smart Plug

Smart Wall Switches

Smart wall switches are installed into the wall and control the lighting for a particular room in your home.

The advantage to these wall switches is that you can control and dim (with some models) all the lights in a single room without having to purchase multiple smart light bulbs which can save you sometimes hundreds of dollars.

They come in a variety of configurations. From extremely simple to ones with LCD screens built right in. There are even smart wall switches that come with Alexa built into the switch itself like the ecobee Switch+.

Best - Lutron Caseta Wireless Smart Lighting Switch

Budget - Smart Light Switch, Gosund



Smart Thermostats

Heating and cooling control is another popular area when it comes to smart home automation with the Echo.

With systems like Ecobee, Nest, and Honeywell among others, you can easily tell your Alexa device to set a comfortable temperature. There are a handful of other cool things that you can accomplish with your HVAC system as well.

For example, some thermostats actively learn what you like the temperature to be at certain times, so you don’t even have to give it the command to set the climate in your home. It already knows. You can also set up geofencing so that when your smartphone comes within range, your air kicks on.


Best - ecobe4 Smart Thermostat


Budget - Honeywell Thermostat

Door Locks

If the idea of hooking up your door locks to a voice assistant like Alexa scares the heck out of you, don’t worry. There are a couple of safeguards that won’t allow just anyone to unlock your door by shouting to your Echo from outside the door.

First, many of them make you say a pin to gain access and here’s a pro tip for you. You can also connect your Echo up to a smart plug and have the smart plug turn off when your smartphone is out of range by using geofencing. That way there’s no way someone can access your house when you’re not at home.


Budget - Honeywell Thermostat

There are some cool things you can do with smart locks like giving a handyman or a house-guest a virtual key that expires after a specific time. You can also monitor who has accessed the lock so you can know when the kids have arrived at home for example.


Hubs

Hubs make it easy for all of your smart home devices to talk to one another so you can set up some cool automatons or what they like to call “scenes” or “routines.”

Scenes or routines are a series of events that occur based on a trigger. So, for example, you could say “goodnight,” and all the lights turn off, your garage door closes, your front door locks, and your security system arms.

The Echo Plus does come with a smart home hub built in, but it only supports the ZigBee protocol. That means that devices that use Z wave exclusively are not integrated, and you would need to purchase a hub anyway.

I should also mention here that many of the things you can accomplish with a hub, you could also achieve with a service like stringify for free. The advantage of using a hub is that the commands are run locally on your network instead of shooting across the internet.

This has the advantage of executing the command faster. So you don’t have to say “goodnight” and wait for several seconds to several minutes for the routine to run.

(I’d like to mention the Harmony Hub here quickly. The Harmony Hub allows you to control devices that have an IR sensor like a Television so you can turn it on and control volume. It can also control some non-smart lights and other devices that come with a remote control. It is at heart a smart home hub that is capable of setting up routines. I’ll discuss the Harmony Hub in detail in the music and television section below):

Best - Samsung SmartThings


Budget - Wink Connected Hub


Security Systems

There are a handful of security systems on the market that will allow varying degrees of control through the Amazon Echo.

You can easily arm and disarm compatible security systems with a spoken code. Other possibilities include getting status updates for door and window sensors, setting off a siren, and calling the police with your voice.

Many of these systems have a hub which allows for smart home integration. So you can, for example, have your smart lights blink and flash when your alarm goes off. Be aware that some systems do charge a fee for smart home integration, however.

Also, professional monitoring is available for a monthly fee. We’ve seen plans usually range from $9.99 a month to $24.99 a month. What’s cool about this is that while many alarm companies lock you into long-term contracts, you can usually go month to month with these services.

Best - Scout Alarm

Budget - Simplisafe


Video Doorbells

Video doorbells are a significant first step when it comes to adding video surveillance to your property. The front door is where the majority of crime and safety concerns occur.

The advantage of many video doorbells is that it allows you to not only monitor your front door when you are at home but also when you are away.

Many also come equipped with a two-way intercom system. This way if someone is ringing your front door to see if anyone is home before attempting a break in, you can possibly scare them away.

Another primary concern these days is package stealing. With these doorbells, you can take a recording and turn the thieves into the police.

With an Echo Show, Spot, or Fire TV you can pull up a video feed right on your device or television. (Note that not all video doorbells have this capability).


Outdoor Cameras

The next step in securing your home or property is adding outdoor cameras. With remote monitoring, you can see what’s going on when you are not at home.

You can integrate many of these cameras into a whole home security system. You could, for example, purchase a Scout alarm and some Arlo outdoor cameras so you can record what’s going on when your alarm goes off.

Like many video doorbells you can also get a live feed on your Echo Spot, Show, and Fire TV or Fire Stick.

You can also integrate many of these cameras to other smart devices so for example when it detects motion; it will turn on your outside light.


Best - Nest Cam


Budget - ZMODO Wireless

Indoor Cameras

Indoor cameras can be used for security or can also double as a baby monitor, or you can check to see if the kids made it home safely.

You can drop in on these cameras remotely or set them up for alerts.

There are some incredible things that these cameras can now do like the ability to tell if whatever is in the frame is a person or an animal. That way it only sends you alerts if it’s important instead of a pet walking in and out of the picture.

Specific cameras also work with Fire TV, Fire Stick, Echo Show, and Echo Spot. That will allow you to monitor these devices from many places around the house.

You can also integrate many of these cameras to other smart devices so for example when it detects motion; it will turn your thermostat to a specific temperature.


Best - Amazon Cloud Camera


Budget - Wyze Cam

TV Streaming Devices

I’m not going to talk too much about TV streaming devices here because there is an entire section in this guide about the Fire TV.

I’ll just quickly say that you can now control many aspects of your television through Fire TV OS and the Echo.

Not only do you have the ability to access Alexa through the remote by pressing the button, but you can control certain things like searching for shows on Netflix, etc. with any Alexa device.

So, for example, you could say “Alexa search for action movies on Netflix” and it will do so.

Like I said I’ll get WAY more into the Fire TV and Alexa integration in the music and television section below.


Best - Fire TV Cube 4k


Budget - Fire Stick 4k

Tablets

Tablets can be used just like a smartphone to control your smart home through touch instead of voice control.

There are easy setups like installing simple widgets and apps on the tablet or more complex custom programs like Home Assistant.

With something like Home Assistant, you can set up an entire control panel that looks fantastic and then you could mount the tablet on the wall for easy access to all your smart home devices. I should mention that many of these types of apps can get very complicated and even require you to know a bit of programming to get them to work the way you want them to.

Alexa comes built into all of the newer Fire Tablets as well. While in active mode (i.e., not on the lock screen or while in sleep mode) you can access Alexa hands-free. You can also press and hold the button to summon her.

Samsung Galaxy Tab E 9.6
Best - Samsung Galaxy Tab E 9.6


Fire 7 Tablet with Alexa, 7" Display

Budget - Fire 7 Tablet with Alexa



Robot Vacuums

Purchasing a robot vacuum has become a popular way to save yourself some time cleaning up around the house. Especially if you have kids and or pets.

You can put them on a schedule to automatically vacuum the carpet, hardwood, or tile floors. With many models, you can also dispatch your robot vac with an Alexa command. This comes in handy if someone has accidentally spilled something on the floor.

Robot mops are now also making their way onto the market. These devices do a pretty good job of sweeping and then mopping up your kitchen, bathroom, or any other room with hardwood or tile flooring.

iRobot Roomba 960 Robot Vacuum

Best - iRobot Rooma 960

Tesvor Robot Vacuum

Budget - Tesvor Robot Vacuum


Outdoor

There are a handful of smart home devices designed for outdoor use.

First, is the smart garage door opener. Going far beyond just being able to open and shut your garage, you can also set it on a schedule and check to see if it’s open remotely. The most significant advantage is setting it up as a part of a smart routine so that you can close it at night as part of your “good night” routine.

Second, are smart sprinkler systems. This allows you to turn on and off your sprinklers with Alexa. It also knows when it’s raining so it won’t turn it on if you have it on an automatic schedule. Pretty cool!

The final thing we are going to discuss is outdoor speaker systems. You can install a Sonos connect that will hook your outdoor speakers to a central Echo voice control speaker. This allows you to have whole home audio, including the back and or front yard.

There are many more outdoor smart home devices like smart lawn mowers (although they don’t have any Alexa capability right now). These are just the highlights.


Ceiling Fans

A good ceiling fan can save you money on heating and cooling costs. With smart home functionality, you can get your fan and your heating and air conditioner to work seamlessly with each other.

You can also control the light that is attached and the speed that it runs at with your voice.

For example, you could say “Alexa set the fan to 20%”. You might also find this useful if you are cooking and want to clear out the kitchen by turning up your fan to full speed.


Best - Haiku Home L Series 52


Budget - Tesvor Robot Vacuum


Smart Blinds

You have two options when it comes to smart blinds. You can get brand new Alexa enabled shades, or you can retrofit your existing setup with automation kits made for ordinary blinds.

Some of these shades know the temperature and what time it is and adjusts themselves accordingly. So if it’s a hot day, they will close to save you on cooling costs. If it’s night time, they will automatically shut.

Shades can get expensive. One workaround is to get blinds that work with a remote control and use a hub with an IR blaster like the Harmony Hub to make it part of your smart home without spending thousands of dollars.


Best - MySmartBlinds Automation Kit


Budget - US Type Wifi Smart Motor


Appliances

Newer appliances are coming with smart home tech built right in. They can be turned on and off and give you status updates. Let’s take a look at some of these fantastic new home staples.

Smart Fridge - The big draw of the smart fridges is usually the large LCD screen that comes with many of them. You can order groceries, set to-do lists, and leave notes for the kids right on the screen. Some will even allow you to see what's in the fridge by knocking on the window without opening the unit. That way you can see if you have milk without increasing your power bill.

Smart Oven - You can preset the oven, get status updates and set cook timers with Alexa. You can also turn it off remotely which is a great safety feature.

Microwave Oven - You can preset the oven, get status updates and set cook timers with Alexa. You can also turn it off remotely which is a great safety feature.

Smart Washer and Dryer - You can get updates by saying “Alexa are my clothes clean.” You can also be alerted when the dryer cycle completes, and you can keep them tumbling via voice command so that your clothes don’t get wrinkled if you don’t have time to go take them out at the moment.

Pet Feeders

Newer appliances are coming with smart home tech built right in. They can be turned on and off and give you status updates. Let’s take a look at some of these fantastic new home staples.

Small Pet - The big draw of the smart fridges is usually the large LCD screen that comes with many of them. You can order groceries, set to-do lists, and leave notes for the kids right on the screen. Some will even allow you to see what's in the fridge by knocking on the window without opening the unit. That way you can see if you have milk without increasing your power bill.

Large Pet - You can preset the oven, get status updates and set cook timers with Alexa. You can also turn it off remotely which is a great safety feature.


Best - GE

Budget - Kenmore B073RLK6HW


In this Alexa guide, we have pretty much shown you how to automate many aspects of your home using Amazon's Alexa along with many compatible products. From dimming your lights, cleaning your floor, controlling your ordinary blinds, entry locks, cooking, obtaining recipes, climate control, video security and communication, watering your lawn, and even feeding your pet, what do you think is next? As home automation continues to evolve, newer products will emerge in the market place that are compatible with Alexa that will continue to simplify and improve our lives. At SmartHomeGearGuide, we will continue to track this evolution of products and make you aware of them so that you don't have to spend countless ours trying to chase and figure out which products are compatible.

Now that you have figured out how to get Alexa to do amazing things, checkout the the next section of this guide where we go in depth with more Tips and Tricks to master the Alexa home automation system.