I’ve been tinkering with smart home products for years now and occasionally share on my socials what I’m playing with. I receive a fair amount of queries, but based on the last message received, decided to create a Top 5: Smart Home Starter Kit post to help begin this new and exciting journey.
This isn’t some generic post of “must haves”, but more about what my top 5 products to start with. These are the products I feel I get the most use of, which could also be useful if you are starting out.
Before anything else, make sure you have stable internet like fibre, otherwise it could get frustrating; and that you familiarise yourself with WiFi bands (2.4Ghz or 5Ghz), vs. support on products purchased.
When I rebranded to Recharged in June, I added a Smart Home section under Lifestyle > Smart Home to keep all the posts in one place. If you want to check it out, click here.
Smart Home Start Kit – my list of top 5:
1. GOOGLE NEST MINI
Smart speakers are the foundation of a smart home, most smart devices link up to them, via apps on Android and iOS. Major ones include offerings from Google, Amazon, Apple, Xiaomi, Sonos, etc. Brands like Xiaomi and Sonos have Google Assistant built in. My top recommendation is the cheapest one from Google – the Nest Mini (second generation). I have multiple scattered around my house; we use the “broadcast” feature to chat from different rooms. You can pick them up for around R900.
2. SONOFF SWITCHES
Since I started writing about smart homes, I’ve been recommending the use of smart WiFi light switches instead of smart light bulbs. After that initial once-off installation cost of the switch, you don’t have to keep replacing expensive smart light bulbs. A WiFi switch means you can keep using whatever light bulbs you have. I have Sonoff switches across my house; they are also available in 2 gang or 3 gang, depending on your existing set-up, just switch accordingly. I bought them all off Takealot but you can shop around. I control my switches from the Google Home app or voice commands.
3. RING SECURITY CAMERAS
I have been testing Ring security cameras and video doorbells since they launched in South Africa and ended up buying a few extra cameras for my house. I have indoor cameras; outdoor cameras (mounted on a tree – it is weather proof); and video doorbells. It has motion alerts that push immediately to your phone; offers two way talk (no matter where you are); has full colour videos etc. I pay for Ring Protect for extra features (read more in my June 2023 review). We have Amazon Echo speakers that it is linked to and announces when anyone is at the door; it is not compulsory if you have the smartphone app.
4. ROBOT VACUUMS
I’ve written a lot about robot vacuums and have tested ones from Roomba, Xiaomi and Hobot. I’ve tested regular entry-level ones; ones with mapping; and then those with self-emptying and mapping, etc. They are my favourite smart home gadget because you can schedule your chores and it cleans far superior to any human. Dust and cat hair gets thoroughly sucked up, and I don’t have to come into contact with it. This is a product where the “best” is dictated by your budget. You want more features, you need to pay.
5. MOTION SENSORS
A bit under rated, but if you want to get fancy, buy a few motion sensors and link it to your lights so when you walk into a room, it automatically turns on the lights. We have a few Ring ones scattered around (they are R599 each), but the only down side to Ring ones is that you need to link it to an Amazon Echo speaker. Super useful in bedrooms, living areas, and kitchen, especially when you wake up in the mornings. You can get other third party ones that work with a Google smart speaker.
Building a smart home is work in progress, and takes time. I would not advise that you go out and buy everything at once. Well, if you have unlimited funds, perhaps. It is best to do it in stages, shop around, wait for deals, and to also understand each product individually before buying the next.
MY TOP TIP: If I can leave you with one bit of solid advice, in case you missed it: create a brand new email address for your home and use it for all your smart appliances and products. If you value your privacy, don’t use your existing email or tie any personal info to these devices.
Recharged is an independent site that focuses on technology, electric vehicles, and the digital life by Nafisa Akabor. Drawing from her 16-year tech journalism career, expect news, reviews, how-tos, comparisons, and practical uses of tech that are easy to digest. email@example.com