The best smart home devices that work with Alexa

Amazon’s Echo smart speakers are most powerful when paired with third-party smart home hardware. These are our favorites.

Echo-compatible smart home devices Rob Schultz / IDG

Amazon’s Echo series of smart speakers, powered by the Alexa digital assistant, are amazingly capable devices on their own. You can use them for everything from streaming music to maintaining a shopping list to ordering pizza delivery and more. But Alexa becomes even more powerful when paired with compatible third-party products.

Alexa is most useful when asked to control your smart home, but she can improve your home entertainment system, improve the quality of your lawn and garden, better secure your home, and even go on the road with you. Here are our top picks in a broad range of categories.

Best Alexa-compatible smart bulb

Philips was among the first companies to introduce a smart bulb, and it remains the company to beat in this space. You can not only ask Alexa to dim your lights or change their white color temperature from “warm” to “cool,” but you can also change the shade of color the bulbs produce. You can also control Hue bulbs directly using Amazon’s Echo Plus, but you’ll still need a Philips Hue bridge if you want to change the light’s color. The starter kit gives you everything you need. 

Runner-up

LIFX bulbs operate over Wi-Fi, so you don’t need a bridge or smart home hub to control them. One of the aspects we really like about the LIFX bulb is its brightness—it produces 1055 lumens. And if you have an indoor home security camera with night vision, you’ll also want to check out the LIFX+, which adds infrared LEDs that will illuminate the surrounding area with light you can’t see, but that will significantly increase the range of your security camera.

Best Alexa-compatible smart switch 

Smart bulbs are more convenient to install than smart switches, but if the socket the bulb is screwed into is controlled by a light switch, and that switch is in the off position, no technology in the world will let you control it until the switch gets flipped. Wemo’s Wi-Fi Smart Dimmer works over Wi-Fi, as its name suggests, so you won’t need a smart home hub for it to work. It does have a couple of limitations you’ll want to know about: It requires the presence of a neutral wire, and it won’t work with 3- or 4-way circuits.

Runner-up

The Noon Lighting System is our absolute favorite smart lighting system, but it’s too expensive to be our first recommendation. That said, this system fully justifies its lofty price tag. One master switch—an elegant device with an OLED touchscreen—can control as many as 10 slave switches, so you can create lighting scenes for an entire room of lighting fixtures with one touch or voice command. Other features include a motion-activated night light and a burglar-deterring vacation mode that learns and plays back your lighting routines to make it look as though the house is occupied. Multi-way circuits will need a compatible extension switch at each additional control point, but the system doesn’t require a neutral wire.

Best Alexa-compatible smart plug

A great companion to Belkin’s Wemo smart switch, the Wemo Mini Smart Plug lets you control things like lamps, fans, small appliances, and other dumb devices that can’t be controlled by a switch on the wall. Its small size means it won’t block an adjacent outlet; in fact, you can stack one on top of another if you need to control two devices in close proximity to one another. 

Runner-up

iHome's iSP6 is another great choice in smart plugs, and if you're an Apple fan, you'll appreciate that it can be integrated into a HomeKit network without requiring the type of HomeKit bridge that the Wemo needs. 

Best Alexa-compatible smart home hub

A smart-home hub is a must if you really want to see what Alexa can do, and Samsung’s SmartThings hub is our current favorite, because it can control devices that communicate over Wi-Fi, ZigBee, or Z-Wave (Amazon’s own Echo Plus has a built-in smart home hub, but it can control only Wi-Fi and ZigBee devices). Samsung has an extensive offering of SmartThings devices, and it’s broadly compatible with third-party products, too. Perhaps more importantly, Samsung announced a renewed commitment to the platform at CES 2018 and plans to spread the technology throughout its entire ecosystem.

Runner-up

We also really like the Wink Hub 2. Like SmartThings, it has Wi-Fi, ZigBee, and Z-Wave radios on board and is broadly compatible with third-party smart-home devices. But the company that developed it is now on its third owner, i.am+ (owned by pop musician and entrepreneur Will.i.am), which has said little to nothing about what it intends to do with the technology it acquired.

Best Alexa-compatible music-streaming service

Nothing’s more convenient than asking your Alexa-compatible speaker to play your favorite artist, song, or playlist. You can use a host of free and paid services with the Echo, but Spotify Premium is our current favorite. On the upside, Spotify offers a comprehensive library of tunes, and we dig its genre-based radio stations. On the downside, even the paid service ($9.99 per month) maxes out at a bit rate of just 320Kbps (in Ogg Vorbis format).

Runner-up

Amazon Music Unlimited comes in a very close second. Amazon says its library contains “tens of millions” of tracks, compared to Spotify’s claim of 30 million tracks, and Amazon streams music at an even lower bit rate (256Kbps) than Spotify, but it will display scrolling song lyrics in addition to album art if you’re streaming to an Echo with a display (the Echo Show or Echo Spot). It’s also less expensive than Spotify: As little as $3.99 per month for the Echo plan, but that limits you to listening on just one Echo at a time. You can’t use the Echo’s multi-room audio feature with that plan, and you can’t stream to other devices, such as smartphones, tablets, or computers. Most people will want the $7.99-per-month Individual plan, which doesn’t have those restrictions. (The Individual plan costs $9.99 per month if you’re not a Prime member.)

Best Alexa-compatible Bluetooth speaker

Nothing in Amazon’s Echo line can compete with the sonic performance of a Google Home Max, but that doesn’t mean Alexa dooms you to listening to subpar audio. You can pair any Bluetooth speaker with an Echo for fantastic sound. And if you’re going to do that, why not go the full Monty and add a true stereo pair of speakers in the form of the Edifier Luna e25 HD.

Best Alexa-compatible multi-room audio solution

Sonos delivers the best audio performance of any Alexa-compatible smart speaker (and the company plans to add Google Assistant to the speaker’s repertoire soon). No one does multi-room audio better than Sonos, so if you’re intrigued by the idea of playing different music in every room in your home, give the Sonos One a long listening test. All you need is one to control an entire house full of Sonos speakers with your voice (provided you’re in a room with an Echo or a Sonos One, that is).

Best Alexa-compatible universal remote control

It’s an expensive solution to be sure, but Logitech’s Harmony Elite is arguably the most powerful remote control on the market. It’s a two-piece solution consisting of a remote control with a large touchscreen and lots of buttons, paired with a hub that’s designed to fit inside your entertainment center. The hub connects to your Wi-Fi network (and by extension, to Alexa) and hosts infrared blasters to control your home entertainment gear. The remote talks to the hub using RF signals, eliminating any line-of-sight requirement. Once you link the Elite to your Alexa account, you use voice commands to turn on your TV, change channels, pause whatever you’re watching (assuming you have a DVR), and lots more.

Best Alexa-compatible smart thermostat

Lots of smart thermostats are compatible with Alexa—including the ones from Google’s Nest Labs division—but we like the Ecobee4 best because of its use of sensors that can monitor the temperature in rooms other than where the thermostat itself is installed. You don’t even need to pair the Ecobee4 with an Echo—it has one built right inside!

Runner-up

The Lyric T5 doesn’t have external sensors, and it doesn’t have an integrated Echo, but it’s a great choice if you’re looking for a capable but less-expensive smart thermostat. Its black-and-white display communicates everything you need to know about your indoor climate, and it has a responsive touchscreen for those times you don’t want to tell Alexa to do your bidding with your HVAC system.

Best Alexa-compatible doorbell camera

Ring might not have invented the first doorbell cam, but it did bring the technology into the mainstream and it remains the biggest player in the market. Ring’s Alexa skill is also works with the company’s Floodlight Cam, and it’s just as limited: You can stream real-time video from the camera to an Echo Show or Echo Spot, but that’s about it. If you want to speak to the person at your door or use any Ring features, you’ll need to use Ring’s smartphone app.

Runner-up

Now on its second generation, the August Doorbell Cam Pro is an ideal companion to any August Smart Lock. The camera boasts an attractive industrial design, and it can stream a very clear image to an Echo Show or Echo Spot in addition to your smartphone. The camera doesn’t have any kind of night vision, but it does have a built-in LED that will light up when a caller approaches, helping to illuminate them. As with other Alexa-compatible doorbell and security cameras we’ve tested, you can only see visitors on the other side of the camera—you can’t speak to them through display-equipped Echos.

Best Alexa-compatible home security camera

You can’t do a whole lot with Netgear’s Alexa skill, but it’s good when you need a quick live view of what your home security camera can see and hear. So if there’s a bump in the night, for example, you won’t need to leave your bed to investigate. And saying “Alexa, show me the living room” to an Amazon Echo Show or Echo Spot is a lot faster than pulling out your smartphone, launching the Arlo app, and tapping on the camera icon.

This same app works with all of Netgear’s Arlo cameras, including the 3G-connected Arlo Go outdoor model, but it’s pretty limited—a live stream is about all you’ll get. But we’ve tried a few other security camera apps and they’re no better.  Here’s hoping that changes. It would be great to be able to retrieve video clips, arm/disarm the camera’s motion sensor, trigger the onboard siren, speak with the person on the other side of the camera, and perform other tasks with voice commands.

Runner-up

If you’re already using one of Ring’s video doorbells, you’d likely prefer its Ring Floodlight Cam over any other manufacturer’s outdoor security camera. Juggling multiple apps for different cameras is a hassle. As with Netgear’s Arlo, however, the Alexa skill is limited to one-way audio and video streaming—from the camera to the Echo. You can’t converse with the person on the other side of the camera, nor can you sound the Ring Floodlight Cam’s siren if you see something alarming. As with Netgear’s cameras, however, it’s much easier to call up the camera’s view with a voice command than it is to pull out your smartphone.

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