2016 Smart Home Holiday Gift Guide
Welcome to our third annual smart home holiday gift guide. As we get ready to start our fourth year of AppMyHome, it is really interesting to reflect how far we have come in home automation. In 2016, most every major consumer company and brand has introduced some kind of smart home product, from smart washing machines and refrigerators to the Google Home platform announced this fall. However, while there are some interesting new products, installing and configuring smart home devices is still harder than it needs to be and still far from mainstream.
For this year’s holiday shopping guide, we continue to recommend tried and true devices that are easily accessible and giftable for your family and friends, even those who don’t consider themselves technical.
For the first time this year, however, we are taking a chance and recommending one smart home hub, primarily because it is in its second generation and easy to purchase (and return, if necessary). Everything else we are recommending does not require a hub to function, and as long as your loved one has an internet connection, can be used right out of the box.
We have all of these devices in our smart home and use them regularly. We are Apple people so if your lucky gift getter is an Android person, we would recommend you make sure the gift also has an Android app available that supports his or her phone or tablet. These days most every product supports both platforms.
Switchmate – from $29-39 – available directly from Switchmate, also at Target, Home Depot, Amazon, Bed Bath and Beyond and many other retail outlets. We first read about the Switchmate and saw it demonstrated in 2015. At the time we had already installed a lot of Z-Wave switches in our house and knew first hand the issues involved with installing dimmers and three-way switches, so the simplicity of the device was really appealing. For a while we wondered if it was ever going to appear and were thrilled when it started shipping this fall. The Switchmate attaches to any regular light switch, both the “toggle” and the “rocker” versions, using a magnet, then allows you to control the switch using your iOS or Android phone. It is powered by two double AA batteries that according to their website, will last between eight and twelve months. It’s super easy to install and is a great gift for virtually anyone on your list with a smart phone. I imagine everyone can think of at least one switch in their home they would love to automate. It does not currently integrate with other platforms, but according to their site those are planned soon.
Amazon Echo Dot – $49 – available directly from Amazon as well as Best Buy, Bed Bath and Beyond, Home Depot, QVC, and many other retail outlets. 2016 has definitely been the year of the Amazon Echo. It was advertised during the Superbowl, has more than 4000 skills added by third party developers, from Uber to FitBit, and now even comes in white. The original Echo is a tall black cylinder with a larger bluetooth speaker, which was amazingly useful on its own, but at $179 was still a lot to spend for your average consumer. At $49, the Echo Dot is priced low enough so you can justify getting one just to play with, or if you are so inclined, buy them in packs to put in every room in the house. If you haven’t heard about the Echo yet, read our full review here. But trust us, for $49 the Echo Dot is sure to be a great hit for even the marginally technical among your friends and family. We expect it to be the hit of the holiday season, for geeks and non-geeks alike.
Automatic – $79.95 for Lite version, $129.95 Pro version includes five years of 3G service – available directly from Automatic. If you have a newly-licensed teenager, a salesperson or another road warrior on your list, the Automatic may be a great gift. The adapter plugs right into the car’s computer system and depending on the make and model, sends all kinds of information to the companion iOS or Android app. Your loved one will be able to track mileage, fuel efficiency, where they parked, and lots of other data. It supports most cars sold in the US since 1996. The Pro version adds 3G connectivity to allow live car tracking and crash alerts if something goes wrong. Read our full review here.
AppleTV (4th generation) – $149 (32GB) or $199 (64 GB) – available directly from Apple as well as at Target, Best Buy, WalMart and many other retail outlets. The AppleTV was new last year and made our list. While it is still the same 4th generation hardware, Apple has done some great software upgrades on it this year that still makes it one of the best home entertainment platforms for streaming your favorite media content as well as a growing catalog of games, cooking, fitness and thousands of other applications. Of course we have acknowledged our bias to Apple products, but still maintain that the AppleTV remains one of the easiest to use and most powerful ways to find and watch TV without cable.
Nest Thermostat – $249, available directly from Nest as well as many other retail outlets, including Amazon, Best Buy, Lowe’s, Target, Home Depot. This is our third straight year recommending the Nest, still one of the most solid and user friendly smart home products we use. The Nest easily replaces outdated and difficult to program thermostats and programs itself based on your usage patterns. The Nest Thermostat is one of the only products we would recommend for the non-tech savvy and tech savvy alike – it is so simple to install and operate you don’t really need a smartphone, just WiFi. The Nest also integrates with virtually any smart home platform out there, including the Amazon Echo. Last Christmas we bought one for our mother (in-law) and she even added two Nest Protect smoke detectors, which gives us the added peace of mind of knowing she is safe from smoke and carbon monoxide. There are plenty of other smart thermostats on the market today that range in price and features, but we still feel the Nest is the best choice. Remember to keep the gift receipt in case there is a rebate available.
Wink Hub 2 (second generation) – $99 – available directly from Wink as well as Home Depot, WalMart, Amazon, and many other retail
outlets. We have been using Wink products in our AppMyHome household since 2014 and have been up and down about them all along the way. We rushed out and bought the Wink Relay when it came out after Thanksgiving 2014 and for a while had almost our entire home hooked up to the Wink Hub. After a lot of technical issues that had us almost ready to rip it out, Wink became one of the first platforms to integrate with the Amazon Echo and suddenly we weren’t so eager to replace it. This year Wink came out with its second generation device, the Wink Hub 2, which is faster, sleeker and seems to work a whole lot better. While we feel that the smart home hub may not last forever, after more than two years of development, it’s worth buying a Wink as a gift for your geeky loved one who wants to customize his or her smart home. At $99, it’s not that high a risk, and it is sold now at both Home Depot and WalMart, which makes it really easy to buy and return if necessary. Plus, Wink offers really great technical support – people who actually talk to you on the phone and help you solve your problems. Make sure you buy the Wink Hub 2 and not the original version that you can still find at Home Depot and some websites.
Again, thanks for reading – we hope these ideas will help you find the perfect smart home gift for that special someone (or yourself!) We encourage your comments and suggestions below – especially if you see a great sale for one of these products!