You've heard the buzz about the new "smart" home, one that is equipped with lighting, heating, and electronic devices that can be controlled remotely by phone or computer. You could easily get overloaded with stand-alone apps that remotely control your lights, your thermostat, even your crockpot. But smarter systems tie it all together. Here are some good ones we found.
AT&T Digital Life This professionally monitored home security and automation service is somewhat old-school -- when you arm it, the system sends alerts to a round-the-clock monitoring center and agents will contact you or emergency responders when needed. You can also receive alerts for burglary, fire, carbon monoxide, or medical emergency warnings. Through the digital app or the Digital Life website, you can set your security alarm, lock and unlock doors, access video cameras, turn on and off lights, and manage your thermostat remotely. (Custom pricing and professional installation required; att.com).
SmartThings Hub This expandable home-automation system begins with a basic hub that allows you to add on other modules as needed. From a single unifying platform, you can monitor or control lights, locks, appliances, electronics, and more, using the Apple or Android app. ($99 for hub plus the free app; smartthings.com).
Apple HomeKit This highly anticipated platform isn't out until fall 2014. When it debuts, it will allow users to control compatible individual third-party apps for locks, lights, cameras, doors, thermostats, plugs, and switches at home -- all brought together on a single iOS 8 app. On HomeKit you'll ideally be able to control individual smart-home apps on one interface, instead of toggling through your lighting app then your thermostat app then your house lock app. You can even group them together into a series of actions, according to Apple. Theoretically, you'd tell Siri you're going to bed, which would trigger lights off, thermostat down, and doors locked simultaneously, or use the geofencing feature to sense your approaching iPhone and switch on the porch light to welcome you. Acceptable third-party apps so far include Honeywell's smart thermostat, Cree lights, and Schlage locks. Look for Google to roll out a similar platform very soon with a list of direct competitors to those smart products, likely including Nest, which Google recently purchased. (www.apple.com).
Some fun extras to try:
MiPow Playbulb The LED bulbs in this system are 30-watt equivalents and double as Bluetooth speakers. Set lighting and music for specific times, such as wake-up, remotely control the light brightness and operation, and assemble your own playlist on the music player feature. ($79, mipow.com)
Nest Protect This combined detector tells you with actual words why it is beeping, whether it's detected noxious gas or an early warning for burning toast. And no more ripping out the battery to shut the thing up -- just tap the detector to quiet it down. A text alerts you to low batteries or problems when you're away, so no more annoying low-battery chirping, either. ($99; nest.com).
Honeywell Lyric The cool, round Nest finally has some competition with this smart thermostat from the industry powerhouse. You can change the temperature remotely, and a geofencing feature determines when you're coming home and adjusts accordingly according to your pre-sets (rather than the "learning" period of the Nest). A touchscreen displays the current temperature. When you're away, Lyric enters energy-saving mode. Available at Lowe's. ($279; Honeywell.com)