Smart-Homes 101: A Beginner’s Guide, Your Top 5 Starter Home-Tech Devices

As home automation makes our lives safer and more accessible, it is not surprising that people are starting to integrate their smartphones with smart home living. To help you understand the benefits of smart home living and how you can get started, we will see what a smart home is, what it embodies and why it is essential to the future of your home.

photo of boy using vr headset
Photo by Julia M Cameron on Pexels.com

What is a smart home? A smart home is synonymous with intelligent living. It is smart because it utilizes technology to perform our daily tasks and make our lives easier by automating them. We oversee our tasks via platforms such as Apple HomeKit, Google Nest, and Amazon Alexa, which integrate smart home devices into our smartphones, allowing us to personalize our daily duties into a well-coordinated system. Smart homes leverage technology to save time while utilizing less effort.

Where do I start and what do I need to know? What Should I Buy?

Here is a list of the top 5 types of home-tech that you can start implementing into your smart home today.

  1. Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Plug Slim
  2. Apple Home Pod Mini (A) & Amazon Echo Dot (B)
  3. Ring Doorbells and Ring Security Cameras
  4. Linksys Atlas Pro Wi-Fi 6
  5. Home Automation Apps

#1 – Keep It Lit’ With The Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Plug Slim

Image: KasaSmart.com
  1. NewEgg: https://www.newegg.com/p/pl?d=kasa+plug
  2. BestBuy: https://www.bestbuy.com/site/tp-link-kasa-smart-wi-fi-plug-mini-with-homekit-2-pack-white/6472521.p?skuId=6472521
  3. Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Kasa-Smart-Required-Certified-EP10P4/dp/B091FXLMS8/

Looking back, we remind ourselves of the things of the technology we have today, and back then, they were simply magic. If you have ever watched Star Trek, you will observe Captain Picard talk to his ship, announcing “Computer, lights!” and soon after, the lights magically turn on. That world avails itself to us today through Kasa Smart Wi-Fi plugs.

There exist different versions of the Kasa Smart Wi-Fi plugs that are compatible with:

  • Alexa,
  • Google Home and IFTTT (Apple or Android),
  • Home-Kit (Apple only), and
  • Kasa’s app (Apple or Android).

It is essential to note because each device corresponds with specific branding and compatibility. A device compatible with Apple HomeKit (Model Number: KP125BestBuy) and others consistent with Alexa and Google Nest (Model Number: EP10P4 or HS105Amazon) all exist but does not function equally. The difference in devices makes things complicated to understand, so to make things more straightforward: the Apple HomeKit compatible version (KP125) will also work with Alexa and Google Nest, but the other versions (EP10P4, HS105) will not work Apple HomeKit.

Kasa’s Smart Plug Features:
These work with Wi-Fi which means that the only hub or place these plugs will communicate with will be the router you already own and use. This allows you to control these units anywhere you are at so long as your phone/app has access to the web and there exists a connection between the Kasa units to the router and then to the web. There are several versions of the Kasa smart plug including the Kasa Smart Light Switch, which is the same as the wall-plug units, but instead, power light switches. Some of the features both types of devices have, include: setting up schedules and timers for when they turn on and off, monitoring whether or not the switches and the machines they’re attached to are on/off, the newer versions that are Home-Kit compatible allows you to monitor the wattage and power draw directly from the app so you can see how much power each device is using, voice control allows you to talk to Alexa/Google Home/Apple Home-Kit, and be just like Picard, turning on lights and turning them off like a true Captain of your own Enterprise. The best feature though, at least for me, is being able to use the timer/schedule to turn on and off the coffee machine every morning so that I am awoken that fresh brew scent, all the while setting up a schedule to turn off the machine shortly after waking up so that I do not forget to turn it off after sipping on that good stuff. 

Setting up the Kasa Smart Plug:
This part requires that you download the Kasa app (Google Play StoreApple App Store), without it, you are not going to get too far with the device. You then need to create an account from TP-Link through the app before moving forward as well. When you turn on the app and plug in the Kasa plug, you will need to go through the app and activate the device, which will show up on the app automatically, you just must pick the new device and activate it. To activate it, you will need to note the bottom of each device, where the QR code is located. This QR code needs to be scanned through the app via your phone’s camera in order to properly pair it to your phone, which will then help it connect to your home’s Wi-Fi and then to the web. This is where it gets difficult: the plug needs to be attached to a wall socket but needs to scan QR code located at the bottom of the device; this is hard to do because if it is on the wall, you cannot simply turn your phone upside down and hope to find the QR code. The solution: use an extension cord to plug the Kasa device into and then plug the extension cord into the wall outlet. This way, you need not be inverted to see the plug’s bottom. After pairing it with your phone and naming the device, you can then use the Kasa app to set up timers and schedules and/or simply use the app to turn on and off each device via buttons on the app. You can also then pair the respective version of the Kasa Smart Plug, to Alexa, Google Home, or Apple’s Home-Kit, so that you can use voice commands such as: “Alexa…”, “Hey-Google…”, “Siri…”, and then saying, “…turn on the bedroom lights” or “turn on the coffee-maker at 8 am tomorrow”. The possibilities are almost endless! 

The Kasa Smart Plugs will probably be one of the most useful home-tech devices you will have in your house. The voice-control features bring any household to the new age, the schedule abilities alone will help save time and money and the best part is that these smart plugs are super-duper affordable. Let us know what you are using it for in the comments below!

#2A – Enter the Apple Home-Pod Mini

Apple Home-Pod Mini (Image by Apple)
  1. Apple: https://www.apple.com/homepod-mini/
  2. BestBuy: https://www.bestbuy.com/site/promo/apple-homepod-mini-colors
  3. Accessories on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=homepod+mini+accesories

This little device does so many things right that it’s wrong not to have one, two, or more at your house. Each speaker has 360-degree audio and can pair with other home-pod minis in-order to create an array of speakers that can be paired to one Apple device. Imagine having two of these in a room, hiding them in various locations, and then using them to fill the space with glorious stereo music all through Bluetooth (for activation and pairing) and Wi-Fi technology (for streaming).

It can also be used as an intercom device through Siri. This means each room of the house can have at least one Home-Pod Mini, and if one were in the kitchen trying to get everyone else to come down for breakfast or dinner, one could simply activate the intercom through Siri, thus opening a line of communication throughout the house.

Voice recognition also exists with the array of home-pod minis, thus allowing each device to recognize one’s Voice recognition also exists with the array of home-pod minis, thus allowing each device to recognize one’s playlists of music creating a more personalized experience for each user. Each home-pod mini can connect to their respective Apple devices such as Apple phones and Apple tablets, thus making it easier to connect.

It comes in assorted colors and a 20W power adapter. It does not have built-in batteries, so it must be always attached to a wall outlet. Considering the amount of sound it produces, it makes sense that a 20W power brick is required to power it, luckily, unlike new phones Apple sells today, this comes with a USB-C power adapter.

This is all a part of Apple’s universe; thus, it requires an iPhone/iPad and Wi-Fi to activate and pair. An activated Apple HomeKit account is also required to establish the connection for the whole home, which means one or two or more users can share in one home-kit unit/account. We shall elaborate on this further when we discuss other devices that are compatible with Apple’s Home Kit system.

Screenshot from Google Store

Android users can utilize some functions of home-pod minis as well, but it requires the use of apps such as CloudPlayer App by Doubletwist (https://www.doubletwist.com/cloudplayer) and Airmusic (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=app.airmusic.pro&hl=en_US&gl=US), which are both accessible through the Google Store. 

#2B – The 4th Gen Amazon Echo Dot

Image from Amazon.com
  1. Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Echo-Dot-With-Clock-4th-Gen/dp/B085M66LH1/
  2. BestBuy https://www.bestbuy.com/site/amazon-echo-dot-4th-gen-smart-speaker-with-clock-and-alexa-twilight-blue/6430063.p?skuId=6430063
  3. NewEgg https://www.newegg.com/amazon-53-023502-wifi/p/N82E16881511080?

This little device rivals Apple’s HomePod Mini…at half the price! It even has a built-in clock so this can sit at your desk and/or kitchen where you can figuratively watch time-fly. This is the newest (as of January 2022), version from Amazon.

Like the Home-Pod Mini, you can use this device to control your other smart-home devices, including many of the devices listed in this article below. It is compatible with Amazon Music and Apple Music, so you can ask it to play genres of tunes or a specific song, without touching your phone or tablet!

You can also turn on and off lights that are activated through Alexa, including the Kasa switches and Ring cameras and doorbells listed below. And just like the Home-Pod Mini, you can also use this as an intercom for announcements around the house by stating, “Alexa, announce ‘the movie is starting, come down now!'”, which will then propagate the announcement to other Echo devices around the home.

Lastly, like the Home-Pod Mini, this does not come with a built-in battery, so it must always be plugged into the wall to work. I also do not believe that it can function as a stereo system where multiple Echo dots can be used together as one source for music, whereas the Home-Pod Mini, you can use as pairs to increase the boom in the room.

#3 – Keeping a Watchful Eye via Ring Video Doorbells and Cameras

Screenshot from Ring.com
  • Ring Video Doorbells:
    • Ring Video Doorbell Pro, Version 1 (Wired, $169.99) and Version 2 (Wired, $249.99)
    • Ring Video Doorbell 3 (Battery and Wired, $179.99 and Version 2020 ($99.99)
    • Ring Wi-Fi Video Doorbell (Wired, $59.99)
    • Ring Peephole Cam (Battery, $149.00)
  1. Best Buyhttps://www.bestbuy.com/site/searchpage.jsp?st=ring+doorbell
  2. Amazon https://www.amazon.com/s?k=ring+doorbell
  3. Ring https://ring.com/collections/all-products
Screenshot from Ring.com

There exist several versions of the Ring Video Doorbell: The biggest difference between them is that in the ‘Pro’ version, it exists and functions as a ‘wired-only version meaning that it will function only when attached to the stock doorbell wiring. The ‘Pro’ also has dual-band Wi-Fi (2.4ghz and 5ghz) and ‘color’ night vision. The Ring Wi-Fi version which costs the least of the three is also ‘wired’ only, functions in single-band Wi-Fi (2.4ghz), and night-vision is just black and white. I believe the best of the three is the Ring Video Doorbell 3 (or 2 if you can still source one), because it can function with a battery and/or ‘wired’ through the original doorbell wiring. This allows one to mount the device where normal doorbell wiring does not exist. your back door and side-access and/or anywhere else! Lastly, they also offer the Peephole Cam (https://ring.com/products/peephole-cam-chime-bundle), which is awkwardly named but works super well with apartments and doors that are equipped with peep-hole views. This is also battery-powered only and has a neat feature where if a visitor knocks on the door, it will notify you!

Screenshot from Ring.com
  • Ring Security Cameras:
    • Ring Stick-Up Camera (Wired, Weatherproof, $99.99)
    • Ring Indoor Cam (Wired, $59.99)
    • Ring Spotlight Cam (Wired and Battery, $199.99)
    • Ring Floodlight Cam 2021 (Wired and Battery, $179.99)

1. Best Buyhttps://www.bestbuy.com/site/ring/ring-security-cameras/pcmcat1569783827577.c?
2. Amazon https://www.amazon.com/s?k=ring+security+camera&
3. Ring https://ring.com/security-cameras

If you have not yet noticed, there are many versions to unpack. Let us start with the non-weatherproof versions: The Ring Stick-Up Camera and Ring Indoor Cam – Both devices are ‘wired’ meaning they will need to be plugged in and function in single-band (2.4ghz) Wi-Fi. The Stick-Up camera has color night-vision, and the Indoor Cam only has black-and-white night vision. To be honest, both color and black & white are fully functional, and there is not much color to get out of the dark since the built-in IR (infrared) emitters/bulbs do not necessarily convey color absorption on the sensor of the cameras, so you would be hard-pressed to pick the best version for yourself. To keep it simple, if you are mounting indoor cameras, pick either or and you will be good to go.

The Spotlight Cam and Floodlight Cam are remarkably equivalent products. The biggest difference is their sizes which accounts for their mount-ability, availability of power sources, and built-in spotlights. The Spotlight Cam comes in both wired and battery versions, with the wired version being better as the LED spotlight will use up a lot of battery power. There does exist a solar attachment for it which will work great for when one is not able to find a wired solution. I must reiterate that the wired versions will simply be more reliable for both power and Wi-Fi connection. The Floodlight Cam is similar in terms of features, but it has larger LED lightbulbs (because they are floodlights) and it requires that you manually wire it into the wall. This is easy to do (the Spotlight Cam is also wall mounted via screws but can be plugged into a standard wall outlet), but as such, working with electricity is dangerous and requires much caution. I would suggest hiring an electrician if you are not comfortable with electrical wiring.

Features that these devices share include HD Video, 2-way talk, Chime (plug-in speaker) and App notifications, Night-Vision (black and white or color), and Battery (some with an option for solar) or Wired. I will have to note that these devices should also be mated to a great wi-fi mesh system to ensure that connection is strong to each piece. If not, the devices will experience ‘lag’ during live streams and/or while answering visitors when they arrive and activate the doorbell button. This is what we will cover next in this article.

Other features that the Ring App gives you are: setting up light-schedules for the Spotlight and Floodlight Cams, panic-mode (turns on alarms on each or every device in the case you need to alert users in the home), 2-way with video, adjustments to sensitivity to motion (which can save battery and time for uploading recorded feeds) and HD video, Wi-Fi connection (which means it does not need a single hub to connect to the internet, it just needs a good reliable Wi-Fi connection).

Overall, this is a game-changing system! You can be at work or elsewhere and if someone arrives at your doorstep, you can answer the door as you normally would via a wireless connection. In the day and the evening, so long as you have a consistent Wi-Fi connection, each moment movement is detected, the cameras will upload the feed to Ring’s servers which will allow you to review what happened in the day. I have even used one of the indoor cameras as a doggy-cam to observe my dogs when I was at the office, which also functions as a motivational tool to finish whatever tasks I need to accomplish that day so that I can get home to the furry friends sooner.

It also acts as a great deterrent for would-be thieves in the neighborhood. Once they notice that they are being recorded, it will make them rethink your home and favor another house without cameras. If that is your main reason for purchasing and outfitting your home with Wi-Fi cameras, then you should also consider acquiring Ring’s Alarm Security Systems (https://ring.com/products/security-system-alarm-8-smoke-co-listener-bundle). 

Lastly, to have longer access to video recordings and for security monitoring, you will have to subscribe to the Ring’s Protect Pro Plan which is $200/year. This was just $99/year before (https://support.ring.com/hc/en-us/articles/360061428551-Protect-Plus-1st-Gen-information) which I thought was a great deal since it comes with discounts towards future devices through the Ring online store, but even at $200/year, if mated to a security system, it is still providing great-value because it also includes extended warranty coverage and security-monitoring. Also, if you have read this far, please leave a comment below or email us at connect@wyfi.co so that we know that this information was helpful for you! 

Ring’s Best Sellers (Ring.com)

#4 – Linksys Atlas Pro 6 : Dual-Band Wi-Fi 6 “Mesh” System

This is the most important tech gadget you will need in your smart home. The reason being is that all your other smart devices are great but if they are not consistently connected to high-speed internet, they do not function. Thus, getting a great Wi-Fi system is paramount to your smart home’s success.

Wi-Fi 6 is one of the latest versions for Wi-Fi (as of January 2022). Over Wi-Fi 5, this produces higher bandwidths and speeds while increasing distance/coverage in your home and/or office. As an example, we have used the prior version from Linksys (Velop, Wifi 5) and the Linksys Atlas Pro 6 is much faster in terms of bandwidth and speeds. The reliability of the connection is on par with the previous version but what is great is that if you have the older Velop, you can simply add these Wi-Fi 6 units and create an even more robust Wi-Fi mesh system at home.

So, what is the deal with this ‘mesh’ system, you ask? Back in the day, you would have one Wi-Fi hub device connected to your modem and that device provides wireless internet connection throughout the house. Today, those still exist. But what happens if you want to cover larger living spaces and include wireless internet coverage to your back and front yards (e.g., barbecues and other social distancing events)? The Wi-Fi mesh system by Linksys allows you to have one main unit connected to the modem, then add 2 or more units that are all connected to the first unit, all acting as transceivers for your devices, thus creating a ‘mesh’ or matrix network. As I stated before, the Velop Wi-Fi 5 system was already amazing at providing coverage, but it was slower in terms of bandwidth and speeds. With the growing need for high-speed throughput with video streaming services like Netflix, Disney+, and Hulu, on tops of wireless video cameras like Ring and basic phone and tablet uses; you are overloading your system’s ability to serve the needs of your household. Therefore, it only makes sense to upgrade your Wi-Fi system to match and later exceed the needs of all your devices.

Constantly upgrading to the newest and best will only cost you more money and time….but if you want to future-proof your smart-home, the Linksys Atlas Pro 6 is your best bet.

There’s a lot of functions this system has which is covered in more detail through Linksyswebsite (https://www.linksys.com/us/whole-home-mesh-wifi/linksys-atlas-pro-6-dual-band-mesh-wifi-6-system-3-pack/p/p-mx5503/#product-features).

However we will list a few notable pieces that will yield the most important bullet-points:

  • Wi-Fi 6 – The latest Wi-Fi system offered as of 2022
  • Faster than Wi-Fi 5 – More devices on the system means it will need faster bandwidths, this fulfills those needs
  • 160MHz – 5GHz with 160MHz on top means that you have an extra layer of coverage, imagine having 3 lanes instead of two, that third lane is available on this Wi-Fi router vs not on others
  • Set-up through the Linksys App – this is easy but can be made complicated if you are trying to activate each unit (it comes with 3) at the same time.
  • Pro-tips: turn one on and activate it separately from the subsequent units until all three units are activated rather than plugging in all 3 in at the same time (turn on the first one while connected to the modem to activate it, turn on the second one to let it connect to the first, then plug in the third one so it connects to either the first and second units; if you were on the Velop Wi-Fi 5 system before, it will be best to start from scratch where you would connect your new Wi-Fi 6 system to the modem first as it will be the much newer and faster system).

To be honest, so long as you have great coverage at your home, pick the consistent solution and stick with it.

Constantly upgrading to the newest and best will only cost you more money and time, but if you want to future-proof your smart-home, the Linksys Atlas Pro 6 is your best bet. The best part is that if you continue using their mesh systems and purchase more units in the future, they will be compatible with one another and will only contribute to a more robust system.

The Linksys system is backward compatible with Wi-Fi 5 devices, but if you play games and/or use videoconferencing often, you will want to upgrade your computer’s Wi-Fi system as well (Newegg has a few solutions you could try: https://www.newegg.com/p/pl?d=wifi+6+card). 

Newer computers and laptops including the new MacBook Pro M1-Max and M1-Pro laptops come with Wi-Fi 6. Thus, this is the new standard for Wi-Fi so it is safe to assume that future-proofing your smart-home with this will last you several years to come. 

#5 – Home Automation Apps which make the Smart-Home…Smarter.

  1. Amazon Alexahttps://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.amazon.dee.app&hl=en_US&gl=US and https://apps.apple.com/us/app/amazon-alexa/id944011620
  2. Apple Home-Kithttps://apps.apple.com/us/app/home/id1110145103
  3. Google Homehttps://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.google.android.apps.chromecast.app&hl=en_US&gl=US and https://apps.apple.com/us/app/google-home/id680819774
  4. IFTTT https://ifttt.com/

Why apps are important to your Smart-Home’s Technology Arsenal

You have a variety of choices when choosing which ‘app system’ you wish to use with your smart-home. Determining which is best for you will depend on you and the other users in your home that will also be using the system. If most of your household uses Apple phones and tablets, you will want to use Apple’s HomeKit.

For households that use both Apple and Android devices, they would benefit from using Amazon Alexa, just because it is compatible with both Apple and Android devices and each member of every household has their Households that use both Apple and Android devices would benefit from using Amazon Alexa, just because it is compatible with both Apple and Android devices, and each member of every household has their own Amazon account, thus allowing us to share each smart-home access easily. The voice command features on these apps make the smart home super powerful, and hence choosing the best app and devices that will work for you and your family will require much deliberation over what is accessible, available, and affordable for each user in your home.

In Conclusion

We hope this article helped you create the smart home you have always wanted. Though this is not a fully thorough how-to-guide in building your first smart-home, we believe that we covered some of the most important aspects of a smart-home: voice controls, remote home security, Wi-Fi enabled power and light switches, Wi-Fi 6 mesh systems, and smart-home apps that bring it all together.

We are excited to see how top smart-home devices will evolve in the coming years. As our phones/tablets, PCs, and laptops adapt and add new features, we will pursue more tools and tech toys that will improve our daily lives, but that does not mean that we can’t have fun doing it! We hope this post was super helpful for you. Please share it with your friends! Do not forget to comment below if you own and use these devices. We would love to hear your input and review. If you have any questions and comments, leave them below, create/join the discussion on Discord, or email us at connect@wyfi.co.  

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