The smart flat: You can build a smart home if you rent - just take it with you

Portable home gadgets that won't enrage your landlord

Last year, Wareable editor-in-chief Paul Lamkin embarked on a 19 week smart home diary series as he started from scratch with a new house he'd just bought. He got to decide where all the wires went, install anything he liked - with the nod from his wife, of course - and not have to worry about going anywhere anytime soon. He made a smart home.

For the rest of us who are renting or just not sure how long we're going to be in this flat/house/sofa bed we call our own, it doesn't quite work like that.

Read this: The best IFTTT applets

We can't install a fancy smart thermostat without permission and it'd be a waste to leave it behind when we move. And smart doorbells, fridges, locks and connected garden cams just don't always make sense (or aren't allowed) when you live in an apartment building.

But that doesn't mean you can't smarten up the place in other ways. Here's a guide for building a great smart apartment.

Keep it streamlined

The smart flat: You can build a smart home if you rent - just take it with you

Moving house is a real pain so limit the number of unnecessary gadgets to take with you. Think about what will actually save you time, money and brain energy when choosing which new devices to add to your flat, house (or room if you sharing with Luddite strangers). The whole Nest or Hive shebang can wait.

If you're living with friends, it might be a good idea to buy devices individually based on your priorities then you can take them away when you go your separate ways.

Think small & portable

These days you can fit a starter kit smart home in a backpack. Seriously. You want Wi-Fi devices that add on to the TVs, speakers and appliances you already own, for starters. You're not so interested in anything that needs a bridge (OK, maybe one) and proprietary cables should be kept to a minimum - these will get lost.

This is a little controversial but we also wouldn't worry too much about jumping in with one platform - Apple Home/Google Home + Works With Nest/Alexa etc - at this stage. Especially if you're buying cheap and cheerful for now.

With IFTTT and Stringify, and bearing in mind that plenty of gadgets work with multiple smart home platforms, the only issue is dealing with more than one app. You'll handle it.

The kit

The smart flat: You can build a smart home if you rent - just take it with you

As we mentioned earlier, you might not be able to take advantage of every smart home gadget - it depends on your new setup, and whoever owns the building. Here are some basics we'd recommend, though, for getting started.

The lights

Smart bulbs are fairly easy to pack up and re-install so we'd say go with the best and splash out on Philips Hue. You'll need the Hue bridge too, but you'll be getting a nice hassle-free smart light system, and the new generation-three bulbs offer deeper, richer colours. Maybe you want a nice warm wake-up light for the mornings, or something atmospheric for those late-night movie sessions. Choose Lux if you don't need changing colours or Hue Go for a truly portable light ... bowl.

Alternative: Ikea's new light kit for those who want affordable and stylish.

The assistant hub

These damn lazy millennials, wanting to order anything at the push of a button or, well, the ask of a question. The $50 second-gen Amazon Echo Dot is a little puck that connects to your existing speakers via cable or Bluetooth. You can voice control Spotify/Pandora, other smart home gadgets like Hue, order pizza, call an Uber, listen to recipes & more. It's also tiny compared to its Echo tower sibling, making it more ideal when space is limited. We're also now equally recommending Google Home, which has started giving Alexa a real run for her money. It also has a better speaker than the one found in the Echo Dot, so depending on your current sound setup, that's worth thinking about.

Alternative: Wait for Apple's smart home speaker? It might not be far off.

The security cam

smart apartment portable home gadgets

Flats still get broken into, even if you're up on the fourth floor. Connected security cameras these days don't need to hooked up around the house, just sit them on a desk or a bookshelf. We're fans of the Netatmo Welcome camera and the slightly cheaper Nest Cam, both of which are portable and fast to get started with. Welcome has face recognition, Nest has 'night vision'. For the Apple crowd, you can now get your hands on the D-Link Omna, the first HomeKit friendly security camera, which is also tiny.

Alternative: The 720p, affordable EZVIZ Mini HD.

The smart TV stick

The $69 4K Google Chromecast Ultra is a good shout. With 4K and HDR support, it's future-proof and easy to switch between TVs. You'll get smooth streaming of Netflix, iPlayer, Now TV, YouTube, Google Play and Spotify, among other apps. We're also big fans of the refreshed Amazon Fire TV Stick, which gives you another way of accessing Alexa. In fact, it's the cheapest way of getting Alexa into your smart apartment right now. Just remember: despite what the pretty pictures might have you believe, you still need to plug these devices into a wall socket.

Alternative: Apple TV if you want to go all in with Apple Home.

Other security measures

Obviously if you're renting, you're limited in what modifications you can make, which can be tricky when it comes to security systems. However some smart locks are ones you can add easily without having to get the drill out. The August Smart Lock is one of the best out there, giving you control of your front door wherever you are. You can even create virtual keys for friends and family, and grant access to other guests who might need temporary access (for dropping off a package, for example). It also plays nice with Alexa and even the Apple Watch. Just make sure you have a deadbolt that will work with it.

Alternative: Friday Labs' smart lock, which is finally shipping.

Also think about

Grabbing yourself a $35 Belkin WeMo Switch or three.These smart plugs go into your existing outlets and allow you to remotely turn kitchen appliances, speakers and, yes, hair straighteners on and off, saving you money on electricity bills in the process. These are perfect for a smart apartment setup.

The forever renter

Once you've got going with these basics, you can add more Echo Dots, for instance, more security cams or smart switches as you like. And don't fret, if it's what you really want, one day you'll have a smart garden door lock to call your own.

What smart home stuff do you have that's small, easy to set up and affordable? Let us know in the comments.

Shop for recommended smart home tech on Amazon

Nest Cam Outdoor
Nest Cam Outdoor
Philips Hue starter kit
Philips Hue starter kit
Amazon Echo Dot
Amazon Echo Dot
Amazon Echo
Amazon Echo

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