The best smart home devices we tested in 2021
Whether it be a fancy new smart display or yet another smart bulb, CNN Underscored is constantly testing the latest and greatest in the smart home world.
And those tests go on for many weeks to constantly evaluate each device with the latest updates and against the newest competition. This year, we tackled smart displays, smart plugs and made time for bulbs and speakers in between. Here’s the hardware that stood above the rest, regardless of your smart home ecosystem.
Best smart speaker overall: Amazon Echo 4th Gen ($59.99, originally $99.99; amazon.com)Amazon Echo 4th Gen
Not only does the 4th Gen Echo have a unique cylindrical design, but it houses terrific sound and a myriad of Alexa smarts — all of which makes it our top pick for a smart speaker. The spherical shape allows for stronger sound to be pushed out and its sound quality is unmatched at its price point. Better yet, it has plenty of connectivity to power your smart home and make setting up other devices effortlessly.
Runner-up: Apple HomePod Mini ($99.99; apple.com)Apple HomePod Mini
As our runner-up pick for a smart speaker, the HomePod Mini gets a lot right — but its Achilles heel is that it only works for those in the Apple ecosystem. You actually can’t set it up without an iPhone. But if you live in the Apple ecosystem, it produces excellent sound with surprisingly strong quality as well. Siri is smarter than ever, and this tiny smart speaker can power your smart home.
Best sound under $200: Sonos One ($219; sonos.com)Sonos One
If you want bold, clear audio and an assistant-agnostic smart speaker, the Sonos One is your best bet. You get your pick of Amazon Alexa or the Google Assistant for easy control and answers to queries, but the real star is the audio quality, which. beats out every other smart speaker we tested.
Best budget smart speaker: Amazon Echo Dot 4th Gen ($29.99, originally $49.99; amazon.com)Amazon Echo Dot 4th Gen
If you’re on a tighter budget, the best value for under $35 is found in the Echo Dot. It features a circular design that really mimics the full-size Echo but lacks some of the audio prowess. It still gives you easy access to Alexa — which lets you get an answer for really nearly anything — and offers pretty good sound quality for the size.
• Read more from our testing of smart speakers here.
Best overall smart display: Amazon Echo Show 8 ($94.99, originally $129.99; amazon.com)Amazon Echo Show 8
If you’re seeking a smart display, your best bet is the Echo Show 8. It’s the best smart display we tested and hits a home run with a versatile, easy-to-read 8-inch screen baked into a design that fits in anywhere. It can do everything you’d expect from a smart display like play videos, display recipes and provide a visual with all of Alexa’s responses.
Best smart display for a nightstand: Google Nest Hub ($59.99, originally $99.99; bhphotovideo.com)Google Nest Hub
If you want a smart display for your nightstand, we’d recommend one that makes the most of the space and doesn’t feature a camera. That’s the $99 Nest Hub, which can also work as a full-featured alarm clock with the ability to track your sleep. It also gets plenty loud to wake you up.
• Read more from our testing of smart displays here.
Best overall smart plug: Wyze Plug ($11.98; amazon.com)Wyze Plug
The Wyze Plug is a nearly perfect smart plug — it’s small enough so that it doesn’t block multiple outlets when plugged in and is quick to respond to any command. Those can be sent from the Wyze app or with a smart assistant (Amazon Alexa or the Google Assistant). It’s also very affordable.
Best for HomeKit: Wemo Smart Plug ($12.99, originally $17.99; amazon.com)Wemo Smart Plug
While the Wyze Plug doesn’t support Apple HomeKit, the Wemo Smart Plug does and it’s our pick for working within Apple’s ecosystem. It’s very compact, and setup is as easy as scanning a code with your iPhone. Better yet, it can work simultaneously with Amazon Alexa and the Google Assistant.
• Read more from our testing of smart plugs here.
Best overall smart thermostat: Google Nest Learning Thermostat ($214.98, originally $249; amazon.com)Google Nest Learning Thermostat
While the Google Nest Learning Thermostat isn’t the most affordable, it’s the best thermostat we’ve tested. It studies your habits and controls the temperature in your home automatically. These smarts are paired with some of the best controls we’ve ever used as well.
Best budget smart thermostat: Google Nest Thermostat ($99.99, originally $129.99; amazon.com)Google Nest Thermostat
If you’re on a tighter budget, the Google Nest Thermostat offers some great functionality. It has the same simple, straightforward interface as the flagship model, and offers control from afar in the Google Home app.
• Read more from our testing of smart thermostats here.
Home Security Systems
Best home security system overall: Ring Alarm Pro (starting at $249.99; amazon.com)Ring Alarm Pro
Ring Alarm Pro wasn’t just the most seamless to set up and customize out of all the security systems we’ve tested, but it also offers features that no other system can match. Yes, the Alarm Pro — through sensors — will monitor your home and offer you an easy way to expand the system as needed, but it also can keep your internet running when the electricity goes off.
• Read more from our testing of home security systems here.
Best smart bulb: Wyze Bulb Color ($13.86, originally $15.98; amazon.com)Wyze Bulb Color
The Wyze Bulb Color marries affordability and functionality like no other bulb we tested, boasting instantaneous and straightforward controls. Better yet, those can be managed through the Wyze app or smart assistants. You can set the bulb to thousands of color options and different light temperatures when casting white light.
• Read more from our testing of smart bulbs here.
Smart Garage Door Controllers
Best smart garage door controller overall: Chamberlain myQ ($19.98, originally $29.98; amazon.com)Chamberlain myQ
The Chamberlain myQ makes controlling your garage door — from nearly anywhere — an effortless experience that’s done in a snap.
Best for multi-garage-door homes: Genie Aladdin Connect ($59.99; amazon.com)Genie Aladdin Connect
Genie’s been a mainstay in the garage door industry, and it shows with the Aladdin Connect. This smart controller includes all the tools you need in the box and a single unit can control up to three garage doors.
Best for advanced smart homes: iSmartGate Pro ($149, originally $179; amazon.com)iSmartGate Pro
The iSmartGate Pro isn’t cheap, but it’s easy to set up and stretches the compatibility list to a broad range of smart home ecosystems.
• Read more from our testing of smart garage door controllers here.
Best overall video doorbell: Ring Video Doorbell 2 Pro ($249.99; amazon.com)
Ring’s Video Doorbell 2 Pro uses radar to give you highly accurate motion alerts, has stellar looking video with a wide, tall field of view and crisp audio, and can even show you on a map the route someone took as they made their way to your door.
Best Ring alternative: Arlo Wired Video Doorbell ($129.99; amazon.com)
The Arlo Wired Video Doorbell has a sleek design and is easy to set up, plus it gives you clear video, a multitude of settings to fine-tune the video quality, and an affordable price.
Best wireless doorbell camera: Nest Doorbell ($129.99; bhphotovideo.com)
The wireless Nest Doorbell can be installed anywhere thanks to an integrated battery, gives you intelligent alerts without making you sign up for a subscription, and produces clear, crisp video so you can stay informed about your visitors and deliveries.