CNET is revealing the results of from its first-of-its-kind "living laboratory" smart home based in Lousiville, Kentucky. After testing more than 40 smart home products in the house over an eight-month period, the editorial team found that voice control and activation technology are crucial to a smart home.
"We realized that using your voice to control the smart home is the best way to do it," said Lindsey Turrentine, editor-in-chief of CNET.com.
An example of that is the Amazon Echo, a Bluetooth speaker that also houses a personal voice assistant, Alexa. Turrentine described as a "hub for the smart home" that can be used for multiple tasks, like operating light bulbs, garage doors, fans and more.
"What's perfect about it is that it works for anybody in your home... your 4-year-old can do things. You can also use it to take care of family tasks," Turrentine said.
Another top recommended product is the Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator. While the idea of a smart refrigerator is not new, Turrentine said this particular product took a "different approach."
The three built-in cameras inside the refrigerator allow you to see what's there remotely, using an app on your smartphone. You can also do away with physical photos and notes on the fridge door with its 21.5 digital touchscreen, which displays the information you have stored in your phone. The fridge also tracks food expiration, streams music through built-in speakers and has some online shopping features that allow you to order products directly from the fridge.
If you want to start simple, Turrentine recommends the Roost Smart Battery. At just $35, it is a low-cost option to make your home smarter. The WiFi battery, with a projected life of five-plus years, plugs into a smoke detector and will alert you on your phone if the smoke detector battery must be changed or if the alarm goes off.
Despite these promising products, Turrentine added that the smart home is still new and complex, making it a challenge for many homeowners to navigate the options.
"It's sort of like computers were 15 years ago," she said. "If you're going to start by installing smart home devices yourself, what you should do is choose a task that you want to complete and then tackle that one thing at a time. Don't worry too much about which devices are going to work with which."