If you asked me a couple years ago if I’d want a smart home, I’d probably tell you no. Having my lights, locks and security cameras controlled by an online platform had an almost cyberpunk connotation. Then again, I was also a strong advocate for physical over digital games back then and also believed that Pokemon was wine sent from the Gods. Now, today in 2022, all of those perspectives have shifted or otherwise changed. I think it goes without saying that we all change over time. We are not the same people we were last year or on a biological level not even the same as a minute ago. With those changes comes experience and with that, change in outlook.
Where do you start?
Today in the smart home space today we have lots of options for operating our devices. Some of the most well known include:
- Google Home
- Apple Home Kit
- Amazon Alexa
- Home Assistant
Which option you choose should of course depend on what type of smart devices you plan on installing and which ecosystem you already have vested investment in. If you have an iPhone then it probably makes most sense to pursue Apple Home Kit as your smart management system. If you’re like me with a Google Pixel 6 as your daily driver then Google Home makes the most logical sense. Especially when considering Google’s new hardware coming later this year and in 2023. Equally you can use the Amazon Alexa home system if you’ve already bought into their ecosystem. These first three are arguably the easiest to set up and use but as of writing, lack some of the complexities of IFTTT and Home Assistant. The latter two options allow for more device compatibility and even cross platform integration. So if you like having an Amazon echo configuration in your living room but prefer Google in the bedroom, you can do that. All of this however may require some troubleshooting and possibly some extra hardware.
How Much Will Your Smart Home Cost?
Of the three major options, Apple is the most expensive however with the least compatible devices currently on the market. Apples HomePod minis retail at £89 a pop. That’s a massive investment for just one smart speaker but I’m sure apple faithful will not waver. If I were to go this route with my current home config, I’d be looking at £445 for 5 rooms. With my Google Nest Minis, that’s £96 for 4 speakers and an additional £45 for Nest Hub in the kitchen. Amazon’s echo dots are just one pound less than the Google Nest Minis while their echo show 5 is currently retailing at the same price as the Nest Hub. Price for price, they’re essentially the same so when choosing between them it mainly comes down to preference.
Once you’ve committed to a smart ecosystem you’re mostly locked into devices which work within it. For example with my Google Home set up I’ve got a few TP-Link Tapo lights and a camera. I’ve also got two XBOX Series S’ and a Roku. This makes for a simple setup but with a bit more financial investment it can be a whole lot more. For example, an investment in a Zigbee hub would open up an entirely new variety of products to me. Zigbee also affords you more stability unlike devices like the Tapo products, which are cheaper but require you to connect to a server via the internet to operate. In practice, Tapo bulbs and similar wi-fi smart devices frequently disconnect from Google Home. With Zigbee that isn’t likely to happen. You’d also not need to worry about load on your wifi network or your system potentially being accessed via server breach.
In future I plan to add said Zigbee hub, some motion sensors, more lights, a smart doorbell, thermostat and more security cameras. This of course has an additional cost but with most of my home network infrastructure already in place, it can be done incrementally.
Who Has the Best Smart Assistant?
All that being said, a smart home is only as smart as its accompanying assistant. Google has Google Assistant, Amazon has Alexa and Apple has Seri. Of the three, I’ve found Alexa to be the easiest to say but Google to be the most accurate/ robust with regards to results. As for Seri, I’ve not interacted with it in a smart home capacity however its mobile implementation leaves much to desire. Add to that, negative third party accounts of using its smart home implementation doesn’t bode well for it. Albeit software can be improved or deteriorate over time. Google has shown the latter with some of its botched Pixel 6 updates but for the most part I’d expect them all to be very competent with time.
How Does it Improve Quality of Life?
Most without a smart home would probably not see the necessity of them but allow me a moment to enlighten you with a typical scenario.
Imagine having a toddler at home with you while you’re working. Now obviously you’d be required to spend a significant amount of time with them but modern living doesn’t always allow for that. Lets say your little one wants to watch their favourite YouTube educational channel. In a non-smart home, you’d probably give them your phone in the same room with you for them to watch while you work. In a smart home it’s a whole lot different. You can simply say, “Hey Google, Play cocomelon on Youtube on Kids TV”. Your smart assistant will then begin playing the videos from that channel on your little one’s tele. While they’re watching the show you can control the video from your phone. For those with more active kids you can further monitor them with a smart camera.
Not Sold Yet?
Another scenario could be having a timer set for your lights to turn on and off while you’re not home to simulate activity in the house. The possibilities are potentially endless. It all depends on how you budget, creativity and needs. I like telling my smart speaker to turn on my XBOX before I walk into my office to play or grouping all my speakers to play my Beres Hammond Radio Station on Spotify while I clean. It’s all quite intuitive and once fully set up, even the least tech savvy among us will find value in it.
My advice? Start with one speaker, a cheap wi-fi light and a smart tele in the bedroom. See how well it improves your afternoon life after a long day. Then add a smart display to your kitchen to follow along with recipes or listen to football news while you’re in there. The key if you’re sceptical is incremental improvement. Add one at a time and you’ll find you’re in a smart home before you even notice.