How to set up a smart home
What are smart home products?
Smart home products, such as smart doorbells and thermostats, are connected to the internet giving them greater functionality than their traditional counterparts. It also means they can be linked together so you can control them from a central hub device – often a voice-controlled smart speaker or an app on your phone. You can control all smart products from one place and from a distance, even automating tasks to save you time.
How much do smart home products cost?
Dedicated hub devices such as smart speakers and smart displays typically cost £100-£200. Apps are typically free, and most smart home products are free for ongoing use after you’ve bought them.
The smart home products can look affordable individually, but those serious about setting up a smart home will find the costs quickly ramp up if you’re not careful.
- Smart light bulbs tend to cost significantly more than usual bulbs. Popular smart light bulbs can cost around £15 each, and £5 is a typical price for a standard light bulb.
- Smart doorbells from established brands such as Ring and Nest are priced around £180-£330.
- Smart thermostats and wireless security cameras often cost £100-£200.
Smart home device compatibility
There are currently four leading ecosystems for smart home devices – Google Assistant, Alexa, Apple HomeKit and SmartThings. They’re not inter-compatible, although many smart home products will support multiple ecosystems. Choosing which ecosystem you wish to use is one of the most important first decisions to make before you begin setting up your smart home.
Each ecosystem performs a similar role and has similar functionality. Your choice of which to choose is therefore more likely to come down to the smart home products you’re most interested in and which brand’s ecosystem they’re compatible with.
It’s also a good idea to choose a platform you have an existing relationship with. For example, if you do lots of online shopping on Amazon, Alexa is a great choice as you can link your Amazon shopping account to place orders using your voice. Android phone owners and users of Google services such as Gmail will see benefits from the integration the Google Assistant platform has with Google services, and there’s also the power of Google search behind the scenes.
You must check for the following wording on the smart home products you’re looking to buy to make sure they’ll be compatible with the smart home platform you choose:
- For Alexa, buy smart home products that state ‘Works with Alexa’.
- For Google Assistant, choose smart home tech that says ‘Works with Google Assistant.’
- For Siri, look for smart home devices that say they’re Apple Homekit compatible.
- For SmartThings, check for the wording ‘Works with SmartThings’.
Smart speakers, smart displays and apps: your starting point
Many choose to control their smart home products via a central hub device. This can take several forms, such as an app on your smartphone, though many choose a smart speaker or smart display to be their hub device, which allows you to control your smart hub devices with voice commands. Smart speakers and smart displays can also completely replace some devices such as egg timers and your radio – for more on what you can do with voice assistants, see our .
Smart speakers are like traditional speakers, but have voice assistants built-in. The and are two of the biggest smart speaker brands, but there are plenty of others to choose from. These include models from top brands such as , , , , and .
If you’re looking to make a smart speaker the hub device for your smart home, most will also want it to also be a great-sounding speaker for playing music and radio.
In the table below, our experts have selected three of the very best smart speakers from our rigorous tests that would excel as being the hub at the heart of your smart home.
Pricing and recommendations correct as of November 2020.
If you’re looking to add voice control to multiple rooms in your home, you may also want to consider small hub devices like the and . These won’t be able to fill a room with full-bodied sound, but are useful if there are parts of your home out of earshot of your smart speaker.
Some smart products, such as , require a smart hub or bridge to operate. This can be a separate box to your smart speaker, but if you want to avoid this, look for a smart speaker (or smart display) with a smart hub built-in, such as the .
Smart displays are like smart speakers, but also have a touchscreen offering additional functionality and making it easier to track all the different elements of your smart home. The Google Nest Hub and Amazon Echo Show are two of the most popular models. They differ from tablets in having a better-angled screen for use when standing and usually have more powerful speakers.
Smartphone smart home apps
Smart home apps are typically free to download or built-in to your smartphone’s operating system. On iPhones and other Apple devices, the Home app comes built-in. It’s used for Apple HomeKit-compatible smart home products such as the Apple Homepod smart speaker. But, you can also download the other smart home hub apps listed below. On Android devices, like Samsung Galaxy smartphones, you have access to all of these apps except for Apple’s Home app.
When you buy a smart speaker, it will usually use one of the following apps to control smart home functionality, even if the speaker also comes with a separate app for customising the speaker’s settings.
Google Home app
The Google Home app controls hub devices that use Google Assistant, and any smart home products that say ‘Works with Google Assistant’. Smart home products you connect are arranged by room. So by default, if you have a Google Home in the living room alongside some smart lights, telling the speaker to ‘turn off the lights’ will only turn them off in that room, rather than across the whole house. There’s a lot of functionality in the Google Home app, so it can take a while to work your way around before you’re up and running. You can download it onto your Android or Apple device via the Google Play or App Store respectively. You’ll need to sign into your Google Account during setup, or create one if you don’t already have one.
Amazon Alexa app
This is the central app for Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, where you set up Amazon Echo devices and smart home products that say ‘Works with Alexa’. The Home screen shows your recent Alexa activity, and you can tap on the Alexa icon to talk to Alexa, and tap on the Devices icon to connect Alexa-compatible smart home devices. The Alexa app requires signing in to or creating an Amazon Account when you set it up.
Apple Home app for iOS devices (for HomeKit-compatible smart home products)
If you’ve got an iPhone or iPad running iOS 10 or higher, you’ll already have Apple’s smart home app on your home screen. It allows you to control a range of smart home products, including with your voice via Apple’s Siri voice assistant. Smart home products are arranged in tiles and listed by what room in your home they’re in. Look for smart home devices that say ‘Works with HomeKit’ to ensure they’re compatible with the app. However, it’s important to be aware that if you’re looking to buy a smart speaker as your hub device, the only one that currently supports Apple HomeKit is the Apple Homepod.
Samsung SmartThings app
Samsung is aiming to make all its products internet-connected, with the Samsung SmartThings app being the place where all this tech links up. It’s an open platform too, with products from many other brands also supported in the ecosystem – look for smart home devices that say ‘Works with SmartThings’. Simply add the product in the app. Like with other platforms, you can set up routines so multiple tasks happen at the same time, such as turning the lights and heating on when you’re about to arrive home. SmartThings is also available on some of Samsung’s larger appliances, such as its smart TVs and smart fridges.
What about dedicated smart hubs?
These are less common now, and are falling out of fashion in favour of smart speakers. However, there are still some around, with the most well-known being the Samsung SmartThings hub. While individual smart home products can often work on their own with their individual apps, smart hubs centralise this so you can control them all from one place.
However, it is yet another box to have in your home, and the introduction of voice control in smart speakers gave them the edge as a much more convenient way to manage your smart home. Many smart home products can now be interconnected through hub apps without the need for a physical smart hub.
Our verdict: This platform is best for those who are technically minded and like to get stuck in – depending on what you want to achieve, it can be quite a struggle to get things to work exactly how you want it. The possibilities are enormous, but the software isn’t the most user-friendly.
Buying your first smart home products
Setting up a smart home can be more complex than you might think, so it’s best to start with something simple, and build on this later. One of the most popular smart home products is smart lighting such as Philips Hue light bulbs, which you can turn on with voice commands or from an app on your phone. Smart thermostats are also popular – allowing you to remotely control your home’s temperature from the app on your phone even when you’re out of the house. And smart plugs allow you to turn on and off any device via your smartphone or voice commands.
We detail some of the most popular smart home products below.
Smart lights can be controlled through an app on your smartphone or through voice commands. Some, such as , and are operated via a separate control unit, bridge or smart hub, while others such as can be operated directly from your smartphone or smart speaker, without the need for a smart hub.
Smart thermostats offer more sophisticated control of your heating than a traditional thermostat. They allow you to control the temperature of your home remotely, so you can turn up the heating using the smartphone app when you’re on your way home. Some even support motion sensors or GPS tracking to adjust the temperature automatically when you enter and leave home, so you don’t need to do anything.
Many also claim to learn your routine and preferred temperatures, avoiding having to schedule it yourself - they can even be responsive to the weather forecast. All this can help keep your home closer to your desired temperature, and avoid you spending money on excessive heating. Some apps will also help you to manage the costs of heating your home.
Smart doorbells and smart locks
Smart doorbells include a camera so you can see who’s at the door without the risk of opening it to unwanted strangers. You can even get notified of visitors and speak to them when you’re not at home via your smartphone, particularly useful if you’ve missed a delivery.
Leading brands include Ring and Nest, which are compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant voice control respectively. Since you don’t have to open the door, they add an extra level of security to your home. Some are also compatible with smart door locks like those from Yale, so you can even let in a family member when you’re away from the property, without having to lend them your key.
For more on smart doorbells, the top brands and what you need to know, see our
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Smart home security systems, burglar alarms and wireless security cameras
Smart doorbells aren’t the only way smart home products can improve the security of your home. Smart home security systems, which combine a burglar alarm with motion sensors and a wireless security camera, can send you alerts to your smartphone when an intruder is detected, and you can even view the footage in real-time to see if it’s a concern or just the neighbour’s cat. This means you no longer have to rely on the kindness of your neighbours if your alarm goes off, and gives you the power to respond to issues straight away.
You can either buy the products in a package with a , or buy the hub, sensors and wireless security camera separately. Find out more about the options available in our comprehensive guide to . Popular brands for sensor kits include Yale, Samsung, Honeywell and Panasonic, and for wireless security cameras top brands include , , , and .
Other popular smart home products
Many other popular products are increasingly getting smart functionality, allowing you to connect them to your smart home hub device for centralised control, and so you can automate routines to activate multiple devices at once. Click to go direct to what you’re looking for:
Later life and assisted living
Smart home products can prove to be even more useful as you reach later life. For example, with voice control or a smartphone app you can turn on the lights from your bed without having to move around in the dark and risk falling.
Smart home products can also help people monitor older relatives and work as a . Smart home services such as include a system of smart plugs and sensors connected up to a smart hub and smartphone app that allow you to monitor what they’re doing. It gives you real-time updates, such as when they got out of bed in the morning, when they last boiled the kettle and opened the front door. You can also use it alongside and telemedicine health monitoring systems.
Fitting your new smart home product
Most smart home products are designed so you can fit them yourself. However, it’s important to check what the smart home product claims to support before you buy – for example, whether the smart lock is compatible with your style of door.
Even so, in practice you may run into trouble getting some smart home products to fit or work correctly. They all rely on a strong connection to your home wi-fi, so if the wi-fi signal is weak where you want the device, you may wish to buy a .
There will be instances where one of our Which? Trusted Traders, who have been fully assessed by our qualified trading standards professionals, will be able to do the job for you if you’re unable or not feeling confident.
To do this head over to the and search for ‘smart home’ in your area to find an engineer near you who specialises in installing smart home products. If you’re planning to refurbish a room in your home, this can be a great time for smart home installations. All traders listed on the site have passed our rigorous assessment process and follow our code of conduct.
Trusted Traders can typically help with:
- Smart lighting and heating
- Smart speakers and other hub control devices
- Smart home security systems, including smart doorbells and wireless security cameras
- Many are willing to help with all smart home products.
Tips for setting up a smart home from some of our Which? Trusted Traders
It’s easy to run into trouble setting up a smart home and it can end up costing more and taking longer than you expect.
- Keep it as simple as you can to start with.
- Think about what you want to achieve, rather than getting caught up in the marketing. Think about the bigger picture and how you would like the systems to be integrated. For example, if a motion sensor gets triggered, whether you want this to trigger your security lights for optimal footage from your security cameras. Have a look at the for ideas. Smart home products need to be practical and not just gimmicks.
- A smart home is not cheap, so it’s important to do your research – check Which? reviews and ensure the products are suitable for your home and needs. Some brands have schemes which you can use to find installers accredited by them, such as hiring a .
- Consider using a floodlight camera rather than a smart doorbell, as you can get more for your money.
- You may need more than one tradesperson to help out, as smart home products cross different fields of expertise (such as a plumber and electrician).
Privacy and security with smart home products
All smart home products are connected to the internet and often run off your home wi-fi network. This brings many benefits, but risks as well. One smart home product with weak security can act as a way in for hackers to access your home network. And since smart home products collect your personal data, whether that be your energy use or security camera footage, you need to be confident that data is secure.
We extensively test smart home products to ensure their security is up to scratch. For example, all smart speaker and smart display hub devices we’ve tested from August 2019 onwards have undergone extensive penetration testing at our expert lab, to ensure they’re not vulnerable to hacking and that your personal data is secure.
There are also steps you can take yourself with your smart home to ensure you stay as secure as possible:
- Stick to trusted, established brands. Don’t be tempted by cheap products from brands on the internet you’ve never heard of, often coming from China. Big brands spend a lot of money constantly updating their smart home products to keep them secure from the latest threats.
- Keep your smart home software up to date, including apps on your smartphone and firmware of the smart home products.
- Set strong, yet memorable passwords – see our guide on .
- Take care when setting up your devices to make sure you enable extra levels of security and customise what data is collected and shared, when given the options to do so.
- Take care where you put voice-controlled devices such as your smart speaker. If you put them close to your front or back door, it may be possible to activate them from outside the house.
Don’t ignore security warnings that pop up. You may have read about a security issue, it doesn't automatically mean your product is affected. Go to the device manufacturer’s website and/or app and see what's going on and what you should do next. The or the may also have information. Remain vigilant about any unusual messages you receive, even from seemingly known sources. Many smart home products such as smart speakers are constantly active, waiting for your commands. If you’re worried your wi-fi network may have been compromised, the best thing to do is to unplug these devices while you investigate.
Even more smart home devices tested
There are so many smart home devices these days there’s too many to include here. To find other smart home device content across Which?, use the interactive tool below.