Smart home starter kit

Jaime Vazquez

While most smart home products rely on WiFi connectivity, others rely on less popular standards like Zigbee or Z-Wave.

Smart homes are definitely the future: as technology has evolved to make our lives easier, the home has become the new arena for gadgets that solve problems we didn't even know we had. Whether you're curious about getting into so-called Internet of Things (IoT) devices, or you just want to spruce up an older house with the latest tech, we're here to help you find the best gear to get your smart home off the ground.

What you'll need to get started

The biggest benefit of having a house filled with smart-home devices is the amount of control you get -- whether you want to set the temperature to a specific degree setting, turn off all of your lights at the same time each night, or rock out with your favorite streaming music, smart-home devices give you enough control to design your own personalized experience.

To get that experience, however, you'll need a way to interact with your smart-home devices. Most people do that with either a digital assistant or a smartphone.

A digital assistant like Amazon's Alexa or Google Home is an internet-connected speaker that can accept voice commands. Digital assistants are great on their own -- we love using ours for playing music and providing news updates -- but they become even more powerful when paired with smart-home devices. If you're thinking about buying smart-home tech, and you want to be able to control it with your voice, you'll want to pick up a digital assistant, stat.

Our favorite digital assistant: While it's a tough call to make since they're all so good, we prefer the Google Home smart speaker, as it offers the best price-to-sound-quality ratio.

A smartphone can be used to control most smart-home devices, and since you probably already own one, it's also the least expensive way to it. Most smart-home device manufacturers provide a free app for controlling them over WiFi -- and while that may not be as convenient as using voice commands with a digital assistant, you never have to repeat yourself for an app.

Our favorite smartphone for smart homes: Any iPhone is a smart choice for working with smart-home products -- most manufacturers use Apple devices for their own quality testing, because iPhones make up such a large portion of the market. With an iPhone (even an older one like the iPhone 6S), you can rest easy knowing you'll have a reliable experience with your smart-home devices.

Our picks for smart home security

It's important to keep your home safe -- and that's a lot easier to do with smart home technology. There are a few different approaches to upgrading your security, so it's best to figure out which you'll prefer (or if you want both) before you start shopping.

Smart locks are exactly what they sound like -- replacement locks for your exterior doors that let you control access from your smartphone. Smart locks are great for managing access to your home, but also require maintenance: between software updates and changing batteries, you'll be interacting with them fairly frequently.

Our favorite smart lock: We love the Kwikset Kevo 2nd Generation Bluetooth Smart Lock, mainly because it provides all of the convenience of a smart lock while still working with traditional keys (in the event that you lose your phone, the Kevo will still work with a physical key).

Smart security systems typically include one or more cameras that you can connect to your WiFi network and monitor from your phone. Whether you want to keep your home safe from a break-in, or simply see what your pets do while you're at work, a smart home security system is the most straightforward way to monitor what's going on.

Our favorite smart security system: the Arlo Pro Security System from Netgear comes in a variety of form factors, and they can be mixed and matched interchangeably, so you can scale your security over time.

Our picks for temperature control

Need to make temperature adjustments from wherever you are? Ready to set up schedules for your HVAC unit to keep costs down? Smart thermostats for controlling your local climate are affordable, easy to install, and live up to their cost-saving promises.
Our favorite smart thermostat: The Nest Thermostat E is the no-frills version of the company's flagship model. It's just as fast and easy to use as the standard version, but only comes in white and has a screen that's not as sharp.

Jaime is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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