How to Make Your House a Smart Home

Nearly everything in your home — including air-conditioners, thermostats, lights and garage doors — can be connected to the internet and be remotely controlled with a mobile device or smart speaker. But setting up a so-called smart home can be mind-boggling: There is a plethora of different accessories that work only with certain products, and some work better than others. Here's a guide to help you sort through the jumble and become acclimated to your first voice-controlled smart home.

Virtual voice-controlled assistants like Apple’s SiriGoogle’s Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa make it easy to control smart home products by speaking simple commands like “Alexa, turn on the lights.” Each of these tools has its strengths and weaknesses, so choose the one that will be more likely to work for your needs:

AMAZON'S ALEXA

Pros:

  • If you want to quickly get started with a smart home, buying an Echo product is your best bet.
  • Amazon’s Echo products are easy to set up and plug in anywhere that you need to summon Alexa.
  • At $50, Echo Dot, the smaller speaker, is one of the cheapest smart home controllers in the market.
  • Alexa has more than 10,000 Skills, or third-party capabilities, making it the most broadly supported smart home hub.
  • The smartphone apps for setting up Echo products work with Apple and Android devices.

Cons:

  • Amazon’s Alexa app for iPhones and Android phones, required for setting up some smart home products, can be clunky.
  • Alexa sometimes has difficulty responding to what you are asking it to do.
  • The speakers on Echo products are generally mediocre.
  • You can’t trigger Alexa by speaking to a smartphone; you have to talk to the speaker itself.
  • In its privacy policy, Amazon says it takes no responsibility for third-party products that work with Alexa. In other words, the onus is on you to find out what third-party home accessory companies can do with the data they collect from you.

 

GOOGLE'S ASSISTANT

Pros:

  • Google’s Home speaker and smartphones running newer versions of Android include Assistant.
  • At $130, Google Home costs $50 less than Amazon’s standard Echo speaker.
  • In terms of artificial intelligence, Assistant is generally smarter than Alexa and Siri because it is powered by the brains of Google search, meaning you can ask a broader array of questions and are more likely get a correct response.

Cons:

  • You summon Assistant by saying “O.K., Google,” which gets annoying.
  • There are far more smart home products supporting Alexa than Google’s Assistant.
  • Google Home’s audio quality is just mediocre.
  • While Assistant is slightly smarter than other virtual assistants, it is still flawed and has trouble responding to some requests appropriately.
  • Google’s privacy policy on the data it collects with Google Home is vague. It says: “Google collects data that’s meant to make our services faster, smarter, more relevant and more useful to you.”

 

APPLE'S SIRI

Pros:

  • With privacy in mind, Apple worked directly with home accessory makers to ensure that the data transferred between accessories and Apple devices is secure and encrypted.
  • The integration of Apple’s HomeKit into its mobile devices makes it much easier to set up Siri with home accessories.

Cons:

  • Partly because of Apple’s stringent privacy requirements, it has taken longer for smart home accessories supporting Siri to reach the market, meaning there are fewer available.
  • Siri sometimes has trouble understanding what you are asking it to do.
  • Siri is exclusive to Apple products.

 

CHOOSE YOUR HARDWARE

After you pick your virtual assistant, you’ll be able to choose a piece of hardware that will become your primary smart home controller.

  • Amazon’s Alexa: Echo Dot, Echo and Echo Show
  • Google’s Assistant: Google Home, Newer Android Smartphones
  • Apple’s Siri: iPhones, iPads and Apple Watch

The related reading below will help to guide your decision, but cost will likely play a factor, along with your need for a solid set of speakers or desire to have an additional device in your home in the first place.Then, the fun begins. With your virtual assistant you can set up your home a number of ways to make it “smarter.” Here’s a rundown of the different assistants and some products that work well with them.

Source: New York Times