Skip to main content

You don't need the latest and greatest tech to build a smart home

Google Home with blue lighting behind it
Google Home with blue lighting behind it (Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda/Android Central)

Smart homes are en vogue these days, and they come in all sorts of varying degrees. You can start off with just a couple of smart light bulbs, then gradually work your way up to a smart thermostat, locks, door bells, and beyond.

Smart lights are a great gateway into smart home tech, but there's plenty more to experiment with.

I recently moved into a new house — well, it's over a century old but it's new to me — and I've outfitted it with a collection of smart home tech from various different brands, ranging from Nest to Ring, August, and LIFX. It's made my life a bit easier and more secure, but as futuristic as it all feels, about half of my devices were made over a year ago.

I've been using a pair of LIFX's smart LED bulbs (the first-generation A19 (opens in new tab), specifically) for over a year now, and even when I originally bought them they were a couple of years old. LIXF is arguably Philips Hue's biggest competition, and I bought them after reading reviews of their superior color range and their independence from a hub. I use them every single day, sometimes in a warm white and other times in a blue or green hue, and they work without a hitch — it's hard to be terribly demanding of a light bulb, after all.

For the last few years, I had been lusting after Nest's sleek Learning Thermostats, and I finally bought one — but since I was after form just as much as function, I picked up the Thermostat 3 (opens in new tab), rather than the newer and more cost-effective Thermostat E. Despite being three years old, the Thermostat still receives fairly regular software updates and works flawlessly in the Nest app, along with integrating into Google Assistant so that I can control the temperature of my house just as easily from my Google Home as from my phone.

See at Amazon (opens in new tab)

My two favorite smart home purchases have been the Ring Doorbell 2 and the August Smart Lock 3 (opens in new tab). Both are newer devices, having come out in the last year, but neither gadget is its respective company's top-end product. Frankly, I didn't even want the Ring Doorbell at first, preferring the Nest Hello, but my house is old enough that there's no existing doorbell wiring, which the Hello and other video doorbells use to draw power. The Ring Doorbell 2 was the only video doorbell I could find that can run entirely off of battery power, with the only downside being losing 24/7 streaming — admittedly a big loss, but I'll take it over having nothing at all.

While I got the August Smart Lock 3 over the Pro more for aesthetic reasons than anything (I don't care for the Smart Lock Pro's enormous circular design), I do miss out on a few features for having gone with the lower-end option. Namely, the Smart Lock 3 can't connect to WiFi for assistant control without also having to buy the August Connect (opens in new tab), which comes included with the Pro (opens in new tab). Even with the Connect, the Smart Lock 3 can't connect to Apple's Siri and HomeKit services like the Pro can — not a huge loss for me, since I don't carry an iPhone anymore, but it's something to be aware of for those who do.

See at Amazon (opens in new tab)

The moral of the story is that while having the shiniest new toys is always nice, you don't have to shell out for the most premium options to get a great smart home experience. I've had next to no complaints about the various devices in my home, and they all work together to make my house feel more like a home of the future than a relic of the past.

Have you integrated any smart home tech into your home? Do you buy the newest and most powerful devices as they come out, or have you been fine using older gadgets? Sound off in the comments below!

Hayato was a product reviewer and video editor for Android Central.

1 Comment
  • It's very true that you don't need the latest tech, nor do you need anywhere near the most expensive. We downsized last year and I've been slowly adding smart house features in the months that followed. The first was a garage door opener. I went with Chamberlain because of the promise that it would work with a variety of other smart devices. Chamberlain never made good on that promise and so I've kludged a solution (because I'm seriously _not_ going to buy a new opener to get compatibility).
    After the garage door opener, I went with a Samsung SmartThings hub kit that had a motion sensor and a few "multi-sensors." Those multi-sensors can measure temperature and angle (as doors or windows open) as well as the magnetic contact used to tell if a door or window opens. I bought a few extra for the additional door on the house and the small door on the garage. At that point, it became clear that the Chamberlain was not going to work with hub as originally promised so I got a GoControl/Linear remote controller and us it instead of the MyQ functionality that was built into the Chamberlain.
    Next, I added some DLink cameras, one inside and one that covers the backyard and garage. SmartThings highlights the very-expensive Arlo cameras, but they can also work with a much wider variety of less-expensive ones.
    I also added a Honeywell Wifi 7-day programmable thermostat. Sure, the Nest looks cool, but the Honeywell was a lot less expensive. The only caveat is that you have to set it up using the Honeywell app and then connect it to the SmartThings hub.
    After that came the First Alert Wireless CO & Smoke Detectors. They were easily connected to the SmartThings hub, It even sets up a push notification if they detect anything.
    Finally, I added a few dimmer switches for specific lights in the house, all using z-wave tech and working with the SmartThings hub. I decided not to go with the Caseta dimmers, even though I liked their look, because they require the addition of a Luton hub to make them work.
    All told, I've stayed under $1000 for a decent system that works very well.
    I've recently added the Stringify app. It's not necessary, but it has the capability of integrating a much wider variety of things into the same system and doing some really neat automations incorporating other apps and devices.