As the year winds down, get the scoop on our favorite home security systems, smart speakers, smart lights, smart thermostats, and more.
By TechHive staff
We’re heading into the home stretch of 2021, and that’s our cue to round up the very best smart home products that are available this year, from smart speakers and home security systems to smart thermostats and robot vacuums. Whether you’re shopping for a new smart display or an air purifier that plays nice with voice assistants, there’s something on our list that should fit the bill.
We have more than one product in some categories, differentiated by price or feature set. And since smart speakers are as important for entertainment as they are for smart home control, you’ll find them on our best home entertainment product list, too. Finally, keep in mind that not every product on this list was introduced this year. We’re not going to avoid recommending a great product just because it hit the market earlier than January 1, 2021.
SmartThings is our long-time favorite DIY smart home platform, and Samsung’s decision to stop building its own smart home hardware hasn’t changed our minds. The Aeotec Smart Home Hub now fills the hub role, and it works with the same extremely wide universe of SmartThings compatible devices, including Lutron, Philips Hue, Z-Wave, and Lutron smart lighting; Sonos and Bose loudspeakers; Kwikset and Yale smart locks; Ring home security devices; and—of course—smart speakers powered by Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. If you’re going the DIY route to build your smart home, the Aeotec Smart Home Hub should be at its foundation.
Voice commands are the ultimate solution for controlling your smart home, and there is no better Alexa-powered smart speaker for the money than the Sonos One. (And if you’re more of a Google Assistant household, you can configure it accordingly.) The speaker’s onboard microphone array will almost magically respond to the Alexa wake word no matter how loudly you’re blasting the tunes Sonos supports virtually every music-streaming service in existence—the company’s own Sonos Radio is pretty great, too—and the Sonos One sounds fantastic with all of them. What’s more, absolutely no one does multi-room audio better. We didn’t reviewed the Sonos One (Gen 2) because Sonos says it’s functionally identical to the original. Looking for the best smart speaker for music-listening? Check our recommendation in the home entertainment category.
Best smart speaker with Google Assistant: Nest Audio
With the demise of the Google Home Max, the Nest Audio is now Google’s flagship smart speaker, but while the superb Max was something of a behemoth, the smaller Nest Audio is more homey, and at $100 it’s far more affordable. Equipped with a solid aluminum chassis, a tweeter, and a mid-woofer, the Nest Audio delivers surprisingly rich, deep sonics, while its on-device AI chip helps to speed Google Assistant’s responses.
Speaking of the Assistant, the Nest Audio can control your smart devices as well as any Google smart speaker can, and if you pony up for the $6/month Nest Aware service, it will even listen for suspicious sounds like smoke alarms or breaking glass. The subscription also enables some nifty features to Nest security cameras and video doorbells.
Apple’s HomeKit ecosystem is both newer and smaller than the competing solutions from Amazon and Google, but the products that earn HomeKit certification are of very high quality. You can use Siri to control any HomeKit-compatible device, tee up Apple Music tunes, send messages to other Apple users in your household, and answer everyday queries (“Hey Siri, what’s the weather today?”).
Best budget smart speaker with Alexa: Amazon Echo Dot
Amazon’s fourth-generation Echo Dot ditches the hockey-puck design for a spherical one, complete with Alexa’s famous light ring on the base of the unit. But while the new Echo Dot has undergone a radical redesign, it’s basically the same device, with onboard Alexa, plenty of smart home capabilities, and marginally improved audio quality, which is to say it sounds a tad better than its meh-sounding predecessors.
Of course, the Echo Dot’s killer feature is its price tag—just $50, and since it’s almost always on sale, you can usually snag it for a lot less. If you’re looking for a cheap way to begin your smart home journey, the Echo Dot makes for an attractive first step.
Best budget smart speaker with Google Assistant: Google Nest Mini
Like the Amazon Echo Dot, the Google Nest Mini is tantalizingly cheap at a mere $50, and also like the Dot, it’s regularly on sale. Small, fabric-covered and attractive, the Nest Mini lacks the Dot’s 3.5mm jacking for connecting an external speaker, but there’s always Bluetooth. Google Assistant is quickly gaining ground on Alexa in terms of smart home device compatibility, and the Assistant already has the upper hand at answering general questions thanks to its treasure trove of Google search knowledge. Whether you’re just getting started with your smart home or you’re looking to put Google Assistant in every room of your house, the Google Nest Mini is a great value.
Best smart display with Alexa: Amazon Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen)
An 8-inch screen is more than enough for checking your security camera feeds, checking the weather, and making video calls with its 13-megapixel camera that digitally pans and zooms to keep you centered in the frame. Photos look great on its 1200×800 pixel adaptive color display that reacts to ambient lighting. And its small footprint—7.9 x 5.4 x 3.9 inches (WxHxD)—won’t eat up a lot of space on your counter or tabletop. With Amazon’s home-monitoring feature, you can turn the Echo Show 8 itself into a security camera, so you can check on the homestead while you’re away. The Echo Show 8’s long list of features, high performance, small footprint—and small price tag—make it the perfect display for managing your smart home. Need a larger Alexa-based smart display for movies? Check our recommendation in the home entertainment category.
Best smart display with Google Assistant: Google Nest Hub (2nd Gen)
With its vibrant 7-inch display and trim-and-slim form factor, the Google Nest Hub fits nicely on a kitchen counter or a living room shelf, but it excels in the bedroom, where the radar-powered Sleep Sensing feature on the 2nd-gen Nest Hub can monitor your sleep without the need of a wrist band.
The Nest Hub also makes for a fantastic photo frame thanks to Ambient EQ, a feature that adjusts the display’s colors and brightness based on the ambient light in the room, or you can cast videos to the screen via Chromecast. Controlling smart home devices is a simple matter of tapping the display or asking Google Assistant, who can also tee up music, give you a weather report, read your schedule, and answer general queries. That’s a ton of value for just $99.
Best air purifier: NuWave OxyPure Smart Air Purifier
About the size of a mini-fridge, the 27-pound NuWave OxyPure Smart Air Purifier comes equipped with four filters, including an electrostatic filter to remove bacteria, viruses, and mold, and a HEPA/carbon combo filter to screen out gasses and volatile organic compounds. Touch-sensitive controls make it easy to manually initiate cleaning cycles, and there’s an operational mode that runs the unit automatically depending on how dirty the surrounding air is.
Compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant, the NuWave OxyPure Smart Air Purifier is as effective as it is large, although it’s pricey at $500. Looking for something more affordable? Consider the Coway Airmega 150, a compact air purifier with responsive real-time monitoring and (at press time) a roughly $150 price tag.
The Roborock S7 is simply the best robot mop/vacuum hybrid we’ve ever tested. Equipped with a LiDAR scanner for improved navigation, the $650 S7 arrives with sonic vibration technology that scrubs hard floors up to 3,000 times per minute, allowing it to loosen stains that most other vacuum/mop hybrids can’t. Step up to the $950 S7+ configuration, and you’ll get a bundled Auto-Empty Dock accessory that both charges the S7’s battery and sucks the detritus from the vacuum’s dustbin, so you don’t get your hands dirty and none of that garbage escapes linto the air.
Best smart thermostat: Ecobee SmartThermostat with voice control
Yes, Ecobee’s fifth-generation smart thermostat has Alexa onboard, but that could be its least-important feature. What makes this smart thermostat so fantastically innovative is its remote room sensors that monitor the temperature in the rooms in which they’re deployed and use their onboard motion sensors to determine which rooms are occupied. The thermostat takes this information into account and instructs your HVAC system to heat or cool so that the temperature of the occupied rooms gets as close as possible to the target temperature you set. Ecobee’s latest thermostat is compatible with a wide range of HVAC systems, and there’s even a power adapter kit for installations where no C wire is present.
Best smart bulb: Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance A19
Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance A19 (Bluetooth + Zigbee)
A long-time leader in the smart lighting space, Signify’s Philips Hue brand continues to innovate with its new gradient lamps and light strips as well as its Hue Play HDMI Sync Box for TVs, but the humble Hue White and Color Ambiance A19 bulb remains our favorite single smart lighting product.
The perfect gateway into the Hue ecosystem, the White and Color Ambiance A19 can be controlled via Bluetooth using a simple mobile app, and it delivers millions of colors as well as a wide range of white color temperatures. Once you’re ready, you can add a Zigbee-based Hue Bridge ($50) for more advanced features, such as out-of-home control, automations, geofencing support, and the ability to control up to 50 lights (the Bluetooth app limits you to controlling 10).
Best smart plug: Leviton Decora Smart Wi-Fi (2nd Gen)
Leviton’s second generation of Decora smart plugs (there’s a switch for space heaters, fans, and other small appliances, and a dimmer for lamps) cost more than the competition, but they’re simply the best in their category. The model D215P switch and model D23LP dimmer operate over Wi-Fi, so you don’t need a smart home hub if you want to keep things simple, and they’re compatible with Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple’s HomeKit smart home platform. Both plugs are small enough that two can be plugged into the same duplex outlet, and the My Leviton app (available for Android and iOS) gives you an impressive degree of control over the devices when it comes to setting scenes and schedules. The same app also controls Leviton’s diverse collection in-wall Wi-Fi products.
Our opinion of the Lutron Caséta smart home platform has evolved over the years. We like it a lot more today than we first evaluated it, and the Caséta ecosystem has grown to include not just smart lighting, like the in-wall dimmer switch named here, but also motion sensors, smart ceiling fan controls, smart shades, and even smart wood blinds. Lutron uses its own proprietary wireless standard and its own Wi-Fi bridge (a range extender is also available), but the company works enthusiasticallyh with other manufacturers to ensure broad compatibility. The list of partnerships includes Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, Samsung SmartThings, and even Sonos speakers to name just a few. Bottom line: You can deploy Lutron’s excellent Caséta products without worrying that you’ll be trapped in a walled garden.
Best surge protector: TP-Link Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Power Strip (model HS300)
TP-Link Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Power Strip (model HS300)
Surge protectors are all the same, right? Wrong. TP-Link’s Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Power Strip connects to your Wi-Fi network, so you can turn its six protected outlets on and off individually from anywhere you have internet access. What’s more, you can operate the outlets on a schedule, and you can even bark Alexa and Google Assistant commands to do the same (there’s no HomeKit or Siri support, though).
You also get three always-on USB-A charging ports for your phones and tablets. Besides smart control, the Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Power Strip offers surge protection (500 volts on each AC power leg) along with energy monitoring. TP-Link also offers a smaller and less-expensive version—TP-Link’s model KP303—that has three AC outlets and two USB charging ports. TP-Link’s Kasa Smart Wi-Fi power strips are tough to beat.