SMART HOME: It’s a location that anticipates your requirements and gives you the control you need to customise your surroundings. At least that is the pitch. Although putting everything connected isn’t easy, the appropriate arrangement and device mix can actually simplify your life and provide convenience.
The smart-home market is challenging due to the plethora of ecosystems and standards that must be negotiated, not to mention the wide range of gadgets. This smart-home guide was created to highlight your options, decipher technical terms, and assist you in comprehending the effects of your decisions. A little forward preparation is helpful.
Choose Your Ecosystem First
Choose the ecosystem that best suits your needs before you start looking for devices. Google Home, Amazon Alexa, and Apple HomeKit are the top three. The latter is obviously the best option if your home is full of iPhones, iPads, and Macs, but if you own an Android phone, you might prefer Google’s Home platform. Although third-party devices frequently support many standards, choosing one dominant ecosystem will make things function more smoothly. Below is a brief description of each:
Android Home: The voice assistant, Google Assistant, is the Nest ecosystem’s main selling point. It responds to voice commands quickly, understands complex instructions or follow-up requests that would baffle Alexa or Siri, and is intelligent enough to speak in a conversational style. Google Assistant is already built into Android devices, and the Google Home app provides quick access to smart-home shortcuts.
Amazon’s Alexa has the most compatible products thanks to its early entry into the smart-home market. Though its responses aren’t always as accurate as Google’s, you can ask it anything. The speakers and smart displays that Alexa offers are the most reasonably priced, especially if you wait for major sale occasions like Prime Day. Alexa supports a wide variety of Skills (like smartphone apps) that have been developed by third parties. The Alexa app must be installed on your phone and open in order to use voice commands to control Alexa from there.
The best option for iPhone owners is Apple HomeKit, despite being the most constrictive of the three. The smooth operation of supported devices is guaranteed by Apple’s stricter oversight of third-party certification. Although there aren’t as many HomeKit-compatible products as there are with Alexa or Google Assistant, the major smart-home manufacturers are all represented. Apple’s Home app is sophisticated and simple to use, its platform is the most secure, and devices are simple to set up. By default, Apple collects less data, and whenever possible, data is stored locally on the device. You require a HomeKit hub device, like as an iPad, Apple TV, or HomePod Mini, to control devices while you’re away from home. Though it is improving, Siri is also the least effective of the three voice assistants.
Google, Amazon, and, to a lesser extent, Apple, gather information about your usage patterns. Voice recordings of your conversations with their assistants are also included. Although the accuracy of these is checked by humans, the backlash against transparency has given rise to improved options for you to manage exactly how your data is treated. We have multiple tips on how to make these smart speakers and smart displays as private as possible, how to remove recorded voice recordings and activities, and how to keep your recordings private on all three of these platforms.
Other choices If you wish to avoid the “big three,” there are a few additional ecosystems you might take into account. An open-source platform called Home Assistant is made to give you local control and protect your privacy. Although it is a strong platform with a vibrant community and a wide range of integration and automation capabilities, it can be difficult to comprehend and configure because of its complexity.
Alternatively, you may use Samsung’s SmartThings or Tuya’s Smart Life, both of which employ voice commands via Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa.
You need a hub.
With an app or a voice assistant, you may use your smartphone to manage all of your smart home appliances. To ensure that your assistant can hear you at all times (and that you don’t have to shout commands), we advise installing a combination of smart speakers and smart screens throughout the house. These smart displays and speakers are some of our favourites. The latter are more adaptable since they provide straightforward touch controls that everyone may utilise. It’s crucial to think about your roommates and any visitors who might not be comfortable with smart-home settings.
Take intelligent lighting as an example. If you wish to use a voice assistant to manage your lights, you must keep the switches in the on position. Yet without a real switch, you risk confusing your visitors. Also, it’s possible that kids won’t have access to phone controls or won’t feel comfortable using voice commands. Individuals are likely to turn off your switches; it’s difficult to change the habit due to years of muscle memory. Smart switches can help you avoid this, but you need carefully consider whether you want to replace your current switches or have a second set next to them.
For a more individualised experience, the majority of ecosystems now allow anyone living in the house to build their own profile. Some assistants can even tell who is speaking in the house. Whatever option you choose, make sure everyone in your household—family, roommates, and visitors—is familiar with how it operates by showing them how to use it.
The Value of Wi-Fi
A dependable Wi-Fi connection is necessary for nearly all smart home appliances. The two most commonly utilised frequencies are 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, which you need to be aware of. The 2.4-GHz frequency is still used by the majority of smart home devices, although this is beginning to change. While the 5-GHz frequency offers quicker speeds, it has a greater range.
Wi-Fi 6E, a recently developed Wi-Fi protocol, supports 6-GHz, which may be even faster (Wi-Fi 7 will also use the 6 GHz band). Although though Wi-Fi 6E has an even shorter range than 5 GHz, it can manage more devices, consumes less power, and is more secure. However, all of your devices, including your mesh network or router, must support Wi-Fi 6E. While there are more Wi-Fi 6E gadgets on the market, you should primarily think about it now for future-proofing.
Congestion, when Wi-Fi signals clash, can be a problem, especially for those who live in flats. Although most routers should take care of this automatically, you can use an app to check how busy your Wi-Fi channels are and possibly switch to a new channel. Router restrictions are another thing to think about. Although most contemporary routers may theoretically accommodate up to 250 devices, performance can be affected even before you reach the maximum.
Remember that there are numerous ways to speed up your Wi-Fi and make sure you pick a decent location for your router. Upgrade to a new router if your current model is an outdated or basic device provided by your internet service provider (ISP). A mesh system may be advantageous for larger properties or residences with Wi-Fi dead areas.
To keep things secure, it is preferable to choose a long password containing a mix of lowercase, uppercase, digits, and special characters for your Wi-Fi. Consider establishing a separate network for smart home appliances (some router makers offer an IoT network option), and always create a guest network for guests to utilise (this is a standard router option now).
Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or Smart Hubs?
It is possible to connect to some smart home appliances using Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or a unique smart hub, such as Philips Hue lamps. While Wi-Fi may appear to be the simplest answer, Bluetooth is more slower and less dependable than Wi-Fi, and a specialised smart hub can help ease congestion, provide better stability, and improve the responsiveness of linked devices.
Hubs typically connect devices using a new technology that is long-range, low-power, and low-bandwidth. Thread, Zigbee, LoRa, Z-Wave…the list of technologies goes on and on. Even though some hubs are unique stand-alone units, it’s becoming increasingly typical for manufacturers to include Thread technologies into smart speakers, screens, routers, and other devices. The disadvantage is that hubs require power and occasionally a free Ethernet connection in your router to connect to.
Verify Smart-Home Assistance
You can check if a smart home gadget is compatible with your preferred ecosystem by looking for a logo on the box or website. You should at least look for one of these:
- functions with Google Assistant
- utilises Alexa
- Uses Apple HomeKit
Basic support is ensured by these logos. That implies that you can connect it to the relevant ecosystem and use voice commands to operate the device. Having said that, support for an ecosystem varies depending on the product. Whereas another robot vacuum can be instructed to clean a specific room or operate until a set time, the first may only support start and stop voice commands. To gain a clear idea of what is available, always consult the complete list of instructions or user evaluations.
There are also third-party smart home appliances with voice assistants built in. You can speak with Alexa through the device if you look for the unique “Alexa built in” emblem. A “Google Assistant” logo is all that serves as the Google counterpart. You may speak to the Sonos Beam soundbar just like you would a Nest or Echo speaker because it includes both Google Assistant and Alexa within. Siri currently only works with Apple-branded devices, but it will soon be available on other brands.