Ever since I watched the film Her back in 2013, I’ve been kind of obsessed with the concept of smart homes — the technology has the potential to create a very tangible change in our daily lives, and controlling your devices with nothing but your voice feels like the closest thing to living in a science fiction movie.
Of course, smart homes have literally been a thing for years, and the main reason why I haven’t jumped on the bandwagon sooner has been the price.
A 2-metre Philips Hue Lightstrip Plus starter kit, for example, costs S$129 on Lazada, and you’d probably have to spend upwards of S$500 to cover a single room with it.
Thankfully, we’ve reached a point where smart home technology has become a little more affordable, and these days you can give it a try without too high an investment.
So if you’re looking to give your room an upgrade, here are three devices (all tested by yours truly) that’ll help you get started on your smart home journey.
Yeelight Aurora Lightstrip Plus
‘Affordable’ and ‘reliable’ don’t usually mix, but Xiaomi’s extensive catalogue of products have more often than not been an exception to that rule — from power banks to electric scooters, the Chinese company has a pretty good track record of making electronics accessible to the masses.
It should come as no surprise, then, that their Yeelight Aurora Lightstrip Plus is the way to go when it comes to smart lights. At S$49 for a 2-metre starter kit, this is less than half the price of the aforementioned Philips Hue, and works just as well as its more expensive counterpart.
Considering that the Hue also requires a Philips Hue Bridge hub (that’ll set you back another S$66.50) to connect to your smartphone, the Yeelight is actually the more convenient option — just plug it into into an AC wall outlet, download the Yeelight or Mi Home app, and you’re pretty much good to go.
With a whopping 16 million colours at your disposal, these strips will quite literally put your room in a whole new light. Despite being extendable by up to 10 metres you shouldn’t expect them to replace your actual lights in terms of brightness, but as far as ambient lighting goes the Yeelight definitely gets the job done.
Google Home Mini
The Google Home is probably the most important part of your smart home setup — not only is it a voice-enabled Google search bar that can play music and set alarms, but it more importantly acts as a hub for all your smart devices.
Running on Google Assistant — which you might be familiar with if you’re using a Pixel phone — the Google Home has by far one of the most intelligent AI’s I’ve seen. “She” managed to answer some surprisingly obscure questions (“Play John Cena’s theme song on Spotify”), and could recognise commands even when my speech wasn’t that clear.
Of all its features, however, the most standout one has to be Google Home Routines, which allow you to line up multiple commands with a single phrase.
When I say “Okay Google, I’m up”, for example, my Google Home mini tells me the time, turns on the Yeelights, reminds me of any events I might have on my calendar, and then tells me the morning news. With similar commands for leaving the house and going to sleep, I’m able to turn everything in my room on and off without having to flip a single switch.
At S$189, the original Google Home is a pretty big investment for non-enthusiasts, but the S$79 Google Home Mini is a much easier pill to swallow. The main difference between the two is sound quality, but in my experience, the Mini is more than serviceable for the average bedroom.
Ambi Climate 2
So far we’ve been talking about adding devices to your room, but what about upgrading existing ones? Unless you’re moving into a new house, longstanding appliances like your air conditioner probably won’t be of the ‘smart’ variety.
And that’s where the Ambi Climate 2 comes in. Acting as a proxy for your remote (it’s compatible with over 1,200 models, so don’t worry), the device allows you to control your air conditioner with just your voice via Google Home.
On top of that, the Ambi Climate 2 also takes note of your feedback, and automatically adjusts the temperature to a comfortable level. Thanks to some cool machine learning the device will…well, learn your preferences, and make more accurate adjustments the more you use it.
With the Ambi Climate app you can control your air conditioner from pretty much anywhere, but its geofencing capabilities take things one step further. If you turn this feature on, the app can actually detect when you’re in the area and turn on the AC automatically, ensuring that you have a cool room even before entering the house.
If there’s one argument against the Ambi Climate 2, it would be its price — at S$189, it’s more expensive than the Yeelight and Google Home Mini combined, and its usage is a lot more singular as compared to those two.
By regulating the temperature of your room, however, you might be saving on your energy bill in the long run (by up to 30%, according to them), and this is the final piece of the puzzle to having a completely voice-activated room (barring an automatic door, but I’m not holding my breath for that one).
If you have the dough to spare, the Ambi Climate 2 should be one of the first additions to your setup.
Welcome To The Future
Smart rooms are by no means a necessity — their functions can easily be circumvented with your already-intelligent phone, or flipping a few switches like you’ve been doing your entire life.
The convenience that these devices provide, however, has definitely improved my quality of life, and I honestly don’t think I could go back to a time without it.
We have reached a point where pretty much everything is serviceable (even the cheapest smartphones will do the trick these days), so this truly feels like the next logical step when it comes to technology.