Smart homes sound like a futuristic and intrusive space, which can be terrifying to many people. But there are many benefits to smart homes you may not realise. While the cost of smart devices remain a rather pricey deterrent to some, costs are dropping at a rapid rate, fortunately.

Still enabling the Internet of Things in your home can be intimidating. Here are some things I’ve discovered, in the process of “smartening” my apartment.

Whichever voice assistant you prefer, it really makes everything work much smoother.

1) Get a voice-activated assistant.

No matter which you prefer (Apple’s Homekit, Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa), voice-activated assistants are immensely helpful. Think of them as a personal assistant for smart homes. I use an Echo Dot (US$29.99 now on Amazon) that’s connected to a Bluetooth speaker. It controls my Philips Hue lights, music, robot vacuum and home security for now. Eventually it will control the door as well and the air conditioning. Once those devices arrive. (I don’t have a television. Instead I use a projector that hooks up to a Fire Stick.)

Because it’s so convenient to use, I find myself enjoying music more, listening to podcasts, even learning Klingon. It even reads me the news in the morning while I’m getting ready for work. And most importantly, I never worry about forgetting to switch off the lights or activate the home security. Alexa Routines does all that when I say “Alexa, goodbye”.

I got an Echo Dot because I already have a good speaker at home to connect it with.

The reason why I chose Alexa over the other two was simply the wake word. Saying ‘Alexa’ or ‘Amazon’ is much more convenient than ‘Hey, Siri’ or ‘Ok Google’. Plus, its mics are a lot better. Just remember to enunciate the ‘t’s in your words. Otherwise it gets ‘master bedroom’ easily confused with something else. However, if you need it to work in Singapore, you need to configure it a little. Once you’ve done this, you can even call an Uber with it.

(There’s another reason why I choose Alexa. That’s because Google uses your info to push advertising in other forms to their clients. Apple’s HomeKit is relatively closed off. Alexa just wants to encourage you to buy stuff on Amazon. But you can ignore that.)

Figure out the smart devices you need and will use, not just what you want.

2) Figure out what you need, not what you want.
Most people want everything smart for smart homes. But let’s face the honest truth. I don’t need a smart washer or fridge, or oven. Or a smart kettle or coffee machine. These are extravagances, not needs. And having too many IoT devices can choke up the Wi-Fi bandwidth in the apartment since they either connect with a hub or directly to the home Wi-Fi. That means more potential security issues as well. Decide what you want convenienced, and choose the devices you really do need. You can always add more later.

A smart hub controls all your devices and increases security in your home network.

3) Get smart hub connected devices. And a good router.

IoT devices depend on the network connection in your smart home. A lousy router can affect the traffic in your system and thus affect how your devices perform as well as the Internet connection to your computer or smart phone. But more importantly, hubbed devices are connected to your router directly (I suggest a wired connection) and utilise narrow-band secured connections to your individual devices. That makes hubbed smart homes more secure.

Try to avoid direct Bluetooth connections or devices that are easy to connect with directly. These expose the network to external users and reduces security. You can always hide the wires. If you are looking for a good hub, consider the Moon by 1-Ring. It’s been highly rated, looks good and includes an IR blaster so you can add legacy controls to it. As a general rule, Wi-Fi, Zigbee and Z-Wave offer good security.

I bought the Philips Hue system of bulbs and lightstrips because of brand reliability and security. And they can create 16 million colours. (Image by Eugene Lim/TGP).

4) Go for reliable brands.

When I first started considering smart lighting, I balked slightly at the pricing of the Philips Hue lights. $89 for a bulb? That’s cray. (The Philips Hue Lightstrips are better value for money ($129 for a 2m strip, $39 for a 1m extension. Especially during its twice-yearly sales.) But it’s a home network, and security is essential. So consider reliable brands rather than just price. Some other great examples are the Nuki smart lock, August smart lock, WyzeCam, iRobot vacuums, or Samsung’s SmartThings. (The August smart lock has no affliation with AUGUSTMAN.) That doesn’t mean that all reliable smart devices are expensive. WyzeCam costs US$19.90 a piece and is brilliant. And the Echo Dot is only US$29.99 at the moment.

5) Consider amalgamated products.
One thing I’m definitely looking forward to getting (or at least, testing) is the Sonos ONE ($329 at Tat Chuan Acoustic). Integrated products such as the Sonos with Alexa are getting more common, and will become key to the success of IoT. After all, why get 5 different products when 2 can do them all? The Sonos ONE offers the crisp sound qualities of a Sonos speaker with integrated voice control. That’s a perfect combination for me.

Connected homes offer unexpected benefits. (Image from Amyx+)

But most importantly, connected devices across apartments means you can check in on family and friends across the world effortlessly. You can drop in on a call to a landline or keep track of an elderly relative without intruding on their life and making that technology seamless for them. And most importantly, they can call you in an emergency or set a program in case a mishap occurs. To me, that’s a nice bonus of giving up some information to my smart device providers.

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