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Building a smart home: 6 products to get you started


Do you want to transform your home into a smart space? Here are 6 beginner-friendly starter gadgets that won't break the bank.

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The concept of using 'smart' products for home automation has been around for a while. However, it's only been in the past few years that the tech has become accessible to basically everyone - both in terms of the technical knowhow required and overall affordability.

Here are 6 beginner-friendly gadgets that will help turn your normal home into a smart one. Whether you own your own house or are renting an apartment, consider this your AI starter kit.

Smart doorbells

A smart doorbell is a simple addition to any home that can be easily installed without the need for an electrician.

Models such as the 360 Botslab Video Doorbell X3 pack in tons of clever features for the security conscious, including 4K cameras with night vision, facial recognition software, package delivery detection, motion recording, human detecting sensors, two-way intercoms and inbuilt alarms.

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Most smart doorbells can be integrated with a digital assistant, allowing you to access all the features through your phone, tablet or smartphone speaker hub. You simply connect them to your WiFi network and add them to your list of approved devices.

Choose your digital assistant

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A digital assistant acts as the central hub or command centre to your integrated smart home. Powered by artificial intelligence, it allows you to control smart home products with your voice and get them to interact with each other.

Whether you want to dim the lights in your bedroom, remotely activate your air conditioner or cast a Youtube video to your TV, a digital assistant is the conduit that makes everything happen.

The good news is you probably own a digital assistant already. Most modern smartphones come equipped with one: either Siri or Google Assistant (iPhone and Android, respectively.) Samsung Galaxy devices also come with Bixby. All three can be used to communicate with compatible smart devices around your home.

However, for an optimum experience we recommend investing in a dedicated smart speaker. These devices make it a lot easier to interact with your smart home using voice commands. They also benefit from better speakers compared to your phone. For Android users, a good option is the Google Nest range which starts at just $49. iPhone users, meanwhile, have the Apple HomePod and HomePod Mini ($499 and $149, respectively.)

You may also want to consider an Echo smart speaker from Amazon. These use a different digital assistant called Alexa which supports a huge range of smart home devices. Once you've chosen a digital assistant, make sure the smart home gadgets you buy are compatible with that platform. (This will usually be displayed prominently on the packaging or online product page.)

You can find out more about all the different models and how they work in Finder's complete smart speaker guide.

Robot vacuums

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Smart home technology is all about automation - which makes robot vacuum cleaners the ultimate accessory. After all, who would want to vacuum a house when you can get a robot to do it for you?

The current generation of Robot vacs are a lot smarter than their predecessors, capable of reaching every nook and cranny in your home without getting lost or tangled. The best models are capable of cleaning a variety of surfaces by switching between vacuuming and mopping modes - all you need to do is fill the water tank and the robot does the rest.

For example, the 360 Botslab S10 robovac comes with a 520ml electronic water tank and a 500ml dust bin. Its advanced sensors accurately map your home's floor plan to create an optimum cleaning path complete with 3D obstacle avoidance.

You can currently buy the S10 Robot Vacuum and Mop Cleaner for $999 with a free Cordless Stick Vacuum at the 360 Botslab Store.

Smart lighting

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Once you have your smart speaker hub up and running, a smart lighting system should be your next purchase. Smart lights use the same fixtures as regular lights but provide a host of unique benefits - including motion sensing, automatic light dimming, increased energy efficiency and a wide variety of colours that you can shift between on the fly.

Some models like the NanoLeaf Shapes range (pictured above) don't even require a light socket. Instead, you simply stick them to the wall with adhesive tape and control them through your phone or smart speaker hub - no light switch required.

Although smart lights are more expensive than regular light bulbs, they're not too pricey with entry-level models costing under $15. You can read our verdict on a bunch of smart lights at the Finder reviews hub.

Smart locks

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A good accompaniment to a smart doorbell (see above) is a smart lock. Similar to locking systems found in modern cars, these products do not require a physical key to unlock your door.

Instead, they pair to your personal device through an encrypted internet connection and automatically unlock when you approach the front door. (You can also unlock most models with a physical keypad if you lose your phone or it runs out of batteries.)

The chief benefit of this technology is peace of mind: you'll never lose your house keys and be forced to replace all your locks which is an aggravating and costly procedure. They also pack in extra features you won't find on a regular lock, including fingerprint sensors, inbuilt touchscreens and hidden keyholes which you can use with a backup mechanical key.

Smart doorbells can cost upwards of $900. However, if you're shopping on a budget there are plenty of decent options under $300. For example, the Ultraloq UL3 BT has a street price of around $280 and comes with all the aforementioned features above.

Smart Security Cameras

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At some stage your smart home is going to need an integrated security system to protect all those fancy gadgets. Fortunately, there are plenty of affordable options on the market that are a synch to set up.

For example, the 360 Botslab AP1C indoor pan-tilt security camera retails for under $90 and comes with all of the smart features you need. This includes a HD wide-angle lens with vertical rotation, a night vision mode, real-time activity alerts and footage recorded to the cloud.

The chief benefit of a smart security camera is the ability to remotely monitor them through the internet. No matter where you are, you can instantly check live streams through your smart home app.

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