The smart home is strong. You can unlock your smart door lock with your phone, go into your house, turn on the lights automatically and ask your virtual assistant to get you a cup of coffee. When you are not there, a robot vacuum will clean the place, your smart thermostat will call down the heat to keep costs down, and you can monitor everything from the phone to indoor and outdoor security cameras.
The real reality is not. However, it is not as magical as we have seen in various commercials. There is no single, singular solution (at least not yet) that can automatically automate your entire house.
Things are at least better than they once were. Home automation used to be a complicated endeavor that requires networking, scripts and DIY skills. But modern smart homes are simple that almost anyone can set up one. With a few shelf products, you can control most of the gadgetry in your house from your smartphone or ̵1; even better – with a simple voice command. But where do you start?
Building the Pin for Your Smart Home
Many smart home devices – including remarkable products from Nest, Ring and similar companies – have their own apps from which you can control their basic functions. Other devices are more generic, using popular standards such as Zigbee and Z-Wave, which are Bluetooth-esque wireless protocols for smart home devices, to communicate with a hub, such as Wink or Samsung's SmartThings. You control these devices via the hub's app instead.
Some products fall into both categories: You can use their apps or a larger smart home platform. But some platforms, such as Insteon and Apple's HomeKit, limit you more than others to which devices you can use.
With so many different products in so many ecosystems, the construction of a smart home can feel like an overwhelming logical puzzle. But as with any task, you can make it easier by breaking it down into smaller pieces. We recommend that you start with one or two gadgets and build from there when you become familiar with how the products work.
Maybe you really like to turn on your lights with your voice or maybe want to lock your door from your phone. Select a category from the list below and do some research on available devices – you will surely be able to limit the field significantly by the features that appeal to you and the compatibility of a particular device with other platforms.  Many start with a smart home security device or several, and sometimes train to more sophisticated systems. A smart home security system connects to your Wi-Fi network so you can monitor and control your devices with your smartphone and an app. Input systems typically include some door and window sensors, a motion sensor, and a hub that communicates with these devices with one or more wireless protocols (Wi-Fi, Z-Wave, Zigbee, or a proprietary network). You can add extra door, motion and window sensors to cover the entire house and build a comprehensive system that includes door locks, garage door openers, indoor and outdoor surveillance cameras, lights, sirens, smoke / CO detectors, water sensors, and more.
For your first devices in total, try shooting for products with the greatest compatibility you can find so you can build your smart home without having to worry about future conflicts. Here is an overview of the key players in the big smart home categories:
- Lights : Smart bulbs like Philips Hue let you control individual lights or groups of lights from your phone and set different scenes with specific brightness levels and color temperatures so that You do not flood your eyes with blue light at the end of the day. They can even automatically switch on and off based on a number of different triggers. As an alternative to lamps, you can use smart switches to control the light that is already built into your house.
- Thermostats : With Nest or Ecobee series of thermostats you can adjust your A / C or heat based on time of day or when you get home. Ecobee also has several sensors that you can place around the house, so you can see the temperature in more than just one room.
- Lock : Smart locks vary: Some allow you to lock your doors from your phone, some can give a friend or family member temporary access, and unique options like Kwikset Kevo let you unlock your door by just touching it your finger.
- Door Clocks and Cameras : Smart door clocks contain cameras so you can see who is at the door and ignore the annoying lawyers. Ring and Nest door clocks can also be integrated with cameras from their parent companies, so you can create an entire system that detects nearby movements, sends alerts when you're not at home and saves recordings in the cloud for later access.
- Security system : Cameras are just one aspect of home supply. For those looking for a complete system with door sensors, indoor engines, and siren packages from companies like SimpliSafe, you can monitor your entire home for burglary. Some systems, such as Abode, allow you to self-monitor, send out the link to emergency services so that you can keep tabs on your house without a monthly fee.
- TV and Remote Control : You may not think of your home theater as part of a smart home, but it is especially when you connect a smart remote such as the Logitech Harmony Elite, which can control multiple devices simultaneously (including light, shades and other smart devices) and integrate with Alexa for easy, hands-free control.
- All other things : This is just the tip of the iceberg. Dig deeper, and you'll find smart sprinkler systems that automatically water the weather, window shut down with one touch, robotic vacuum cleaner that cleans the house while you're away, kitchen appliances you can use remote and smart outlets that can control almost anything that plugs into one wall.
How to check everything
As you grow your smart home, you will carefully look at getting a hub so you can integrate your devices with each other. Wink Hub 2 and Samsung SmartThings Hub are simply the most popular options. Wink offers a simpler, easier to use interface, but SmartThings is much more powerful under the hood if you like to think. (Both work well with iOS and Android, but they are pretty platform agnostic).
Both also boast broad compatibility with various smart home devices, but they are not comprehensive – nothing is. Then check out their compatibility pages (Wink, SmartThings) before you buy. We generally recommend avoiding unanimous protocol hubs like the one built into Amazon Echo Plus that only supports Zigbee – the more protocols the hub supports, the more space you need to grow.
Voice assistants are also a good buy early in your smart journey home. In my opinion, there is nothing better than being able to control your lights, air conditioning and TV with your voice.
Amazon Echo and Google Home both have broad compatibility with different devices (you can see Alexa's list of devices here, and Google's here). Alexa is compatible with more smart home appliances and third-party competences, although Google is smarter in answering questions and knowing about your routine.
When adding devices, you might want to look at advanced controllers like Brilliant Control and the upcoming AtmosControl, which puts a panel on your wall that can control many of your smart home devices, even those that are compatible with different protocols, from a place. (Read about Brilliant Control supported devices here and AtmosControl compatible devices here.)
Again, do not assume you have to buy everything at once. Start with a couple of units, and you will find yourself which efforts are most useful to you. Think of the pain points in your day instead of just grabbing every device you can take care of.
For example, I find the voice control as the most useful part of having a smart home, so I base almost all my buying decisions on how devices work with Alexa. And I do not worry as much about the automation functions between devices that I rarely use. If you are patient when building your smart home, you will likely get the right units for the jobs you you want to do.
Many of these devices lurk on their own, but most are integrated with voice assistants that let you control them without even touching the phone. They can also work with each other: Your smart lock can tell your lights that you are at home so that they light up, for example. Your brain is thus free to focus on other important things like the streaming video service that binge on the special night.
Smart Homes Could Be Smarter
It is important to note that while these devices can do a lot, they are not as smart as you might think, so don't be too frustrated if your smart home doesn't work as smoothly as you had hoped. No app controls them all, and no perfect mix of devices intertwines seamlessly. Even if you build your entire smart home around Wink, SmartThings or HomeKit, there's a good chance that you need to add another hub to the row for a particular device – or use a folder full of apps to control everything.
For example, AtmosControl is a wall panel that can control many devices, but does not integrate with Alexa or Google Home, it has its own voice assistant. Chamberlin's garage door opener can be integrated directly with your Nest thermostat, but they will not appear in the SmartThings app unless you hack around it with any code. Hello, even the SmartThings ADT security package is not seamlessly integrated with other SmartThings sensors (again without any community coded code).
As you grow your smart home, you have to inevitably find solutions to get some devices talking to each other, using apps like IFTTT and Stringify, which let you create vending machines between the devices (like "When I unlock the door after the clock 6:00, you turn on the lights ").
In addition, the ecosystem is always changing. For example, a new service called Amazon Key can let you control your smart lock from your phone, but it only works with ZigBee smart locks. If you have another type of lock, you have no luck. But if you can't find a solution for any new service, it's no shame to get rid of the incompatible device and buy one that fits your needs better. Craigslist and eBay have lots of easy-to-use devices you can take to discount, and you can sell your old one to someone who needs it.
At the end of the day, smart devices should make your life easier, not harder. So try not to be obsessed with creating a seamless, integrated system that will last forever – you will finally be disappointed. Instead, target these pain points in your day and do the best you can with what you can get now. If you keep your expectations in check you will find that having a smart home can be quite comfortable – even if it is not true The Jetsons .
This story first appeared in PCMag's Digital Edition, a curated, ad-free publication.