Budget-Friendly Gadgets for A Smarter Home

Remote home controlLast week at its development conference, Apple unveiled a new home automation platform known as HomeKit which seems to have drawn some attention back to what has been a fairly uneventful category of home automation.  I’ve been hearing about home automation for well over a decade, yet I still haven’t found myself in a truly automated home. I see advertisements on TV from Time Warner Cable, AT&T, and others boasting automated homes that include built-in monthly fees. While the truly automated home systems are fragmented with no real set standards (maybe Apple can change that), there are still a lot of products out there today that are pretty good.  While a lot of these cool toys are reserved for the wealthy, there are a few devices the masses can enjoy that won’t break the bank.  Here are a few I’ve been looking into.

Many homes today have programmable thermostats, but not every thermostat is as smart as the Nest Learning Thermostat.  Now owned by Google, Nest learns your heating and cooling patterns over time, so you don’t have to worry about programming it.  The thermostat connects to your home WiFi and enables you to control it using a smart phone app.  Of course you can also control it by simply turning the thermostat itself (hard to get much easier than that).  Rumors are also swirling that Nest will play a huge role in Google’s new “Nearby” initiative.  As you may have guessed, “Nearby” will cause services to adapt based on your location, so imagine your thermostat adjusting when you leave work so your home is the perfect temperature by the time you get home.  Almost all Nest users claim the device saves them money, but it will take a while to recoup the $250 cost.

If you’re like me and hate having to take your keys out of your pocket to open your door or start your car, then the Kwikset Kevo Bluetooth dead bolt might be worth looking at.  Install the lock on your door and the app on your iPhone and you won’t need your keys to enter your house.  The lock uses your phone’s Bluetooth to know when you’re close by and unlocks when you touch it.  There’s also a key fob that can be used instead of a smart phone.  In addition, the Kevo app enables you to issue “e-keys” to other parties which can be restricted to certain timeframes.  So if you have contractor coming, you wouldn’t need to be home to let him or her in the house.  Kevo uses military-grade encryption and provides multiple types of “e-keys” which the manufacturer claims make it very secure.  If the batteries in the lock or your iPhone would happen to die, the Kevo still has a standard key to use as a backup so you won’t be locked out.  At around $220 this lock is more expensive than most, but you may find the added convenience worth the premium price.  The lock currently only works with the iPhone, but support for Android is coming soon.

Adding timers to electrical outlets is a great way to help protect your home by having lights turn on at designated times to make it look like you’re home. Now you can take it a step further.  The $50 Belkin WeMo Switch connects to your WiFi so you can use it to control anything that plugs into an electrical outlet.  Using your smart phone you can turn on lights, TVs, and other electronics with the touch of a button.  You can even add wireless motion detectors to your home so your lights turn on as soon as you walk in the door.  For the price it’s hard to beat, although user feedback suggests the setup process could use some simplification.

While the Jetson’s home may still be a few years away, the three gadgets above are surely a step in the right direction.  All of the major technology players are betting big on home automation and will be releasing new products in the not too distant future.  As they do, prices will continue to fall, making home automation even more attractive to the masses.  For those who can’t wait, there are plenty of devices on the market already that can help make our lives a little easier.  What automated devices are you using, and how well do you like them?

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