Monday, July 3, 2017

The $400 Smart Home Starter Kit for the Budget-Conscious Beginner

By  Brent Dirks

Smart homes have been around for a while. But the technology used to cost thousands of dollars, making it completely out of reach for anyone on a budget. Unfortunately, that old perception keeps many people from embracing smart home products when, in reality, the smart home market is almost unrecognizable from several years ago.What Is A Smart Home? What Is A Smart Home?We recently launched a Smart Home category at MakeUseOf, but what is a smart home?READ MORE
As the market has diversified and competition has increased, there are more choices than ever when it comes to smart gadgets and gizmos. And, even better, while technology has advanced, prices have fallen far, far below their previous amounts.
Seriously, for a grand total of $400, beginners can put together a fully functional smart home that can completely revolutionize how you live your day to day life.
Here’s how seven essential products can showcase the true potential of smart home technology — without breaking the bank!

1. Amazon Echo Dot ($50/£45)

amazon echo dot
A great example of an inexpensive smart home device that offers tons of features is the Amazon Echo Dot. The smallest member of Amazon’s awesome line of connected speakers, it can be used alone or in tandem with a larger and better sounding speaker.
While the number of competitors keeps growing, the Echo ecosystem still sports a huge lead in virtually every way possible. With just a simple voice command, you can control a huge amount of smart home devices in every category imaginable. Instead of having to fumble with an app or another controller, the Echo Dot’s voice control is quick and easy.How to Pick the Best Amazon Echo Speaker for You How to Pick the Best Amazon Echo Speaker for YouNot sure which Amazon Echo device is right for you? Find out if Alexa will work best for you on the Echo, Dot, Tap, Look, or Show.READ MORE
Sporting seven microphones and special far-field technology, the device can understand and decipher your query from across the room or even while rocking out with loud music.
And the Echo Dot can do a whole lot more than just control a smart home. Its ever-growing list of skills now sits at more than 12,000. Some of its more interesting skills include voice calling and messaging, ordering Domino’s Pizza, and even playing a game of Jeopardy.
The Echo Dot is affordable, easy to use, and provides a cornucopia of features. That combination is hard to pass up and makes the device an essential component of any budget smart home.
Echo Dot (2nd Generation) - BlackEcho Dot (2nd Generation) - BlackEcho Dot (2nd Generation) is a hands-free, voice-controlled device that uses Alexa to play music, control smart home devices, make calls, send and receive messages, provide information, read the news, set alarms, read audiobooks from Audible, and more BUY NOW AT AMAZON $49.99

2. Sensi Smart Thermostat ($99)

sensi smart thermostat
Using a smart thermostat is, well, just plain smart. Pretty much any model can help you save energy, lower your electricity bill, and maybe even improve your health. A great affordable choice is the Sensi.4 Health Benefits of Monitoring Temp & Humidity at Home 4 Health Benefits of Monitoring Temp & Humidity at HomeDid you know that there are health benefits of using smart home products? That's right. One or two smart purchases could drastically improve your quality of life at home.READ MORE
Fully compatible with any Echo device — including the Dot — the $99 thermostat is designed to work with HVAC systems in most homes. There is a bit of installation involved to remove your old, dumb thermostat. But pretty much anyone handy with a screwdriver and wiring should be able to take care of that with no issues. As a nice plus, the Sensi app (iOS and Android) includes a step-by-step installation guide and video tutorial to help that process.
Once the Wi-Fi thermostat is ready to go, the app offers a number of ways to help remain comfortable at home without using more energy. Thanks to geofencing, the thermostat can use your smartphone’s location to make sure it’s not cooling or heating while you are away from home. Geofencing will also make sure your home is comfortable the second you step in the front door.
A flexible, seven-day schedule option also allows homeowners to customize the HVAC system to fit their daily routine. And along with being able to control your system with a simple Alexa command at home, the app allows you to control the thermostat from anywhere in the world.
Sensi Smart Thermostat, Wi-Fi, UP500W, Works with Amazon AlexaSensi Smart Thermostat, Wi-Fi, UP500W, Works with Amazon AlexaRanked "Highest in Customer Satisfaction with Smart Thermostat" by J.D. Power BUY NOW AT AMAZON $108.99

3. Lockitron Bolt ($100)

Another way to add an affordable dose of technology to any home is with a smart lock. Instead of having to depend on keys, you can lock and unlock your door with an iOS or Android device. The Lockitron Bolt is a nice way to get started.Everything You Need to Know Before Installing a Smart Lock Everything You Need to Know Before Installing a Smart LockSmart locks are increasing in popularity, but there are still a lot of valid concerns about their security. These are the facts you need to know before making a purchase!READ MORE
Retailing for $100, the Bolt uses Bluetooth to connect with a smartphone or tablet to activate. Using the app you can easily share access with select family and friends and receive notifications whenever the door is locked or unlocked.
The Lockitron Sense feature makes it a breeze when you return home. You can customize the Bolt to automatically unlock when you’ve returned home and are located a set distance way from the lock. Alternatively, the Tap to Unlock feature will buzz your phone when returning home. Just tap the screen three times and the door will unlock.
If you’d like to eventually take the Bolt to the next step, a $79 Bridge can bring Wi-Fi compatibility for control anywhere with a wireless signal.

4. TP-Link Smart LED Light Bulb, 3-Pack ($55)

tplink smart led bulbs
The smart lighting arena is full of different options, which is great for anyone on a strict budget. Each smart LED bulb in this three-pack from TP-Link averages out to just under $20 per bulb, which is just a bit more than you’d spend on a regular LED option.
Each bulb lasts almost 14 years with normal use and provides a soft white light at 600 lumens. You can interact with each bulb using Amazon Alexa or the Google Assistant.
With the iOS or Android app, you can dim each bulb — even without a hardware dimmer. It is also easy to set a schedule for each bulb, including an “on at sunset and off at sunrise” option that will automatically adjust throughout the year. You can even monitor how much energy each bulb uses!
TP-Link Smart LED Light Bulb, Wi-Fi, Dimmable White, 50W Equivalent, Works w/ Amazon Alexa, 3-Pack (LB100 TKIT)TP-Link Smart LED Light Bulb, Wi-Fi, Dimmable White, 50W Equivalent, Works w/ Amazon Alexa, 3-Pack (LB100 TKIT)Works with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant for voice control BUY NOW AT AMAZON $38.00

5. Etekcity Mini Smart Plug Outlet, 2-Pack ($35)

etekcity plug smart outlet
Another Alexa-compatible device, the Etekcity plug turns any electrical outlet into a potential smart device. Even better, this two-pack brings twice the bang for your buck.
Using simply a voice command to Alexa or the VeSync app ( iOS and Android), you can control the outlet (and therefore whatever is plugged into it). This gadget is perfect for outlets and appliances that are just out of reach.
You can also create a customized schedule that will automatically turn the outlet on and off whenever you’d like. It’s perfect for an extra sense of security while out of the house. The app will even track how much power is used and how often the plug operates, giving you a better idea of your electric use.
In the event of a power outage, each plug will retain its most recently used settings, saving you a lot of time and trouble.
Etekcity 2 Pack Mini Smart Plug Outlet, No Hub Required, WiFi Wireless Energy Monitoring, Remote Control Light Switch Socket, Works with Alexa, WhiteEtekcity 2 Pack Mini Smart Plug Outlet, No Hub Required, WiFi Wireless Energy Monitoring, Remote Control Light Switch Socket, Works with Alexa, WhiteWORK WITH ALEXA: The free VeSync app lets you program multiple smart outlets to your phone so you can control different devices throughout your home. Fully integrated with Amazon Alexa. Requires either a 2.4GHz WiFi router or a 2.4GHz channel on a dual frequency 5GHz router BUY NOW AT AMAZON 

6. Wansview Home Camera ($30/£30)

wansview camera smart
Speaking of protection, a smart surveillance camera is a great way to look at what’s happening at your house from anywhere in the world. The Wansview Home Camera can stream 720p video to your Android or iOS device and compatible Web browsers.
With 24 IR LEDs, the camera can even see in the dark up to 20 feet away. Along with the 120-degree viewing angle, a microphone and speaker will allow users to talk to anyone in the house. You can also capture video and images.
While the camera doesn’t have all of the fancy bells and whistles like other (more expensive) options, it’s definitely a great way to start with home surveillance. It can always be repurposed later as a baby monitor or for other tasks thanks to the included mounting hardware.
Wansview Home Camera, 720P WiFi Wireless IP Security Surveillance Camera for Baby /Elder/ Pet/Nanny Monitor with Night Vision K2 (white)Wansview Home Camera, 720P WiFi Wireless IP Security Surveillance Camera for Baby /Elder/ Pet/Nanny Monitor with Night Vision K2 (white)Quick setup with 2.4G WIFI : Using "Wi-Fi configuration Guide" via Wansview App so as to connect your Wi-Fi with camera, no complicated setting needed of this wireless surveillance camera.Important tips before connection:IP/Network-2.4GHz Wireless(Incompatible with 5GHz). If your router supports both band, please close the 5GHz wifi connection. BUY NOW AT AMAZON $34.99

7. Blumoo Smart Remote Control ($29)

blumoo controller
If you’re like me, you probably have a whole host of remote controls for each piece of your home entertainment system. But the $29 Blumoo is a great way to turn an iPhone, iPad, or other device into the ultimate controller.
Just place this small device in the same room as your home entertainment equipment, plug in the power and audio cable, and you’re ready to go. Using the iOS or Android app, you’ll first set up control of all the equipment in the room. The database contains more than 250,000 different brands and models of equipment, including: TVs, soundbars, and more.
Along with complete control through the app, you can view an interactive TV guide. As a nice touch, Blumoo is also Bluetooth music receiver. That means you can stream music from your device to most any audio system from up to 150 feet away.
Blumoo Smart Remote ControlBlumoo Smart Remote ControlReplaces your pile of remotes with your iOS device BUY NOW AT AMAZON $18.50

Final Thoughts

Even a few years ago, getting a fully functional smart home for $400 would have been unthinkable. Now, it’s entirely possible.
And depending on your household’s needs, you may even be able to outfit your home for far less! Hopefully the next few years will continue to bring down the price of innovative products so that they are available to everyone.
Are there any products perfect for a smart home beginner on a budget that we missed? Let us know in the comments.

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