Budget Guide to Building Your Smart Home

Reviews.com Staff
Reviews.com Staff

We’re well past the early adopter stage of home automation — back when only the most dedicated, risk-taking technophiles were investing in smart home technology. Then, devices were few and prices were high. But as the marketplace grows, prices are dropping. A true sign of the times: Ikea, everyone’s favorite purveyor of cheap, simple home furnishings, is jumping into smart home tech

Today, you can up the IQ of your residence for a couple hundred dollars. But while we all love a deal, know that value is rarely found below a certain price threshold. The small electronics market is inundated with shady retailers, and super cheap options tend to have unsavory user experiences. While customer reviews can help you steer clear of the worst offenders, universally well-rated products should also raise a red flag. Many companies provide free goods to people willing to leave five-star ratings

We’ve landed on three categories of high-functioning, well-priced home automation gadgets that together can take your home’s comfort and convenience to the next level.

1. Smart Hub – $30-50

A smart home hub is arguably the most important smart home purchase you’ll make. A hub is the centerpiece of your home system, and the physical embodiment of your voice assistant of choice. It will also dictate the other smart home products you purchase, since an Amazon hub running Alexa will function best when tasked with other Amazon Alexa-enabled devices. 

In our review of the best smart hubs, we found that the upper echelon of hubs by Samsung, Amazon, and Google do, in fact, pack a greater punch when it comes to user control and automation features. While going with smaller devices from earlier gens means you’ll go without screens (and maybe experience some negligible losses in sound quality), two compact versions offer nearly all the same perks.

  • Amazon Echo Dot 
  • Google Home Mini
    • Smartest voice assistant according to third-party research
    • Voice recognition for a family of users
    • Integrated access to G Suite (Gmail, Docs, Drive, Calendar, etc.)

2. Camera – $25-50

A camera doesn’t need a ton of features to be a useful addition to your home’s controllability and security. Decent video quality (resolution of at least 1080p), two-way audio, and mobile alerts ensure that the camera will be truly useful — not just a passive documentor of comings and goings. When we went after the best security cameras, we looked for devices that checked those boxes, plus offered robust third-party integration and security features. We found plenty of great options with great, big price tags: the likes of Google Nest and Arlo will cost you a couple hundred dollars per camera. But then there’s Wyze.

While prices fluctuate, you could set up as many as four Wyze Cams for the price of a single camera from the competition. And Wyze hits practically all the same marks for usability, HD video clarity, 

  • Wyze Cam Pan
    • Free two-week cloud storage
    • Solid horizontal and vertical vision range improved by pan scan
    • Works with Amazon Alexa and IFTTT

3. Smart plug – $20-25

You can have smart lights, a smart fan, a smart coffee maker — you just need to plug them into a smart outlet. Smart plugs enable any electronics to come under the control of your voice — it’s all about the auto on/off. Anything that can automatically return to its prior functioning when you turn the power back on is a great candidate for smart plugs. 

Smart plugs are probably the most inexpensive approach to spreading all-in-one control throughout your home. You can even take the tech outside with outdoor smart plugs, enabling control of patio and security lights without shelling out for smart weatherproof fixtures.

Two other affordable options for brightening up your lights: smart bulbs and smart light switches. 

  • WeMo Mini Smart Plug
    • Broad compatibility: Android & iOS / Amazon, Google, Apple / IFTTT
    • Requires only WiFi — no hub needed
    • Schedulable, including randomized settings to mimic human activity when away from home

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The Reviews.com staff is dedicated to providing you with all the deep-dive details. Our writers, researchers, and editors came together from Charlotte, Seattle, San Juan, Fort Worth, Fort Lauderdale, San Diego, and Chicago to put this review together.