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The Best Smart Home Devices of 2020

09/08/2020

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If you’ve already started connecting the various devices and fixtures around your home — perhaps more of you are thinking about this now that many of us are quarantined — you’ll know that there are a lot of ways to tackle the problem. You might just want one device to solve a particular issue, like a smart plug to put a lamp on a regular schedule. You might also be invested in an Amazon Alexa– or Google Assistant-powered smart speaker, or even Siri and Apple HomeKit smart home service. 

I tend to think of the voice assistants as the starting point for building a do-it-yourself smart home. They offer a convenient way for multiple family members or roommates to interact with the various devices you may have installed. Many, but not all of the products on our list of the best smart home products will work with multiple voice assistants.  

Read more: 6 coolest smart home devices you didn’t know existed  

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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Our list focuses narrowly on the best product in each smart home subcategory. If you want to know the best smart thermostat or the best smart lighting kit, regardless of which voice platforms it works with, we have you covered. What this list is not is a road map for a single, coherent smart home installation (you won’t get far trying to pair an Amazon smart speaker with a Google smart display). For that, please refer to our platform-based lists linked below:  

In each subcategory entry, I’ve also added a link to the best list for that particular product type. If you’re looking for more options for lighting or locks, you’ll find a list of our favorite products if you’d like to see a broader selection. We regularly update this list as we review new products.

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Amazon’s entry-level Echo Dot had the edge over the competing speaker, but with the arrival of the newer, rebranded , we’re officially calling the entry-level smart speaker category a tie. Both speakers will run you about $50 on a normal day, and you can find both of them discounted regularly. 

The two voice assistants are pretty much at parity right now. Amazon usually boasts about more skills and support for more third-party devices, but the numbers for both voice platforms are in the tens of thousands, meaning the difference isn’t enough that you’ll really miss out on anything significant with Google. 

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Google Assistant does a better job at mimicking natural conversation flow, but the difference is that it isn’t really that noticeable in your day-to-day interaction with each speaker. Most of the time you’ll ask a smart speaker for the weather, to set a timer, and maybe have it play a song or two. Both devices are good at all of that.

The Amazon Echo Dot was our pick due to one small hardware advantage. It has an audio-out jack. The Google Home Mini doesn’t, and neither does the Nest Mini. Now, the Echo Dot also offers embedded around its edge, for $10 more. That’s a convenient quality-of-life feature.

Google has another card to play, which you can read below.

Read our Amazon Echo Dot (third-generation) review.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Amazon’s midtier smart display is the best one in its line. For $130, the Echo Show 8 has great audio quality, a highly visible screen and a convincing nod to privacy with a physical shutter you can slide over its camera. We still like the interface better on the Google Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max. Those Google Assistant displays also have the edge in useful video due to the voice-activated YouTube integration, which Amazon’s lineup lacks. Regardless, for those of you who are committed to an Alexa-only ecosystem, the Echo Show 8 is the best smart display.

Read our Amazon Echo Show 8 review.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Wi-Fi is everything — particularly once you start spreading things like smart speakers, smart lights, smart plugs and smart all else from room to room. After all, those connected doodads won’t do you much good if they can’t, you know, connect. 

That’s why a mesh router that’s built to spread a strong, speedy signal throughout your house might make for a particularly smart upgrade — especially if you’re living in a big home. And, of the ones we’ve tested, we think the Nest Wifi is the smartest pick. At $269, the two-piece starter kit was able to fill the 5,800-square-foot CNET Smart Home with decent signal strength, and it never once dropped our connection as we moved around conducting speed test after speed test. On top of that, the range extender doubles as a smart speaker, so as you spread a reliable connection from room to room, you’ll be spreading the Google Assistant’s footprint in your home with it.

Read more: The best Wi-Fi routers in 2020

The Nest Wifi doesn’t support the newest, fastest version of Wi-Fi, called Wi-Fi 6, but you really won’t notice the difference Wi-Fi 6 makes unless you’re already paying for super-fast internet speeds of 500 Mbps or more. What you will notice with is the ease of installation, the simple network controls that sit right alongside your smart home controls in the Google Home app, and advanced Wi-Fi features like device prioritization, WPA3 security, and 4×4 MU-MIMO support, which lets the Nest Wifi boost speeds to devices that use multiple Wi-Fi antennas, like the MacBook Pro.

The Nest Wifi is obviously best for Google smart homes, so Alexa users will likely want to stick with the Eero or Netgear Orbi, our honorable mentions in the mesh category. But if you just want rock solid Wi-Fi that you and your growing number of internet-connected gadgets can rely upon, put the Nest Wifi right at the top of your list.

Read our Nest Wifi review.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Like its competitor, the chief among them, the Ecobee SmartThermostat is a WIFi-based thermostat that lets you control your home heating and air conditioning system with an app or with your voice. A few features help it stand out.

Ecobee set itself apart with its earlier products by including a remote temperature sensor in the box with the thermostat. The thermostat itself can read the ambient temperature of whatever room it’s in and adjust accordingly. If you want it to adjust the temp based on the conditions in another room, just switch it over to the remote sensor. This is a useful accessory if your thermostat install point isn’t in a central location, or if you want to make sure a nursery or your home office is the focal point for the Ecobee’s temperature readings, rather than a far-flung hallway. 

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You can buy the same accessory for a Nest thermostat, but Ecobee includes one in the box. Ecobee is also more agnostic about working with voice assistants than its Google-owned competitor. Where Nest will work with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa (maintained perhaps as a legacy function from before Google purchased Nest), Ecobee supports Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri. 

Perhaps most unique, the Ecobee SmartThermostat is itself an Amazon Echo speaker. You won’t be impressed by its audio output for playing music, but as a basic extender for Alexa around your home, the Ecobee does an admirable job. Maybe you actually want Alexa in that far-flung hallway.

Read our Ecobee SmartThermostat review.

Arlo

The Arlo Pro 3 is our new , taking over the crown from its predecessor, the Arlo Pro 2. It’s not cheap to get started with Arlo cameras. The most affordable starting package for Arlo Pro 3 costs $500 and includes two Pro 3 cameras and the required wireless base station. If you can get past that initial investment, you’ll be able to take advantage of the most versatile video camera set up on the market. 

Every additional Arlo Pro 3 will cost $199. That’s expensive, but it also about the same as a single , another well-regarded outdoor Wi-Fi security camera. If you already own an Arlo Pro base station from an earlier kit, the Arlo Pro 3 will work with that as well.

We have always liked Arlo’s cameras for their battery-powered, weatherproof design that makes that suited for use indoors or outdoors. You can power them with a cable, or with the included, rechargeable battery for up to six months. An easy-to-install magnetic base also gives you almost infinite flexibility in terms of how you want to position each camera. They can also stand by themselves without a base on any horizontal surface. In short, you can put these cameras anywhere, or move them between locations with incredible ease. 

What’s new with the Arlo Pro 3 is a higher resolution video feed than its predecessor (2K versus 1080p), and a siren built into the camera, as opposed to the base station. Now you have an outdoor deterrent for any would-be intruders. For the sake of your neighbors, please use it with restraint. 

Want just an affordable indoor cam? The Alexa-supporting $30 is our current favorite. No other camera comes close to the Wyze in terms of features for the dollar. But for an indoor/outdoor, whole-home installation, the Arlo Pro 3 gets the nod. 

Read our Arlo Pro 3 review.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Cameras are one thing, but if you’re really concerned about security across your entire home, your best bet is the SimpliSafe 3.0 kit. It starts at $229 for the base station, a keypad, a motion sensor, and an open/close sensor. That’s a start, but one of the things we like most about SimpliSafe is the ability to customize your set up from a selection of eight different sensors, from smoke to glass-break. 

Unlike many whole-home security systems, SimpliSafe requires no contract to lock you into its service plan. You can opt into a $15-a-month professional monitoring package, but it’s not required, and you can cancel at any time. 

Read more: 

Competing systems from Read our SimpliSafe review.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Smart locks make people nervous because they insert another point of failure between you and your physical security. With a smart lock, a malicious hacker, or even a plain old technical failure or connectivity issue could all of a sudden compromise the entry point of your home. 

There might be some truth to that. A keyless design with no physical failsafe could indeed lock you out but the August Wi-Fi Smart Lock isn’t one of those locks.

Read more: 

The August Wi-Fi Smart Lock is a breeze to install. It fits over the internal thumb latch of most existing deadbolt designs, and you can set it up in 10 minutes. Because it doesn’t replace the lock mechanism itself, you can still use your original, physical key. It’s good looking too, and 45% smaller than older August models.

The lock itself connects to your phone via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, and from the August app, you can assign and revoke timed virtual keys to anyone you like, from your in-laws to your dog sitter, at no extra cost. Many other locks will charge extra for virtual keys. 

Because this model has Wi-Fi built in, you won’t need to purchase the August Connect accessory to enable remote access. Simply setup your lock with Wi-Fi in the app, and you can not only control the lock from anywhere, but you can also connect it to Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri (be sure to make each of them to accompany the unlock command) for added convenience. 

Another accessory included with the Wi-Fi Smart Lock model is the tiny open-close sensor. This lets the lock tell you if it’s locked or unlocked and lets you know if the door itself is open or closed. It’s the most complete product available on the market for now.

Read our August Wi-Fi Smart Lock review.

Arlo

Our favorite all-around security camera maker released a floodlight camera this spring that’s also a best-in-class product. It has all of the things we like about the Arlo camera line in general, long-lasting battery, a sharp HD video feed, mounting hardware that’s both flexible and easy install and compatibility with all three major voice platforms. 

Along with all of that, Arlo has added the most powerful array of LED lighting in its category, leaving competing products from Ring and others in the darkness. The 2,000 lumen light (3,000 if you add the optional Outdoor Charging Cable) will light up your entire backyard if you want that kind of power. It’s also dimmable, which is useful if you still want your neighbors to like you. 

Read the CNET review.

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