If you’ve already started connecting the various devices and fixtures around your home, you’ll know that there are a lot of ways to tackle the problem. You might just want one device to solve a particular issue, like a smart plug to put a lamp on a regular schedule. You might also be invested in an Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant-powered smart speaker, or even Siri and Apple HomeKit smart home service.
I tend to think of the voice assistants as the starting point for building an off-the-shelf smart home. They offer a convenient way for multiple family members or co-residents to interact with the various devices in your home. Many, but not all of the products on our list of the best smart home products will work with multiple voice assistants.
Our list focuses narrowly, though, on the best product in each smart home subcategory. If you want to know the best smart thermostat or the best smart lighting kit, regardless of which voice platforms it works with, we have you covered. What this list is not, is a road map for a single, coherent smart home installation (you won’t get far trying to pair an Amazon smart speaker with a Google smart display). For that, please refer to our platform-based lists linked below.
In each subcategory entry, I’ve also added a link to the best list for that particular product type. If you’re looking for more options for lighting or locks, you’ll find a list of our favorite products if you’d like to see a broader selection.
Amazon’s entry-level Echo Dot had the edge over the competing Google Home Mini speaker, but with the arrival of the newer, rebranded Google Nest Mini, we’re officially calling the entry-level smart speaker category a tie. Both speakers will run you about $50 on a normal day, and you can find both of them discounted regularly.
The two voice assistants are pretty much at parity right now. Amazon usually boasts about more skills and support for more third-party devices, but the numbers for both voice platforms are in the tens of thousands, meaning the difference isn’t enough that you’ll really miss out on anything significant with Google.
Read more: The best smart speakers of 2020
Google Assistant does a better job at mimicking natural conversation flow, but the difference is that it isn’t really that noticeable in your day-to-day interaction with each speaker. Most of the time you’ll ask a smart speaker for the weather, to set a timer, and maybe have it play a song or two. Both devices are good at all of that.
The Amazon Echo Dot was our pick due to one small hardware advantage. It has an audio-out jack. The Google Home Mini doesn’t, and neither does the Nest Mini. Now, the Echo Dot also offers a variant with an LED clock embedded around its edge, for $10 more. That’s a convenient quality-of-life feature.
Google has another card to play, which you can read below.
Google’s new Nest Mini smart speaker improves on its predecessor, the Google Home Mini, in a few ways.
Google improved the audio quality in the Nest Mini, giving its bass output more oomph. It also added a wall mounting notch to the underside it, if that’s what you’re into. An interesting new presence detection method that uses the speaker and microphone to determine your proximity to the Nest Mini helps it trigger LED indicators that help you make better sense of the otherwise obscured physical volume controls.
That’s all fine, but the thing that puts the Nest Mini over the edge is the machine learning chip embedded inside the tiny speaker. With that chip, Google says the Nest Mini can learn what commands you give to it most often, and it will then begin to process those commands locally, rather than on Google’s servers.
Anything that helps to keep control of your smart home inside your home is worthwhile. Letting you still issue certain voice commands even if the internet goes out, and improved response times are great, too. For all of that, the machine learning chip puts the Google Nest Mini at parity with the Amazon Echo Dot and its distinct audio-input jack. Now let’s see a speaker that has both.
Amazon may have introduced the smart display with the Echo Show, but Google refined the concept with the Nest Hub (formerly the Home Hub) both in terms of its design, and in the way it leverages its voice assistant.
You get the same Google Assistant features in the Nest Hub that you get with the Google Home speaker line, along with a screen interface that gives you just the right amount of visual feedback. It will show you your spoken commands so you know Google heard you correctly, it can deftly walk you through a recipe from popular cooking websites, and it works seamlessly with Google-supported smart home cameras and video doorbells to display their camera feeds onscreen.
Read more: The best smart displays of 2020
Google prudently opted out of including a video camera on the Hub itself, getting ahead of some privacy concerns, and likely prompting Amazon to include a manual video shutter on its new, smaller Echo Show 5 display. If you really want a Google-based smart display that allows for video chatting, a few third-party options can make that happen. Even without it, the Nest Hub is the best, most affordable marriage of a voice assistant and a display interface on the market.
Amazon’s midtier smart display is the best one in its line. For $130, the Echo Show 8 has great audio quality, a highly visible screen and a convincing nod to privacy with a physical shutter you can slide over its camera. We still like the interface better on the Google Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max. Those Google Assistant displays also have the edge in useful video due to the voice-activated YouTube integration, which Amazon’s lineup lacks. Regardless, for those of you who are committed to an Alexa-only ecosystem, the Echo Show 8 is the best smart display.
Wi-Fi is everything — particularly once you start spreading things like smart speakers, smart lights, smart plugs and smart all else from room to room. After all, those connected doodads won’t do you much good if they can’t, you know, connect.
That’s why a mesh router that’s built to spread a strong, speedy signal throughout your house might make for a particularly smart upgrade — especially if you’re living in a big home. And, of the ones we’ve tested, we think Nest Wifi is the smartest pick. At $269, the two-piece starter kit was able to fill the 5,800-square-foot CNET Smart Home with decent signal strength, and it never once dropped our connection as we moved around conducting speed test after speed test. On top of that, the range extender doubles as a smart speaker, so as you spread a reliable connection from room to room, you’ll be spreading the Google Assistant’s footprint in your home with it.
Read more: The best Wi-Fi routers in 2020
Nest Wifi doesn’t support the newest, fastest version of Wi-Fi, called Wi-Fi 6, but you really won’t notice the difference Wi-Fi 6 makes unless you’re already paying for super-fast internet speeds of 500 Mbps or more. What you will notice with Nest Wifi is the ease of installation, the simple network controls that sit right alongside your smart home controls in the Google Home app, and advanced Wi-Fi features like device prioritization, WPA3 security, and 4X4 MU-MIMO support, which lets Nest Wifi boost speeds to devices that use multiple Wi-Fi antennas, like the MacBook Pro.
Nest Wifi is obviously best for Google smart homes, so Alexa users will likely want to stick with Eero or Netgear Orbi, our honorable mentions in the mesh category. But if you just want rock solid Wi-Fi that you and your growing number of internet-connected gadgets can rely upon, put Nest Wifi right at the top of your list.
We often point to smart plugs as the entry point for anyone interested in trying out a connected home device. They’re cheap, they’re simple to install, and they perform a function that’s pretty easy to grasp, toggling power on and off remotely.
Read more: The best smart plugs of 2020
You can find a lot of smart plugs out there. TP-Link’s Kasa Mini is our favorite. It includes a single outlet that connects to your network via Wi-Fi. The app is well-designed and lets you program the plug to turn on or off on a schedule or even based on your location. It works with Google Assistant and Alexa, and it doesn’t cover up the adjacent outlet on a standard two-outlet wall fixture.
Philips Hue smart light bulbs have been our top pick for years, and with good reason. The company’s range of products is the broadest in the category, encompassing standard A19 bulbs, flood lights, light strips, fixtures and most recently an entire range of outdoor lighting options. That kind of variety makes it easy to bring the lighting scheme for your entire home onto the Hue service.
Read more: The best smart lights of 2020
The Hue line came to prominence with its color-changing bulbs, but the best way for most people to get started is with its standard white light bulbs. For $70, you can get a set of two bulbs and the Hue hub to get them online. Already own an Alexa or Google Assistant device? $30 will get you the new Bluetooth version of the bulbs, no extra hub needed.
Honorable mention: Wyze Bulb. This $8 smart bulb works with Alexa and Google Assistant, and it doesn’t require a hub. It’s not quite as fully featured as Philips Hue (it only comes as a standard A19 bulb, no HomeKit support), but it’s the best deal in this category.
Like its competitor, the Nest Learning Thermostat chief among them, the Ecobee SmartThermostat is a WIFi-based thermostat that lets you control your home heating and air conditioning system with an app or with your voice. A few features help it stand out.
Ecobee set itself apart with its earlier products by including a remote temperature sensor in the box with the thermostat. The thermostat itself can read the ambient temperature of whatever room it’s in and adjust accordingly. If you want it to adjust the temp based on the conditions in another room, just switch it over to the remote sensor. This is a useful accessory if your thermostat install point isn’t in a central location, or if you want to make sure a nursery or your home office is the focal point for the Ecobee’s temperature readings, rather than a far-flung hallway.
Read more: The best smart thermostats of 2019
You can buy the same accessory for a Nest thermostat, but Ecobee includes one in the box. Ecobee is also more agnostic about working with voice assistants than its Google-owned competitor. Where Nest will work with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa (maintained perhaps as a legacy function from before Google purchased Nest), Ecobee supports Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri.
Perhaps most unique, the Ecobee SmartThermostat is itself an Amazon Echo speaker. You won’t be impressed by its audio output for playing music, but as a basic extender for Alexa around your home, the Ecobee does an admirable job. Maybe you actually want Alexa in that far-flung hallway.
The Arlo Pro 3 is our new favorite smart home camera, taking over the crown from its predecessor, the Arlo Pro 2. It’s not cheap to get started with Arlo cameras. The most affordable starting package for Arlo Pro 3 costs $500 and includes two Pro 3 cameras and the required wireless base station. If you can get past that initial investment, you’ll be able to take advantage of the most versatile video camera set up on the market.
Every additional Arlo Pro 3 will cost $199. That’s expensive, but it also about the same as a single Nest Cam Outdoor, another well-regarded outdoor Wi-Fi security camera. If you already own an Arlo Pro base station from an earlier kit, the Arlo Pro 3 will work with that as well.
We have always liked Arlo’s cameras for their battery-powered, weatherproof design that makes that suited for use indoors or outdoors. You can power them with a cable, or with the included, rechargeable battery for up to six months. An easy-to-install magnetic base also gives you almost infinite flexibility in terms of how you want to position each camera. They can also stand by themselves without a base on any horizontal surface. In short, you can put these cameras anywhere, or move them between locations with incredible ease.
What’s new with the Arlo Pro 3 is a higher resolution video feed than its predecessor (2K vs 1080p), and a siren built into the camera, as opposed to the base station. Now you have an outdoor deterrent for any would-be intruders. For the sake of your neighbors, please use it with restraint.
Want just an affordable indoor cam? The Alexa-supporting $30 Wyze Cam Pan is our current favorite. No other camera comes close to the Wyze in terms of features for the dollar. But for an indoor/outdoor, whole-home installation, the Arlo Pro 3 gets the nod.
Cameras are one thing, but if you’re really concerned about security across your entire home, your best bet is the SimpliSafe 3.0 kit. It starts at $229 for the base station, a keypad, a motion sensor, and an open/close sensor. That’s a start, but one of the things we like most about SimpliSafe is the ability to customize your set up from a selection of eight different sensors, from smoke to glass-break.
Unlike many whole-home security systems, SimpliSafe requires no contract to lock you into its service plan. You can opt into a $15-a-month professional monitoring package, but it’s not required, and you can cancel at any time.
Read more: The best home security systems of 2020
Competing systems from Ring, Nest, ADT and Vivint all offer similar-seeming combinations of hardware and a la carte service, but they all offer either too few features if you don’t opt-in to a service package, or start at significantly higher price points than SimpliSafe without making up the difference in better hardware. The one system we like that comes close is Abode, which has a higher starting price, but deeper integration with other smart home devices. Look into Abode if you don’t mind paying a little more upfront and you want it to work with other products. As a standalone product, SimpliSafe is our top pick.
The hardwired Nest Hello video doorbell connects to your WiFi network so you can see who’s at the door in real time. It can also capture and store three hours worth of video clips for free. But the most compelling thing about it is the owner-controlled facial recognition feature.
Read more: The best video doorbells of 2020
Facial recognition has its controversies, but the way Google uses it in the Nest Hello doorbell seems like the right way to do it, at least until the next data privacy scandal. Unlike many commercial systems which pull from existing databases to make a match, Nest Hello helps you build your own personal facial recognition database based on the people that come to your door. Once you tag the most common visitors, the app will eventually recognize them, and alert you when they show up at your door.
The Nest Hello’s normal listing price is $230, which is on the high end of the scale.
Smart locks make people nervous because they insert another point of failure between you and your physical security. With a smart lock, a malicious hacker, or even a plain old technical failure or connectivity issue could all of a sudden compromise the entry point of your home.
There might be some truth to that. A keyless design with no physical failsafe could indeed lock you out but the August Smart Lock Pro isn’t one of those locks.
Read more: The best smart locks of 2020
The August Smart Lock is a breeze to install. It fits over the internal thumb latch of most existing deadbolt designs, and you can set it up in 15 minutes. Because it doesn’t replace the lock mechanism itself, you can still use your original, physical key.
The lock itself connects to your phone via Bluetooth, and from the August app, you can assign and revoke timed virtual keys to anyone you like, from your in-laws to your dog sitter, at no extra cost. Many other locks will charge extra for virtual keys.
The August Connect accessory included in this bundle bridges the lockout to the internet by getting it on your wireless network. From there, you can not only control the lock from anywhere, but you can also connect it to Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri (be sure to make each of them require a PIN to accompany the unlock command) for added convenience.
Another accessory with the Pro model is the tiny open-close sensor. This lets the lock tell you if it’s locked or unlocked and lets you know if the door itself is open or closed. It’s the most complete product available on the market for now. August also has a new smart lock coming out later this year that’s 45% smaller than the existing design and has wireless networking built-in. We’re eager to see how its battery-life holds up with a built-in W-Fi connection, but overall the new lock sounds promising.