The Things a Smart-Tech Reviewer Actually Uses

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By Jennifer Pattison Tuohy
We asked an early adopter to tell us what her top devices are.
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A great smart home device combines security with convenience, and that’s the Ring Video Doorbell in a nutshell. When people approach our front door, whether they ring the bell or not, they’re captured on a video feed and I get an alert on my phone. I can then view the feed, "answer" the door, and talk to them (without their knowing whether I’m in the house or not), or ignore it and view it later. It’s like voicemail for your door. From a security standpoint, this is invaluable, but it’s also super handy when the repairman shows up and you’re five minutes away, or when you want to ghost that annoying neighbor or persistent door-to-door salesperson.

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Alexa, Amazon’s voice-activated digital assistant, lives inside three speakers scattered around my home, one full-sized Echo and two mini Dots. She’s called on multiple times a day to play music, set alarms, add to the shopping list, and tell us about the weather. She’s the household timekeeper, too, having largely replaced our clocks. We also use her to turn on the television (controlled by a WeMo Smart Plug), start or stop the garden sprinklers (managed by a Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller), and find my ever-wandering car keys (they have a Bluetooth tracker called Tile attached to them that Alexa can make "ring").

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The Kevo Kwikset locks on my front and back doors know when I’m coming via my smartphone and lock and unlock with a touch. When it works properly, I love not having to dig for keys while juggling grocery bags on the doorstep, being able to unbolt the door from inside the car using the app, and locking it behind me with just a tap when I leave. The downside is that the Bluetooth connection is flaky and works maybe 6 times out of 10, so I still carry keys. 

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The climate in my house is controlled by two Nest Learning Thermostats, a Nest E upstairs and a Nest third generation downstairs, both assisted by three Nest Temperature Sensors. Most of the time they sit prettily in the background adapting to our comings and goings, making sure we’re comfortable when we’re home and saving energy when we’re not. When I do want to change the temperature on the fly, I either ask Alexa or use my Apple Watch. Nest also syncs with our Kevo locks, setting to "Away" when we lock up the house. 

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My husband is not a fan of cameras inside the house, but he allows a Nest camera because it turns off as soon as one of us returns home by geo-locating our smartphones. We use it as a security camera when we’re away, as it sends alerts when it senses motion or hears a noise. We also have a Samsung SmartCam set up in the garage to keep an eye on the door. Leaving it open unintentionally is a real problem in our household, and the camera lets us see if the Chamberlain MyQ smart garage door controller we use to close it remotely has done its job.

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A house truly becomes smart when devices work together, responding to needs rather than waiting for commands. For this you have to have a hub. I use three to control the more than 50 connected gadgets I own, but my favorite is the Apple HomePod—and not just because it’s the best speaker in the house, by far. It’s also very reliable about responding to my family’s activities through geolocating our iPhones. So, for instance, when the last family member goes out, it knows to shut off our Philips Hue lights. It also runs preprogrammed "scenes" that control a variety of devices at certain times of day or when something happens (like the garage door opening), without anyone having to ask it to.

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Amazon Echo Dot (2nd Generation)
Amazon Echo Dot (2nd Generation)
Echo Dot is a hands-free, voice-controlled device with a small built-in speaker—it can also connect to your speakers or headphones over Bluetooth or through a 3.5 mm audio cable to deliver stereo sound to the speakers you choose.
Nest Learning Thermostat 3rd Generation
Nest Learning Thermostat 3rd Generation
A thinner, sleeker design. A bigger, sharper display. The 3rd generation Nest Learning Thermostat is more beautiful than ever. With Farsight, it lights up when it sees you coming and shows you the time or temperature from across the room. And the Nest Thermostat is proven to save energy.
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The Hue White and Color Ambiance BR30 Single Bulb now with enhanced color is an extension to your Hue ecosystem.