Not everyone has the budget for a full smart home environment, or you might just want to try a little smart technology, without the high outlay. Whatever you are interested in, from smart lighting to virtual assistants, thermostats, sensors or health technology, this year is the first one where lower-cost smart home technology is widely available. We take a tour for what you can get without leaving a big hole in your wallet.
Some lower costs products lose a feature or two compared to the more expensive types, but these tend to be the bonus features that you’ll never miss. Note that there are lots of products, especially smart lights, out there on the market with little or no branding direct from Chinese factories. While these might seem a bargain, they will come with little support, poorly translated instructions or applications, so check carefully what you’re getting before you spend any money.
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Philips Hue is market leader when it comes to smart lighting and people can spend hundreds of dollars on fitting out there home with themed lighting and stylish set ups. However, if you just want to see how it goes, the Philips Hue Starter Kit is a good option, coming with two bulbs and the bridge needed to control them.
This second-generation kit comes with bulbs that can run brighter than the earlier version, solving one of the common complaints about Hue. You control the lights via a smartphone app and can set them to come on at set times, dim or brighten during the evening and so on. Note the option for frustration-free packaging, if you hate having to wrestle your way into technology products.
If you don’t want the hassle of the Hue’s bridge and extra legwork, the Smarson Bluetooth LED App Controlled Smart Light Bulb is a $25 way to try out smart lighting. Assuming it works, via Bluetooth, it has a decent looking app and is easy to control. However, the iOS app store support link takes you to a Chinese linen website (see what we were saying). Still, assuming you get a good unit, you can have fun playing with the light and adjusting the color to suit your mood or using the timer settings to make your day a little easier.
If you want to turn a favorite dumb light smart or any other electrical item around the home, then you don’t even need to worry about the bulb. Products like a TP-LINK Smart Plug can turn any device smart and controllable from your smartphone or through Alexa for just $30. That’s one very clever way to add smartness to a home without going overboard on new products, when the old ones will likely do just as well.
Rather than blow $130 on the fully-fledged Amazon Echo, or more on Google’s Home, the Amazon Echo Dot is a low-cost way to try living with a smart virtual assistant. The second generation of the talkative little puck can be picked for less than $50 on Amazon. Available in black or white, it provides hands-free, voice-controlled access to your digital music services like Spotify, you can take control of smart home devices, listen to the latest news, traffic or weather and ask Alexa questions, build up shopping lists and more. Echo products get smarter every month with new features, so this is $50 well spent.
Smart sensors used to expect a smart home hub to work with, but increasingly products will talk to your smartphone via WiFi reducing a lot of the cost. These examples provide a low-cost way to protect or improve your home, whether you are in or out.
The D-Link Wi-Fi Smart Motion Sensor provides a low-cost way to detect activity around or near your home. For just $30, you can set one up wherever there’s a power point, and monitor up to 26-feet away. You can put one by a window, or facing a front door, even by the mailbox to see if there’s some post.
When it detects motion, via the passive infrared sensor, you get a signal on your phone and can take appropriate action. The D-Link sensor is IFTTT compatible, so it will work with other smart home products if you have them, it could turn a light on for example to make it look like there’s someone home.
Smart cameras have been one of the hottest sellers in home technology since they first arrived on the market. There are dozens of low-cost products on the market, but spending just a little more gets you the Zmodo Pan Tilt 720p HD Smart Home Video Security Camera.
At roughly $60 it does tilt and zoom so you can see what’s going on around the camera, not just where you position it. It comes with night vision to provide 24/7 coverage and easily connects to a smartphone app or through your PC’s browser to provide alerts or monitoring, with no need for expensive cloud subscriptions. Even at 720p, the image is of good quality and this unit is a third the price of its big name rivals. As with many products, the motion detection may take a while to work, providing some false alerts depending on the environment, but otherwise this is a high quality low-cost home monitoring solution.
If your home is prone to flooding, then D-Link also offers a mydlink Wi-Fi Water Sensor for about $39. It comes with a sensor cable so you can leave it in a basement, utility room or other area where there’s a risk of flood or pipes leaking, it will send a message to the mydlink app on your phone and you can leap into action to save the day.
Also in this section come smart thermostats. They don’t have to be super smart and sexy like the Nest, but this Honeywell RTH6580WF Wi-Fi 7-Day Programmable Thermostat does the job just as well. You can program it as usual, or from Honeywell’s cloud service or through your mobile app, wherever you are. These traditional/smart thermostats might not have all the magic features, cool design and clever software of newer models, but if all you ever need to do is turn the heating on early from time to time, it will do the job well.
Smart health started off very expensive with the likes of Apple, Nike and others all selling high-end fitness gadgets to encourage us all to better health. Within a few years, other products have stripped out the cost of brand and marketing, and there are now quite a few sensibly priced products available.
The Otium Fitness Tracker only costs $40 and lasts a week, unlike the Apple Watch’s 24-hour battery life. Despite the low-cost it is waterproof and dust proof, and can monitor your fitness activity, sleep and resting state, all linked to an iOS or Android app.
What it lacks is GPS, but if you take your phone with you, that can monitor where your run, ride or travel. Yes, it might look rather plastic compared to the many high-end watches out there, but this one is unlikely to attract thieves if left lying around and if it goes wrong is cheap to replace.
When it comes to weight gain, there are plenty of smart scales to help fight the flab, but most are over-priced or over-featured. Doing the job it is supposed to comes the Yunmai Wireless Bluetooth Smart Scale.
It sends your weight to a smartphone app via Bluetooth to keep an eye on gain or loss, and can also manage body fat and protein metrics. It works with popular health apps including Apple Health, Fitbit and Google Fit, and supports multiple users. Given there are scales that cost three times the price that do the same thing, this is quite the bargain, and the app provides encouragement to lose weight without being overly sanctimonious or sporty like some pro-athlete apps.
Patrick Sinclair is a geek; make no mistake about that. He runs All Home Robotics in his spare time so he doesn’t have to think about his depressing cubicle and it gives him an excuse to buy expensive gadgets to review!