Big brands such as Amazon, Google, Philips Hue and Arlo are famous for their smart innovations in the home space, but hundreds of smaller rivals are pushing boundaries, too. In fact, where big brands focus on broad problems, many smaller brands address more focused issues, which can make them a better fit if you find the right one. If you care more about lawn care, smart gardening or cyber security than color-changing lightbulbs, these creative devices might be for you.
These are seven of the most interesting but difficult-to-categorize smart home accessories on the market right now.
We’ve tested robot lawn mowers here at CNET, and while they’re definitely cool, they’re also pretty pricey. But lawn mowing can still be more energy-efficient and a whole lot quieter with an electric mower. Ego’s $500 self-propelled push mower might not be internet-connected, but it’s as clever and innovative as anything else on this list. Sure, $500 is more than most push mowers cost, but that extra cash will save your eardrums (thanks, electric engine), your time (it takes 30 minutes to charge) and your money in the long run (no more trips to the gas station).
If you have a garden or lawn like mine that needs water every morning, but you hate throwing on clothes at 7 a.m. to run out and turn on the sprinkler, the Eve Aqua is a smart, simple solution. You hook it between your spigot and your hose, set a schedule on the app and voila! Your sprinkler will now water on a preset timer.
Eve has an app, but it also works with Apple’s Home app and Siri.
With voice assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant quarterbacking most connected home devices, the smart home hub might seem like a relic of yesteryear. But Hubitat’s Elevation hub offers a level of privacy unparalleled by its larger competitors. For $90, the Hubitat hub will process all the automation and voice control (with Alexa and Google Assistant) locally, rather than on the cloud.
For many consumers, the added privacy won’t be worth the cost and setup. But for security- and privacy-minded customers, Hubitat might have a clever, fairly cheap solution to the rapidly expanding problem of data collection in big tech.
So you have a remote-controlled ceiling fan, but you’re always losing the remote and just using the wall switch anyway? Bond has the answer. Basically, it connects your ceiling fan to an app, to Google Assistant or to Alexa. Then you can stow the remote and just tell your voice assistant to switch the fan on or off.
The Echo Flex is a sort of jack-of-all-trades. It has an Alexa-powered speaker and a USB port for adding one of a range of modules, from motion sensors to nightlights. The Flex is a great gadget to bring the smarts of Alexa into the nooks and crannies of your house that don’t merit a whole speaker, but where it might be nice to have quick access to setting timers. The modular design also means you get some cool extra features, to make the gadget more security-oriented or more helpful for lighting a dark hallway at night.
Pretty much anyone who uses Alexa could find a useful spot for the Flex.
Smart cameras are getting more and more affordable, but no company has pushed that boundary more than Wyze. Their $20 camera is a fantastic product for the price, but I actually prefer their Sense Starter Kit even more. It does require the camera to connect to your phone app, which is the one downside. But for $20, it includes a motion sensor, two door/window contact sensors and a bridge to plug into the camera. That’s a really solid deal, and useful for anyone who travels or just wants an extra measure of security at home.
A smart home remote might not seem like the most interesting device, but hear me out: This lit dodecahedron controls your smart lights and other home accessories when you rotate it to different sides. Sure, that may not be the most practical way to turn your lights off, but it’s guaranteed to make you feel like a James Bond villain while you’re doing mundane tasks — and that alone deserves some kudos.