Every time I thought about buying a house, I always envisioned transforming it into a smart-gadget filled home. Now that it is 2021, many smart devices are now available and much cheaper than they were even 5–10 years ago.
While existing in Apple’s ecosystem quite comfortably with an iPhone, iPad, MacBook, Apple Watch, and AirPods, it would make sense to assume that I would have Homekit compatible devices throughout my house, but this is not the case.
There are many Homekit compatible devices to choose from, and more are coming out each day, yet I decided to go with Amazon and Ring compatible devices because of Alexa and Amazon’s Echo devices.
Not only do my wife and I really like Amazon’s echo devices but Amazon has done a really good job in working with other gadget makers in making their products compatible with Alexa.
With the Alexa app as a hub, and the Ring app to interact with certain devices, I feel like keeping within the Amazon ecosystem has been organized and straightforward.
I know many have found ways to do this with HomeKit by installing Homebridge but this adds complexity and maintenance that I didn’t want to deal with. So I stuck with Amazon, Ring, or Alexa compatible devices that I will go over to make my home smart.
Since the Echo came on the market in 2014, my wife and I got one and loved it immediately. The idea of asking a smart cylinder questions was neat, but it shined when I tied our grocery list app, AnyList, to it and has, to this day, been the way we add groceries to our list.
For a long time, the only thing Apple had available as a smart speaker was the HomePod, which seemed very nice but was very expensive and way more than what we needed in the kitchen. If the HomePod mini was available when I set up my smart home, I might have considered going towards a HomeKit home.
Even the HomePod mini, though, can’t beat the convenient and cool Echo Show. Being able to see the answer to your question, timer, or music playing on the Echo Show, in my opinion, is better than having slightly better sound quality on the HomePod mini. Not to mention being able to watch YouTube when I am washing the dishes or watching a quick recipe video when we need cooking ideas.
We got an Echo Show 5 for free when we purchased the Ring Alarm System, which I will go over next, and I also got one as a bundle with a Blink video camera. I was thinking of turning the Blink and Echo Show 5 into a baby monitor type setup, but instead, the camera is now a backyard security camera, and the Echo Show sits on my nightstand.
Usually priced at $90 for the Echo Show 5, I was fortunate enough not to pay nearly the full price for the two I have. You can continuously find deals on them at $40 cheaper, or if you plan on buying a Ring device, you can sometimes get one free at BestBuy. Compared to the, never on sale, $99 HomePod mini, I find the Echo Show a better deal, even at full price since it comes with a touch screen.
In the future I would like to upgrade to an Echo Show 8 or 10 for the kitchen, having a larger screen would be very helpful sometimes. I hope Apple does come out with something similar and maybe will replace all my Amazon and Ring devices with HomeKit once and for all. I can’t imagine the prices will be comparable, though.
The Echo Show is our primary way of accessing our smart home devices, other than our smartphones, so I needed to start with something familiar and practical. The Echo Show provides something that we already use for groceries, music, and timers but now can also give us access to control our home in a myriad of ways.
When I first started researching smart home devices, I started looking at options for an alarm system. My neighborhood isn’t considered unsafe, nor do we necessarily use the alarm system every day or night, but it is something that we like to have available.
Using Simplisafe for many years at previous rentals, I liked the service but felt the devices themselves to be a bit cheap and unreliable. The keypad connecting to the base sometimes would not work, and adding additional sensors would be a hassle.
So I decided to look elsewhere, and that is when I stumbled upon the Ring Alarm System. Since I wanted to get Ring Doorbell anyway, this made sense so all of these cameras and devices would sync together.
Not only do I love the Ring Alarm system on how it looks and works, but it is also only $10 for Professional Services compared to the $24 cost for SimpliSafe — not to mention the additional $5 a month for camera recording with SimpliSafe. One negative comparing the two is the visual verification that each offers.
My city requires visual verification before sending law enforcement out to a triggered alarm. SimpliSafe can do this by either using the indoor security camera or paying for a Security Guard service to send someone out for a $75 fee, plus an hourly rate depending on how long it takes for the police to arrive. Ring only offers the Security Guard service and won’t use my indoor camera for visual verification.
The alarm system is pretty straightforward to use and setup. I purchased the package that included a keypad, a base station, four door/window sensors, a motion sensor, a range extender, and a security camera. This was plenty of sensors for our home but will eventually like to get a couple more door/window sensors and an additional keypad down the road.
It is easy to add, replace, and set up additional sensors or devices, and Ring has more devices that you can get, like an additional alarm speaker or glass breaking sensors. For now, this package was a great start, and, as I mentioned before, setting up was a breeze. In just a single lunch break, I set everything up and had it working before I went back to work.
After setting up the Ring Alarm System, next was setting up a Ring Video Doorbell. Many people already know and probably already own a Ring Doorbell, but this was my first. For many years I owned a SimpliSafe Doorbell since it integrated with the alarm system.
I have to say that this doorbell is way better than Simplisafe’s version right off the bat. Everything that I have purchased from Ring compared to SimpliSafe is better quality for sure, but the Ring Video Doorbell is quite nice. It was easy to install and setup, and, like the rest of the devices I am planning to go over, it integrates right into the Ring app on my phone.
The doorbell works excellent as a doorbell, and so far, the motion detection is fantastic, rarely picking up anything I don’t care about, like leaves blowing or kids riding their bikes on the other side of the street. The best part, though, due to the integration with other devices on the Amazon and Ring ecosystem, my Echo Show 5 will alert me that someone is at the door and show the video feed from the doorbell.
This is super convenient over having to pick up my phone and open the app. If I am already in the kitchen I could look out the window since it is right next to the door but when I am in bed I can see visually who is at my door before getting up or pulling out my phone. I am really looking forward to getting an Echo Show for my office where I think this would come in handy even more.
Since my office is in the back of the house, seeing who is at the door from there would be very nice. I plan to replace the kitchen Echo Show with an 8 or 10 version and then move the Echo Show 5 to my desk. For now, I have an Echo Dot, which is useful for specific tasks and still does tell me when someone is at my door.
Obviously, with any new Smart Home setup, you have to have a smart thermostat. The Nest has been the go-to for many years when wanting a thermostat that you can control from your smart devices. Still, even though it is technically compatible with Alexa, I decided on choosing the EcoBee.
I liked the design and style of the EcoBee Lite 3 over the cheaper versions of the Nest options and didn’t want to spend $300+ on the “fancy” Nest. Thermostats are something that I want to set up then forget, and the EcoBee does that for me.
Integrating the EcoBee to the rest of my Amazon devices is excellent, especially when I can tell my Echo Show to raise the temperature from bed when my wife and I are freezing. Since that time, I was able to set the schedule and comfort settings to heat and cool the house how we like so I rarely ask Alexa to do anything but it is still nice to have the option to ask Alexa to do it without picking up my phone.
When we moved into our new home consisting of all hardwood and no carpet, I knew that I wanted to get a robot vacuum. Carpet can get dirty but walking barefoot on a dirty hardwood floor is the worst. Having the ability to have clean floors as much as possible was a must for my wife and I.
We don’t have any kids (yet), but even with just us two adults and two cats, it seems that dirt, crumbs, and specs of whatever debris frequently cover the floor. So when my mother-in-law asked us what we wanted for a house-warming/Christmas gift this year, my wife suggested that we split the cost of a new robot vacuum.
The Eufy RoboVac 15C Max has been great so far. Initially, we thought we would get the RoboVac 12, but we got the 15C Max since it came with wifi for just $30 more, which also integrated with Alexa. We have the vacuum on a timer to run certain nights of the week, but it is nice to activate the vacuum by voice.
The most used feature with Alexa is telling the vacuum to “go home.” Even after setting up the perfect schedule, there are times when you don’t want the RoboVac to run, so I ask Alexa to send it home.
Another model would provide more extended battery and better cleaning with a larger waste bucket, but it works fine for us. The 15C Max is also really thin compared to other models so going under furniture is never an issue — and when you have pet hair, cleaning under furniture is a must.
The last thing I wanted to mention as part of my smart home is the MyQ Smart Garage Hub. We currently have a Chamberlin garage door, but it comes with no smart features, so adding this $24 addition was such a great decision. The version I got is no longer available, maybe that is why it was so cheap. The current version available is still only $29 and is the MYQ-G0301 model.
Not only do we have a smart garage door now, but it integrates with Amazon in a variety of different ways. It integrates with Alexa, allowing us to open and close the garage with our voice; second, it is also integrated into the Ring app to see it alongside my Ring doorbell and Ring Alarm; third, it also works with Amazon Key.
Amazon Key is a feature that Amazon introduced to allow packages to be delivered into your garage. Even though my wife and I are home more, we are not always able to check the door or grab a package on our doorstep right away. Knowing that a package is safe in the garage whenever we are ready to grab it is excellent.
When we get a lot of packages, like during Christmas or currently with all of our needed baby purchases, all of the Amazon packages being thrown in our garage to grab later provides real peace of mind. We had issues at previous houses where packages were stolen a lot, so $24 to never have to worry about this again was a bargain.
So far, these are the devices in my home making it smart. Eventually, I would like to get smart light switches, additional security cameras, and add some smarts to my pool pump. For now, the things we do have provide a lot of conveniences and technology fun that I was hoping for.
Here are some other items that we have that also work with Amazon and Alexa:
I didn’t feel these devices warranted a whole description since most are setup and just work. The Eero and TVs are just used without any interaction with Alexa, the Wemo outlet is used for our Christmas Tree and Christmas Lights during the holidays, and the Eufy light bulb is in a timer in a lamp that is hardly used.
As we continue to live in this house, I am sure more will be added, but so far, I have been pleased with Amazon. I know many people may seem alarmed that I am allowing so much of Amazon into my home. There will always be a concern with allowing any company to access a space you find private.
I try and take the appropriate precautions, though, by not allowing access to things I feel the devices don’t need. Our indoor security camera is always off unless the Alarm is set to Away and both Echo Shows always have the camera covers blocking the lens.
We also like to turn the microphone off on the Echo Shows when we feel they don’t need to be on or when we had company over in the past (damn COVID!). Regardless, I think that being mindful and aware of the risks, following the proper requirements like changing passwords from their defaults, etc., allows me to feel comfortable sharing these devices with my home.
I look forward to other smart tools that may come in the future. Right now, it is fun for me because I get to research, purchase, and set up all of these smart devices myself. I can see a future, though, where all of these things are just standard in new homes. Either way, the futuristic home is finally here, and I am happy to be apart of it.