All posts in “Home Automation”

Everyday home gear made smart

Editor’s note: This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and TechCrunch may earn affiliate commissions.

If you only have one smart home device, it’s likely something simple and fun like a voice-controlled speaker or color-changing LED light bulb. As you expand your smart home setup, you can begin to swap out gear that isn’t as flashy but you still use everyday.

Switching to connected locks, power outlets and smoke alarms are all simple installs that can improve your safety and comfort in your own home. We’ve pulled together some of our favorite essentials made smart for anyone looking to upgrade.

Smart lock: Kwikset Kevo Smart Lock 2nd Gen

The Kwikset Kevo Smart Lock 2nd Gen is the most versatile smart lock that we’ve tested. Whether you prefer to use a wireless fob, smartphone app or key, you’ll be able to control the lock with all of them. When we compared it to similar models, the Kevo’s Bluetooth-activated tap-to-unlock mechanism was the easiest to use.

The second generation of the Kevo improved on security and has all-metal internal components for better protection against forced break-in attempts. With the optional Kevo Plus upgrade, you’ll add the ability to control the lock remotely and receive status-monitoring updates.

Photo: Liam McCabe

Robot Vacuum: iRobot Roomba 960

If cleaning is neither your forte or preferred pastime, a robot vacuum will come in handy. Our upgrade pick, the iRobot Roomba 960, is one of the most powerful models that we tested. It can be controlled through the iRobot Home app and uses a bump-and-track navigation system that helps vacuum an entire floor without missing spots.

If its battery is running low during a session, it’ll return to its dock to power up before finishing the job. It’s easy to disassemble for maintenance and is equipped with repairable parts that make it worth its price over some of our less serviceable picks.

Photo: Rachel Cericola

Plug-in Smart Outlet: Belkin Wemo Mini

We tested 26 smart outlet models over more than 45 hours and chose the Belkin Wemo Mini Wi-Fi plug as our top pick. If you’ve ever thought it’d be nice to remotely turn on or off home essentials such as lamps, air conditioners and fans from your smartphone, plugging them into a smart outlet makes it possible.

The Wemo Mini has proven to be reliable throughout long-term testing, it doesn’t block other outlets on the same wall plate and it’s compatible with iOS and Android devices and assistants, including HomeKit/Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant. The interface of the Wemo app is intuitive and easy to use. You can view all of your connected devices on one screen, set powering timers and from anywhere power on or off a device plugged into the Wemo outlet.

Photo: Jennifer Pattison Tuohy

Smart Thermostat: Nest Thermostat E

For a smart thermostat that’s affordable and doesn’t require extensive programming, we recommend the Nest Thermostat E. After about a week, it creates a schedule after learning cooling and heating preferences that you’ve set. It isn’t compatible with as many HVAC systems as similar Nest models, but it’s easy to install and doesn’t lack any features we expect.

It does come with Eco Mode — an energy-saving geofencing feature that detects when your home is empty (or when your smartphone is nowhere near your house). The Nest app uses the same technology to set the thermostat to a preferred temperature when it senses you’re on your way home. If you don’t have your smartphone on hand, you can still operate the Thermostat E by turning its outer ring and pressing selections on its touchscreen.

Photo: Michael Hession

Smart Smoke Alarm: Nest Protect

A smoke alarm is one of the most relied-upon safety devices in every home. Nonetheless, it’s easy to forget to do routine checks to ensure it’s in tip-top shape and functioning properly. With a smart smoke alarm like the Nest Protect, we found that its simple app, self-tests, monthly sound checks and consistent alerts are enough to keep fire safety worries at bay.

It isn’t difficult to install, has a sleek design and integrates with other smart home devices like the Nest Cam (which can record video of a fire) and the Nest Learning Thermostat (which shuts down HVAC systems that may be the cause of a fire). It’s sensitive to fast- and slow-burning fires, plus it monitors homes for both smoke and carbon monoxide.

These picks may have been updated by WirecutterWhen readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and TechCrunch may earn affiliate commissions.

Nest’s video doorbell is now shipping

Back in September of last year, Nest announced its first smart doorbell. When it would actually ship, however, was left sort of up in the air; all the company said at the time was to expect it sometime in Q1 of 2018.

Turns out, that means today. The Nest doorbell — or the Nest Hello, as it’s known — is now shipping for $229.

Nest also mentioned a few other bits of news:

  • The front door lock/touchpad they built in partnership with Yale, also announced back in September of last year, is now shipping
  • They’re now making external, wireless, battery-powered temperature sensors for the Nest Thermostat (previously, the thermostat only really cared about the temperature of whichever room it was in). You can add up to six sensors. One sensor will cost $39, or a three pack goes for $99. The sensor (pictured at the bottom of this post) is a simple white puck, just a bit over an inch wide.

Not unlike the now Amazon-owned Ring, the Hello’s primary purpose is to let you know when someone rings the doorbell, and to let you see and communicate with them by way of the built-in camera/microphone/speaker rig. Out of the box, sans subscriptions, Nest will store the video of who rang your doorbell for 3 hours; if you want to access it beyond that, you’ll need a monthly Nest Aware subscription.

In most cases, hooking up the Hello should be a matter of popping out your old doorbell and wiring up the new one; it pulls its power from the same wiring setup that most doorbells use, and it should play friendly with any in-door chimes you probably already have in place.

Its got a 3-megapixel camera (with infrared night vision) for 1600×1200 video at 30 frames per second, a 160º field of view, and 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi. Unlike some competitors, it doesn’t have a battery — so you’ll need that aforementioned power line.

With that said, it’s got a few tricks I haven’t seen with others in the space, like a “Quiet time” mode for when you (or, say, your baby) are sleeping. It’ll still buzz your phone, but in-door chimes won’t go ringin’ away. Pre-recorded messages, meanwhile, let you communicate with delivery people and anyone else who might be hanging around your porch during those times when shouting “PLEASE LEAVE THE PACKAGE ON THE PORCH I’LL GRAB IT SHORTLY” might feel a bit weird.

We should have one to check out before too long, so expect a review as soon as we’ve put it through the paces.

Ecobee’s new voice-powered light switch moves closer to whole-home Alexa


Alexa is already everywhere in a lot of homes, thanks to the affordability and ease of installation/setup of the Echo Dot. But Alexa could become even more seamlessly integrated into your home, if you think about it. And Canadian smart home tech maker ecobee did think about it, which is how they came up with the ecobee Switch+.

Ecobee is probably most known for their connected thermostats, which are one of the strongest competitors out there for Nest. The company’s been building other products, too, however, and developing closer ties with Amazon and its Alexa virtual assistant. The Switch+ has the closest ties yet, since it includes Alexa Voice Service and far-field voice detection microphone arrays to essential put an Echo in your wall wherever you have a light switch handy.

The ecobee Switch+ is still a connected light switch that works like similar offerings from Belkin’s Wemo, too, and offers full compatibility with Alexa, HomeKit and Assistant for remote voice control. But it goes a step further with Alexa, acting not only as the connected home smart device, but also the command center, too.

The Switch+ is now available for pre-order from ecobee and select retail partners including, unsurprisingly, Amazon, in both the U.S. and Canada for a retail price of $99 U.S. or $119 Canadian. It should work with most standard light switches, although not 2-way switches where multiple switches control the same light or lights. In-store availability and shipping starts on March 26.

Samsung turns to Harman to further SmartThings development


Harman and Samsung have entered into a strategic association that will have Harman taking up the SmartThings’ standard and carrying it forward against other Internet of Things products. Announced today, Samsung SmartThings R&D team and HARMAN Connected Services (HCS), a division of HARMAN International, will collaborate on the platform with HCS developing and supporting the SmartThings applications and device development.

Samsung purchased early Internet of Things darling SmartThings in 2014 for around $200 million. Since then Samsung has slowly expanded the product line and worked the services into several Samsung product. Yet from an outside vantage point, SmartThings has been treading water.

Harman, also a Samsung company, will take on key SmartThings development tasks including with developing and deploying the SmartThings app, work third party sensors into the SmartThings ecosystem, develop SmartThings Cloud and develop the SmartThings roadmap.

SmartThings launched as one of the early companies that offered a complete, turnkey Internet of Things ecosystem. The company raised a $3 million seed round in 2012 and demoed its wears at CES 2013 by retrofitting a rented house in Vegas. Samsung purchased the company in 2014 when the IoT wars were heating up. Since then, SmartThings has largely been left behind as Alexa and Google Home have grown in popularity. It will now be up to Harman to make SmartThings live up to its early promises.

Philips releases outdoor connected Hue lighting


Philips Hue products are going outside. Available for purchase this summer in the U.S., the lighting company has a range of new outdoor lighting products extending the world of Internet of Things to the great outdoors.

These products mark an important change for the Internet of Things world. As WiFi range and consumer demand increases, products such as these will become more available. Soon, consumers will expect to talk to products outdoors as they would indoors. I do. Last summer, I retrofitted an Echo Dot for outdoor use and connected it to a small amp that powers some outdoor speakers. It made weeding the garden a lot more enjoyable.

Like their indoor counterparts, these Hue products are a tad on the pricey side but offer a range of features not available on traditional lighting products. Once connected to a standard Philips Hue hub, the lights can be controlled through the Hue app or a voice assistant.

The new line includes a standard, weather-resistant bulb for $29.99, wall mounted lights starting at $49 and several color changing models, too. The spotlight Philips Hue Lily costs $270 and comes with three lights, while the Calla is $129 and is designed to illuminate pathways — both have access to 16 million different colors.