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Read this before you give a Google Home or Amazon Echo this year



This story is part of Holiday Survival Guide 2019 with tips on the best ways to manage the holiday season.

Consider giving a smart home device as a gift – they are both fun and useful. Plus, if you keep your eyes open, you'll also see amazing Black Friday deals on them. That bargain list includes Google Home and Amazon Echo smart speakers, Phillips Hue and Lifx smart lamps, and more.

But giving someone a smart home product can be intimidating, because there are many factors that play a role. Are they Team Amazon, Google or Apple? Which smart devices do they already have and does this new one fit in the same ecosystem?

Doing your homework in the smart house can be a tough job, but don't worry. In this guide we cover the right questions to ask, plus the most important facts to know before you start. While you're at it, here are more tips for buying gadgets for friends and loved ones, and our complete guide to surviving the Thanksgiving holiday .

Read more: Guide to holiday gifts 201

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Which smart home devices are great gifts?

Smart home products range from advanced speakers and web-enabled displays to simple countertop toaster ovens and coffee makers.

Today's most popular smart home products include:

If your gift doesn't have any smart home products, start with a smart speaker such as an Amazon Echo Dot ($ 40 at Walmart ) Amazon Echo Dot with clock or Google Home Mini ($ 25 at Dell) . They take up very little space, but all have the same functions as their full-size counterparts.

Read more : 10 of the best things you can do with an Amazon Echo

A speaker that works best with Google or Amazon? It is an important consideration if it is a gift.


Tyler Lizenby / CNET

Amazon or Google?

Choosing the right smart speaker for gift starts with figuring out if they need accounts with Google and Amazon, and which services your gift recipient uses.

Do they have an Android phone and do they use Google for their e-mail, agenda, maps and more? A Google Home ($ 79 at Walmart) speaker fits great and the installation is simple because they already have a Google account.

If you buy a smart speaker for someone who often buys on Amazon, the line of Echo speakers is a good choice. They can use it to purchase items from Amazon, plus much more.

Maybe your gift recipient has a speaker setup that they love and doesn't want a new smart speaker. You can give them Alexa in the form of the Echo Input . This small device gives their existing speakers the same functions as an Echo.

Read more: Google Home versus Amazon Echo Show

Which phone do they have?

Smartphones play a major role in setting up and using any smart home device, so it's worth considering which phone the person you shop for has. A certain connected home device may not work as well on an Android phone as on an iPhone ($ 900 with Amazon) . One version of a product's app can contain bugs or miss functions.

There may not be an Android or iOS application at all. For example, the Motif Mentor smart coffee scale lacks an Android app (iOS only). And the WinkBed smart mattress has an Android app that hardly works, while the iPhone software is fairly stable.

Check which telephone the recipient of your gift has. Then confirm that matching and hassle-free software is available for your existing smart home gadget.

Read more : Everything you need to know about Google Home

It is best to buy a gift that plays well with other smart gadgets that are already in the potential home.


Josh Miller

Ask what's already at home

Maybe your gift already has an Echo or Google Home speaker. If you discover what they already have, you can choose the right gift.

For example, suppose they already have multiple Amazon Echo speakers, and perhaps a Fire TV. Giving them a Ring doorbell is the way to go. That is because Ring is an Amazon brand and is firmly connected to the platform of connected products.

The opposite is the case for people with various Google Home devices, including a Nest thermostat. In that case, the best smart doorbell for them is the Nest Hello.

Smart light bulbs are a little more forgiving. The two most popular brands, Philips Hue and Lifx, work with systems in both camps.

However, some lighting systems – Philips Hue and Lutron – require separate network hubs to function. If such a hub is already at home, a compatible light source is best suited. Check out our handy smart home product compatibility matrix for more information about which devices work with others.

The Google Nest Wifi is an excellent option for a network network router. Chris Monroe / CNET

Think of their home network

A smart home device that is linked to poor WiFi at home does not make much sense. Make sure that someone special who wants to give you a gift also has an adequate network.

Even a simple Echo Dot or Google Home Mini cannot run DSL in the sticks on slow . The same applies to weak signals in distant basements or upper floors.

If you know that the person you are shopping for is enthusiastic about smart home devices and will continue to get new devices, consider buying a mesh WiFi system. They cover an entire home with a strong WiFi signal, so that every smart device has the reliable connection it needs to work. Google Nest Wifi and Netgear Orbi are two such systems that we like.

Amazon Eero is another option for mesh networking. It lacks support for Wi-Fi 6 but is cheaper.


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Is privacy a potential problem?

You must be absolutely sensitive to any of your fifteen concerns about technology and privacy. If they are generally suspicious about technology, think twice about it before you give someone a camera with internet connection or an always-listening smart speaker. How companies deal with this thorny problem can also vary. For example, Apple makes a pretty strong privacy argument for HomeKit devices, given its policy against storing customer data on its servers.

Amazon and Google will always say "we take customer privacy seriously" when the subject comes up. However, they store both customer data remotely. And although they have publicly determined how that data is used, storing data in the cloud involves an element of risk. A breach may expose customer information, change their policies, or one day they may use people's information in a way that feels uncomfortable.

Ultimately, the use of a smart home product (or, by the way, a home device that stores or transmits data) requires a certain degree of confidence in the intention and the ability to handle that data responsibly. And because smart home products in particular are designed to integrate with the physical activity of their owners, they can become invasive.

But don't forget that these gadgets should also make life easier. It is up to you to weigh how much your gift recipient will appreciate the benefits of the broader risks. It is best to first read about the specific company that you have in mind to see how it dealt with the topic. You can view our recent coverage of Amazon, Google and Apple here:

Originally published and updated with new devices last year.


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