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Are you ready to bring your home into the 21st century? With automation products like lights, outlets, security systems, lamps, humidity sensors, and more, you can control your entire home from the palm of your hand. But managing dozens of products can get tricky. That’s where building your connected home around major automation systems can prevent chaos and bring a smoothly-integrated experience.

Before You Start: A Home Networking Primer

If you’re new to home automation, keep in mind that smart home systems can run over one or more different wireless network protocols—the omnipresent Wi-Fi, plus Bluetooth, Thread, Zigbee, Z-Wave, and others. Then there’s Apple HomeKit, which is more of a software framework, rather than a protocol. To add to the confusion, we have the Works with Alexa and Works with Google Assistant programs, which are still more software and voice assistant frameworks that run over various protocols.

Most homes already have a wireless network in place, making smart product integration simple. But one risk when using Wi-Fi is interference. For example, Z-Wave runs on a different frequency than Wi-Fi and prevents interference. Zigbee runs on the same frequencies as Wi-Fi, but like Z-Wave, creates a mesh network in your home for higher reliability. And both Z-Wave and Zigbee offer more security than Wi-Fi, since they use industrial-strength AES-128 encryption.

While we won’t get into all the nuances of networking, the bottom line is you’ll want to select accessories that are compatible with each other for best results. So, just look at the accessory box to see if the product works with what you already have.

Ready to transform your house into a smart home? Consider the seven best automation systems below. 

[1] Samsung SmartThings Hub The Samsung SmartThings app has recently been revamped to to give easy access to accessories. Products such as Yale Assure smart door locks, running Z-Wave, are particularly well supported for secure remote operation and automations. Image: Digitized House.

A hub, like Samsung SmartThings, provides a spot to link all of your devices, including thermostats, wireless routers, lights, smart door locks, and security devices. Priced around $70, the hub allows you to control your home through your Apple iOS or Android smartphone. 

You can set up automation routines, like “Good Morning” and “Goodbye” for robotic control of your home. And, when SmartThings is linked to Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, you can control devices using voice commands. The SmartThings hub, now in its 3rd generation, supports both Zigbee and Z-Wave devices—making it a highly versatile choice.

[2] Google Home Max Speaker The Google Home Max speaker has the Google Assistant built in, Image: Google.

While it is technically a smart speaker, the Google Home Max is compatible with more than 1,000 smart devices and priced around $299. It runs the versatile Google Assistant, so you can ask Max questions for hands-free advice or tell it to set a reminder for dinner. When you’re all the way across the room, rocking out to music, Max’s far-field voice control will still be able to pick up your commands.

[3] Amazon Echo Speaker Amazon Echo and Echo Dot speakers enable easy access to the Alexa digital assistant. Image: Digitized House.

The Amazon Echo, priced around $99, is one of the most well-known smart speakers and effectively runs as a smart hub—able to pair with thousands of third-party products, skills, and apps. The crisp vocals make the speaker ideal for listening to audiobooks, podcasts, and Spotify playlists. 

The magic behind every Echo speaker is Alexa, the built-in virtual assistant getting smarter each day. She has more than 50,000 skills to offer.

Looking for a bona fide Amazon smart home hub? In that case, consider the Amazon Echo Plus, which also functions as a hub for Zigbee (standard Echo speakers do not natively support Zigbee devices).

[4] Lenovo Smart Display Ideal for kitchen use, the Lenovo Smart Displays run the Google Assistant for easy tap-to-use screen gestures or voice commands. Image: Lenovo.

The Lenovo Smart Display, with models starting around $130, is a kitchen assistant like no other, able to follow recipes, play videos, pull up to-do lists, and much more. Function-wise, the Lenovo Smart Displays are equivalent to the original Nest Hub and the forthcoming Nest Hub Max smart displays—all of them running the elegant Google Home interface. 

The touch screen display offers tap-and-go convenience for any accessory connected through the onboard Google Assistant. But they come into their own in the kitchen. With just a couple of words, you can summon the Assistant to convert ounces to cups. And use the video call feature to chat with friends while your hands are busy. 

[5] Philips Hue Bridge

Not having to get out of bed to turn off the lights is one of the best benefits of home automation. With the Phillips Hue Bridge, priced around $60, you can create an automation schedule with timers and alarms to control the popular Philips Hue lamps of all shape and sizes. Or change the colors, brightness, and more with a simple voice command. The kit is compatible with up to twelve accessories, including the Hue Motion Sensor and Hue Dimmer Switch.

To issue voice commands from across the room with Hue, you will need to have an existing Amazon Echo or Google Home speaker in your home. It also works with Apple HomeKit and the Siri voice assistant, as well as the Apple HomePod smart speaker.

[6] Ecobee 4 Smart Thermostat

Most thermostats can only tell the temperature of one place in your home. But the Ecobee 4 is a system that utilizes a variety of sensors placed around your rooms, able to manage hot and cold spots. The product, priced around $215, also comes with a built-in Amazon Alexa assistant that can help you order groceries, read the news, and find the perfect recipe for dinner. And since it’s running Alexa, you can control many other compatible smart accessories in your home by simply talking to the thermostat.

[7] NetGear Arlo Q Camera For interior security, the Netgear Arlo Q cameras offer versatile access to live video feeds, free cloud storage, and 2-way audio. Image: Netgear.

One significant benefit of smart home automation is improved security. It’s easier than ever to monitor your home, even when on the other side of the world.

The NetGear Arlo Q, priced around $200, is a wired indoor HD security camera that will monitor your home in 1080p detail. Listen in on the nursery and talk with two-way-audio, look for intruders with night vision, and use motion alerts to keep your home protected. They are also available in kits with 2 cameras at about $350, and offer 7 days of cloud recordings out of the box.

It’s not hard to manage your automation products and take charge of your smart home. With platforms like the Google Home Max and Amazon Alexa, you can control dozens of products—like a thermostat, speaker, coffee maker and more—with the tap of a button. Take your home lighting to the next level with the Hue Bridge, able to handle up to 50 LED lights at a time. And don’t forget to keep your home secure, made possible with a system like the NetGear Arlo Q.

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If you plan to turn your house into a smart home, choosing a digital voice assistant is one of the first steps. On the surface, it seems like a simple decision—pick the one you’re familiar with. But the choice of a home assistant shapes the ecosystem of your smart home.

While many smart devices work with multiple hubs, you’re more likely to gravitate toward a smart home platform that offers close compatibility with your existing home automation devices. Let’s consider the major players in the digital assistant market, the ecosystems they support, and the pros and cons of each to control your smart home.

Things to Consider Before Choosing a Digital Assistant Amazon Echo Dot (left) and Google Home Mini speakers (right). Image: Digitized House.

Before choosing anything for your smart home, think about compatibility. Evaluate any home automation devices you already own and which hubs integrate with them. There are three major smart home platforms that currently dominate the market—Google Nest (formerly Google Home) with Google Assistant, Amazon Echo with Alexa, and Apple HomeKit with Siri. Most existing home automation devices connect with at least one of these smart home approaches.

If you intend to integrate multiple devices, such as security or lighting, you’ll want to make sure your internet and router are up to the task. Consider setting up a separate network to protect home automation devices from hackers. In the case you live in a rural area where bandwidth is an issue, explore options like satellite internet to bolster your speed and ensure the connectivity your smart home requires. 

Once you’ve got your internet prepped, you’re ready to start looking for the brains of your operation.

[1] Amazon Alexa Gives You the Most Compatibility Amazon Alexa runs on the Echo Dot speaker. Image: Digitized House.

When you need broad compatibility with multiple devices, Alexa is your best bet. Alexa is Amazon’s virtual assistant powered by AI, and it comes preloaded on devices like the Amazon Echo—the smart speaker that spearheaded broad adaption of voice assistants.

Amazon also boasts one of the cheaper ways to get into smart home control with the compact Echo Dot, priced at $49.99. However, you should be aware that, like always, you get what you pay for. Those cheaper speakers can be lackluster, and Alexa has a more difficult time discerning voice recognition. Better options for Alexa can be smart displays, such as the Echo Show 5 at $89.99.

Alexa’s impressive library of over 80,000 skills, including third-party capabilities, makes it the most versatile of the virtual assistants. From lighting control and the weather to integrating thermostats and controlling streaming sticks, Alexa stays busy. It does have some shortcomings though, such as clunky smartphone integration and difficulties playing nice with things in Google’s repertoire, such as YouTube.

Costs [2] Google Assistant Has the Smarts The Google Home speaker runs the Google Assistant. Image: Digitized House.

Saying Google’s digital assistant is the brainchild of the smart home family is probably an understatement. The Google Nest ecosystem runs on Android and iOS, but the Google Assistant is powered by the behemoth that is Google search. This puts the internet at your fingertips and makes Google Assistant adept at more complex requests. 

While Google Assistant can be used on smartphones, smart speakers such as the Google Home Mini also have an attractive entry cost to match Amazon’s prices for the comparable Echo. The Google Nest Hub, a smart display with Google Assistant integrated, is also a well-built choice here.

As you might expect from a Silicon Valley giant, Google’s advanced technology and focus on AI also makes it a superior digital assistant when it comes to voice recognition. Google Assistant offers multiple languages, and its dynamic multiuser functionality allows it to recognize up to six different voices tied to different accounts.

If you use the Google suite of products online, you’re in luck because your home hub is going to integrate seamlessly, allowing you to call up Google calendar, add appointments, get driving directions, and more. 

Google’s Achilles heel is its less extensive compatibility. While it does work with a select group of third-party devices, including Nest products, the menu of home automation choices is less robust than Alexa’s.

Costs

[3] Siri Is for Apple Fans Apple Siri runs on Apple TV, Apple iOS mobile devices, and the Apple HomePod speaker. Image: Apple.

Google and Amazon dominate the smart home assistant market, but there is a third option, and it’s one you should already know—Siri. Because Siri is exclusive to Apple products, you’ll find fewer choices for compatible home automation. But if you’re already a fan of the Apple brand (and hardware), you may find an unparalleled user experience in the way Apple’s platform integrates with the Apple HomeKit ecosystem and the Apple Home app.

Siri is, of course, the voice of your iPhone, so many people will find it soothing and familiar. HomeKit also presents the distinct advantage of being able to control your smart home devices without a hub or speaker through Siri’s voice recognition on an iPad, Apple TV, or smartphone.

Because of this broad capability, if you already own Apple products, Siri paired with a cadre of HomeKit accessories can be a cheaper way to get smart home control without purchasing more devices.

Smart speakers are another matter. The only choice for a smart speaker with Siri capability is the Apple HomePod. It sells for $299. In the future, it may be possible more Siri-compatible speakers may come to the market from third parties.

Costs The Choice Is Yours

When you’re looking for the best smart home assistant, compatibility, cost, and core features make a big difference in what will work for your home. Choose the smart assistant that lets you customize and enjoy the convenience of a modern, connected home. More smart tech comes out every day, so find the controls you love in a smart hub, and keep building from there!

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Smart devices are collecting more personal information than ever before, from what you do on the internet to where you use your phone. It’s not just smartphones, either—that smart device in your kitchen and the smartwatch on your wrist may be collecting information, too.

But what can you do? While it’s possible to limit the devices and apps you use, you probably enjoy using the technology and would rather figure out a few ways to keep your information safe, especially as you bring more new gadgets into your smart home. Good news! We’ve got a few easy ways to protect your privacy on all your smart devices.

[1] Turn Off any Cameras or Microphones When You Aren’t Using Them Many smart displays, like the Amazon Echo Show 5, have built-in cameras. On this Echo device, a sliding privacy switch on the top can be set to block the camera. Image: Amazon.

When you aren’t using your smart speaker, smart display, or computer, turn off the camera and microphone so that the device won’t pick up on your conversations. If you’re particularly concerned, you can even cover cameras with small pieces of tape.

Some smartwatches and smart TVs also come with a microphone, so check all of your devices that connect to Wi-Fi.

[2] Make Private Calls

A big way to protect your smartphone privacy and avoid unwanted calls is by making private calls. Dial *67 then enter the phone number, and the person you are calling won’t see your phone number come up. You can also permanently disable call identification on your phone.

If you often make calls through a smart home assistant or watch, don’t forget to change the settings there too. Both Google Home and Amazon Echo allow you to change your call display info in your account settings. 

[3] Turn Off Your Location

Smart home tech can be great for keeping track of your family, but those same capabilities can also send tracking data back to network and app providers. To avoid this, set app permissions so that they can only use your location when you’re actually in the app. 

Even better, turn the geolocation services off altogether when you don’t need it for things like driving directions. (This will also cut down on data usage, which could save you money on your phone bill, too!)

[4] Understand What You’re Accepting with Terms of Service

Most people just skip through the long terms of service to click the “accept” button and move on with using a new device’s app—but these agreements include what data can be collected (and how it will be stored or used), so they’re worth a read. If it seems like the app is asking for unnecessary information, consider how badly you want to use the device before accepting the conditions.

[5] Only Connect to Secure Wi-Fi Networks

Ideally, this means only connecting to Wi-Fi at home, but the reality is, some people work in coffee shops or otherwise need to connect to Wi-Fi when out and about. 

At home, make sure your router (which acts as a gateway to any smart devices that connect to it) has WPA2 encryption enabled and a strong password with upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. And if you have to connect to public Wi-Fi for a new smartphone or other smart device, consider using a VPN before connecting.

[6] Keep Your Devices Updated

When those notifications pop up on your phone about iOS or Android updates, take the time to accept them; regularly check your apps for updates, too, in case they don’t notify you. Many operating systems will update automatically overnight, making it even less disruptive to your daily activities.

After an update installs, double-check your privacy settings to make sure nothing changed.

[7] Use Two-Factor Authentication Wherever possible, you should use two-factor authentication (2FA) to add a second layer of security defense on your smart devices. Image: Apple.

Two-factor authentication (2FA) means you’ll need to verify your account with a second code before gaining access. Not every device offers 2FA, but you should activate it on those that do. It’s a great defense against hackers cracking your login information and accessing whatever data is in your account. 

When you use 2FA, you’ll put in your login name and password, and then you’ll be asked to type in a one-time code that will be sent to your phone or email. Some services also use an authenticator app that generates a random code to put in before you can log in to the app or website. 

Using smart home devices in this day and age is almost inevitable. Just take these few extra steps when you bring a new device home—it will be worth it in the end to keep your data safe! 

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On the final day of the Prime Day event on Amazon, still more connected home devices are on the deal docket at significantly reduced prices. In addition to our previous picks, we have added new deals on Big Ass Fans, Apple, and iRobot products. Prime Day ends at midnight PDT, July 16.

Our In-Depth Prime Day Coverage Big Ass Fans Haiku Home L Series Fan for $516.60 (30% off) Haiku L fan. Image: Big Ass Fans.

We have owned several Big Ass Fans products, and these high-end fans are among the best you can find for your home. With the company’s Haiku L line, the company has lowered the cost of entry for these fans, and with Prime Day they are at an even more attractive price. With this deal, the Haiku Home L Series 52″ Smart Ceiling Fan is at $516.60 (30% off its regular price of $738).

The fan includes an integrated LED light, a Wi-Fi module, and out-of-the-box compatibility with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant for voice control (see our in-depth look at the Haiku L and how it works with Google Assistant).

Apple MacBook Air for $699 ($300 off)

Rarely do Apple laptops go on sale, but this Apple 13″ MacBook Air (1.8GHz dual-core Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD) can be had for $699 ($300 off its regular Amazon price of $999). The downside: this is one generation back in technology from the latest MacBook Air, but may all you need. It will still run the very latest version of macOS, Mojave.

iRobot Roomba 690 Robot Vacuum for $229.99 (39% off) iRobot Roomba 690 robot vacuum. Image: iRobot.

Among our favorite robot vacuums, the iRobot Roomba 690 can make your usual walk-behind vacuuming chores go away. With this deal, you can get the latest in automated cleaning technology from the company that started it all. And at $229.99 (39% off its regular $374.99 price), you can be on your way to reclaiming free time for yourself while your home stays squeaky clean at all times.

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It’s real. Prime Day 2019 is here, and the deals keep flowing from Amazon’s cavernous warehouses. For many items, the products will be at reduced prices for the entire duration of the July 15 and 16 event, but still others may have much shorter fuses. Here’s an up-to-the-minute list of our best smart tech and other just-plain-smart picks, as we have articulated over several recent articles. Plus, we have mined several more late-breaking items of interest and appended them to the deal inventory.

Our In-Depth Prime Day Coverage Still More Prime Day Deal Picks

Prime Day can be quite fluid, so the best deals can change throughout the two days. Here are some additional products we like that you may be interested in for your home, all at lower-than-usual prices.

Yale Assure SL Smart Lock Yale Assure SL smart lock. Image: ASSA ABLOY/Yale.

We are big fans of these Yale smart locks, and the Yale Assure SL is available at a special cost of $153 (30% off its regular $219.98 price) to add to its appeal. The smart lock has a compact digital touch screen display, and is entirely keyless. And unique to Yale, you can still use the lock in the event the 4 AA batteries go dead, by simply snapping a 9-volt battery to the bottom of the display from the outside.

The Yale Assure SL will easily retrofit in place of most U.S. spec deadbolts, aided by the well-done Bilt app for step-by-step install guidance. With its included Z-Wave module, the lock can also be smoothly integrated into Samsung SmartThings and many other smart home ecosystems for automations. See our in-depth coverage on Yale and related smart locks for a thorough look at them.

Nest x Yale Smart Lock Nest x Yale smart door lock. Image: Nest and Yale.

We rarely see the Nest x Yale smart lock on sale, but that’s all changed with Prime Day 2019. You can grab the only Nest smart lock at a special Prime subscriber cost of $199 ($76.99 off its regular cost). These smart locks blend the best of the Yale smart lock hardware with the Nest software ecosystem, yielding buttery-smooth integration within the entire family of Google Nest connected home products.

This specially-priced package includes the Next x Yale lock, plus the Nest Connect hub for easy connection to your Google Nest ecosystem. The catch: It appears only the oil-rubbed bronze finish is available at this price point.

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Tineco makes some of the best stick vacuums out there, and with special limited time Prime Day deals, their A10 Hero vacuums are available at up to 40% off their regular prices. They offer 4 stages of fully sealed filtration, making them a wise choice for keeping the air in your home healthier at all times.

Also available are the Tineco Pure One vacuums at 20% off, which will run for all 48 hours of Prime Day.

See More of Our Prime Day Deal Picks: Tineco A10 Hero and A10 Master (Metallic Grey) Tineco A10 Hero Master vacuum. Image: Tineco.

Running for just 12 hours total (expiring at 4:30 P.M. EST) on the first day of the Prime Day event July 15, these stick vacuums are up to 40% off and pack a pickup punch while bringing the latest in healthy home tech.

With over 3,000 glowing customer reviews on Amazon, the Tineco A10 Hero at $139.99 ($60 off) and A10 Master at $209.99 ($140 off) offer a 350W brushless motor that provides ultra-quiet powerful suction and allows users to lift embedded dirt with ease. The 4-stage filtration system locks in small particles and expels fresh, non-allergenic air.

The A10 Hero delivers up to 25 minutes of uninterrupted cleaning while the A10 Master comes with two batteries for a combined runtime up to 50 minutes. The A10 Master also offers two LED full-size power brushes for specific care across different floor types.

Tineco Pure One S12 M Lite and Pure One S12 Cordless Vacuums Tineco Pure One S12 stick vacuum. Image: Tineco.

Running for all 48 hours of Prime Day, the Tineco Pure One S12 M Lite ($349, $100 off) and Pure One S12 ($479, $120 off) cordless vacuums are available at special reduced prices.

At-a-glance LED display on the Tineco Pure One vacuums. Image: Tineco.

Both models of the Tineco Pure One bring artificial intelligence to cleaning by automatically adapting their suction power to the dust amount in real time, allowing for deeper, quieter cleans. Furthermore, onboard smart battery management allows them to run for up to 100 minutes at a stretch. An all-in-one LED display give you a birds-eye view of the current working status as you clean.

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For Amazon Prime subscribers, Prime Day may be the best time of the year to outfit their homes with connected home tech at the lowest prices. Here are some of the best deals we recommend from among the thousands of items available July 15-16.

See More of Our Prime Day Deal Picks: Upgrade Your Network with eero and Netgear Orbi Mesh Wi-Fi Systems eero Home WiFi System. Image: eero.

Mesh Wi-Fi has been all the range, ever since eero launched its first products and proved that Wi-Fi dead zones in your home can be a thing of the past. On Prime Day, you can score some great deals on these units from eero, Netgear Orbi, and others.

One of the best deals we have seen, the eero Home Wi-Fi System that started it all, is available at half price. This is the most popular eero kit, and at $199, half off its regular $399 price, and includes 1 eero Pro and 2 eero Beacons. It’s great for homes with 2 to 4 bedrooms.

For larger homes, the eero Pro Wi-Fi System, with 3 eero Pro mesh units, is also on sale at $299, $200 off its regular price.

Networking giant Netgear also has comparable mesh Wi-Fi systems in their Orbi line. On Prime Day, the Netgear Orbi Wall-Plug Whole Home Wi-Fi System is on sale for $194.99, $73.44 off. It includes one main router and two wall-pluggable satellite routers.

All Echo, All Alexa, All the Time Offering the same Alexa functionality as the larger Amazon Echo speaker, the compact Echo Dot is available at a much lower price point. Image: Amazon.

The consummate compact smart speaker, the Echo Dot is suitable for anywhere in your home, and is available at just $22—a total of 56% off its regular $49.99 price. The Dot, wrapped in soft fabric, is in its 3rd generation of evolution and is available in 3 colors to blend into any room in your home.

Smart displays, like the 10.1-in. Echo Show (2nd generation), are becoming more and more popular—particularly for hands-free access to step-by-step cooking videos from the kitchen. With this deal, Amazon is offering the largest Echo Show at $159.99, and they are bundling in an Echo Dot speaker and Philips Hue LED lamp. In total, this bundle is 46% off its regular $294.97 price.

The latest Echo Show, the Echo Show 5, is also on sale for $50, $40 off its regular price. This is a smaller version of its larger 10.1-in. brother, but has all the same video-enabled features and hi-res display attributes.

4K Smarter TV, Alexa Enabled Out of the Box

For Prime Day in the U.S. only, Amazon is offering the Toshiba HD 43-inch Fire TV Edition Smart TVat $179.99. With Fire TV integrated, you may not need any extra set-top boxes to get the shows you want most. This TV has 4K resolution, so you can use Alexa commands to find the best in UHD programming.

Cool Down and Protect with Yeti Coolers Yeti Roadie 20 Cooler. Image: Yeti.

While they have no microchips, these rotomolded Yeti coolers are built with high tech specs to keep your stuff cool while offering indestructible protection—but are rarely on sale. Among the deals are the Yeti Roadie 20 cooler at $139.99 ($60 off) and the much largerYeti Tundra 65 at $244.99 ($105 off).

We love this company, based in our home base of Austin, Texas, and all of their products set the bar for what’s possible in mobile cooling. And when visiting Austin, be sure to check out the Yeti Flagship store.

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Amazon has dropped the prices on more of its connected home tech, just one day before the official Prime Day (actually, 2 days, July 15-16) kicks off. Here are some of the best deals out there.

More Echo Speaker and Echo Show Deals Echo Show in the 10.1-in. size. Image: Amazon and Ring.

The Amazon Echo (2nd generation) has dropped in price again, going lower than we reported just 24 hours ago. Now, Prime customers can grab one for just $49.99 ($50 off, or half price).

Looking for an Echo speaker with a built-in smart home hub? Amazon is offering the Echo Plus (2nd generation) at a very appealing $109.99, $40 off its regular price. The Echo Plus works as hub for connecting accessories fitted with Zigbee radios.

Smart displays, like the 10.1-in. Echo Show (2nd generation) are becoming exceedingly popular, particularly in the kitchen where they can be used for hands-free access to step-by-step cooking videos. With this deal, Amazon is offering the largest Echo Show at $159.99, and they are bundling in an Echo Dot speaker and Philips Hue LED lamp. In total, this bundle is 46% off its regular $294.97 price.

Ring Doorbell Deal Ring Video Doorbell 2. Image: Ring.

You can upgrade your old analog doorbell with the latest in tech with the Ring Wi-Fi Enabled Video Doorbell at $69.99 ($30 off its regular price).

Fire TV Deal

For upgrading your TV to a smart TV, Amazon has the Fire TV Stick at $14.99, a low cost of entry compared to its regular $39.99 price. The package also includes the Alexa Voice Remote for controlling your TV with voice commands. You’ll still need an Alexa-compatible speaker to use the remote. Of course, most Amazon Echo speakers are conveniently on sale.

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For Amazon Prime subscribers, it’s often possible to augment their collection of connected home tech at lower costs when the online retail giant hosts its annual Prime Day event. But this year, you can begin deal-shopping earlier since Amazon has begun quietly releasing some deals on popular tech products in the days before the official Prime Day on July 15-16.

Here are our top picks of the best connected home deals before Prime Day kicks off. Remember, you need to be a Prime member to get the reduced prices. And in many cases, you may not see the reduced price until you add it to your cart and begin check-out.

Ring Video Doorbell Pro with Echo Dot Amazon Echo Dot and Ring Doorbell Pro. Image: Amazon.

With this deal, you can get the Ring Video Doorbell Pro with an Echo Dot speaker (3rd generation) at a reduced cost of $169—normally priced at $273.99 for the pair.

Even better, use your new Ring doorbell with an Amazon Echo Show 5, and you can simply say “Alexa, show me the front door” to see what’s going on outside your home.

Ring, the smart doorbell pioneer founded by entrepreneur Jamie Siminoff, was sold to Amazon for a cool $1 billion in 2018. Ring products work seamlessly with Amazon’s line of Echo speakers, though you can still use them with the standalone Ring app.

Amazon Echo (2nd Generation) A pair of Amazon Echo speakers in charcoal, mated with an Echo Sub. Image: Amazon.

The speaker that started it all, the Amazon Echo, is still a good option for adding Alexa voice command capability to your connected home. Now in its second generation, the Echo has a 2.5-in. woofer mounted in downward-firing fashion, and a 0.6-in. Dolby-enabled tweeter for crisper vocals and more bass output. And at $69.95, you can’t go wrong.

Whereas the original Echo was available in any color you wanted—as long as it was matte black—recent Echos are available in a range of colors. They can be ordered wrapped in soft fabric, in charcoal, sandstone, or heather gray. Or wrapped in synthetic walnut, if wood is more your style. It might even match the panels on that classic Ford Woody Wagon you are restoring.

Fire TV Recast Fire TV Recast DVR. Image: Amazon.

The Fire TV Recast, an over-the-air DVR that can store up to 75 hours of HD video, is also available on the pre-Prime Day deal docket. It’s available at $129.99, $100 off its regular cost.

Perfect for cable-cutters, this compact DVR is used with your local over-the-air HD channels. At this low cost, it might be time to finally cut the cord from your high-priced cable company, yet still record many of your favorite shows.

Echo Input

The Echo Input, one of Amazon’s recent additions to the Echo product line, is also available at an early reduced price of $14.99, $20 off its normal $34.99 cost. The Echo Input adds Alexa voice control capability to non-smart speakers, a cost-effective way to make them a part of your connected home.

In order to use Echo Input with your speaker, it needs to be able to connect with an included 3.5 mm audio cable or Bluetooth. Wi-Fi speakers are not compatible.

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The post Amazon Primes the Smart Home Pump with Early Prime Day Deals appeared first on Digitized House.

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Smart outlets have become de riguer in modern homes, as they offer an express route to automating non-smart devices such as lamps, fans, and myriad other appliances. Moreover, their rapid adoption can largely be attributed to the integration of voice assistants, enabling the use of simple voice commands for switching them on and off. The ConnectSense Smart Outlet2 is one of the latest examples of how this genre is evolving and making it easier for consumers: It includes out-of-the-box support for Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, and Google Assistant.

Does the ConnectSense Smart Outlet2 deserve a place in your home? The short answer is yes, and it takes a different approach than most competing products by installing over a standard duplex outlet—delivering a pair of nicely-spaced outlets on its face and a USB charging port on its side. Read on for our in-depth look at this device, which sells for $59.95 at Amazon.

ConnectSense Smart Outlet2: Out of the Box Out of the box, the Smart Outlet2 supports Apple HomeKit/Siri, Amazon Alexa, and Google Assistant. Image: Digitized House.

Smart outlets are among the easiest to install among all connected home accessories, as they simply plug into a nearby outlet. This makes them appealing not only to homeowners, but for apartment and flat dwellers as well: It only takes a moment to unplug them when it’s time to pack up for the next move.

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In the case of the ConnectSense Smart Outlet2, this ease of mobility is supplemented by its universal support for the 3 predominant voice assistants, including those from Amazon, Apple, and Google. Furthermore, the over-outlet design eliminates our major objection to some single-outlet smart plugs: many of them can’t be used two-up in a duplex outlet, as they are too large.

A pair of on-off switches can be used to manually control the 2 outlets. Image: Digitized House.

As the ConnectSense Smart Outlet2 covers the entire wall outlet, its designers were able to space its electrical outlets farther apart (2.25-in versus 1.5-in. for a standard wall outlet), making it a slam-dunk to plug in most power adapters and angled plugs.

Each outlet has its own blue LED bar which illuminates when the outlet is powered on, as well as a convenient on-off button on the right side. On the left, there is a single a 2.4-amp charging port, ideal for a smartphone or tablet.

A USB port on the left side can be used for charging. Image: Digitized House.

A Wi-Fi status indicator on the face of the outlet flashes as it connects to the home network, and goes off to indicate a solid network connection.

ConnectSense Smart Outlet2: Smartphone App The ConnectSense app can display energy usage data. Image: Digitized House.

The complimentary ConnectSense app, available in the App Store for Apple iOS devices and on the Google Play store for Android, is required for getting things set up. We tested the iOS version of the app, which is well done and provides a deep set of features. These are accessed via the Home, Scenes, Devices, and Rules (schedules and automations) tabs. The Android app is quite similar.

Since the ConnectSense Smart Outlet2 has onboard support for Apple HomeKit, you are effectively setting up a fresh HomeKit installation on iOS in the event this is the first HomeKit accessory in your home. Typical of most HomeKit accessories, you will be asked to scan the unique HomeKit barcode on the back of the outlet as you install it.

Once the device has been paired with HomeKit, two instances of the outlet (one for each plug) will appear in the ConnectSense app alongside other HomeKit accessories in your home. Additionally, they will reside within the Apple Home app as well as other HomeKit-compatible apps, like the iDevices Connected app.

While the Apple Home app can be used for individually turning the Smart Outlet2 outlets on and off and adjusting brightness of lamps, using the ConnectSense app will enable access to more features. This includes electrical consumption (in watts) and minutes of usage (though both metrics reset every time an outlet is switched off).

ConnectSense Smart Outlet2: Voice Control Nearly universal controls through apps and voice assistants is part of the ConnectSense Outlet2 package. Amazon Alexa (left), Apple HomeKit/Siri (center), and Google Assistant/Google Home support (right) offer plenty of options. Image: Digitized House.

As you might expect, Apple Siri voice support is part of the package, since this has become part and parcel of every HomeKit accessory. Beyond the initial setup, no further configurations are necessary to get Siri working. The voice command, “Siri, turn ConnectSense Outlet A on” will activate the outlet from any connected Apple device where Siri is available, or from an Apple HomePod speaker.

For Amazon Alexa, you will need to use the Alexa app to install the ConnectSense skill, and then authenticate with your ConnectSense account to complete setup. Then, the voice command “Alexa, turn ConnectSense Outlet A on” will activate the outlet. Voice commands can be issued directly from the Alexa app, or through any Amazon Echo speaker, smart display, or compatible speaker.

Google Assistant will also require a few more setup steps, including adding the ConnectSense Outlet2 through the Google Home app, then authenticating with the ConnectSense app to complete setup. Once that is done, the voice command “OK, Google, turn ConnectSense Outlet A on” can be issued directly within the Google Assistant app or to any Google Home-compatible speaker or smart display.

ConnectSense Smart Outlet2: The Bottom Line

Given the diversity of voice assistants competing for control of your smart home, we recommend purchasing accessories that can work with more than one of them—it just makes sense to hedge your bets in this way. The ConnectSense Smart Outlet2 scores high marks in that regard, with equally-competent voice activation skills within the Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit/Siri, and Google Assistant realms. Beyond that, it offers more flexibility in accommodating power adapters and non-standard plugs due to its over-outlet design, and offers a handy USB port to sweeten the deal. And at a competitive cost of $59.95 for a dual-outlet setup, it’s an attractive addition to your home.

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