Best smart home systems for a connected domicile

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From smart light bulbs and thermostats that think for themselves to  Bluetooth door locks, wireless security cameras, and all manner of sensors, today’s home technology can sound awfully sophisticated while actually being a messy hodgepodge of gizmos and apps. Whether you call it home automation or the connected home, installing all this stuff in your house is one thing. Getting it to work together smoothly and with a single user interface can be something entirely different.

Here’s the essential gear to get you there, which we’ve separated into two categories: all-around smart home systems, which are designed to coordinate a wide variety of smart home products, and security-focused systems, which are built around sensors and sirens.

You should also note that some of our picks are starter kits, consisting of a smart-home hub and a handful of devices, while others are just the hub. You’ll need to add the components you want to the latter, choosing from products certified by the hub manufacturer.

Latest smart home news 

Ring is now shipping its Ring Alarm home security system, and we’ve named it our top pick in the security-focused smart home system category. That knocks the Abode Essentials Starter Kit into runner-up status. 

Best all-around smart home system

For breadth and depth of supported smart home products, you won’t find a smart home system that handles more than Samsung SmartThings. At its core is a small square box that plugs into your router (Samsung’s Connect Home eliminates that requirement by integrating a mesh router with a SmartThings hub, but our review found it unimpressive in both roles). Through the SmartThings mobile app, you then start adding your various devices through its simple yet intuitive control system. These can be components that Samsung sells directly, or (more likely) you can choose from a vast number of third-party products that boast “Works with SmartThings” compatibility.

Seemingly every major category is covered, including the Amazon Echo and Google Home smart speakers, numerous smart lighting products (including Philips and Sylvania gear), the Ring Video Doorbell, and smart door locks. SmartThings can also integrate with your Samsung smart appliances—even the vacuum cleaner. If there’s a gap in SmartThings’ coverage, it’s a lack of (official) support for Nest products and relatively weak support for third-party security cameras (although third-party support code is often available if you’re willing to tinker). Otherwise it’s hard to find a smart market that SmartThings doesn’t play in.

Runner-up

The second generation of Wink’s smart home system offers one big advantage over Samsung SmartThings: It can be configured to operate wirelessly and needn’t be tethered via an ethernet cable to your router. This gives users much more flexibility in where they place the hub, while minimizing cable clutter.

Like SmartThings, Wink supports a vast array of protocols and smart home gear, and even has native support for a few devices that Samsung lacks, such as Kidde products. It’s also equipped with a Thread radio, to offer a bit future-proofing, and Wink’s smartphone app is a delight to interact with. The Wink Hub 2 fixes many of the negatives of the original Wink, adding 5GHz Wi-Fi support and Bluetooth LE to a physically streamlined package. The only major hiccup: There’s still no battery backup, so if your power stutters, your smart home may go offline for a spell (we suggest plugging the hub into an uninterruptible power supply).

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