Here at PCMag, we test every type of smart home device on the market, including door locks, light bulbs, microwaves, plugs and power strips, security cameras, video doorbells, and many more. We install these devices in our actual homes, where we perform hands-on testing and compare them with similarly priced alternatives. We rate each product based on its features, interoperability with other smart products and standards, performance, and price.
If you’re planning to outfit your home with the latest smart tech, this is what we look for in each product category. We also have separate pages for how test robot vacuums and smart displays.
We review many different smart appliances, including air conditioners, air purifiers, and kitchen gadgets.
For air conditioners, we evaluate the difficulty of the installation process and how the AC connects to your phone. We also test scheduling and preset options, voice commands, and interoperability with other smart devices. Most importantly, we time how long it takes for the AC to cool down a room.
With air purifiers, we evaluate the installation and configuration process, as well as factor in available features such as how many air quality measurements are offered and how loud each unit gets. We time how long it takes for the purifier to scrub a room of pollutants, too.
Kitchen gadgets and ovens typically require lots of hands-on testing that may include cooking meals; using preset one-touch cooking methods; loading recipes from a database; and using a mobile app and voice commands to prepare a meal from start to finish. It probably goes without saying that this is one of the most enjoyable product categories to test.
These aren't the only appliances we test, but many of the things we look for remain the same. We provide in-depth comparisons and testing details in each of our reviews, so you'll never be left wondering which product is right for your home.
Testing smart light bulbs involves evaluating the installation process, light quality, connectivity options, integrations, and companion app controls. We start by downloading the mobile app, adding the bulb or light strip to the app’s device list, and giving it a name. If we're testing a lighting kit, we install all of the bulbs in the package and assign them to a group.
For color bulbs, we test any preprogrammed color presets and create custom ones to see how the bulb performs and to gauge its color quality. We do the same for white color temperature bulbs to evaluate warm and cool temperature settings. We run several tests through the mobile app to see how responsive the bulb is (how quickly it responds to commands) and test voice commands if the bulb supports Alexa, Google, or Siri services. We also run routines or scenes to see how the bulb interacts with other smart devices, and test its ability to follow usage schedules.
Testing smart locks can be a bit more involved than most other smart home devices, because we usually have to remove an existing lock assembly in the process. Here, we look for things like well-documented installation instructions and thoughtfully designed mobile apps that walk you through the process.
We test the accuracy of their fingerprint scanners and the responsiveness of their touchpads, plus features such as voice controls, access schedules, auto-lock options, and geofencing. Additionally, we run Alexa and/or Google routines to see how the lock works with other smart devices such as cameras and lights.
To test smart plugs, we start by downloading the companion app and creating a home account. Next, we evaluate the simplicity of the installation process. Most plugs require you to only pop them into a wall outlet. You can then add them to the app by pressing a pairing button or by connecting the device to your home network.
We test how well the plug responds to commands from the mobile app and the manual control button, as well as its ability to work with supported voice commands. If the plug works with other smart devices such as door locks, doorbells, and security cameras, we configure another device to trigger it via a routine or a scene, and evaluate how seamlessly that process works.
We also create schedules to see how well the plug follows them. If it reports power usage, we compare the plug’s energy readings to those from a competing plug or a power meter.
To test indoor and outdoor security cameras, we install them according to either the print or in-app instructions. We take into account the installation difficulty, whether it requires wiring, the availability of mounting options, and the setup length. When we evaluate a camera’s features, we consider its design (including the IP rating) and video resolution, plus look for things like two-way audio; Wi-Fi connectivity; color night vision; motion and sound detection; and intelligent alerts that distinguish between motions from people, cars, and animals. We also note how the cameras store motion-triggered recordings (locally, in the cloud, or both) and if storage and advanced features cost extra.
When we evaluate the image quality, we look for pincushion or barrel distortion, night vision illumination quality, picture sharpness, and color saturation. Finally, if the camera supports Alexa or Google voice commands or works with Apple HomeKit, we test its ability to stream to a display hub and how it integrates with other connected smart devices such as locks, lights, and plugs.
We test DIY home security systems that you install and manage yourself, as well as those that require professional installation. In addition to pricing and features, we base our DIY system ratings on how difficult it is to install individual components, such as door or window and motion sensors. We also consider factors such as the size of the components; response time (how long a sensor takes to send an alert after a triggering event); and the price and availability of add-on components. In addition, we factor in the price for professional monitoring, any contractual requirements, and any additional features that monitoring options unlock, including a companion mobile app or free storage for recordings.
We also test sensor response times for professionally installed systems, as well as evaluate the ordering process. We note how long it takes for a technician to complete the installation, plus their professionalism and knowledge of the product. Other factors include the availability of battery and cellular backup options; any contractual obligations (including early termination fees); and, of course, the price.
When we test video doorbells, we start by evaluating how easy it is to install the device, especially if it requires working with low-voltage electrical wiring. If the doorbell is powered by a battery, we note how long the battery is supposed to last between charges and the difficulty of the recharging process.
We put the camera through the same image quality, motion detection, and two-way talk tests that we use for indoor and outdoor security cameras, plus look for features such as voice control, integrations with third-party devices, and head-to-toe aspect ratio. We also evaluate the mobile app, and consider video storage options and any applicable subscription fees.
Overwhelmed with choices? Our interactive guide to the best smart devices helps you pick the right products for each room in your home.
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