Amazon Echo seems to be leading the latest trend that’s taken the world by storm: smart homes. As the new trend on the tech market, smart home technology comes in a range of price ranges, brand names and complexities. Luckily for those who don’t want to invest too much time or money, there are a few easy ways to get started.
What Exactly Is a Smart Home?
For anyone new to the concept, it can seem like something straight out of a sci-fi film. But while it does represent an impressive advancement in artificial intelligence, it’s very much a reality. The term “smart home” refers to a home in which the appliances are connected to the internet, allowing residents to automate or control them remotely. Usually, it incorporates lighting, heating and electronic devices. The technology has been around for a while, but has recently been upgraded with sophisticated voice command capability and enhanced AI functions.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Smart Homes
It’s not hard to see why smart homes have become so popular. In today’s fast-paced society, instant gratification is expected, and smart technology means less waiting and less effort in your everyday life.
There’s no doubting the convenience of smart homes. From the comfort of your sofa, you can turn on your favorite song. While you’re still driving home from work, you can get your heating going ahead of time. There’s no more keeping track of multiple remotes because everything can be done from one central gadget. In fact, this makes it a great idea for anyone who’s trying to practice minimalism and de-cluttering.
It can also help you maintain better control of your electricity and heating bills. If you accidentally leave a light on, you can switch it off from the road. It’s nice to come home to a warm home during the winter, and a smart home means that instead of setting your heating to come on at set times and risking waste, you can set it going once you’re already on your way home. It’s good for your bank balance, and it’s also good for the environment.
However, having a smart home does have its drawbacks. For some, the hassle of setting up your kit, downloading your app and remembering how to use everything seems far too much - particularly if you only want it for basic purposes. After all, why get an app for what a light switch can do perfectly well with a single touch? There are also those who worry about the use of the internet to control their home essentials - either because they have security concerns or because they worry that a dropped connection would leave them stranded. While it seems unlikely that hackers would target residences, it is true that it would be relatively easy to gain access if they did.
There’s a lot to consider when investing in a smart home, but there are a number ways to make it simpler - and cheaper.
Look Into Alexa Alternatives
Perhaps the most common complaint when it comes to smart homes is cost. The Amazon Echo smart speaker is popular, but it retails at around at around $180. For a gadget that’s still considered a novelty rather than an essential, that seems unnecessarily extravagant. Fortunately, there are more budget-friendly alternatives on offer too.
Google Home comes in slightly cheaper at $130, and it’s considered one of the best smart home devices - largely because it's backed up by one of tech’s biggest names. Many reviewers agree that Google’s virtual assistant has the edge on voice commands, although it’s been around for less time than Alexa and so has slightly less compatibility.
For the particularly tech-savvy, the Kickstarter-funded Mycroft makes an interesting alternative. It comes with a $150 price tag, but is designed to be compatible with any smart home devices you already own - which could save you the cost and hassle of changing your tech. It’s also built on an open platform, so you can modify and improve it. Anyone looking for a custom experience should definitely check this one out.
It seems the trend for crowdfunding is becoming ever more popular in the tech market, and another device has entered the arena: ivee Voice. While it serves a similar purpose to the Amazon Echo, some users are put off by the much smaller speakers. The main appeal seems to be its price tag; right now, early supporters can pre-order it for just $99.
And Check Out Amazon Echo Alternatives Too!
If you’re a firm believer that Alexa by any other name would still be just as effective, you can look into the various device alternatives to the Echo that still use Amazon’s virtual assistant. For example, the FABRIQ Speaker is capable of connecting to all your smart home devices, and costs just $49. Its compact size means you’ll get a lower sound quality, so it’s worth considering what you’re likely to use your device for.
If all these options still seem a little overwhelming, you can always start small with Amazon Echo Dot. This smaller version costs just $50, and retains much of the functionality of the Echo. The key difference is that you’ll need to connect your existing sound system. In fact, you can go one step further and cherry-pick the smart tech you want to use in your home.
Customize Your Smart Home
We’ve already mentioned the Mycroft smart home system, which can be customized through its novel open platform. But even for the less tech-savvy, it’s possible to create a more personal smart home experience. The easiest place to start is by choosing only the gadgets you actually want. It might seem a simple concept, but it can be easy to get overwhelmed when there’s so much on offer. If you’re not sure where to start, you can check each home hub’s website for guidance on compatible devices; both Apple and Amazon have dedicated pages.
Consider the rooms and gadgets that you use most often. If you can’t start your morning without fresh coffee, you might want to be able to set your coffee maker brewing from your bed. If you have a room that you host in often, you might want something with more wow-factor, like the Philips Hue Smart Lights.
If you decide that you want to get the complete package, you can get handy starter kits that will set you up with everything you need. Samsung offer the SmarterThings Kit, which includes essentials such as motion sensors, power outlets and cables. There are also starter kits that will help you get the hang of the app and install all the capabilities you want, such as the Amazon Alexa Skills Kit. This is a great resource for first-time users; after all, what’s the use of your upgraded tech if you can’t get it to work?
Whether you’re looking for simple convenience or something that’ll really impress your guests, there’s something on offer for everyone. And with the trend for smart homes growing, it’s exciting to imagine what new developments could be on the horizon.