The smart home category is exploding, with a flurry of smart devices that can be controlled by a single app, or a voice control platform like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple Siri, and more.
If you already use a smart speaker, like the Amazon Echo, Google Home, or Apple HomePod, you know that you can summon its virtual assistant to play music, turn on or off compatible smart lights or appliances, answer queries, read your daily calendar, discover the weather, or find out how the traffic on your usual route to work is. And plenty of new devices aim to improve the experience in a different way.
In late September, Amazon announced a number of new Alexa-enabled devices to be available this month that will bring Alexa voice control to every room of the home. You can accomplish the same with devices like the Google Home or Apple HomePod and compatible gear, too. Here are the products you need to know about, no matter what you're looking for:
For the one with limited space
Echo Dot, $70, amazon.ca.
The miniature Amazon Echo Dot is getting a design overhaul to look more stylish, with an updated fabric design and curved shape. It’s traditionally the device you’d use for quiet background music, or voice queries; you want to connect it to other speakers to get great sound. But the updated version promises a new speaker with “louder and crisper” sound. It won’t rival the bigger sister Echo Plus, but the improvement could make the Dot a viable speaker option for a home office or kitchen. It will come in charcoal, heather grey, and sandstone for the same price as the previous version: $70.
For the style-conscious user
Bose Home Speaker 500, $500, bose.ca.
If you’re a fan of Bose products and design, the new Bose Home Speaker 500 ($500) supports Amazon Alexa, with support for other voice assistants coming soon. Finished in anodized aluminum, it has function and six pre-set buttons on the top if you prefer to control your music the old-fashioned way, and a cute screen on the front that can display album cover art as you listen to favourite tunes.
For the entertainer who's new to the smart home life
Amazon Echo Plus, $200, amazon.ca.
The Amazon Echo Plus, available in the same new fabric options as the Dot, is a more powerful version of the Echo, with improved audio, and a built-in Zigbee hub. This allows you to connect Zigbee-enabled smart home devices from companies like Philips Hue, Samsung, Yale, Sengled, and more, to allow for voice control, without the need for a separate hub. Ask Alexa to “discover my devices,” and it will locate them and initiate set-up. A new temperature sensor lets you trigger different actions based on the current temperature, like turn on a room fan connected to a smart plug any time the temperature reaches 25-degrees Celsius.
The Echo Plus, combined with a few Zigbee-enabled devices, could be a perfect way to get your feet wet in smart home. Start with a few devices, then add on to the system as you get more comfortable with it.
For the one who deeply appreciates good sound quality
Echo Sub, $170, amazon.ca.
To get even more enhanced sound, whether it’s for entertaining friends and family at a gathering or simply bass-pumping tunes to get you energized while you clean house, one of Amazon’s latest additions is the Sub, which can add deep bass to music coming from any Echo device. Adjust the sound to your liking, asking Alexa to do things like crank up the bass when a favourite tune comes on.
For the one who's always playing music
HomePod, $449, apple.com.
The Apple HomePod ($449), which was released in Canada this summer, can be controlled from an iOS device, Apple TV, or by voice using Siri. And it supports setting up stereo pairs or multi-room set-ups so you can enjoy room-filling music throughout the home using AirPlay 2 and even compatible speakers from other brands like Bowers & Wilkins, Denon, Pioneer, and Sonos. You can control compatible Apple HomeKit-enabled smart home devices, too.
For the Smart Home Enthusiast
Echo Show, $300, amazon.ca.
Amazon Echo devices have historically been focused solely on voice, but the Echo Show ($300) adds a 10-inch display to the audio and home hub, making it look more like a tablet. Sit it horizontally on a tabletop, and it would be a perfect companion for the kitchen, home office, or bedside table. Leverage the screen to follow recipes, access Websites through a built-in Web browser and on-screen keyboard, or make video calls through services like Skype (coming soon.) The Show will also work with a Ring video doorbell: When it rings or motion is detected, ask Alexa to show you the front door and you can speak to whoever is there. If you don’t want to be disturbed, have Alexa make an announcement like “sorry we’re busy. Come back later,” or “please head straight to the backyard for the BBQ – we’re outside!” Buy products from Amazon.ca as well, and ask “Alexa, where’s my stuff?” to get an order status update at any time. Grab the optional $40 stand to adjust viewing and camera angles.
For the one who wants to make everything in their home smart
Smart Plug, $35, amazon.ca.
Or, use one of the new $35 Amazon Smart Plugs to make any old device “smart,” able to be controlled by voice. Plug the product, like a lamp, coffee maker, or portable fan, into the Smart Plug, which is then plugged into a power outlet. Connect the Plug to your home Wi-Fi network, an Alexa-enabled device, and the Alexa app. Then use your voice to turn on the fan, get a pot of coffee brewing while you get ready in the morning, or turn on a reading lamp with ease.
For the one who's a little paranoid
SmartThings, $99, samsung.com.
Samsung offers similar plugs under its SmartThings brand, which just launched in Canada. Use the SmartThings Outlet to control any basic lamp or small appliance. Additional products in the Samsung SmartThings ecosystem, which all communicate with the SmartThings Hub and SmartThings app, include a multipurpose sensor that can detect if doors or windows are open or closed, and monitor temperature and vibrations; a motion sensor to keep tabs on the home while you are away; and a water leak sensor for not only detecting leaks and advising you of them, but also shutting off compatible appliances if necessary, like a Samsung dishwasher or washing machine.