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Smart home tech made easy: practical gadgets for beginners

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© Alexander Supertramp/Shutterstock

If you haven't jumped on the smart home trend yet, the new year gives you a new opportunity to do so. While smart home tech can be intimidating, if you are not particularly tech-savvy, there are gadgets that are both easy to set up and use, and are practical. No bridges required, no complicated installations - just your new smart home device, a Wi-Fi connection and your phone. Let's get into it!

Many lists aimed at beginners include a huge variety of smart bulbs, doorbells or security cameras, but often enough they are not particularly easy to use or set up by the average consumer. Not only that - most potential users are concerned about their privacy and security, especially when they are inexperienced with this new technology. This is why you won't find any cameras or smart doorbells on this list.

Google Home Mini

Yes, we had to include a smart speaker on the list. Although many online call them 'spies' and have reasonable privacy concerns, they can make your life easier in numerous ways. Our device of choice is the Google Home Mini, a discreet and affordable smart speaker.

What can you use it for? Checking traffic and weather forecasts while getting ready in the morning is one its best features. However, my personal favorite is listening to podcasts or audio books - the ability to pause or change the speed of playback with your voice is incredibly useful.

Google Home Mini Tink Androidpit
Google Home Mini is quite small, as the name suggests. / © tink

Besides, the Google Home Mini is super easy to set up. You only need the Google Home app - it will automatically detect your Home Mini once it's plugged in. After that you can choose the room in which the speaker will be located and connect to your Wi-Fi network.

At only $50, the Google Home Mini is not a huge investment or risk. If you do find yourself liking it, it can be quite helpful during your morning routine and, of course, for controlling other smart devices.

Google Chromecast 3rd Generation

If you have considered buying a smart TV but were dissuaded by high prices, Chromecast might help you make your current 'dumb' TV much smarter. This Google device allows you stream content from your smartphone or tablet to your television - be it Netflix movies, Hulu shows or YouTube videos. It is also one of the simplest to use smart home devices on the market.

You control the playback directly from your phone. However, this isn't screen-mirroring, so you don't have to worry about accidentally using up all your mobile data. You can even use Chromecast to stream websites onto your TV via your Chrome browser or mirror your Android phone/tablet onto the bigger screen.

Chromecast 3rd generation is available in Chalk and Charcoal colors. / © Google

The best part, however, is that setting up Chromecast is incredibly easy. You only need a TV with an HDMI port, a Wi-Fi connection and the Google Home App (which you can use even on an Apple device). After connecting the Chromecast to your TV and Wi-Fi, all you need to do is tap the Cast button in your browser or compatible app. That's all!

Finally, Google Chromecast is a smart home gadget that won't set you back a huge sum. At the moment of writing, the device is available for only $35. It will also soon have the ability to join speaker groups with other Google Home products, if you decide to expand your smart home gadget collection.

Eufy RoboVac 30C

Automating mundane tasks is one of the main reasons to get into smart home technology. This is why robot vacuums had to make an appearance on this list. Not only do they take care of a tiresome chore, they also pose little to no security or privacy risks. Yet, until recently most available devices were quite pricey, making them a luxury purchase for most. This isn't the case anymore.

Chinese electronics company Anker and its Eufy brand offer a variety of budget smart home tech, including robot vacuums. The Eufy RoboVac 30C is one of the best in terms of price-to-quality ratio.

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Eufy's robot vacuum is inexpensive and practical. / © NextPit

It can clean up to 100 minutes per charge, according to its manufacturer, and it's controlled via the EufyHome app. It's compatible with both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant as well. If you want to go the old school route, there's also a remote control included.

The Eufy RoboVac 30C is available for around $300, making it quite attractive compared to the competition, whose products rarely falls below the $400 mark. An overall great budget smart home gadget for beginners.


Porch pirates are a phenomenon that has recently cropped up in the US and other parts of the world thanks to our love of online shopping. Yet, there isn't much you can do when your packages disappear. You could install a security camera, but wouldn't it be better if you could prevent the theft entirely? This is the idea behind BoxLock. It's a smart lock designed to protect your deliveries.

How does it work? According to the company, BoxLock automatically collects tracking numbers for anything delivered to your household or business. When it's set up, a delivery person simply needs to scan the barcode from your package to open it. Of course, you will also need a box, which is offered on the BoxLock website, but you can also use your own.

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BoxLock is a practical defense against porch pirates. / © BoxLock

The company also ensures potential buyers that thieves can't fool the lock with old barcodes or labels: "Every package scanned goes through a two-step verification: first, BoxLock Home verifies that the package is out for delivery with one of the major shipping companies that day and second, that you are the package’s intended recipient."

Finally, all you need for it to work is a storage container, a Wi-Fi connection and the BoxLock app. The device also has a battery life of around 30 days. It retails for around $130, which seems costly for a lock, but it can definitely save you a lot of money, if you order other expensive items online. Great even for those that are not home automation enthusiasts.

Wemo Mini Smart Plug

If you are not a morning person, having a cup of hot coffee waiting for you the moment you get up sounds amazing. However, most smart coffee machines are overpriced for the few features that they offer. This is where Wemo's Mini Smart Plug comes in. It's cheap, easy to use and can make your old coffee machine smarter.

How does it work? As the other devices on this list, it does not require additional bridges. All you need to do is plug it in an outlet and connect it to your Wi-Fi. It's controlled via the WeMo app, which available for both iOS and Android.

The Wemo Smart Plug is quite versatile. / © Belkin

After you've set it up, you just plug in your coffee machine into the Wemo Mini Smart Plug to control it remotely. You can also set up schedules, so your coffee is always brewing just as your morning alarm is waking you up. Of course, you can also use the plug with other appliances, including lamps, if smart bulbs are not to your liking. The Wemo Mini Smart Plug is also compatible with both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. It's one of the cheapest and most versatile smart home gadgets for beginners.

This is our list of practical smart home gadgets for beginners! Did we miss something you think is essential for a smarter home? Let us know in the comments.

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  • 49
    storm Jan 31, 2019 Link to comment

    How about safe retirement and disposal. These devices are highly insecure yet have passwords and access to your security and safety.

  • 10
    David Turner Jan 31, 2019 Link to comment

    What, no thermostat? IMHO, a thermostat is more important than a vacuum cleaner; it gives you the ability to monitor and adjust your HVAC from anywhere, and gives you warnings should the temperature drop below a certain level. In addition, many utility companies offer rebates for retrofitting existing systems with a smart thermostat. Since I have gas heat and electric A/C, I got rebates from both providers for installing a Nest thermostat which paid for more than half the cost!

    • Suzana Dalul 14
      Suzana Dalul Feb 1, 2019 Link to comment

      We have previously covered smart thermostats extensively. You can check out the article here:

      I also think smart vacuums should be on the list because they're useful all year round and are great time savers.

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