If you thought your smart TV was the only gadget with brains in your home, wait until your next washing machine pings your phone when a load is done, LED lights turn off when you leave the room or a Wi-Fi thermostat knows whether someone is home.
While we’re still a few years away from a domestic robot that can wash dishes and make our beds, today’s smart home products can make your living space safer, more energy efficient and easier to maintain. Most are controlled through a free app or via your voice using a virtual assistant such as Amazon Echo, Apple’s Siri or Google Nest.
Best of all, these products range from $29 to $119.
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1. Smart speakers in every room
You may already own a smart speaker because they’re inexpensive — as low as $29 for an Amazon Echo Dot or Google Nest Mini. But many people are placing them throughout their homes for added convenience.
You know the drill: Enable it by uttering its wake word, such as “Alexa” or “OK, Google,” followed with a question or command. Then you’ll hear a pleasant humanlike voice dish up an answer.
For bigger sound, check out the latest Echo Dot (4th Gen) with clock + Amazon Smart Plug, $44. Along with its spherical shape and big sound, this smart speaker is ideal for your nightstand. You can see the time, alarms and timers on the LED display and tap the top to snooze.
As the name suggests, a second item is bundled with the smart speaker. The Amazon Smart Plug turns virtually anything you plug into the electric socket — such as a coffee maker — into a smart home product, so you can then use the app to turn it on, set schedules and more.
On a related note, check out the Wemo Mini Smart Plugs in AARP’s 99 Ways to Save annual list that work with Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant or through their own app.
2. Detector that uses words, not beeps
While it may not be the sexiest gadget, the Nest Protect, $119, is a high-tech smoke and carbon monoxide detector that alerts you of potential danger in a clear and calm humanlike voice. If smoke or carbon monoxide are detected, it will even tell you the location and levels, such as saying, “Heads up, there’s carbon monoxide in the family room. The alarm may sound.”
This hardwired product has a backup battery to ensure operation during a power outage and provides smartphone alerts and battery status updates as it tests itself automatically. You also can silence the alarm from your smartphone.
If you own a Nest Thermostat (sold separately), Nest Protect will turn off your gas furnace if carbon monoxide is detected. Smart smoke detectors were among the items featured at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show.
3. Security camera without a monthly fee
Even when you’re not at home, the Wyze Cam v2 Wi-Fi-enabled camera, $20, lets you see kids, grandkids or pets like a baby monitor. Or point it through a window toward your front door to catch porch pirates who try to steal your packages.
Featuring night vision, two-way audio and a tiltable stand so you can point it in several directions, Wyze Cam V2 starts recording if it detects sound or motion. Not only will it save that video to see later on a microSD card (sold separately), but the camera automatically records and uploads a 12-second clip of the event, which you can watch for up to 14 days.
Unlike the Ring cameras, no subscription or monthly fees are needed.
Despite its modest price tag, this Wyze Cam also works with Alexa and Google. If you have a smart display, like an Amazon Echo Show or Google Nest Hub, use your voice to say something like, “Alexa, show me the front door” or “OK, Google, show the kids’ room.”
4. How to find water before a deluge
You’re not alone if you’re concerned about water damage and the havoc it can wreak.
The mydlink Wi-Fi Water Sensor model DCH-S161, $40, has a long sensor cable so you can place it wherever you like — near your dishwasher, sink, sump pump, washing machine, water heater or any spot with the potential for a water leak. You’ll be notified immediately if leaks are detected, thanks to a 90-decibel alarm. (By comparison, smoke alarms screech at 85 decibels when activated.)
You also can ask your Google Assistant something like, “Is my washing machine leaking water?” If you’re not at home, don’t worry. If the sensor detects moisture, you’ll get a text notification or an alert on the free mydlink Home smartphone app, and a family member or friend can check out the problem to minimize damage.
Unlike the original model, this next-generation D-Link sensor doesn’t need to be plugged in for power. Its two AA batteries, included, last up to 1.5 years. This gadget with no monthly fees also is ideal for snowbirds and rental properties.
5. Your garage door, controlled from anywhere
When you hear the word “technology,” you probably don’t think about garage doors. But the Chamberlain MyQ Smart Garage Hub, $40, might change your mind.
Simple to install and use, this Wi-Fi-enabled garage system indicates on its app if your garage door has been left open. And it lets you close or open it from anywhere via your smartphone or smartwatch.
You can set custom alerts to tell you if the garage has been open for a specific period or schedule it to close the garage door 1, 5 or 10 minutes after leaving home. If a courier calls to say a parcel is being delivered, you can open the garage door remotely and close it when the package is deposited. You also can securely invite up to five users to control the garage door.
Marc Saltzman has been a freelance technology journalist for 25 years. His podcast, Tech It Out , aims to break down geek speak into street speak.