Ever watch one of those old satirical cartoons that tried to envision what homes would look like in the 21st century?
Everything would be automated at the touch of a button—all people would have to do was let the house do the work for them.
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Get started with a free financial assessment.
Well, we aren’t too far away from that reality. If you’ve got room in your budget, you could be on your way to controlling your smart home—from your smartphone.
Don’t believe us?
Check out some of the new, cutting-edge products that were all the rage at this month’s Consumer Electronics Show.
They can help you with everything from spying on your pets' antics when you're not home to making sure your dental routine is up to snuff—all thanks to mobile apps and wireless connectivity.
1. For Remote Pet Sitting
Petcube, $199, available in February
Ever come home to find last night’s garbage strewn across the kitchen floor ... and a guilty look on Fido’s face?
Then this pet cam—which is more interactive than your standard nanny cam—could come in handy.
Not only does it allow you to see what your critters are up to while you're away but it has a microphone, so you can say hello—or tell Fido to drop that shoe. Want to get in some playtime together during your lunch break at work? There's a built-in, controllable laser pointer for that.
2. For Your Morning Caffeine Fix
Smarter Wi-Fi Coffee Machine, estimated $150, available this spring
Want to buy yourself a few extra minutes in bed—and have a cup of coffee waiting for you as soon as you walk into the kitchen bleary-eyed?
Upon your app-based command, this machine will grind the beans and brew you a fresh cup—one at a time—so your joe is always available piping hot. Once you’ve walked back in the door after a long day at work, it will also ask if you’d like a fresh cup. How’s that for a welcome home?
3. For Healthy Household Plants
Parrot Flower Power H20, price and date of availability pending, but expect similar pricing to an earlier model at $59.99
Seriously lacking a green thumb, or simply can’t find a kind neighbor to check in on your ficus while you’re on vacation?
This smart sensor makes it easy to care for your plants: It will test the soil, the amount of sunlight that your plant is soaking up, and how much water it really needs—and then sends this information to you for monitoring via an app.
To water a plant while you’re away, simply affix a standard screw-top bottle filled with water to the device, and the Flower Power H20 will know how much to give the plant based on its “vital signs” and what type of flora it is.
4. For Really Pearly Whites
Oral-B SmartSeries 7000 with Bluetooth, $219, available now
Do your dentist proud with this Bluetooth-enabled toothbrush that works with an app on your phone to track your brushing habits. It not only lets you know which spots you missed, but it will time you to make sure you’re brushing for the full two minutes, and tell you if you need to ease up on your pressure.
Plus, it keeps stats on your brushing behavior over time, so you can prove to your dentist that you’ve been diligent about cleaning.
5. For Top-Notch Home Security
DoorBird, $349 ($299 when you preorder), available in March
Ever get home to find that the package that was supposedly delivered to your front door is nowhere in sight?
DoorBird might be able to solve that mystery. It’s a combo doorbell/video camera/security system that keeps tabs on who’s dropping by when you’re not around.
The technology sends an alert to your smartphone whenever someone rings the bell. And the HD camera lets you speak to your visitor even if you’re not at home, and keeps a record of who’s been to your doorstep by date and time.
If you already use electronic locks, you may also be able to integrate DoorBird with your system so that you can unlock the door remotely—and it even comes with an add-on indoor camera, so you can make sure everything’s O.K. once you let someone inside.
6. For a Climate-Controlled Home
Ecovent, $420 to reserve a starter kit, available in August
No matter how new your HVAC system is, you may still have one room in your house that’s always a sauna—while another is an icebox.
Ecovent helps remedy that problem. It’s a system of smart air vents, plug-in sensors and an app that allows you to set temperatures individually by room via smartphone.
Because the system can sense someone’s presence, it also knows when it doesn’t need to heat or cool a room unnecessarily—saving you on utility bills.
4 Experts Tips for Setting Up Your Smart Home
Before you go full speed into suiting up your smart home, there are some things to watch for when using so many connected devices—which is why we tapped consumer electronics experts for their top smart-buying advice.
1. Secure your network to prevent hacking. With so many smart devices reliant on WiFi, it’s all the more important that your online connection is secure, says Philip Favale, cofounder of consumer electronics integration company AVS Unlimited.
"Most, if not all, smart hubs and devices speak to the cloud, so they need internet access," Favale says. "If your home network is not secure, that can be a huge problem if you have, for example, automated door locks."
2. Make sure the device has its own security guarantees. Along the same lines, you also want to make sure the manufacturer has its own ways of keeping information secure from hackers, "such as what type of firewall systems they use, and what sort of encryption methods they apply to the device," says lifestyle expert Gwen Paja, who covers trends in technology.
3. Make sure your gadgets are compatible with each other. Don’t assume that one gadget you buy will seamlessly connect to another. Check the specs to ensure that your current systems and software will work with your new smart device.
This is particularly important if you want to control multiple devices from one home-automation hub, Favale says, because there are different communication standards that exist—and not all of them speak to each other.
“There are three main communication protocols out there: Z-Wave, ZigBee and WiFi,” he explains. “A Z-Wave hub will not talk to a ZigBee switch, and WiFi devices will not talk to any of those. And then there are hubs that will speak all protocols, like the Wink HUB.”
4. Beware of products with too many moving parts. "Most smart gadgets suffer from the 'basket of remotes' problem—except the issue is not the number of remotes, but the number of specialty apps that are required to operate individual gadgets," says Alan Majer, CEO of Good Robot, which designs custom electronics.
"Thankfully, some apps can now control multiple devices, and communications standards will hopefully bring more interoperability to home devices," he adds.