The number of connected home devices has skyrocketed in the past dozen months, and your loved ones might feel a little left out if they're not controlling appliances with a phone. Let's fix that, shall we?
With the smart home beginner in mind, we've put together an up-to-date guide to some of our favorite connected devices. Smart home gadgets can get as complex as a water heater and as simple as a sensor, so this guide focuses on what's most useful and most impressive. We've also done our best to find items that don't require a hub to work well, though a true smart home needs to be filled with devices that can talk to each other.
So without further ado, here are nine gifts that can turn any dumb old house into a futuristic smart home.
Lighting is a great starting point when making your home a smart one, and Philips Hue is about as good as it gets. The full fledged, color-changing Hue system is expensive. However, Philips came out with a simpler, white-only lighting system this year that's about half the price. The Starter Pack is the way to go, since includes three bulbs and the bridge you'll need to connect them. If you're feeling spendy, the A19 starter kit will provide a splash of color. $100 [Amazon]
Back when iPod creator Tony Fadell said he was leaving Apple to work on green technology, he sounded crazy. Then he invented the Next Learning Thermostat. This beautiful little device uses artificially intelligent software to learn your behavior and uses the data it collects to optimize your house's heating and cooling system. And since it connects to the internet, the Nest thermostat can be controlled remotely and even check the weather. It's also just beautiful. $250 [Amazon]
Earlier this year, Nest acquired a small surveillance company called Dropcam. These compact, Wi-Fi-connected, HD cameras work just as well as a security system as they do as nanny cams. The 720p footage and two-way audio streams to any device, and device also records specific footage when you want it to. Naturally, Dropcam integrates with Nest now and offers some neat functionality that plays off of the combined powers of the two devices. It's even got night vision. $150 [Amazon]
With Apple, Google, Logitech, and others making moves in the smart home business, there's a coming battle over which hub will become the standard. You see, to enjoy the most futuristic features of a true smart home, all of the connected devices need a common language so they can talk to each other. This is currently done with a hub that connects to your house's Wi-Fi. Earlier this year, Quirky made a huge move into the smart home wars with the Wink system. In addition to good design, Wink offers a single app to control all of your (compatible) connected devices and so-called "robots" to create automated processes. Wink also partnered with Home Depot to make it easier for consumers to find smart home supplies. So if you want to set up a smart home right now, the Wink hub serves a great foundation. $50 [Amazon]
For the health tracking data nerd in your family, there's the Withings Aura. It's basically a smart alarm clock that also keeps track of your sleeping patters. Thanks to a sensor under the mattress, the Aura system knows how well you sleep and will wake you up with soothing sound and lights when you're at the point in your sleep cycle that will leave you least groggy. The Aura also integrates with other Withings products, like the famous Wi-Fi scale and the handsome Activité for more even more health tracking. $300 [Amazon, iOS-only until early 2015]
While we're on the topic of health tracking, let's talk the Withings Body Analyzer. This gorgeous sliver of glass works like a scale, a body fat analyzer, and an air quality monitor all at once. Even though it's been on the market for a few years, this scale-on-steroids still feels like magic. It syncs up with the Withings Health Mate app (or Health for iOS) and other Withings devices, like the Aura system or the Blood Pressure Monitor, so all of your fitness data is in one place. Cool, huh? $150 [Amazon]
Nothing says home of the future like a robotic vacuum. Behold: the Roomba 650. This fairly affordable little guy is powerful enough to suck up pet hair, dirt, and debris. It's also smart enough to know where it's cleaned and where it hasn't. And this particular model comes with a Wireless Command Center so that you can control your Roomba from anywhere in the house. Cleaning is no longer a chore for humans. It's a spectator sport. $350 [Amazon]
While it isn't the sexiest smart home gadget you can buy, the Nest Protect might just save your life one day. This Wi-Fi-connected device detects smoke or carbon monoxide in your house and sends your phone alerts if the alarm goes off. It's also smart enough to know what's a dangerous gas and what's just steam from your hot shower. The best part? No annoying chirps when the battery's running low. $100 [Amazon]
Last but not least is the Wink Spotter. These sophisticated sensors can detect and measure motion, sound, light, temperature, and humidity. You can view the data on your smartphone, and the sensors work with or without the Wink Hub to help you catch burglars before they escape. They're not the cheapest sensors on the market—for a cheap sensor, the Wink Tripper is a good bet. But the Wink Spotter sure is versatile. $50 [Amazon]