Best smart home systems 2021: Reviews and buying advice

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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 automation technology can sound awfully sophisticated while actually being a messy hodgepodge of gizmos and apps. Installing all this stuff in your house is only half the battle. 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.

Updated October 4, 2021 to our X-Sense Home Security Kit review. If you’re looking for a very basic and inexpensive home security system, this one costs just $130. Just know that you’ll get what you pay for.

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 box that connects to your router (the third-generation Hub offers the option of wireless connectivity, while Samsung’s Connect Home integrates a mesh router with a SmartThings Hub). 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 you can choose from a vast number of third-party products that boast “Works with SmartThings” compatibility, which now includes Google Nest products.

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. As much as we like the third-generation Samsung SmartThings Hub, we don’t recommend an upgrade from the second-generation hub because of the pain such a migration will inflict on the user.

Best security-focused smart home system

We said in our review of the first-generation Ring Alarm system that it had the potential to be the best smart home system overall. That potential is still there, but we’re no longer so sure Ring intends to go down that path. It’s been more than two years, and Ring still doesn’t integrate with a broad range of general smart home products such as smart lighting beyond its own security-focused lighting products. This despite the heart of the system being outfitted with every type of radio you’d want in a smart home hub: Z-Wave Plus, Zigbee, LTE, and Wi-Fi.

That said, you won’t encounter a less-expensive, more powerful DIY home security system on the market, or one that offers the important option of professional monitoring for so little cash: $10 per month, including unlimited cloud storage for video clips from Ring’s video doorbells and security cameras. And there’s no long-term commitment.

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