The Google Home and Amazon Echo can play your favourite songs, check the day’s weather forecast or tell you how many miles it is to the moon. But that’s not all these multi-talented smart hubs can do – they can control smart home devices, too.
Over the past few years, internet connectivity has been showing up in more and more household items. Light bulbs, appliances, power outlets and thermostats are just some of the ubiquitous home fixtures that have got the smart treatment.
Smart home devices are controlled through an app on your phone, but Google Home and Amazon Echo let you control them with your voice. There are hundreds of smart devices to choose from and not all of them work well with voice commands, so we’ve picked out some compatible devices that make great use of these hub’s voice-control functionality.
Control your heating with smart thermostats
Nest is owned by Google so, if you’re buying a Google Home and you want some extra smart home goodies to go with it, Nest devices are a good place to start. The Nest thermostat learns your routines and adjusts your home’s temperature when you’re out of the house. It then warms it up again when it expects you home. The ultimate goal is for your home to always be at your ideal temperature, but if you’re feeling chilly you can ask your hub to up the temperature by a few degrees or to a specific temperature.
Set the mood with smart lighting
Internet-connected light bulbs give you full control over lighting, including colour, brightness and power. Watching a scary movie? Ask your Echo to dim the lights and switch to an ominous red. Ready for bed? Then ask your Google Home to switch the lights off.
Philips Hue light bulbs can be fitted into most lamps and fittings and offer a wide range of colours. The full colour bulbs are expensive, but you can pay less if you only want white bulbs. Hive also has a range of smart bulbs compatible with the Amazon Echo and Google Home.
There are also LIFX bulbs, which don’t require a hub to be wired to your router like Philips bulbs do.
Turn almost anything on or off with smart plugs
A smart plug’s function is basic, but it’s also one of the most useful devices since it can make anything that needs electricity that bit smarter. If you use Wemo smart plugs simply asking your Google Home or Amazon Echo to turn on a specific appliance is enough, so you don’t need to remember which plug is attached to which device.
That means you can say, ‘OK Google, switch on the fan’ rather than ‘OK Google, switch on Wemo socket two’. Belkin’s Wemo plugs aren’t the only option – you can also use Samsung’s SmartThings plugs as long as you have Samsung’s own smart hub wired to your router. TP-Link also has a range of smart plugs, which allow you to rename the switches in the same way as Wemo.
What about wireless security cameras?
Being able to monitor your home from wherever you are has made wireless security cameras one of the most popular smart devices. Voice control isn’t the best way to manage a visual device, so any compatibility Google Home and Amazon Echo have with wireless security cameras is currently limited. However, Amazon is rumoured to be launching its own Alexa-enabled security camera.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have one in your home – you’ll just need to control it through an app on your phone rather than your voice.
Your can find out which models performed best in our testing by visiting our Best Buy wireless security cameras.
Are there any other useful devices?
Amazon Echo – one of the best things about the Echo is that it’s available in two sizes. The bigger Echo has a more powerful speaker designed for playing music, while the smaller Echo Dot has a speaker that is only really supposed to be used for Alexa’s voice. If you have your own speakers you want to use you can buy the cheaper Echo Dot and connect it to them via Bluetooth or a 3.5mm cable. All your music and Alexa’s dulcet tones will then play through your existing equipment. Google Home can do a similar thing, but you need to invest in a £30 Chromecast Audio first.
The Echo also has a range of free skills (similar to apps) you can install on the Alexa app to increase your hub’s usefulness. These range from the sublime – like asking the Just Eat skill to order your favourite takeaway – to the ridiculous, such as the meow meow app, which makes Alexa, you guessed it, meow.
Google Home – if you’re deep into Google’s ecosystem you may have a Chromecast attached to your TV and Chromecast Audios hooked up to your speakers. If you do you can ask Google to play House of Cards from Netflix, for example, and it will appear on your TV. The same goes for music on your speakers and if you have multiple speakers on multiple Chromecast Audios you can group them together to have the same song playing throughout your house.
Whichever hub you go for, make sure you sync your accounts. If you have Spotify or Google Play Music, linking that account to your hub means you can pick one as your default music source and get access to millions of songs.