So—actually setting up your smart home isn’t a problem—you can be up and running in minutes. But choosing the right smart home system? One that can bring all your devices together and get them communicating with one another is a decision worthy of some serious consideration.
Nearly everything in your home — including blinds, thermostats, lights and garage doors—can be connected to the internet and be remotely controlled with a mobile device or smart speaker. But there are a plethora of different accessories that work only with certain products, and some work better than others. Here’s a guide to help you sort through the jumble and become acclimated to your first voice-controlled smart home.
You’ve seen the ads and the hype from colleagues and friends—smart homes are becoming ubiquitous. Is it time to hop on the bandwagon? Owning a smart home is now more accessible than ever, all thanks to the wide range of available connected devices—think light bulbs, thermostats, security cameras, and sensors.
Smart home devices are more than simple gadgetry: they’re about living more securely, efficiently, and in greater comfort. Knowing who’s at your door, when it’s time to turn the coffee
maker on, or playing music with a simple voice command—the easiest way to achieve all this is working within an ecosystem that allows all your devices to communicate together.
Whether you want to want to complete your technology-laden dream home or start your smart home journey, we’ve created a guide to walk you through the intricacies of the three main smart home ecosystems—Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple HomeKit.
The Google Home Ecosystem
Google Home comprises a collection of smart speakers and displays that offer voice-based control over other smart home devices. This ecosystem, powered by Google Assistant, promises its users an intelligent home easily controlled by voice alone. All Android smartphones have a built-in Google Assistant that can do almost anything you command it to—including taking calls, playing music, sending messages, or controlling smart home devices.
Google scores highly for its ability to “add Devices” to your existing Google account for simple voice-based control. It also lets you search for any kind of useful information over the internet through the world’s biggest search engine—Google.
The Amazon Alexa Ecosystem
Amazon’s Alexa is arguably the most affordable and best-selling virtual assistant in the smart home market. Here’s how she works: you ask her a question or command her to control gadgets at home, and she’ll try to talk to the connected gadgets or get you the information you require. There are two main types of Alexa devices; those that have Alexa built right in and those that work with Alexa. For the latter, you’ll need to look for the tag “Works with Amazon Alexa.”
The greatest distinction from Google Home is its ubiquity. Amazon’s smart assistant is built into moew smart speakers, light switches, thermostats like the Ecobee4, and TVs (thanks to Fire TV Cube).
For this reason, it’s incredibly easy to literally saturate your home with Alexa. It uses Skills—apps that are built for the system—to make your life easier. For instance, with the TuneIn radio skill, Alexa can play your favourite radio station and select the top music tracks using the Spotify skill.
Adding new kit to your system is as simple as tapping “Add Device” on the Alexa app or asking Alexa to discover new devices within your range. You can also create groups of devices, like all your upstairs lights, making it easy to control everything with a single command.
The Apple HomeKit Ecosystem
HomeKit, a software framework by Apple, gives you a secure and straightforward way to control your home doors, lights, thermostats, and more from any Apple device. HomeKit puts all compatible smart home devices on a single interface “Home” where they can sync and work with each other. Similar to Google Home and Alexa, HomeKit lets you use voice control (through Siri) or apps to configure and communicate with all your smart home products.
The Home app comprises three sections: Home displays all your smart home devices; Rooms categorizes devices in locations around your home and Automation lets you automate various intelligent home behaviours.
The primary way to connect devices to HomeKit is via scannable codes that you should store safely if you remove and need to re-add a device in future. You don’t have to download secondary apps to set devices up via HomeKit. For instance, smart security cameras often need a dedicated app to see the Livestream, but compatible HomeKit cameras are set up and integrated via the Apple Home App. You don’t have to clutter your phone with unnecessary apps—a distinct advantage.
Comparing Virtual Assistants
Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, and Apple’s Siri are all front runners in an up and coming arena of smart voice assistants. You’ve probably heard about them, but aren’t conversant with how much impact bringing one of them into your life can be (beyond setting the occasional timer or finding that song you love. The smart home sages at WirelessWizard have pitted these three smart assistants in a virtual assistant head-to-head to see how they measure up.
Siri is the oldest of the virtual assistants and is accessible on nearly all Apple devices, including its line of phones, laptops, tablets, and smartwatches. Initially, Siri was an independent app on the App Store, but it has since been hard-corded into the iOS software to perform various tasks and pull in information from different Apple services.
Siri will control all compatible smart home devices, text or call someone in your contact list, open apps, set alarms and reminders, make recommendations, find information online, tell jokes, and much more.
Siri’s voice recognition isn’t as strong as that of its smart assistant counterparts—she doesn’t always understand your questions; however, the Apple HomePod possesses arguably the best speaker, making it an excellent option for music enthusiasts who use Apple Music exclusively.
Amazon’s Alexa was introduced in November 2014 and has since integrated into most of Amazon Echo brand products as well as some of its Fire Tablet or Fire TV branded products. Alexa can answer questions and does an excellent job with voice detection; however, the speaker experiences occasional trouble understanding voices in the presence of background noises.
Alexa can control compatible smart home gadgets, run timers, control music, find information online, play content on any Amazon Fire device, among others. Alexa stands out from other personal assistants with its clean design and compatibility with a wide range of smart home devices from various manufacturers.
Since its introduction in 2016, Google Assistant has made its way into virtually everything, from smart displays and smart speakers by Google to Android phones and Android watches, and to similar devices from partner companies like JBL and Lenovo. With almost no setup required, this smart assistant works seamlessly through various Google services—Google Maps for routes, the search engine for all information, and Nest for your heating.
The main plus point of Google Assistant is that it’s available on Android and iOS devices. It also offers voice orders as well as voice-activated gadget control, letting you achieve different objectives by using the “Hey Google” or OK Google” wake words. Google has also manufactured its own smart home speakers, like Google Home Max, that’s built to use specifically with its assistant.
Of all the components of a smart home ecosystem, you’ll probably use (or at least interact with) your smart speaker the most. The best smart speakers won’t just play your favourite music—they have a voice assistant built in to let you use them for various tasks, like controlling other devices and looking up the weather. They may also change the channel on your TV. Here are your top smart speaker options.
HomePod & HomePod Mini
HomePod is Apple’s breakthrough speaker that adapts to its location to deliver high-fidelity audio wherever it’s playing. Coupled with Siri and Apple Music, this smart speaker creates a new way for you to discover and interact with music at home. Besides, it can help you and your family with everyday tasks and control of your home with voice alone. Six microphones positioned around the speaker allow it to pick up all the sound in your room. Just say “Hey Siri” and your HomePod will hear you without the need to raise your voice.
Setting up your HomePod smart speaker is quick and magical—plug it in, and your iOS device will easily detect it. You’ll experience an intelligent assistant that will give you the latest news or help you set different timers for multiple tasks. Together with Siri, HomePod can also learn and recognize up to six different voices to create a personalized listening experience for everyone at home.
The Amazon Echo is a voice-controlled smart speaker with Alexa, perfect for any room. You can ask for news, information and music, call anyone, and control all compatible smart home devices with your voice. With Alexa always ready to help, you can make life more comfortable at home by using voice to create reminders and calendar events, set timers, and add items to lists.
Amazon Echo also lets you control more than 10,000 compatible smart home devices, including thermostats, lights and TVs without moving an inch. A single voice command is enough to lock your doors and turn the lights off at night.
Alexa also offers more than 100,000 skills that you can use to improve your overall experience at home. The fourth-generation Echo comes with a built-in Zigbee hub that helps it better control and communicate with various smart home devices.
The Google Nest Audio smart speaker sets itself apart as a great-sounding speaker and hands-free home hub. Setting up this device has never been easier, thanks to the Google Home app. Just plug the speaker in and the Home app will guide you through the setup process. You’ll also need to link up the speaker to your preferred music streaming service, including YouTube Music, Spotify, Google Play Music, Pandora, and Deezer.
Google Assistant on this speaker is as powerful as it always is—allowing you to control your smart home devices, dig information up from the web, and play music. The speaker also excels at providing superb sound quality and clarity, and you can pair two speakers for better stereo playback. Google Nest Audio will unlock all of the best Google Assistant and Google Home commands as far as you can project your voice.
With more smart home devices than ever, homeowners are looking for ways to monitor, control, and command their devices with a tap on a smartphone screen. If you consider the popularity of smart home systems, it makes sense that people want more control over their homes. It may be worth your while to look into these smart home apps—pronto.
Apple’s Home App
Apple’s HomeKit offers the least interoperability because of the limited number of devices with which it is compatible. On the flip side, however, HomeKit is arguably the most secure of all—it includes the same privacy features found in Apple’s phone ecosystem. Its attractive user interface and ease of setting up make it an excellent option for those who want an Apple ecosystem. You won’t download any secondary apps to set devices up through HomeKit.
Google’s Google Home App
The Google Home app lets you set up and control your Chromecast, Google Nest, and Google Home devices. Control thousands of compatible cameras and speakers from a single app as well as see your recent notifications and reminders. Devices on this app are listed by:
- Rooms: Lists smart home devices by room
- Groups: Lists speaker groups in your Wi-Fi network
- In your home: Lists devices that are part of your home but not assigned to any room
Some quick actions you can take through the app include lights on/off, show media, broadcast a message to your speakers and smart displays, show the camera video feed and manage routines.
Amazon’s Alexa App
Alexa is a dominant smart home platform with more than 100,000 Alexa skills to do everything from suggesting recipes to providing weather reports. It’s available on supported Android, Fire OS, and iOS devices.
You can set up your smart home devices, check the status or control your smart locks, lights, and thermostats on-the-go or at home. You can also automate your smart home devices by creating routines. Alexa can display your information in a visual format if you use Amazon Echo Show. You’ll see your smart home status at a glance or walk through your favourite recipes step-by-step.
Use Alexa communication to message and call your Alexa contacts — keeping you connected with family and friends.
Comparing Smart Displays
Smart displays can tremendously enhance your intelligent home setup by acting as the core that links and manages your smart devices. Here are your most popular options.
Amazon Echo Show
The Amazon Echo Show boasts a vibrant HD screen, a built-in intelligent home hub, and enhanced speakers that deliver sweeping stereo sound. You can watch live TV on Hulu, see who’s at the front door, or make video calls with ease.
Amazon Echo Show is a smart home companion that can elevate your overall experience. Alexa can control thousands of compatible smart home devices with a simple command. Just say, “Alexa, discover my devices,” and Echo will locate and set up all compatible devices so that you can control them on-screen.
Enable Alexa Guard to get Smart Alerts when your Echo device detects glass breaking as well as the sound of carbon monoxide or smoke alarms.
Nest Hub Max
The Google Nest Hub Max offers a 10-inch HD display that works with the Google Assistant to keep your family connected, look out for your home, and make your smart home even smarter.
This display offers a hands-free way to contact your family. Just say “Hey Google, call Dad,” and you’ll have your call made immediately. The built-in Nest Cam looks out for your home when you’re away. You can get alerts if motion is detected or check in for a live home view. A Nest Aware subscription will give you continuous video recording as well as familiar face alerts.
Nest Hub Max also works with thousands of smart home gadgets, like TVs, locks, and lights that you can easily control from one place. Use your voice to control compatible speakers, TVs, and
gaming consoles from right where you are. Get the vacuum started and check the time remaining on the dryer by asking.
Nest Hub Max also works with leading smart home hubs, letting you control your smart devices using voice alone.
There are a plethora of gadgets, accessories, and assistants on the market today. Teach that was once difficult to use and unintuitive can now be automated with a simple voice command. From curtains to garage doors, it makes you wonder – what will they automate next?
If you’re looking to smarten up your home, start by choosing one or more smart devices, a smart hub, and then sync them together to create the ultimate smart home ecosystem. You’ll be talking to your house and impressing your guests in no timeDo you have a smart home? What is your favorite smart home device? Comment below.