Useful Inexpensive Gadgets –
HomeKit is Apple’s platform for smart home products. It comes baked into every iPhone and iPad the electronics giant sells. Download Apple’s free Home app, pair it with your HomeKit compatible devices and presto: an Apple smart home you can control with a few taps or with a Siri voice command.
What sort of smart devices can you connect to HomeKit? You have a lot of options — door locks, lights, a plug, cameras, a thermostat, motion sensors, shades, you name it — and the Home app can handle all of it in one place.
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As for Apple’s assistant Siri, it’ll be happy to lock the door, dim the lights, adjust the air conditioning, run a smart home scene or whatever else you demand of your fancy, voice-activated abode.
The real question is which of these smart home devices are worth the cash — because a lot of them don’t come cheap. There’s a growing list of options, but we’re here to help you narrow it down to the best HomeKit devices for your smart home. Here are our top picks for Apple HomeKit products, all based on years of tests at the CNET Smart Home.
You can pair Apple HomeKit devices with your iPhone as soon as you set them up, but if you want to control products when you’re away from home, then you’ll need a HomeKit hub. The hub works like a bouncer for your home’s Wi-Fi network. When you try to control a smart lock from Apple’s Home app while you’re at work, for instance, the hub’s job is to check your ID before letting you in.
Apple doesn’t offer a standalone HomeKit hub, but instead, forces you to choose between three high-priced Apple gadgets that do the job: The HomePod smart speaker, a third-gen-or-better Apple TV, or a dedicated, always-on iPad.
While you can find it on sale, the $300 Apple HomePod is still too expensive for what it is. Meanwhile, the iPad route is a bit clunky, especially since it would need to be always on and plugged in. That’s why I’d go with the Apple TV — preferably the Apple TV 4K, which CNET’s David Katzmaier hails as the best streamer available today. At $169, it doesn’t come cheap, but none of these HomeKit hubs do. And, in addition to serving as an excellent streamer, you’ll be able to pull up the video feed from compatible HomeKit cameras on your TV with a quick voice command into the remote.
You’ve got lots of interesting options if you’re in the market for a smart thermostat, including a couple of thermostats that support Siri control via Apple’s HomeKit. Of these, we like Ecobee’s thermostats the best. At $250, the Ecobee4 thermostat is the newest, but it really only adds in a built-in Amazon Alexa speaker to the experience. That’s not the biggest draw if you’re anchoring your smart home to Apple HomeKit and centering around Siri for voice controls.
Read more: The best smart thermostats of 2020
That’s why I think it’s a smarter move to stick with one of Ecobee’s previous-generation, less expensive thermostats. They all work just as well with Apple HomeKit and they support Ecobee’s nifty temperature sensors, too. The Ecobee3 thermostat is listed as sold out on the Ecobee website, but the Ecobee3 Lite thermostat is still available for between $150 and $170. That’s the right price for HomeKit-compatible climate control.
Ecobee slashes the price of its latest smart thermostat
The August Wi-Fi Smart Lock includes a retrofit August lock and a DoorSense open-close sensor. Wi-Fi is built into this model, so you won’t need to purchase an August Connect module to enable remote access.
The August Wi-Fi Smart Lock is 45% smaller than previous August models, too. It works with Siri, Google Assistant and Alexa for voice commands and smart home integration. You’ll get unlimited user access and codes, as well as a log of every action that happens at your front door.
Wi-Fi enables remote access to lock and unlock your doors from your Android or iOS devices when you’re not home. The August Wi-Fi Smart Lock is a capable, easy-to-install smart lock and the winner of our CNET Editors’ Choice Award.
It’s certainly not an inexpensive smart lock, but it’s the best one for HomeKit households that we’ve tested to date.
At $140, the Logitech Circle 2 can be used indoors or out, and it proved reliable and responsive when we tested it out with Apple HomeKit. The wired design means that you’ll need to keep it close to an outlet, but I actually prefer that over something with batteries that can run dead at inopportune times. A battery-powered version is available for an extra $20 if that’s your preference.
Once you find a spot for it and set it up, you’ll be able to view the feed straight from the Home app (or, if you’ve got an Apple TV, right on your TV). The Circle 2 offers motion sensors, night vision, and two-way audio. You also get a free 24-hour event-based backlog of clips, plus the option to extend that clip history to 14 or 31 days for a $4 or $10 monthly fee (subscribers also get access to a motion alert zone feature). My favorite part might be the variety of accessories Logitech sells to help you mount it in clever places. All of that adds up to a great little camera that costs less than popular competitors like the Arlo and D-Link Omna.
Smart switches are another good option if you’re looking to automate the lights in your home — particularly for spots where a single switch controls several bulbs at once. You’ve got several options that work with HomeKit, but our favorite by far is the Lutron Caseta In-Wall Dimmer Switch.
Why Lutron? For starters, Lutron’s been in the business of dimmer switches for decades, and it’s a smart home stalwart, too. Its well-featured switches work with everything, they support three-way setups, and they look appropriately distinctive without being gaudy. Along with with a wide variety of light switches, the Caseta platform also offers specialty switches for things like ceiling fans and Sonos speakers, as well as luxurious Serena smart shades. All of it communicates with the Lutron Bridge using Lutron’s proprietary Clear Connect wireless standard, which is one of the speediest and most reliable standards we’ve tested at the CNET Smart Home.
That’s a long-winded way of saying these are really, really good smart light switches. Right now, you can get one on Amazon with the Lutron Bridge and a bonus Pico remote that you can dock in the wall as a second switch, or carry around with you for a total cost of $90.
It’s counter-intuitive, maybe, but Philips Hue is best when you skip the colors and focus in on the Hue White bulbs, which put out smart, dimmable light at a yellowy 2,700 K. That’s because the best thing about Hue bulbs isn’t the colors at all, but rather, the strength of their best-in-class platform, which works with everything, pairs extremely well with Apple HomeKit and comes packed with useful features.
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Read more: The complete guide to Philips Hue lights
To take advantage, you’ll need to get a Philips Hue starter kit that comes with the essential Hue Bridge — and the two-bulb Hue White starter kit, currently available on Amazon for $68, is an affordable way in. And yes, you can always add color-changing bulbs to your HomeKit setup later (preferably when they go on sale).
If great-looking colors are what you want the most from your smart lights, go with Lifx, an Australian startup that’s grown into a pretty major player in the smart lighting space over the past several years. Like Philips Hue, its bulbs work with just about everything, Apple HomeKit included, but they also put out brighter, better-looking colors. On top of that, Lifx bulbs use a Wi-Fi connection to communicate, so they don’t need a hub.
Lifx makes lots of different bulbs, floodlights, light strips and even tiles for your wall, all of which you can program, control and schedule to your heart’s content using the excellent Lifx app. I like the Lifx Mini, which costs less than the comparable Hue bulb. Bonus shoutout to the Lifx Z light strip, which can put out multiple colors at once. Hue’s light strip still can’t do that.
They aren’t for everyone, but if you’re putting together a flashy-looking game room or decorating a kids room, perhaps, then consider Nanoleaf’s color-changing LED wall panels. The nine-panel starter kit comes as either triangles or second-gen squares — both cost about $200, but I prefer the square-shaped Nanoleaf Canvas panels due to the addition of touch-sensitivity and the fact that you have more room to expand your setup should you decide to get crazy with the things.
The panels use Wi-Fi to connect with your router (and with HomeKit), so they don’t need a hub. Once they’re set up, you’ll be able to switch between hundreds of user-created animated presets, including ones that use the on-board mic to sync color-changes with whatever music you’re listening to or whatever game you’re playing. In addition to supporting Siri voice controls, they also work with Alexa, Google and IFTTT.
Bonus points for the optional Nanoleaf Remote, a 12-sided, motion-sensitive dodecahedron that you can use to trigger Nanoleaf scenes or HomeKit automations just by rotating different sides to the top. The cost for that gizmo: $50.
At $25, the WeMo Wi-Fi Smart Plug is affordable and comes with native Google Assistant, Alexa and yes, HomeKit compatibility. It fits inside the frame of most wall outlets and has a physical button and LED indicator light.
The WeMo app isn’t our favorite app, and you won’t get energy monitoring with the WeMo Wi-Fi Smart Plug. Those shortfalls aside, this smart plug’s space-saving design and solid HomeKit compatibility make it easy to recommend to users in Apple’s ecosystem.
More smart home advice
- Best smart light bulb for 2020 (plus switches, light strips, accessories and more)
- The best door smart lock for 2020: August, Schlage and more
- Smart plugs, bulbs and switches: Which is right for you?
- 5 years ago, I thought Apple Watch was very ‘meh.’ Here’s why I changed my mind
- The best smart home security cameras of 2020
Originally published last year. Regularly updated as we review new products.
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