Best retrofit smart lock: August Smart Lock Pro
If you don’t want to replace your existing deadbolt (or you can’t, perhaps because you’re a renter), the August Smart Lock Pro is your best choice. It will look nice on the inside of your door, and won’t impact the key side of the door at all. August bundles its Wi-Fi August Connect Wi-Fi bridge with the lock, which means it can connect to just about any smart home platform—including Apple’s HomeKit—and the lock itself is also equipped with Bluetooth and Z-Wave Plus radios.
Thanks to August’s DoorSense feature, the August Smart Lock Pro can not only inform you as to whether it’s locked or unlocked, it can also tell you if the door it’s installed in is closed or ajar. This retrofit smart lock is expensive, but it’s unrivaled in terms of its feature set.
Runner-up: Kwikset Kevo Convert
Kwikset’s retrofit smart lock, the Kevo Convert, isn’t nearly as feature rich as August’s, and it’s Bluetooth only, so it can be tied into a broader smart home system. But it will add intelligence to your otherwise dumb deadbolt, it’s super easy to install, and it’s very inexpensive as smart locks go.
The Kevo Convert is a Bluetooth-only lock, but you can add Wi-Fi connectivity with the purchase of the $100 Kevo Plus wireless bridge. While you’d be getting close to the price of the August Smart Lock Pro at that point, you’d still be saving about $60.
Best smart thermostat: Ecobee4
No smart home would be complete without a smart thermostat to make it more comfortable to live in. And when you consider that heating and cooling your home accounts for about half of your monthly utility budget, a good one can save you a big chunk of money. The Ecobee4 is our current favorite. This latest iteration carries over the sensors that can monitor temperatures in other rooms of your home, helping to mitigate hot and cold spots, but it also features a built-in Amazon Echo, so you can control HVAC system—and the rest of your smart home system—with voice commands.
Don’t worry, if you’re living in a Google Home home, the Ecobee4 supports that digital assistant, too. In fact, the Ecobee4 also boasts broad compatibility with many other smart home components, including our two favorite smart home hubs—Samsung SmartThings and the Wink Hub 2—as well as Haiku ceiling fans, the Apple HomeKit ecosystem, and IFTTT.
Runner-up: Nest Learning Thermostat (3rd generation)
You’d have to be pretty jaded to not be smitten by the exquisite industrial design of the Nest Learning Thermostat. There’s just no more beautiful thermostat to be had. And Nest Labs is to be commended on the work it’s contributed to the Thread network protocol for the Internet of Things.
But in our book, smart beats beautiful—besides, the Ecobee4 isn’t exactly a homely bit of tech to hang on your wall. And that’s why Nest gets the runner-up spot.
Best smart speaker: Sonos One
We picked the Sonos One for this category because it’s smart and it delivers great sound and it’s a member of the most affordable, world-class multi-room speaker system on the market. The Sonos One delivers all the features of Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service, but it sounds vastly superior to anything in Amazon’s Echo line. We would have liked to have compared it to the larger Google Home, but we have yet to receive our review unit.
Whether you already own other Sonos speakers or you decide to put them in other rooms down the road, you can control each or all of them with voice commands given to any Echo device. If you’re just looking for a digital assistant to control you smart home (and smart speakers), save some cash and buy an Echo Dot (2nd generation).
Runner-up—A tie: Amazon Echo Show and Echo Spot
So Amazon pulls off a hat trick plus here. While we weren’t as impressed with the other Echo models it introduced this year, the two new Echo’s with built-in displays knocked our socks off. The larger Echo Show boasts a 7-inch display you can watch movies on, it will display lyrics while streaming music from Amazon’s service (a feature Spotify really needs to adopt), it shows editable versions of your shopping and to-do lists, and a whole lot more.
Both it and the more-affordable Echo Spot can make video calls to other screen-endowed Echo’s or anyone with the Alexa app installed on their smartphone, and you can use them as in-house video intercoms, too.
Best whole-home Wi-Fi system: Netgear Orbi RBK50
We’ve focused most of our attention on 802.11ac mesh routers and whole-home Wi-Fi systems this year. They’re the best networking solution for most homes, because they eliminate dead spots by blanketing your home with near-uniform connectivity. We’ll add more coverage of the traditional routers that gamers and other enthusiasts might prefer in 2018.
In the meantime, Netgear’s Orbi RBK50 remains our top recommendation for most consumers. If your home has ethernet in its walls, however, we recommend the Linksys Velop for reasons we’ll explain in a moment.
Netgear’s system consists of a tri-band router with a three-port ethernet switch, and one satellite access point. Netgear says this should be sufficient for a typical 2,000-square-foot home. You can add satellites if your home is larger, but we found two to be sufficient for the 2,800-square-foot, single-story, ranch-style house we tested it in.
Best mesh Wi-Fi router for homes with ethernet infrastructure: Linksys Velop
One of the reasons the Orbi RBK50 is so fast is that it dedicates one of its two 5GHz radios (the third operates on the 2.4GHz band) to data backhaul. The three-station Linksys Velop can do the same thing, but it will automatically switch to even faster wired ethernet for backhaul if that option is available. Netgear has promised to add this capability to the RBK50 almost since it launched, but we’re still waiting.
Note: The discussions of the Netgear Orbi RBK50 and the Linksys Velop were originally published on PCWorld.