(Consumer Reports)--You don't need to be a gadget geek to take advantage of the latest smart-home technologies. Some of the tech upgrades for your home that impressed our testers the most are the easiest to install and operate, including WiFi-connected security cameras and thermostats that you control from your smartphone. Beyond the strictly practical, the following list of tech upgrades from the experts at Consumer Reports also includes projects that will keep you entertained in every room in the house.
Pump Up Your WiFi
Is your house bigger than your WiFi network? It’s a common technology challenge: The signal doesn’t reach your home’s far recesses—say, the basement or one of the kids’ rooms. To solve it, consider one of a new generation of routers from Eero, Luma, Google, and others, all of which employ mesh networking.
Simply place multiple routers around the house and the system will create a single network that extends WiFi coverage without clipping bandwidth. A set of three Eeros is claimed to cover up to 4,000 square feet, well over the size of the average American house. You can buy the units individually, but of course if you want the benefits of a mesh network, you’ll need more than one, which can get expensive: A Google WiFi three-pack costs $300, and a set of three Eero units costs $500.
Set Up a Virtual Assistant
With voice-activated assistants such as the Amazon Echo, $180, and Google Home, $130, you can look up movie times, ask for the latest news headlines, check the weather—even turn off the lights in certain cases—all by speaking your command out loud. They work just fine as stand-alone devices, but their capabilities expand dramatically when you pair them with smart-home devices, from lighting to thermostats. It’s faster and easier than pulling out your phone to accomplish a task.
Maintain the Perfect Climate
Make sure the temperature in your home is always just right by putting in a programmable thermostat. Our top-rated model is the Honeywell RTH959OWf, $300, the industry’s first voice-activated programmable thermostat. You can issue commands, such as “make it warmer,” which will turn the heat up 1° F, or “make it much warmer,” which will raise the temperature by 4° F. Our testers also found it easy to set up and control remotely via a smartphone.
Install DIY Home Security
Who better to keep an eye on your place than you? Set up a WiFi-connected camera—it’s not difficult—and you can tap into its feed from your smartphone or laptop for a lot less than subscribing to a security monitoring service such as ADT or Vivint.
For instance, Alphabet-owned Nest sells indoor and outdoor models for $200 apiece, and for the same price you may like the Canary All-In-One device, which in addition to the camera has a built-in siren and sensors for temperature and humidity. You could easily spend that on a year of professional monitoring, only to have to then re-up the contract for another year. Just make sure to change the default username and password during setup to keep hackers out.
Get Your Groove On
There are two ways to make your music move around the house as you do. First, you can get a great, portable Bluetooth speaker system such as the Sony SRS-X77, $300. Pair your phone or tablet to it, then carry it to wherever you want to listen to your tunes.
Or you could get a WiFi speaker such as the Sonos Play:5, which tops our ratings and costs around $500. If you can afford it, get more than one. You can pair them for stereo sound or group them to play the same song in multiple rooms throughout the house.
If you want to add WiFi capability to speakers you already own, Google’s Chromecast Audio is a great, low-budget alternative. Priced at $35, Chromecast is an add-on that can turn any speaker with a 3.5-mm audio jack or an optical port into a wireless device.
Play With Fido While You’re at Work
Want to know what your pet does when you’re not home? WiFi-connected pet cameras, such as the Furbo, $225, and Petcube Camera, $150, have two-way audio, so you can talk and listen to your little fur ball through a smartphone app. The Furbo can even toss treats; the Petcube has a built-in laser toy.
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