Don’t hate to repeat yourself? Voice commands are unreliable, but yelling at a Google or Alexa is usually easier than pulling out a smartphone. Here are three ways you can streamline your smart home experience and ditch annoying voice controls forever.
Keep it simple: automate everything
You don’t have to micromanage your smart home. To issue voice commands and streamline your smart home experience, you need to start automating common tasks through schedules, routines, and smart sensors.
Start W with schedules
The first step in automating your smart home is to set schedules for all of your devices. Plans control when your smart devices turn on and off, and can even adjust device settings such as lamp brightness or hue. Most smart home apps have built-in scheduling tools that make it easy to program multiple devices at once, so it only takes a few minutes to set everything on a perfect daily or weekly cycle.
Manually adjusting a smart device’s settings doesn’t affect the schedule, so you can turn devices on and off in-app without ruining your automation. Keep in mind that planning is not limited to lamps and plugs; for example, you can also set your smart vacuum cleaner with Wi-Fi connection according to a schedule.
Use routines for dynamic automation
Smart assistants allow you to set up routines, which are custom commands that perform multiple actions at once. For example, you can set up a one-button routine that puts all your smart devices into “party mode”, or program a routine that turns off all your lights when your phone detects you are leaving.
Routines give you a lot of room for creativity, and they keep you from jumping between apps when you need to take your smart home off the schedule. That said, I suggest starting with simple “Home and Away” routines, which automatically activate smart devices when you leave or enter your home. That extra layer of automation saves a lot of time and makes having a smart home way more fun.
Smart sensors take automation to a new level
Schedules and routines help automate your most common smarthome tasks, but they don’t replace the nuance or precision of voice commands and in-app controls. For example, if you want the lights to turn on and off when you leave the room, you need a few smart home sensors.
Smart home sensors use environmental factors such as motion or temperature to activate your smart lights, plugs, thermostat and other devices. Motion sensors see when you enter and exit a room, contact sensors fit into your doors and windows to see if they are open or closed, and temperature sensors track the temperature and humidity of your home, usually to provide more accurate readings for your thermostat or to control fans connected to smart sockets.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many smart home sensors on the market, and only a handful of existing sensors are multi-functional (others work with specific products or brands). It doesn’t help that Wyze has temporarily stopped selling its affordable smart sensors while developing 2nd generation models (you can still get Wyze sensors with the Wyze Starter bundle). At the time of writing, Shelly’s motion sensor and door / window sensors are the only Wi-Fi sensors worth buying. They are compatible with Alexa, HomeKit and Google Assistant.
If you plan on using a lot of smart sensors, I recommend skipping Wi-Fi sensors and using Z-Wave or Zigbee sensors instead, which have better battery life and range than Wi-Fi devices. Ecolink’s motion detector or the door and window sensor are both great options, but keep in mind that they need a compatible hub such as the Samsung SmartThings Hub or the Hubitat Elevation Hub. If you own an Amazon Echo display or speaker, you can also use a Zigbee sensor, as Amazon Echo devices double as Zigbee hubs.
The motion detector and the door and window sensor from Ecolink are two smart sensors from Z-Link that are worth a look. You can also buy a Nest or Ecobee temperature sensor if you have a Nest or Ecobee thermostat, or a Hue motion sensor if you own Philips Hue lights.
The control center: a smart display or tablet
Living without voice commands is a lot easier once you automate your smart home. But since you don’t use voice commands, you have to make manual adjustments from your phone. For more convenient manual control, you need a smart home control center, such as a smart display or a tablet, specifically for running the Alexa, Google Home or Apple Homekit app.
Smart displays, such as the Google Nest Hub and Echo Show, are simply smart speakers with touchscreens. They put all your smart home controls in one place and can even stream video from services like YouTube or Netflix. All smart displays have a switch to turn off their mic, so you can control everything from the touchscreen and never have to worry about voice commands.
That said, smart screens work best with voice controls, they are a bit expensive and they can take up a lot of space. You’d better use a tablet as a control center instead, as tablets are thin, cheap, easy to move, and use the same touch-friendly smart home apps as your phone. Plus, they can mimic the streaming and video chat functionality you get with a larger smart speaker.
An Amazon Fire tablet is the cheapest solution, although it only works with Alexa (you can also sideload Google Home on a Fire tablet, which is pretty easy). A low-end Android tablet like the Lenovo Tab M10 Plus costs more than a Fire tablet, but it can run Alexa and Google Assistant without jumping through hoops. And while iPads are expensive, they are the only option for HomeKit users, and can run the Alexa and Google Assistant apps. (Fortunately, old iPads still work pretty well, and used iPads aren’t that expensive.)
Of course, if you have an extra tablet lying around, you should try this one as your control center. But whatever tablet you use, we recommend that you buy a holder to attach the tablet to your wall or refrigerator. A universal wall or fridge mount fits any tablet, giving you a clean, dedicated space to control your smart home, stream video, or send music to wireless speakers.
Fire 7 tablet (7 “display, 16 GB) – Black
Amazon’s Fire 7 tablet costs just $ 50, making it the cheapest option for those who want a dedicated smart home control center. It works with Alexa and Google Home, but you have to sideload the Google Home app to get it working.
For granular operation: switches and buttons
By automating smarthome tasks and setting up a dedicated control center, your smarthome should be streamlined without the need for voice commands. But if you want precise, tactile controls for all the devices in your home, then it’s time to invest in some smart switches and buttons.
Smart switches and buttons are physical controls that you can program to adjust specific devices in your home. Probably the best example of a smart switch is the Lutron Caseta Smart Dimmer, a physical dimmer control for your smart bulbs. The Lutron Caseta Smart Dimmer completely replaces your existing light switch and features on / off controls and knobs to adjust lamp brightness. It won’t confuse you or your guests and will save you the trouble of sticking all your light switches to the “On” position. Keep in mind that the Lutron Caseta dimmer will only work if you own a $ 100 Lutron Smart Bridge.
Flic is the best smart button currently available. It’s small, wireless, customizable, and programmable so you can use it to activate each of your smart home devices. Flic buttons can also activate smart home routines, maximize your home automation and add a new layer of tactile control to your smart home.