Smart Home Devices For 2016: Better Than Ever
Not too long ago, smart homes were seen exclusively as the province of either the very rich or dedicated environmentalists. However, the rapid development of smart home technology, along with the convenience and energy efficiency it provides, has turned a wide range of smart home controllers, thermostats and other gadgets into best sellers.
Here are the best smart home devices of 2016.
Nest Learning Thermostat
The Nest Learning Thermostat, functional and relatively inexpensive, was one of the first products that allowed any homeowner to adopt smart home technology. It's been updated several times since the first Nest was released in 2011 and is better than ever. It still controls your heat and air conditioning automatically, learning your preferences and tracking movement throughout the home to change room temperatures accordingly. It can still be programmed or adjusted via smartphone or tablet. And it still works hand-in-hand with Nest cams and alarms.
The 2016 Nest, though, has much greater range; you can now interact with Nest and see the temperature/time display from a distance of 20 feet. Each member of a family can now have their own Nest account with each user tracked via their phone to determine if they're "home" or "away." The new Nest can monitor forced-air heating systems to make they don't overheat, alerting you if there's a problem. And it will interface with Amazon's Alexa app so you can tell the system to change temperatures anywhere in the house by voice command (or to put it more politely, by voice request).
Competitive smart home thermostats have gotten very good. The 2016 Nest is still the best.
When the Echo smart speaker was first released last year, it seemed more like a novelty than a game changer. In reality, it's turned out to be a terrific device which can become the center of a smart home - and it's rapidly getting better and better.
The Echo works with the Alexa app, and once this speaker is up and running you simply talk to Alexa through the speaker to tell her what to do. Alexa has much more power than Siri ever dreamed of, though. Since the Echo was built first and foremost as a streaming music delivery system, you can tell Alexa to play anything from the Amazon Prime library or Spotify and it will sound great. But you can also tell her to turn on the lights and make coffee (or interact with other compatible smart home products), read you headlines or sports scores from a source of your choice, or do anything else in the rapidly-growing "Skills" app library - like order a pizza from Dominos or call an Uber for you.
And that's just the 2016 version. Alexa's still learning a lot of new tricks.
Lifx Color 1000
OK, so this isn't the smart home device for everyone, and many might find the price way too high. It's definitely cool, though.
The second-gen Lifx Color 1000 is an LED, color-changing smart light bulb. A few of these bulbs installed in a room lets you set any mood or scene, with sixteen base white shades (selectable by temperature) and millions of color varieties, as well as presets ranging from great to gimmicky. They are all controlled via an easy-to-use spectrum color wheel app on your phone or tablet.
Connectivity is one of the Lifx Color 1000's strong suits, since it's compatible with Nest, SmartThings, Cortana, Logitech's Harmony Hub, IFTTT and Amazon Echo ("Alexa, ask Lifx to dim the lights!") A little scary, but as we said earlier, definitely cool.