2015 Smart Home Holiday Gift Guide
Welcome to our second annual smart home holiday gift guide. 2015 has been a big year for DIY home automation, with a lot of changes since last holiday season. You can see it immediately when you step into Best Buy and see aisles and aisles of smart home products.
2015 has brought many changes in the overall market: some new players such as Amazon, second generation products from SmartThings (now owned by Samsung) and Lowe’s Iris, and the bankruptcy of Quirky, who just last holiday season was running primetime television ads for their Wink platform.
Here at AppMyHome we continue to experiment with connecting our home with these platforms, however we still feel that it is too early to pick a clear winner. While you may be tempted to buy a smart home hub and starter kit for your favorite geek, we would not recommend making this choice for someone else just yet.
Instead, once again we are suggesting smart home gifts that are stand-alone and do not require any hub to function, just a smartphone or tablet, or in the case of the Nest, a computer with a web connection. You or your loved one can use these gifts 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.
Rachio Iro Smart Sprinkler – $249 (8 zones) or $299 (16 zones) – available directly from Rachio, as well as from Amazon, Best Buy, Home Depot and Apple. A great gift for your favorite California resident, green water conserver, or anyone with a sprinkler system that just wants to better control their watering. The Rachio replaces old-fashioned sprinkler controllers and lets you control your sprinkler system from an easy to use smartphone app. You can program the watering for your plants and connect to either your own or a nearby weather station to adjust automatically for precipitation. Many communities also offer rebates, so keep the receipt. Read our full review here.
Nest Thermostat – $249 – available directly from Nest as well as many other retail outlets, including Amazon, Best Buy, Lowe’s, Target, Home Depot. Notably, no longer sold at the Apple Store. The Nest, now in its third generation, still remains 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 The Nest easily replaces outdated and difficult to program thermostats and programs itself based on your usage patterns.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. Nest is compatible with many other smart home products and also integrates really well with the Nest Protect smoke detectors, which help makes the performance even better. 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. There are also rebates available in some areas, so once again keep the gift receipt.
Amazon Echo – $179 – available from Amazon, as well as Home Depot and QVC. The Echo has been our most pleasant smart home surprise of the year. It is a small black cylinder that at its core is a bluetooth connected speaker. But use its “wake word” – Alexa (or Amazon) and it becomes a powerful and friendly way to get information, control parts of your house, and many other things the community is continuing to develop. We have Alexa set alarms, play music in our bedroom, give us the news and weather, and control our lights that are connected via Wink and IFTTT. Echo does not require Amazon Prime ($99 per year) but integrates well with Prime Music and your account if you do have it. Read our recent review here.
AppleTV (4th generation) – $149 (32GB) or $199 (64 GB) – available directly from Apple as well as at Target and Best Buy. By far our most anticipated device of the year, the 4th generation Apple TV, while not the smart home hub it was rumored to be, has not disappointed. We have been using AppleTV to stream content for years, especially after we killed our cable subscription several years ago. This upgrade fundamentally changes the AppleTV into a platform of its own, with really nice upgrades to all our regular streaming apps like Netflix and Hulu and an ever-growing catalog of casual games, fitness and other home apps. If your loved one already has an AppleTV, be warned that the upgrade is a bit frustrating since you now have to download all the apps individually and sign into the accounts for each one. Also annoying is that while the AppleTV supports all kinds of game controllers, it no longer supports Bluetooth keyboards like the previous versions. However, if your lucky gift recipient does not have an AppleTV already they will not know the difference. It’s not for the hardcore gamer (yet) but it is a nice high-quality media streaming box for most everyone else, especially Apple fans.
Sengled Pulse – $59 for one or $149 for a pair – available directly from Sengled as well as from Amazon, WalMart, Sears, Brookstone and Fry’s Electronics. The Sengled Pulse is a combination of a smart LED light bulb and a high quality JBL speaker that plugs into any standard light socket and connects via Bluetooth to a phone, tablet, or any other Bluetooth-ready device. We originally bought these to use in our bedroom but they didn’t fit in the lamp, so they migrated to our upstairs office where they are connected to a PC. They provide great sound and are really easy to set-up, a great gift choice, especially for someone with a small space looking for smart sound and lighting in the same package. The Pulse bulbs come in both silver and candy apple red. We reviewed them earlier this year here.
iGrill – $39.99 for the iGrill Mini, $99.95 for the iGrill 2- available directly from iDevices, as well as from Amazon, Target, and Bed Bath and Beyond among many others. We have had the iGrill Mini for a couple of years and it is a really handy tool to help cook meat to the proper temperature. Simply plug the included probe into the meat, connect it to your smartphone, and monitor your cooking remotely. You can check on the grill from the house or the yard and not have to be tied to the BBQ while you wait for the meat to finish or set an alarm to alert you by time or temperature. The iGrill 2 adds a second probe and a digital readout on the iGrill itself so you don’t need to look at your phone. iDevices also offers a kitchen version for indoor cooks.
Blue Apron Gift Cards – starting at $9.99 per person per week, for 1, 2 or 4 week gift cards. Available from Blue Apron. Blue Apron is a boxed meal delivery service that ships everything needed to prepare a healthy meal at home for two or more people, in less than 30 minutes. We have been using Blue Apron most of the year and after comparing it to several other services, it remains our favorite. A great gift for anyone who would like to cook more often but either lacks the time, skills or confidence to plan and execute a great meal. Cooking these meals has introduced us to many new foods and techniques and saved us lots of time and wasted ingredients. It’s not a smart home gadget but it is a great way to use technology as a service to make your life easier, and we at AppMyHome are all about that. Make sure you check to see if the service is available in your loved one’s area before you order.
Thanks for reading – we hope these ideas will help you find the perfect 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!