The last twelve months have been fascinating for fans of smart home technology. Seemingly everyday, a company thinks of a new way to spin a simple household item into the latest smart device for your living room or kitchen, or they develop an entirely new product you didn’t know you needed on your coffee table. The scope of home tech this year was wide and varied, with great new products and stellar updates coming from nearly every corner of the home.
The biggest name to enter the fray was undoubtedly Google, who came out swinging this fall with Google WiFi, Chromecast Ultra and Google Home. Mountain View wasn’t the only company to make waves in 2016, though. There were great contributions from standard bearers like Samsung and Roku, as well as smaller outfits like Nanoleaf. No matter which way you slice it, it was a great year for smart home gadgets.
Here are the year’s 10 best:
10) Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator Refrigerators don’t have to be boring. In fact, Samsung believes your refrigerator should be one of the best pieces of tech in your house, and the company has delivered a product with the potential to make good on that idea with the Family Hub Refrigerator. The biggest caveat, and it is a massive caveat, to the machine is its price. With a suggested retail mark near $6,000 (though you can find it at various retailers for much less) this is not the kitchen appliance for most people. But for those who have the budget, it is the absolute best you can get. The star of the show is the enormous, 21.5-inch touchscreen that works as an entertainment system, but also a way to keep on top of your groceries. Thanks to an array of cameras inside the you can see if you really need to buy milk even while away from home. It’s not the fridge for everyone. It’s not even for most people. But it is the most fully featured fridge of the year.
9) Nanoleaf Aurora Smart lights have been one of the most successful home gadgets for years thanks to their blend of practicality and relative affordability. Nanoleaf takes the smart light idea and injects a serious dose of cool into it with its modular panel system, Aurora. The lights work both as a way to brighten your home and add a distinctive art feature to your wall. You can rearrange them into various shapes, adding and subtracting as you see fit (the system supports up to 30 modules), to make Aurora work for you and your home. Add in a sleek app to manage it all, plus the ability to control them through Siri voice commands for iOS users, and the Aurora by Nanoleaf is one of the most interesting new products of 2016.
8) Joule by ChefSteps Sous-vide has grown in popularity over the last year, offering a nice alternative to grilling and other traditional forms of cooking. There have been numerous kitchen gadgets accompanying the new method’s rise, and the Joule is the best. It’s strips away nearly everything, relegating most controls to an app on your smartphone, making it incredibly easy to use. It’s even compatible with Alexa, so you can use your voice to control it, a fantastic feature for any gadget in your kitchen. If you’re looking to get into sous-vide, buy the Joule.
7) SkyBell HD WiFi Video Doorbell As with a lot of smart home tech, choosing a connected doorbell can feel preposterous and impossible. There are numerous options, and if you don’t quite know what you’re looking for, choosing the right one can feel like trying to find a needle in a stack of needles. Thankfully, 2016 gave us a clear frontrunner with Skybell’s HD video doorbell. It’s the follow-up to last year’s excellent version, which made our list of best home gadgets for 2015. The latest effort separates itself from the pack with its crystal clear 1080P resolution, on-demand clip recording, free video storage and third party integrations like IFTTT and Amazon’s Alexa.
6) Nest Cam Outdoor In-home security cameras have been around for years now and one of the most popular options has long been Dropcam, which was acquired by Nest in 2014 and became Nest Cam. The outdoor version continues the camera’s track record of excellence, with crisp 1080P recording, a wide-angle glass lens, three hours of free cloud storage and nice integration with Nest’s suite of products. As with any Nest product, in order to get the most out of it you need to sign up for a monthly service, but if you’re looking to beef up your home security, the company’s outdoor cam should be on your checklist.
5) Roku Ultra The era of 4K is nearly upon us. Every month, more and more providers are adding 4K and HDR content, and that trend is only going to continue in 2017 and beyond. Roku has long been one of the best names in set-top boxes and that hasn’t changed in 2016. The company’s latest and greatest is the Ultra, a streaming box that comes with all the great features you’d expect from the Roku name. An outstanding amount of channels, a snappy and easy-to-use interface, plus support for 4K and HDR make it a media machine that will last you for years.
4) Logitech Pop Sometimes a great smart home device is more about simplification than packing in as many features as possible. Logitech’s clever smart switches help bring order to smart home chaos. You can program them to control various gadgets, including Sonos speakers and Philips Hue lightbulbs. The best part, though, is that you can set the Pop buttons to perform multiple actions with a single press, like lower your blinds and dim your lights, all with just one press. Smart home gadgetry is all about early adopters right now, which can leave friends and family members on the outside looking in when it comes to how your home functions. Logitech Pop bridges that gap.
3) Chromecast Ultra Not to be outdone by Roku, Google made sure its streaming platform was ready for 4K in 2016, as well. It’s wildly popular Chromecast line got an upgrade in the form of the Ultra, bringing UHD streaming to the masses with a simple, affordable option. Though more costly than the original Chromecast, at $69 the Ultra is still a great, cheap entryway into the world of 4K and HDR. That makes it a fabulous choice for people who just shelled out hundreds of dollars on a fancy new UHD TV, and don’t want to throw down another heap of cash just to watch the best possible content available.
2) Google Home After much speculation, Google officially announced it was taking on the Amazon Echo this year at it’s annual I/O conference. Mountain View’s connected speaker, Google Home, is a valiant effort, a device that clearly learned from the journey of Alexa and hit the market with all the basics covered. No one really knew what the Echo was for, or what it would become, when it debuted in 2014. With Home, it’s a little clearer, but it is still far from reaching its full potential. That’s both a good and bad thing. Google should have pushed harder to have it ready to stand toe-to-toe with the Echo from day one, but we know it will improve over time and given the amount of data the company has accrued from 18 years of ruling search, that improvement could be vast and quick.
For what it is right now, the Home is a solid device. It can connect to various smart home gadgets, including Philips Hue bulbs, answer tons of trivia questions, tell you the weather and so much more. The Google Assistant is smarter than Alexa, even in its first go-around, and as more people use it, it’s going to hopefully become a powerful tool. That alone makes Google Home the most interesting home gadget of the year, but it hasn’t stolen Alexa’s lead just yet.
1) Amazon Echo Dot (2nd Generation) The best entry into the world of smart home gadgetry and smart home control is not Google Home. It’s also not the Amazon Echo. No, it’s the Echo’s little brother, the Echo Dot. Amazon made a stroke of genius this year with the second generation Dot, a smaller, cheaper take on the original. At just $49.99, it was the best smart home buy in 2016. It doesn’t have the same speaker quality as the standard Echo, but no one buys the Echo for its speaker quality, they buy it for the smart assistant inside. The Dot offers Alexa at a price that is a veritable impulse buy.
The whole idea of connected speakers and digital assistants is a hard one for many people to jump on board with. At $130, Google Home is not a necessity, but a luxury buy that mostly tech nerds are going to be interested in. The Echo Dot helps bring the idea to a wider audience. If the Alexa platform fails, you’re out $50, which is a lot better than $130, or $180 for the big Echo. If you buy any piece of smart home tech this year, it should be the Echo Dot.