The smart home market is still up for grabs. Unlike PCs or phones, which, for the most part, are dominated by a few well-known names, smart home gadgets can come from wherever and whatever brand. As long as they perform functions you can’t get from the big names, people will continue to flock to them.
You can stick with mainstream options like Philips Hue lights or a Nest thermostat, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But the fun thing about building a smart home is that after choosing an ecosystem (like Alexa, Google, or Apple’s HomeKit), you can mix and match a ton of products. At CES 2019, the variety only expands. Let’s get into some of our favorites and why they stand out above the competition.
More helpful smart doorbells
The French company Netatmo debuted a smart video doorbell with two very useful features to set it apart. It’s the first video doorbell that’s compatible with Apple HomeKit, and it uses a microSD card for video storage so that saving and recording video doesn’t require you to pay for a subscription plan.
TP-Link made a Kasa doorbell that has a 2K HDR camera, which is a step above most doorbell cameras that usually top out at 1080p. It uses facial recognition to differentiate family from strangers. Unfortunately, it’s a wired doorbell, so setting it up might be more of a hassle. It’s set to ship sometime this year, and pricing is still unknown.
This doorbell actually goes over your peephole, which has been pretty rare among smart doorbells. It opens Ring’s product lineup to even more homeowners and renters. The camera can also sense knocks on the door and send you a notification. It costs the same as previous flagship Ring doorbells $199, and it will ship sometime this year.
Maximus DualCam Video Doorbell
Maximus made one of the first dual-camera video doorbells. It shows a top and bottom view of visitors to supposedly cover a blind spot that other doorbells might have. It also works with both Google Assistant and Alexa because “that’s what the customers want,” Mark Honeycutt, CEO of Jiawei Technology, which makes Maximus doorbells, told me. It should be available later this year for around $179.
Most colorful smart light
Nanoleaf Hexagon Lights
These hexagon lights from Nanoleaf change colors (from up to 16.7 million colors) and have different modes that react to sound or touch. Would I fill up my bedroom with these? Probably not, but they’d look great on a wall behind an RGB gaming PC. Nanoleaf told me that pricing was still being worked on, but we can expect it to be similar to the company’s Canvas lights (15 tiles for roughly $400). They should be available by the end of this year and will work with HomeKit.
The smart lock with the most features
Lockly’s Secure Pro smart lock has five different ways of unlocking: fingerprint scanner, voice assistant command, the app, a physical key, and a keypad. The big draw is the keypad, which is able to conceal your passcode by having you press multiple numbers at a time. (It’s almost like T9 texting, where “5” represents J, K, and L). It’s set up so that even if someone stands next to you, they likely couldn’t guess your password. The lock supports Google Assistant and Alexa. It costs $299.99 and should ship within the next two months.
Schlage Encode Wi-Fi Smart Lock
The Schlage Encode is notable for being one of the few locks that works on Wi-Fi alone, so you’ll have the option of not relying on any smart home app to use it. It supports Amazon Key, so if you use this lock for your front door, you’ll be able to let couriers in through the Key app. It’s available for preorder now on Amazon for $249.99, and it should ship out in March.
Some of the coolest things that came to smart homes this year simply didn’t fit into a category or were the only ones in their category. Tellingly, the people who chose product names for these devices often defaulted to calling them “hubs” or some other ambiguous term.
Whirlpool made a smart oven concept that uses augmented reality to show you where to place your food while it’s baking. It’s called the Whirlpool Connected Hub Wall Oven, and it has a 27-inch transparent display that you can use to pull up recipes. Unfortunately, the screen could use improvement when it comes to colors and resolution. The oven is just a concept for now, so it’ll likely see many more iterations before it reaches market — if it ever does.
GE put a 27-inch tablet above the stove, and it actually kind of works. It can stream Netflix and Spotify, and it works with Google Assistant. It’ll probably survive your cooking, but we haven’t tested out GE’s claims.
Amazon initially wanted to you to allow drivers to unlock your front door through Amazon Key to make deliveries. It’s now expanding into Key for Garage, which could be a way to allow packages in while encroaching less on personal privacy. So far, Key for Garage is launching in major cities, which is an odd choice considering a lot of city-dwellers live in apartments without any garages.
Lenovo’s smart clock is the first to work with Google Assistant, so it obviously seems like a competitor to the Amazon Echo Spot. Unlike the Spot, it looks like a traditional alarm clock, so it’s got that going for it. It doesn’t have a webcam, either. It ships this spring and costs $79.99.
Kohler’s Numi 2.0 Intelligent Toilet
Forget the foldable phones and 8K TVs, this is likely the year’s clear winner at CES. Jokes aside, this smart toilet is Alexa-enabled and is supposed to smoothly open up remotely. On the side is an ever-changing smoky ombre light so you can set the mood, while surround sound speakers play bird noises to emulate being in the midst of nature while you take nature’s call.
Ridiculous as it may be, it’s a good reminder that smart home products can truly come from all places, with companies old and new, big and small, techy and not-so-techy jostling for a seat at the table. That sense of healthy competition, especially from old home companies that have been around for a century trying on new ideas, means that the smart home space is constantly evolving. Many of these new products aren’t available yet and have shipping dates for later in the year. But when and if they do arrive, they’ll offer a lot more variety for our homes.
Photography by Shannon Liao / The Verge