Everyone wants a smarter home, but smart equals expensive. PAT PILCHER looks at some great smart gadgets that won’t break the bank.
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In the interests of finding the best gear (and where possible saving you some hard-earned cash), we at Witchdoctor made it our mission to seek out decent and where possible, affordable smart home gear. As a result, we’ve found a bunch of nifty widgets that’ll not only increase the IQ of your home but will save you some money too. Here’s what we’ve uncovered.
The beating heart of any smart home is a smart assistant/smart speaker. Voice-controlled smart speakers from Amazon and Google can answer questions, set alarms, give you weather forecasts, play music, and so much more. But, most important of all, they can drive all the smart home widgets reviewed here. You can buy smart screen versions for both Amazon and Google. Still, if keeping costs down is your priority, we suggest you aim for the more compact and more affordable Amazon Echo Dot or Google Home Mini.
If I were only allowed one smart home gadget, the Ring Video Doorbell Pro would be it. Not only is it more affordable than the Ring Video Doorbell 4, but it’ll also allow you to answer your door from anywhere. The Ring Video Doorbell Pro can send alerts to both Google and Echo smart speakers as well as your smartphone. This handily means you can both hear and speak to visitors, even if you’re away from home. If the Ring Video Doorbell Pro detects motion, it’ll also alert you. Advanced motion detection means you get motion alerts from within pre-set motion zones, so the number of false positives is close to zero. Another nice feature is that the Ring Doorbell will connect to existing doorbell wiring, so you don’t have to fart about with recharging batteries.
$45.74 (per bulb)
Having smart lights almost feels like magic. Not only can you turn lights on or off using nothing but your voice, but brightness and colours can be tweaked too, allowing you to completely change up the atmosphere of your home with a simple voice command. Because the bulbs use LEDs, they’ll last 10 times longer than an incandescent bulb and use a fraction of the electricity. Philips HUE bulbs might be the smart lights of choice, but they command a steep price premium. A more affordable option is the GLEDopto smart lightbulb from bangood.com. They are fully Hue compatible yet can be purchased for around half the cost of an equivalent Hue bulb. That said, you’ll still need to factor in the price of a Zigbee wireless Hue Hub. This is so the bulbs can connect to your network and be controlled with Alexa or Google Assistant devices or the Hue app on your smartphone.
Fancy gizmos that are Google or Alexa compatible are nice, but what about older not-so-smart gear? No problem! With a D-Link smart plug, you can turn appliances on and off with voice commands or with a smartphone app. The D-Link smartphone app can also tell you how much electricity the plugged-in device is drawing, allowing you to work out how much it costs to use.
Fitting Yale’s Assure smart lock to your front door is a lot like using a rear-vision mirror, in that you’ll never look back. It features a touch screen keypad, so there’s no need for keys. This handily means that you can’t lock your keys inside the house. Being a smart device, it also offers a bunch of nifty features. Each member of your household can have their own 4-digit entry pin, so you can track what time they’ve entered or exited. You can also create temporary access pins for visitors. Adding an additional wireless module can connect the Assure to your smart speaker so it can be locked/unlocked with just a voice command.
If the price seems a tad steep for a TV clicker, consider this. The Harmony can banish that teetering pile of remotes in your lounge, replacing them with a single rechargeable remote. Because it is a universal remote, the Harmony not only controls your TV but can control a tonne of other gear around your home. The Harmony is both Alexa and Google compatible. This means if I say “Alexa, turn on the TV”, this sees the Skybox powering up, the TV switching on and changing to the right HDMI input, and the sound mode of my speakers switched to whatever setting I’ve chosen. It is also highly customisable, and a Windows/Mac app allows you to use channel logos as channel buttons on its colour touch screen.
The Swann Enforcer system’s sticker price might seem steep at first glance, but it is actually amazing value for money. This is because it not only consists of 6 HD cameras, but you also get a whopping 2TB recorder which keeps a local copy of all captured video (which can also be uploaded to online storage). The setup can also connect to a mobile app for remote viewing. As you’d expect with smart home gear, Google Assistant and Alexa are also supported, allowing footage to be viewed on a TV with a connected Chromecast.