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Best smart home devices 2021: automate your home with these gadgets

Included in this guide:

The Amazon Echo Studio, the Arlo Pro 4 and Philips Hue light bulbs - the best smart home devices you can buy right now
(Image credit: TechRadar)
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REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
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REASONS TO BUY
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The best smart home device allows you to automate your property, so you never have to leave the sofa to dim the lights, turn the heating up a few degrees or even get your favorite TV show to start. Just reach for your smartphone and enjoy the epitome of what a modern abode should be. 

The best smart home devices not only make life easier, they can also offer a great way to save energy, and subsequently money. If you’re forgetful and leave the house without switching the lights, heating, or coffee maker off, you no longer have to leave them running full blast, or make yourself late by reading back home. Instead, you’ll be able to switch them off, no matter where you are. 

If your smartphone isn’t always close-by, then the best smart home devices let you use your voice to control them as well as your handset. All you need is one of the best smart speakers or smart displays with a compatible voice-assistant built-in, to ensure your home systems can be adjusted with a short command. 

Smart home devices can also be set to work together, even if they’re from different manufacturers, which ensures a warm, cozy atmosphere can be created at a predefined time or with just one tap in just one tap. This can be achieved relatively cheaply too, as the best smart lights and best smart plugs are some of the most affordable smart home devices on the market right now. 

Smart Home devices can also prove a useful tool in securing your property. The best video doorbells, home security cameras, and smart locks not only ensure you can keep an eye on your property, but also secure it automatically if motion is detected. 

For true comfort, one of the best smart thermostats ensure the heating and cooling of your home is handled automatically, although these are one of the more expensive smart home devices and they usually require professional installation

Smart home devices are often heavily discounted during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Last year we saw an array of models reduced, including as much as 50% off smart thermostats, smart lights, home security cameras at retailers including Amazon, as well as Best Buy and Walmart in the US and Argos and Currys in the UK.  A range of smart speakers and smart displays also had some substantial savings at the same retailers. 

Due to the ongoing supply chain issues, if you want to ensure your smart home device arrives in time for Christmas, we’d recommend snapping up a good deal as soon as you see it. However, if you want to get the best price possible, then hang on until Black Friday kicks off. Check out our Arlo Black Friday deals and Black Friday Amazon Echo deals round-ups to get a heads up on the best discounts as soon as they appear. 

There’s a huge choice when it comes to smart home devices, even when you’ve narrowed down the types of systems you want to control, which can leave you feeling overwhelmed. However, we’ve put the biggest and most popular model to the test to help you decide just which are the best smart home devices for you. 

Best smart home devices of 2021

Philips Hue

Image Credit: Philips Hue (Image credit: Philips)

The best smart lights

Specifications
Voice assistant: Alexa, Google Assistant and HomeKit
Installation: DIY
Hub required: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Easy to install+Wide range of bulbs, lamps and exterior lights+Integration with Alexa, Google Assistant and HomeKit
Reasons to avoid
-Requires hub for control away from home-Most expensive smart bulb on the market

The best smart light bulbs are the easiest way to start your smart home journey, and there's no better out there than the Philips Hue. Simple to install - just swap your existing bulbs with smart Hue bulbs - or opt for any of Hue's array of LED table and floor lamps, wall lights both for inside and outdoors, ceiling pendants, light strips and even light bars, they're responsive and plenty of choice in colors and effects.

On test, we found a range of customizable scheduling options too - for example, we were able to set outdoor lights to come on at sunset but go off at 2am, rather than waiting for sunrise.  

You will need to get the Philips Bridge, which is kind of like a hub for your lights, if you want to control them when you're away from home - they have Bluetooth built-in so you can control them when you're close by. However, this also adds HomeKit support, to Alexa and Google Assistant integration.  They're also the most expensive smart bulb on the market, but we think they're worth every penny.

Read the full review: Philips Hue

The Amazon Echo Studio, our best smart speaker, on a white background

Credit: Amazon (Image credit: Amazon)

The best smart speaker

Specifications
Voice assistant: Alexa
Installation: DIY
Hub required: No
Reasons to buy
+Gigantic, Dolby Atmos sound+Cheaper than Apple/Google speakers+Great new Alexa features
Reasons to avoid
-Larger than your average Echo

For years, we gave smart speakers a pass in the audio department because we figured there was just no way for a speaker to both be smart and sound good. That was, until we found the Amazon Echo Studio. 

In the Echo Studio, Amazon has made its best speaker yet. It’s a bombastic speaker, packed full of not just smart home and assistant tech, but smart audio considerations too. At its best, its 3D audio effects breathe new life into your favorite songs, and that's saying nothing of its ability to connect to your Amazon Fire TV devices to offer more immersive sound.

The Echo Studio also doubles up as a ZigBee hub, so it can connect to 1,000s of smart home products, right out of the box, making it ideal for a smart home.

Read the full review: Amazon Echo Studio

The Arlo Pro 4 - our best home security camera - on a white bakground

(Image credit: Arlo)

The best home security camera

Specifications
Voice assistant: Alexa, Google Assistant and HomeKit (with hub)
Installation: DIY
Hub required: Only for HomeKit support
Reasons to buy
+Clear, detailed footage during the day and at night+Alexa and Google Assistant integration+Automatic zooming and motion tracking
Reasons to avoid
-Limited usefulness without subscription-Additional hub required for HomeKit support

It’s easy to see why Arlo is a popular choice with those who take home security seriously. Sure, the Arlo Pro 4 doesn't have a 4K resolution like the more expensive Arlo Ultra and Arlo Ultra 2 - but the quality is still a pretty impressive 2K, which will be detailed enough for most. 

It's the first Arlo Pro camera that can be connected directly to your Wi-Fi, so it doesn't come bundled with a base station, making it more affordable. However, while it boasts Alexa and Google Assistant integration, you will need that base station if you want HomeKit support. 

On test, it recorded clear, detailed footage that was in color both during the day and at night thanks to the built-in spotlight, which also helps deter intruders just like the built-in alarm.  There's also automatic zooming and motion tracking, so the source of any activity is not only detected but also followed. 

Unfortunately, many of its smart features to reduce unwanted alerts require a monthly subscription, which starts from $2.99 / £2.79 / AU$4.49, although you do get a three-month trial.  

Read the full review: Arlo Pro 4

Eve Energy - our best smart plug - on a white background

(Image credit: Eve)

The best smart plug

Specifications
Voice assistant: Siri via HomeKit
Installation: DIY
Hub required: Yes
Reasons to buy
+ Excellent energy monitoring+Apple HomeKit compatible+Thread support 
Reasons to avoid
-No Alexa or Google Assistant support-Expensive compared to rest of the market 

Every smart home needs a smart plug - it’s one of the simplest ways to automate your home. The  Eve Energy smart plug is more than just a way to control devices plugged into it, however. It's also a way to monitor your energy usage, and get estimates on how much powering certain devices in your home is going to cost. This is great if you're trying to save some money and be a bit more energy conscious. 

The smart plug uses Bluetooth, although if you have a HomePod Mini or an Apple TV in your home, you’ll be able to use Thread - a wireless technology that’s also built-in to the plug. More stable than Wi-Fi, Thread helps put an end to smart home devices failing to respond. However, the smart plug only supports HomeKit  -  it won’t work with Alexa or Google Assistant, unfortunately.

On test, it was responsive and offers plenty of handy features such as the ability to set schedules, making it our pick of the smart plug market. 

Read the full review:  Eve Energy smart plug  

Eufy video doorbell 2k on a white background

(Image credit: Eufy)

The best video doorbell

Specifications
Voice integration: Alexa and Google Assistant
Hub required:: Only for automations
Installtion: DIY
Reasons to buy
+No monthly subscription needed+Battery operated option+4:3 ratio at 2K resolution
Reasons to avoid
-Some downtime to recharge-No HomeKit support

If you're looking for the best video doorbell; our pick has to be the  Eufy Video Doorbell 2K, as it strikes the right balance between price, reliability, and performance. 

On test, it captured clear, detailed footage both during the day and at night, with a 4:3 ratio so you can see almost the full length of someone on your doorstep. The best bit? It can be used subscription-free, as video can be stored to the 16GB of memory in the bundled base station. Eufy says this is around two week’s worth.

The battery-powered doorbell is good if you’re renting a place and can’t take out the old doorbell that’s already installed - it works wirelessly with the help of a hub that connects to your router, you can simply throw it on any outdoor surface and get it to work for up to six months at a time.

However, the battery isn't swappable so the doorbell will be out of action when it needs recharging, and there's no HomeKit support. 

Read the full review here: Eufy Video Doorbell 2K

Google Nest Hub Max on a white background

Image Credit: Google (Image credit: Google)

The best smart display

Specifications
Voice assistant: Google Assistant
Hub required: No
Installation: DIY
Reasons to buy
+Excellent screen+Good, music-friendly speaker+Neat design
Reasons to avoid
-No Netflix support

The Google Nest Hub Max is a larger version of the Google Nest Hub (initially known as the Google Home Hub), a smart speaker with a screen. It also has a front-facing camera and can plug into the Google-owned Nest platform to act as a smart home camera. This part of the Google Nest Hub Max needs a little work judging by our experience. 

The Google Nest Hub Max can also be used to manage and control hundreds of smart home devices such as smart lights, thermostats, and smart plugs, from a range of different manufacturers, putting an end to having to use several different apps.

It sounds good enough to act as a mini Hi-Fi, Google Assistant feels responsive and the large screen lets you watch YouTube while you cook. 

Although the Google Nest Hub Max had some slight issues at launch, it's still not just a great smart display but a great smart speaker and a way to stay entertained while you wait for your onions to sauté. 

Read the full review: Google Next Hub Max Review

Google Nest Larning Thermostat, our best smart thermostat, on a white background

Image Credit: Nest (Image credit: Google)

The best smart thermostat

Specifications
Voice assistant: Google Assistant
Installation: Professional
Hub required:: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Elegant design+Easy to use+Intelligently adjusts schedule+
Reasons to avoid
-No zonal control-Doesn't work with Apple HomeKit

Nest was among the first companies to inject machine learning into heating and cooling your home, and since then has been hailed as the best smart thermostat manufacturer. In our eyes, the best smart thermostat you buy right now. 

Simple to use, the Nest Learning Thermostat looks elegant and on test intelligently adjusted our heating schedule based on how long it took our home to heat up and cool down, such energy and money in the process.

The Neat Learning Thermostat works with Google Assistant, but there's no HomeKit support and unlike many other smart thermostats, it doesn't offer zonal control allowing to adjust the temperature of each room individually, but for most people, this will be everything they need..

Read the full review: Nest Learning Thermostat

August smart lock pro, our best smart lock, on a white background

Image Credit: August (Image credit: August)

Bulky and expensive, but ultimately well worth the cash

Specifications
Voice assistant: Alexa, Google Assistant and HomeKit
Installation: DIY
Hub required: No
Reasons to buy
+Simple installation+Responsive and strong+Integration with Alexa, Google Assistant and HomeKit
Reasons to avoid
-Bulky-Expensive compared to other smart home devices on the market

The August Smart Lock Pro is of the easiest smart locks to fit, but it's loaded with features making it the best smart lock you can buy right now. 

It fits onto your existing deadbolt and allows you to keep using your old key when you (or your landlord) want to, while still adding the benefits of a smarter lock. On test, we found it responsive and it was strong too, we weren't able to bypass it in any way. The addition of support for Alexa, Google Assistant, and HomeKit, just reinforces why this is our pick.  

It is bulky and expensive compared to most other smart home products, but for those looking to beef up their smart security it's worth investing in. 

Read the full review: August Smart Lock Pro

How we test smart home devices

To assess the best smart home devices we evaluate how simple they are to install and control. We rate how responsive they are to commands from smartphones and voice assistants, both when we're at home and when we’re away from our property. 

We also look at how well they integrate with other smart home devices when creating home automations, and the extra kit required to fulfill the smart functions we’d expect them to offer. We also evaluate the style and if they blend into your home, or stick out like a sore thumb.

What to consider when buying smart home devices

Before purchasing smart home devices, start by deciding which voice assistant you plan on using to control your smart home; Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple’s HomeKit. Not all smart devices integrate with all assistants, so if you have a preference or already have one of these voice assistants in your home, for example in the form of a smart display or smart speaker, make sure any smart home devices you look to buy work with this voice assistant. 

If you already have other smart home gadgets already installed in your property, you’ll need to check whether any new devices can work with them if you want to create automations - for example do your devices support Apple HomeKit, Samsung SmartThings, ZigBee, or Z-Wave.Our guide on what to consider when designing your smart home, should be able to help you identify the best smart home system for you. 

Also think about installation, and if you can install them yourself, such as smart light bulbs or whether they need a professional to visit your home, such as smart thermostats, or if you’re considering smart electrical sockets for example.  

Finally, check whether you need to invest in a smart home hub to make the devices work together, or whether any smart speakers or smart displays you already have in your home, can do this job for you. Alternatively, online services such as IFTTT, can make some compatible devices work together to perform certain automations, without the need for a hub at all. 

Are smart homes worth it?

Creating a smart home takes plenty of times, patience and in some cases money, but when up and running they can make your life easier, which more than outweighs the effort it takes to create them. 

If you're concerned that a smart home might not be for you, consider dipping your toe in the water with affordable, simple to install smart home devices, such as smart plugs, which connect to your existing electrical outlets, or replace your existing light bulbs with smart versions. You can use your smartphone to control these devices -  once you've turned the lights off without leaving the sofa, you'll never go back to a dumb house again. 

When you're ready to take the next step, throw a smart speaker or smart display into the mix, to use your voice to control your smart home gadgets and create some basic home automations. 

If you're the forgetful type, being able to switch off the coffee maker, hair straightners or even the light that you accidentally left on, without having to return home, makes your life easier and ensures you're not wasting energy, and money at the same time. 

Nick Pino

Nick Pino is the Senior Editor of Home Entertainment at TechRadar and covers TVs, headphones, speakers, video games, VR and streaming devices. He's written for TechRadar, GamesRadar, Official Xbox Magazine, PC Gamer and other outlets over the last decade, and he has a degree in computer science he's not using if anyone wants it.