Since the smart home category exploded onto the tech scene, countless manufacturers have jumped on the bandwagon to the point that we’re now spoilt for choice. But which smart home products are worth buying? Which ones are actually useful, affordable, and compatible with the things you use every day?
This is the first article in our series on the best smart home products available right now. We’re starting in the kitchen, because – as we’ve said before – this is one of the trickiest areas to get right.
These are the seven products that we think are worth a space on your worktop.
1. Nespresso Prodigio coffee machine
The humble coffee machine is one of the few categories of smart kitchen products where we’re almost spoilt for choice, but this is undoubtedly the best. Nespresso is already a household name in home barista-bots, and the connected edition of the machine uses the same capsule system, making it easy to find refills.
The Prodigio does what you’d want from a smart coffeemaker: lets you make cups remotely via your phone or tablet (iOS and Android), schedule brewing and reorder capsules.
All of that is useful, but it’s also attached to a coffee machine that is excellent in itself. A great product plus handy tech bits – that’s what we want from a smart home product.
2. Smarter Fridgecam
We’re cheating slightly with “get it right now” on this one – it’s currently available for pre-order but will be out by Summer. It’s also a controversial choice because spending a hundred quid on a wireless camera for your fridge seems a bit ridiculous – but when you compare it with the cost of a proper smart fridge, often in the thousands, it seems much more reasonable.
Fridgecam is designed to let you look in your fridge while you’re out. So you can check if you need to buy butter, for instance, and how much wine’s left. It also claims to be able to recognise food items and expiry dates, sending notifications when you need to finish up the bacon (hallelujah).
It solves a very first world problem, yes. But its creators, Smarter (who also make the well-regarded iKettle, about to release its third generation product and improved app), say it should save you hundreds a year – so even if that’s wildly inflated, it should pay for itself. if you’ve been considering a smart fridge, start with this and see if you still want to spend thousands more.
3. Nest Protect
The Nest Protect is an all-round well-designed product. It looks considerably better on your ceiling than most yellowing smoke boxes, acts as a nightlight for your hallway when you pass under it, and has a beautifully simple app featuring the soothing line “Everything is OK” (assuming it’s not on fire, obviously).
Nest Protect uses voice alarms and phone alerts to let you know if there’s a problem, including low battery as well as smoke and carbon monoxide. You can turn the alarm off from your phone (handy when you’ve burnt dinner and don’t feel like getting on a chair) and if you have several, it’ll tell you where the issue is. Nest products are also some of the best for working with other smart home ecosystems.
This is the long-life battery-powered version, but there’s an equally-priced one that can be wired into your mains supply. Having attempted this ourselves we would strongly recommend you use Nest’s installation service unless you’re an electrician. Or cop out, like we did, and return it for the battery one.
4. Amazon Dash buttons
Another Amazon product, but thankfully substantially cheaper than the last one. In fact, Amazon Dash buttons are effectively free, because although you pay five bucks upfront, you get a discount of the same amount on your first order using the button.
If you often use Amazon to order stuff for the kitchen, you might find a Dash button really handy. They’re internet-connected one-push buttons that automatically order a product from Amazon. Dash buttons are battery-powered, so you can stick them next to whatever the product is and push it as soon as you run out. There’s an indicator light to tell you if the order was successful.
The buttons are mostly branded and you have a limited choice of products that can be ordered, but Amazon now offers a programmable one for dev types, and there are even virtual Dash buttons available in the US. If you’re an Amazon Fresh user, you might also like their portable barcode scanner for shopping at home.
5. Tefal Cook4Me Connect cooker
Like the coffee machine, this is a good product with useful smart features added – which means even if you rarely use the app, you won’t regret getting one. Cook4Me is basically a fancy pressure cooker, preparing meals for up to 6 people and keeping them warm until you’re ready. It comes with recipes on the machine, and you can send (many!) more directly to your cooker from the iOS/Android app.
Cook4Me seems designed for the YouTube generation – it really holds your hand through the cooking process, even if you’ve no idea what you’re doing, and you can monitor your dish from the app so nothing overcooks or goes cold. It’s big, it’s expensive, but for the lazy chef, it’s a godsend.
6. Drop Connected Scale
Although no one really needs their kitchen scales to connect to the internet, the way the Drop scale does it makes cooking more fun. Your iPhone or iPad becomes the screen (it’s not on Android yet), showing step-by-step visual recipes and helping you measure the right amounts. If you want to scale the recipe up or down, or it turns out you’ve run out of something, Drop can handily adjust the other ingredients for you and suggest alternatives.
The scale itself is attractive and durable, with a wipe-clean finish and no cables. The latest update to the app also adds cocktail mixology in the same easy, fun format as the many food recipes. It’s a little expensive for scales, but if you’re buying some anyway, Drop is worth the extra.
7. Amazon Echo
Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant can’t lend a pair of hands in the kitchen, but she can save you having to use yours. Talk to her with voice commands (takes a bit of getting used to – especially if you’re British) to set multiple timers, check on how long’s left on them, set alarms for specific times, and convert recipe book measurements into different units maths-free.
You can add items to your shopping list by asking her, reorder things from Amazon (handy if you run out of clingfilm mid-cook, for instance), and best of all, take advantage of her huge set of Skills (like apps) to get recipes and drinks pairing ideas. And when you’ve done all that, use Alexa to put on some motivational cooking music. We recommend Salt ‘n’ Pepa.
What did, and didn’t, make the cut
It’s easy to get caught up in the hype and excitement of the smart home – and goodness knows, brands have. Tech manufacturers seem to be playing an ongoing, rising-stakes game of “Will It Wi-Fi” with the contents of our houses, but that’s not the question they should be asking. You can put a chip in pretty much anything, it’s just whether you should.
We could have written this list by finding the best available product in each category – best connected dishwasher, best connected fridge and so on. But for many products, even the manufacturers seem at a loss to explain why their product is connected.
That’s why we’re sticking to products where the addition of smart functionality is actually useful, more useful than the non-smart alternative, and more than just “it has an app.”
As a category, the smart home has a long way to go. Thankfully, so does our series on the products that have nailed it so far.
Next up, we’ll be heading into the bedroom – see you there.