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The best smart home devices of 2019

CNET logo CNET 8/23/2019 Rich Brown
a large brick building with grass in front of a house: Tyler Lizenby/CNET © Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

If you've already started connecting the various devices and fixtures around your home, you'll know that there are a lot of ways to approach the problem. You might just want one device to solve a particular issue, like a smart plug to add some automation to a lamp. You might also be invested in an Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant-powered smart speaker, or maybe you're one of the rarer breeds of Siri and Apple HomeKit adherents. 

I tend to think of the voice assistants as the starting point for building an off-the-shelf smart home since they offer a convenient way for multiple family members or co-residents to interact with the various devices in your home. Many, but not all of the products on our list of the best smart home products will work with multiple voice assistants.  

Our list focuses narrowly, though, on the best product in each smart home sub-category. If you want to know the best smart thermostat or the best smart lighting kit, regardless of which voice platforms it works with, we have you covered. What this list is not, is a roadmap for a single, coherent smart home installation (you won't get far trying to pair an Amazon smart speaker with a Google smart display). For that, please refer to our platform-based lists linked below.   

In each sub-category entry, I've also added a link to the best list for that particular product type. If you're looking for more options for lighting or locks, you'll find a list of our favorite products if you'd like to see a broader selection. 

Amazon Echo Dot (3rd generation)

The best smart speaker

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The competition for the best smart speaker couldn't be closer, but Amazon's entry-level Echo Dot has the edge over the Google Home Mini. Both speakers will run you about $50 on a normal day, and you can find both of them discounted regularly. 

The two voice assistants are pretty much at parity right now. Amazon usually boasts about more skills and support for more third-party devices, but the numbers for both voice platforms are in the tens of thousands, meaning the difference isn't enough that you'll really miss out on anything significant with Google. 

The best smart speakers of 2019

Google Assistant does a better job at mimicking natural conversation flow, but the difference is that it isn't really that noticeable in your day-to-day interaction with each speaker. Most of the time you'll ask a smart speaker for the weather, to set a timer, and maybe have it play a song or two. Both devices are good at all of that.

The Amazon Echo Dot is our pick due to one small hardware advantage. It has an audio-out jack. The Google Home Mini doesn't. Both devices can transmit audio to another source over Bluetooth, but only the Echo Dot can connect to a standard wired speaker set-up. That might not make a difference to everyone, but especially for audiophiles, it gives you an easy, cheap way to add Alexa-based smarts to your existing speaker hardware. 

$25.00 AT AMAZON

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Google Nest Hub

The best smart display

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Amazon may have introduced the smart display with the Echo Show, but Google refined the concept with the Nest Hub (formerly the Home Hub) both in terms of its design, and in the way it leverages its voice assistant. 

You get the same Google Assistant features in the Nest Hub that you get with the Google Home speaker line, along with a screen interface that gives you just the right amount of visual feedback. It will show you your spoken commands so you know Google heard you correctly, it can deftly walk you through a recipe from popular cooking websites, and it works seamlessly with Google-supported smart home cameras and video doorbells to display their camera feeds onscreen. 

The best smart displays of 2019

Google prudently opted out of including a video camera on the Hub itself, getting ahead of some privacy concerns, and likely prompting Amazon to include a manual video shutter on its new, smaller Echo Show 5 display. If you really want a Google-based smart display that allows for video chatting, a fewthird partyoptions can make that happen. Even without it, the Nest Hub is the best, most affordable marriage of a voice assistant and a display interface on the market.

$79.00 AT GOOGLE NEST HUB

TP-Link Kasa Smart Plug Mini

The best smart plug

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We often point to smart plugs as the entry point for anyone interested in trying out a connected home device. They're cheap, they're simple to install, and they perform a function that's pretty easy to grasp, toggling power on and off remotely. 

The best smart plugs of 2019

You can find a lot of smart plugs out there. TP-Link's Kasa Mini is our favorite. It includes a single outlet that connects to your network via WiFi. The app is well-designed and lets you program the plug to turn on or off on a schedule or even based on your location. It works with Google Assistant and Alexa, and it doesn't cover up the adjacent outlet on a standard two-outlet wall fixture. 

$20.00 AT AMAZON

Philips Hue White LED

The best smart light bulbs

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Philips Hue smart light bulbs have been our top pick for years, and with good reason. The company's range of products is the broadest in the category, encompassing standard A19 bulbs, flood lights, light strips, fixtures and most recently an entire range of outdoor lighting options. That kind of variety makes it easy to bring the lighting scheme for your entire home onto the Hue service.

The best smart lights of 2019

The Hue line came to prominence with its color-changing bulbs, but the best way for most people to get started is with its standard white light bulbs. For $70, you can get a set of two bulbs and the Hue hub to get them online. Already own an Alexa or Google Assistant device? $30 will get you the new Bluetooth version of the bulbs, no extra hub needed.

Honorable mention: Wyze Bulb. This $8 smart bulb works with Alexa and Google Assistant, and it doesn't require a hub. It's not quite as fully featured as Philips Hue (it only comes as a standard A19 bulb, no HomeKit support), but it's the best deal in this category. 

$29.00 AT AMAZON

Ecobee SmartThermostat

The best smart thermostat

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Like its competitor, the Nest Learning Thermostat chief among them, the Ecobee SmartThermostat is a WIFi-based thermostat that lets you control your home heating and air conditioning system with an app or with your voice. A few features help it stand out.

Ecobee set itself apart with its earlier products by including a remote temperature sensor in the box with the thermostat. The thermostat itself can read the ambient temperature of whatever room it's in and adjust accordingly. If you want it to adjust the temp based on the conditions in another room, just switch it over to the remote sensor. This is a useful accessory if your thermostat install point isn't in a central location, or if you want to make sure a nursery or your home office is the focal point for the Ecobee's temperature readings, rather than a far-flung hallway. 

The best smart thermostats of 2019

You can buy the same accessory for a Nest thermostat, but Ecobee includes one in the box. Ecobee is also more agnostic about working with voice assistants than its Google-owned competitor. Where Nest will work with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa (maintained perhaps as a legacy function from before Google purchased Nest), Ecobee supports Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri. 

Perhaps most unique, the Ecobee SmartThermostat is itself an Amazon Echo speaker. You won't be impressed by its audio output for playing music, but as a basic extender for Alexa around your home, the Ecobee does an admirable job. Maybe you actually want Alexa in that far-flung hallway. 

$249.00 AT BEST BUY

Arlo Pro 2

The best home security camera

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It's not a small investment to buy into the Arlo Pro 2 security camera kit. The starter kit, which includes two Arlo Pro 2 indoor/outdoor cameras and the base that connects them to the internet, will normally run you $480 when it's not on sale. Every additional camera after that will cost $150. That's comparable to the per-camera cost for a Nest Cam or another well-regarded WiFi security camera, so at least Arlo's economics are sound. Free cloud storage for seven days worth of video clips helps, too. Most other cameras will charge you extra for that. 

What's better is the sheer flexibility you get with the Arlo Pro 2, its weatherproof design makes the cameras suited for indoor or outdoor use. You can power them with a cable, or with the included, rechargeable battery for up to six months. An easy-to-install magnetic base also gives you almost infinite flexibility in terms of how you want to position each camera. They can also stand by themselves without a base on any horizontal surface. In short, you can put these cameras anywhere, or move them between locations with incredible ease. 

The best smart home security cameras of 2019

Alexa and Google Assistant compatibility seal the deal. You can view their feed on any compatible video device, from your phone to your smart displays, to a Fire TV or Google Chromecast-equipped television. 

Want just an affordable indoor cam? The Alexa-supporting $30 Wyze Cam Pan is our current favorite. No other camera comes close to the Wyze in terms of features for the dollar. But for an indoor/outdoor, whole-home installation, the Arlo Pro 2 gets the nod. 

$350.00 AT AMAZON

SimpliSafe

The best home security system

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Cameras are one thing, but if you're really concerned about security across your entire home, your best bet is the SimpliSafe 3.0 kit. It starts at $229 for the base station, a keypad, a motion sensor, and an open/close sensor. That's a start, but one of the things we like most about SimpliSafe is the ability to customize your set up from a selection of eight different sensors, from smoke to glass-break. 

Unlike many whole-home security systems, SimpliSafe requires no contract to lock you into its service plan. You can opt into a $15-a-month professional monitoring package, but it's not required, and you can cancel at any time. 

The best home security systems of 2019

Competing systems from Ring, Nest, ADT, and Vivint all offer similar-seeming combinations of hardware and a la carte service, but they all offer either too few features if you don't opt-in to a service package, or start at significantly higher price points than SimpliSafe without making up the difference in better hardware. The one system we like that comes close is Abode, which has a higher starting price, but deeper integration with other smart home devices. Look into Abode if you don't mind paying a little more upfront and you want it to work with other products. As a standalone product, SimpliSafe is our top pick. 

$229.00 AT SIMPLISAFE

Nest Hello

The best video doorbell

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The hardwired Nest Hello video doorbell connects to your WiFi network so you can see who's at the door in real time. It can also capture and store three hours worth of video clips for free. But the most compelling thing about it is the owner-controlled facial recognition feature. 

The best video doorbells of 2019

Facial recognition has its controversies, but the way Google uses it in the Nest Hello doorbell seems like the right way to do it, at least until the next data privacy scandal. Unlike many commercial systems which pull from existing databases to make a match, Nest Hello helps you build your own personal facial recognition database based on the people that come to your door. Once you tag the most common visitors, the app will eventually recognize them, and alert you when they show up at your door. 

The Nest Hello's normal listing price is $230, which is on the high end of the scale. A discount running now at Walmart and other retailers will get you one for $180. That's a good deal for the best video doorbell on the market.

$189.00 AT WALMART

August Smart Lock Pro + Connect Bundle

The best smart lock

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Smart locks make people nervous because they insert another point of failure between you and your physical security. With a smart lock, a malicious hacker, or even a plain old technical failure or connectivity issue could all of a sudden compromise the entry point of your home. 

There might be some truth to that. A keyless design with no physical failsafe could indeed lock you out but the August Smart Lock Pro isn't one of those locks.

The best smart locks of 2019

The August Smart Lock is a breeze to install. It fits over the internal thumb latch of most existing deadbolt designs, and you can set it up in 15 minutes. Because it doesn't replace the lock mechanism itself, you can still use your original, physical key. 

The lock itself connects to your phone via Bluetooth, and from the August app, you can assign and revoke timed virtual keys to anyone you like, from your in-laws to your dog sitter, at no extra cost. Many other locks will charge extra for virtual keys. 

The August Connect accessory included in this bundle bridges the lockout to the internet by getting it on your wireless network. From there, you can not only control the lock from anywhere, but you can also connect it to Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri (be sure to make each of them require a PIN to accompany the unlock command) for added convenience. 

Another accessory with the Pro model is the tiny open/close sensor. This lets the lock not only tell you if it's locked or unlocked but also if the door itself is open or closed. It's the most complete solution available on the market. 

$198.00 AT AMAZON

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