Don’t you hate repeating yourself? Voice commands are unreliable, but yelling at a Google or Alexa is usually easier than pulling out a smartphone. Here are three ways you can streamline your smart home experience and ditch annoying voice controls forever.
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Keep It Simple: Automate Everything
You shouldn’t have to micromanage your smart home. If you want to abandon voice commands and streamline your smart home experience, then you need to start automating common tasks through schedules, routines, and smart sensors.
Start With Schedules
The first step in automating your smart home is setting schedules for all your devices. Schedules control when your smart devices turn on and off, and can even adjust device settings, such as bulb brightness or hue. Most smart home apps have built-in scheduling tools that make it easy to program multiple devices at a time, so it should only take you a few minutes to set everything on a perfect daily or weekly cycle.
Manually adjusting a smart device’s settings won’t affect its schedule, so you’re free to turn devices on and off in-app without ruining your automation. Keep in mind that scheduling isn’t limited to bulbs and plugs—you can also set your Wi-Fi-connected smart vacuum on a schedule, for example.
Use Routines for Dynamic Automation
Smart Assistants allow you to set up routines, which are custom commands that fulfill multiple actions in one go. You could set up a one-button routine that puts all your smart devices in “party mode,” for example, or program a routine that turns off all your lights when your phone detects that you’ve left the house.
Routines give you a lot of room for creativity, and they save you from jumping between apps when you need to take your smart home off-schedule for a bit. That said, I suggest starting with simple “Home and Away” routines, which automatically trigger smart devices when you leave or enter your home. That extra layer of automation is a major time-saver, and it makes owning a smart home way more enjoyable.
Smart Sensors Take Automation to a New Level
Schedules and routines help automate your most common smart home tasks, but they don’t replace the nuance or precision of voice commands and in-app controls. If you want lights to turn on and off when you leave the room, for example, then you’re going to need some smart home sensors.
Smart home sensors use environmental factors like motion or temperature to trigger your smart bulbs, plugs, thermostat, and other devices. Motion sensors see when you enter and leave a room, contact sensors fit in your doors and windows to tell if they’re opened or closed, and temperature sensors keep track of your home’s temperature and humidity—usually to provide more accurate readings for your thermostat or to control fans plugged into smart outlets.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many smart home sensors on the market, and only a handful of existing sensors are multipurpose (others work with specific products or brands). It doesn’t help that Wyze has temporarily stopped selling its affordable smart sensors while it develops 2nd generation models (you can still get Wyze sensors with the Wyze Starter Bundle). At the time of writing, Shelly’s Motion Sensor and Door/Window Sensors are the only Wi-Fi sensors worth buying. They’re compatible with Alexa, HomeKit, and Google Assistant.
If you plan on using a lot of smart sensors, I suggest skipping Wi-Fi sensors and using Z-Wave or Zigbee sensors instead, which have a better battery life and range than Wi-Fi devices. Ecolink’s Motion Detector or Door and Window Sensor are both great options, but keep in mind that they require a compatible hub, like the Samsung SmartThings Hub or the Hubitat Elevation Hub. If you own an Amazon Echo display or speaker, then you could also use a Zigbee sensor, as Amazon Echo devices double as Zigbee hubs.
Ecolink’s Motion Detector and Door and Window Sensor are two Z-Link smart sensors that are worth looking at. You could also buy a Nest or Ecobee temperature sensor if you own Nest or Ecobee thermostats, or a Hue Motion Sensor if you own Philips Hue bulbs.
Shelly Motion Sensor
The Shelly Motion Sensor doesn’t require a hub and works with Google Assistant, Alexa, and HomeKit. It’s the best option for people who want to automate their lighting without upgrading to a Z-Wave or Zigbee system.
Ecolink Z-Wave PIR Motion Detector Pet Immune, White (PIRZWAVE2.5-ECO)
Ecolink's Z-Wave motion sensors make it easy to automate your smart bulbs, though they require a Z-Wave hub.
The Control Center: A Smart Display or Tablet
Living without voice commands is a lot easier once you’ve automated your smart home. But because you aren’t using voice commands, you’re stuck doing any manual adjustments from your phone. For more convenient manual controls, you’ll need a smart home control center, like a smart display or a tablet, dedicated to running the Alexa, Google Home, or Apple Homekit app.
Smart displays, like the Google Nest Hub and Echo Show, are just smart speakers with touchscreens. They put all your smart home controls in one place and can even stream video from services like YouTube or Netflix. All smart displays have a switch to turn off their microphone, so you can handle everything from their touchscreen and never worry about voice commands.
That said, smart displays work best with voice controls, they’re a bit expensive, and they can take up a lot of counter space. You might be better off using a tablet as a control center instead, as tablets are thin, cheap, easy to move around, and run the same touch-friendly smart home apps as your phone. Plus, they can replicate the streaming and video chat functionality that you get with a bulkier smart speaker.
An Amazon Fire tablet is the cheapest solution, though it only works with Alexa (you can also sideload Google Home on a Fire tablet, which is pretty easy). A low-end Android tablet like the Lenovo Tab M10 Plus costs more than a Fire tablet, but it can run Alexa and Google Assistant without jumping through any hoops. And while iPads are expensive, they’re the only option for HomeKit users, plus they can run the Alexa and Google Assistant apps. (Thankfully, old iPads still run pretty well, and used iPads aren’t that expensive.)
Of course, if you have an extra tablet lying around, you should try using it as your control center. But whatever tablet you end up using, we suggest buying a mount to stick the tablet on your wall or fridge. A universal wall or fridge mount can fit any tablet, giving you a clean dedicated space to control your smart home, stream video, or beam music to wireless speakers.
Fire 7 tablet, 7" display, 16 GB, (2019 release), Black
Amazon's Fire 7 tablet costs just $50, making it the cheapest option for those who want a dedicated smart home control center. It works with Alexa and Google Home, though you have to sideload the Google Home app to get it up and running.
Apple 2020 iPad (10.2-inch, Wi-Fi, 128GB) - Space Gray (8th Generation)
The iPad can run HomeKit, Alexa, and Google Home apps, making it the best premium tablet for smart home control.
TFY Tablet Wall Mount, Kitchen Wall Mount for Tablets and Smartphones, Fits on Kitchen, Bathroom, Bedroom, Readingroom and More (Black)
Use this affordable tablet mount to stick your tablet anywhere, instantly turning it into a stylish and convenient smart home control center.
For Granular Control: Switches and Buttons
Automating smart home tasks and setting up a dedicated control center should streamline your smart home without the need for voice commands. But if you want precise, tactile controls for all the devices in your home, then it’s time to invest in some smart switches and buttons.
Smart switches and buttons are physical controls that you can program to adjust specific devices in your home. The best example of a smart switch is probably the Lutron Caseta Smart Dimmer, a physical dimmer control for your smart bulbs. The Lutron Caseta Smart Dimmer fully replaces your existing light switch, and features On/Off controls and buttons to adjust bulb brightness. It won’t confuse you or your guests, and it saves you the trouble of taping all your light switches in the “On” position. Just keep in mind, the Lutron Caseta dimmer only works if you own a $100 Lutron Smart Bridge.
Flic is the best smart button available today. It’s small, wire-free, customizable, and programmable, so you can use it to trigger any of your smart home devices. Flic buttons can also trigger smart home routines, maximizing your home automation and adding a new layer of tactile control to your smart home.
Flic 2 Smart button - Trigger Alexa & Apple HomeKit - Starter kit 3 x Flic 2 buttons + 1 x Flic Hub LR - Smart Home Control - Works with Hue, LIFX, IFTTT, IKEA Trådri, Sonos, Spotify and much more…
The small, programmable Flic smart home button can control your smart home devices, or even trigger your routines! It works with Alexa, Google Assistant, and HomeKit.
Lutron Caséta Wireless Smart Lighting Dimmer Switch for Wall and Ceiling Lights | PD-6WCL-WH | White
The Lutron Caseta Dimmer Switch adds convenient, tactile controls to your smart bulbs. It replaces your existing light switch, it doesn't require a neutral wire, and it works with Google Assistant, Alexa, and HomeKit.