Last Updated: August 5, 2016
Given the wide variety of smart products suddenly flooding the market, GearBrain breaks down what you need to know in order to buy the right product. Here are some questions to ask.
How reliable is your Wi-Fi?
Most smart lighting, security camera, door locks and thermostat products operate somewhat — or completely — on Wi-Fi. While these smart devices don't monopolize a lot of bandwidth needed for video or data streaming, you will need to make sure you have range from any point of your home. Make sure you have a strong enough network connection to control your devices wherever you are in your abode. In short, if your Netflix streaming is spotty, it's likely your smart device performance may be as well.
What smart devices do you need?
We use the word "need" purposely. You shouldn't buy a smart device just because you think it's cool. At this early stage of smart home evolution, these devices need a certain amount of care and feeding. So stick to those smart devices that solve a real problem for you — and ones that you'll be using frequently.
What type of home do you live in?
We ask because apartment dwellers may not be able to take advantage of a lot of smart devices. For instance, unless you live in a newer building that gives you direct access to your apartment's individual climate controls — rather then a building with central stream or electric heating — a smart thermostat is unlikely to work for you. Smart LED bulbs are only available with standard A19 Edison bases for table lamps, so aren't appropriate for track lighting or chandeliers. Smart wall switches may be a bear to self-install in older buildings with ancient wiring. (Tip: Unscrew the switch plate to check the condition of the writing behind it before buying.)
Where do you charge your smartphone?
Smart home devices are all controlled by your smartphone, which means you need to keep it handy at all times when you're at home or at work. You might want to set up a number of ways to charge your phone in most — or all — the rooms at home so it's handy when you want to dim the lights, check the security camera or close the garage door.
What smart home system do you trust?
It's likely you're looking to buy a single type of smart product – a thermostat, a security camera, a lighting kit – and that's it. That's a mistake. Don't discount the possibility – nay, the likelihood – that at some point you're going to buy a second or third or fourth smart device. If — and honestly, when — you do, you want to make sure these newer smart gizmos plays nice with the first smart device you bought. You want everything to work through one app, and you want to make sure all the devices can be programmed to work in concert. So you want to make sure you can lock the bolt, turn a specific light on, and have your AC or heat going off when you leave the house without you doing anything except walking out the door. So check that first smart device's compatibility – and the system maker's reliability – to be sure it'll work with other future smart gear you are almost certain to add at some point.
If you need help installing a smart home system, you can visit HomeAdvisor.com to find a local trusted professional.