Earlier this year, our 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 lovely wife, of course - and not 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 smart devices connected to IFTTT
We can't install a fancy smart thermostat without permission and it'd be a waste to leave it behind when we move. We probably can't bash into walls to get the perfect cabling setup for our router and devices.
And smart doorbells, fridges, locks and connected garden cams just don't make sense (or aren't allowed) when you live in an apartment building. Here's what does make sense.
*We're also going to go out on a limb here and assume you have slightly less cash to play with than homeowners. If so, it's also worth taking a look at our best budget smart home gadgets guide.
Keep it streamlined
Moving house is a bitch so don't give yourself unnecessary gadgets and boxes to carry every time. 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 part of a couple living together, go halves. And if it's 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 I 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.
As we mentioned in the intro, you might not be able to take advantage of every smart home gadget - it depends on your landlords. Here are some basics we'd recommend, though, for getting started.
The smart TV stick
We'd go with the new $69 4K Google Chromecast Ultra. With 4K and HDR support, it's futureproof and easy to switch between TVs. Google promises super quick, zero buffer streaming of Netflix, iPlayer, Now TV, YouTube, Google Play and Spotify. And you can plug it into a laptop if you don't have a TV or don't care to socialise.
Alternative: Apple TV if you want to go all in with Apple Home
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 but well, they work with everything. Choose Lux if you don't need changing colours or Hue Go for a truly portable light ... bowl.
Alternative: Incipio's Adapter which will save you a bit more money
The assistant hub
Those millennials, they so lazy. They want 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. You can voice control Spotify/Pandora and soon Sonos streaming, other smart home gadgets like Hue, order pizza, call an Uber, listen to recipes & more.
Alternative: Google Home for those who prefer the Big G to eavesdrop
The security cam
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'.
Alternative: The 720p, affordable EZVIZ Mini HD
Grab a $40 Belkin WeMo Switch or three and you can mix and match what you make smart depending on where you're living.
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. Note: they can only turn stuff on if there's not another manual switch on the device, though.
More smart apartment inspiration
- Building a smart home gymHow to create the perfect connected workout domain
- Apple Home: Essential guideiOS 10 makes one app the hub for your whole connected home
- Throw a killer party with smart home techNo you CAN'T do a shout out of that
- Smart home kit that will save you moneyThe top connected tech for taking the edge off of your household bills
- Movie smart homes we want to live inIt's time to re-techorate
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. Renters, FTW!
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