TechnologySmart spending: building a smart home setup at three different price points

Jamie QuadrosSeptember 26, 201919 min

Integrating “smart home” technology into your life can be a daunting prospect, especially considering the staggering number of options available to you. Every new gadget, appliance, or device comes with affiliations or tech ecosystems they’re designed to work with, turning what should be a straightforward process into a labyrinth of choices.

In order to help narrow things down, we’ve put together three smart home setups at three different price points to help you decide where to best spend your money. This is by no means an exhaustive list—rather, it’s intended to give you an idea of how much a typical setup would cost at each tier. 

Rationale

Here are the components we’ll be considering at each tier:

  • digital assistant
  • security cam
  • smart locks
  • smart thermostat
  • smart home hub
  • media streaming/entertainment device
  • sound system

For simplicity’s sake, we’re going to assume you already have a smartphone/computer, TV, fast internet connection with wifi, and live in an apartment. The tiers still make sense if your home is larger—just increase the number of certain components (e.g. sensors, cameras) to compensate. We’re also going to ignore the different ways smart devices communicate with each other, and just stick to devices that are compatible with multiple channels.

Digital assistants are a matter of preference

When picking between Alexa, Siri, Cortana, and Google Assistant, stick with the ecosystem you’re already a part of—your smartphone will play a large role here. Android users will get the most use out of Google’s products to maximize compatibility; similarly, iPhone users will find Apple’s products naturally play well with each other. Alexa and Amazon’s Echo series of smart speakers are theoretically the most widely-compatible, but the benefits don’t outweigh the convenience of working with what you already have. Consequently, we’ve listed digital assistant options separately in each tier—whatever you choose should work with the respective setups. 

Brand neutrality

Many of the options on the tiers below have equivalent (if not better) device alternatives, which we’ve excluded because they work exclusively with one kind of digital assistant. For example, the Polk Command Bar is an excellent sound system and priced rather competitively at $299.99—however, it’s currently only available with Alexa built-in. Instead, all the entries on our lists should work with multiple digital assistants.

Quality before price

The options listed in each tier aren’t necessarily the cheapest or most expensive versions of each device. After all, when dealing with technology there’s always a newer, flashier variant available. Rather, we aimed to list devices that are the best value for money in their respective categories.

Redundancy

While some of the devices below come with digital assistants built in, we still felt it best to have a standalone version in each setup. At best, they’ll allow you to extend the range of your setup without needing to always have a smartphone handy; at worst, it’s a feature you can use if you ever separate the devices.  Similarly, owning a smart TV will cause some overlap with a media streaming device, but that won’t affect the functionality of these setups.

Tier 1: Essentials

Google Home Mini ($79) or Amazon Echo Dot ($69) 

Security cam Wyze Cam Pan $60
Smart lock August Smart lock $258
Thermostat Honeywell T5 Thermostat $149
Smart home hub
Media streaming & entertainment Nvidia Shield TV and Controller $260
Sound system Yamaha YAS-108 $269
Total cost $996 

Assuming you already have a Google Home Mini or an Amazon Echo Dot, this is a fairly basic setup for your home, combining affordable options in each category without breaking the bank. The sound bar is the priciest component here, and even so is quite reasonable as far as sound systems go. A smart home hub is absent from the list, as you can get by just fine with a smartphone and Google Home Mini/Amazon Echo Dot.

Tier 2: Enthusiast

Google Home ($129) / Amazon Echo ($99)

Security cam Google Nest Cam $249
Smart lock Kwikset Kevo (2nd Gen) $200
Thermostat Ecobee4 $280
Smart home hub Samsung SmartThings Wifi $180
Media streaming & entertainment Xbox One S (All Digital) $300
Sound system Sonos Beam $499
Total cost $1,708

The “enthusiast” setup comes with a few more bells and whistles, and costs about $700 more. Your additional dollars get you a great gaming and media solution in the Xbox One S, as well as a dedicated smart home hub that makes management and automation of your system a bit easier.

Tier 3: Eh, who needs a budget anyway?

Sonos One – $249 CAD / Apple Home Pod ($399) / Google Home Max ($399) / Amazon Echo Plus ($199)

Security cam Arlo Ultra (4 cameras + receiver) $1,300
Smart lock August Smart Lock Pro $350
Thermostat Nest Learning Thermostat (3rd Gen)

Nest Sensors (3 pack)

$329

$125

Smart home hub Logitech Harmony Hub $130
Media streaming & entertainment Playstation 4 Pro $449
Sound system Sonos Playbase $899
Total cost $3,582

When money isn’t an issue, $3,582 (well, $4,000 if you include a smart speaker) can get you a lot of fun stuff. Interestingly, the only device that comes with a massive cost jump from the previous tier’s version is the Sonos Playbase. Other items, like the security cam and thermostat cost more largely because of the additional pieces. Those aside, the remaining “top-of-the-line” options aren’t especially pricey: you’re getting quality products for a commensurate increase in money. It’s not a cheap setup, true, but it’s not necessarily unaffordable.

Before you splurge

A smart home setup is only as useful as you need it to be. Certain devices (like smart locks) are straightforward to integrate and won’t inconvenience you terribly if they fail. Others, like security cameras, can easily land you in an expensive hole (with subscription fees, additional modules) if you don’t take the time to research what you’re buying. Moreover, the right device for you might involve tying yourself to one particular assistant like Alexa or Google Assistant (and that’s okay!). We intentionally found the most versatile pieces available for these tiers, but that doesn’t mean they’re automatically better than products designed with a particular compatibility in mind. Being spoiled for choice here is a good thing—as long as you put a bit of thought into it, you should have no problem finding a setup that works for you!

Note: This is for general information only. Prices do not include taxes and are subject to change. FCT does not endorse any of the products mentioned above.

Jamie Quadros

Freelance writer and communications professional at the University of Toronto. He’s an avid cinephile, voracious reader, and a terror at karaoke bars.

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