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Ultimate ‘smart’ home holiday gift guide 2016

With the right products, a "smart" home can make life easier and safer. .
With the right products, a "smart" home can make life easier and safer. . Wink

The holidays are quickly approaching and if you have a techie on your shopping list you may be struggling to find something unique for them. I have tested and added many new connected products to my house over the last year and have come up with the ultimate “smart” home gift guide for 2016.

A smart home starts at the door

There is nothing more frustrating than fumbling with keys when you’re trying to enter your house. A smart lock helps solve this issue. I previously had a Kevo lock installed but found its features didn’t age well after my initial recommendation. After researching a few other brands, I upgraded to the Schlage Connect Touchscreen Deadbolt ($229 at Lowe’s, Home Depot).

READ MORE: Expecting a new gadget from Santa? Take these steps to properly secure it

The Schlage Connect Touchscreen Deadbolt replaces a standard deadbolt with a stylish-looking touchpad that allows you to program personal identification numbers (PINs) for each member of your home (or for guests), making keys a thing of the past (locking the door is as a simple as pressing the Schlage logo on the touchpad). It can also be linked to a Wink Hub (see below) to give you full control of your lock via a smartphone.

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Besides your lock, adding a connected doorbell is another great option to make your home smarter. I highly recommend the Ring Video Doorbell ($249 at Best Buy, Home Depot), which notifies you if it detects motion and allows you to answer and have a two-way conversation via your smartphone if someone presses the doorbell button when you’re not home. It also lets you see a live view of the front of your house whenever you wish. For US$3 a month you can also have videos saved to the cloud whenever motion is detected.

Lamps, light bulbs, switches, oh my!

One of the top things people tell me they want a smart home to do is control their lights. And there’s really nothing on the market that gives you better control than the Philips Hue line of bulbs.

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The Philips Hue white ambiance starter kit ($129.99 at Best Buy, Home Depot) comes with two connected A19 LED bulbs (aka regular bulbs), the Philips Hue hub and a remote that can be wall-mounted. Via the Hue smartphone app you can adjust the bulbs to over 50,000 different shades of white ranging from warm to cold temperatures. You can also set different scenes and link the bulbs to Apple products, giving you control of your lights via Siri (they also work with Nest and Wink products).

You can add up to 50 Hue bulbs and 12 accessories to one bridge. Adding bulbs that handle colour ($49.99 ea. at Best Buy, Home Depot) and a Hue LightStrip Plus ($89.99 at Best Buy, Home Depot) to the starter kit is great for easy holiday decorating as well. The Hue motion sensor ($39.99 at Best Buy, Home Depot) allows you to set certain lights to come on during specific times (I use mine to have a light come on in “nightlight” mode after midnight in case my kids wake up during the night).

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Lutron’s Caseta wireless plug-in dimmer with remote ($69.99, Home Depot) lets you control existing lamps around your house. The plug can control and dim up to two compatible lamps with the included remote. If you want more control, you can add a Caseta smart bridge ($99.99, Home Depot) and manage the lamps individually via the Lutron app or via voice commands on select Apple products. The Caseta wireless plug-in dimmer can also be paired with the Wink Hub (see below).

Lutron also makes an in-wall connected dimmer switch ($64.98, Home Depot), which replaces a regular wall switch and gives you full control of your hardwired lighting when paired with a Caseta smart bridge or Wink Hub. I use one to dim my outdoor lights and another for my basement pot lights.

Not a connected product, but IKEA’s line of VARV lamps are smart for a different reason – they are also wireless chargers. Set your Qi-compatible device (phone or phone in a wireless charging case, for instance) on the base of the lamp and it will charge the battery. I have the VARV table lamp ($79.99) beside my bed and besides being a nice-looking lamp, it’s a huge bonus not having to fuss with a cable when I’m half asleep (the lamp does have a USB port if you want to charge an additional device with it as well). IKEA’s full line of lamps and furniture with wireless charging capabilities are all great gift ideas as well.

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Take total control

After you start adding smart products to your home you will quickly be annoyed with having to open multiple apps to control everything. That’s where something like the Wink ecosystem comes in.

By adding a Wink Hub or Wink Hub 2 ($99, Home Depot), you will be able to take control of all your devices in one place and it works whether you’re at home or not. Hue bulbs, Schlage locks, Ring doorbells, Lutron switches and plugs, Nest thermostats and alarms, plus a slew of other products are all supported.

One of the best features of the Wink ecosystem is the ability to create “robots” so that your products work together in ways you only dreamed of in the past. One “robot” I created turns on all the lights in my home if my Nest Protect goes off. Another turns on my outdoor lights if the Ring detects motion at my door in the middle of the night. The possibilities are endless.

Wink also makes the Wink Relay ($99, Home Depot); a handy touchscreen panel that gives you control of your connected devices from an iPhone-size screen on the wall.

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The Wink Relay replaces a single or double gang light switch and, along with the touchscreen, has two physical buttons that can be programmed to control in-wall lights or connected devices. The touchscreen gives an overview of the weather outside and temperature inside, can control connected devices with on-screen shortcuts and has the ability to track your FitBit data or order an Uber. It also acts as an intercom if you have more than one Wink Relay in your house.

Apple’s Home app is another option for controlling your devices but currently only supports a few products (Philips Hue bulbs and some Lutron switches and plugs are supported) and requires an Apple TV or iPad in your house if you want to control things when you’re not home. The bonus of the Home app is you can use Siri to voice control devices, which is great for turning on or off lights.

Keep it connected

A smart home means having many devices trying to connect to your network at once and without the proper router, you will experience Wi-Fi dropouts and slower Internet speeds as everything struggles to use your bandwidth.

A MU-MIMO (which stands for multi-user, multi-input, multi-output) router, such as the TP-Link Archer C3150 ($367 at Best Buy), handles many devices with no bottlenecks or dropouts. It has solid range and is easy to set up and manage with their app. It also has parental and advanced security controls, two USB ports that can be used for connecting a shared printer or hard drive and four Gigabit Ethernet ports.

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A lot of these devices require their own hubs, which usually connect via Ethernet ports. And while I prefer the TP-Link Archer C3150 for its wireless capabilities, a router like the Linksys Max-Stream AC5400 ($499 at Best Buy) comes loaded with eight Gigabit Ethernet ports. It’s also a solid MU-MIMO wireless router that offers great range and easy setup. It too has parental controls and two USB ports for printer or hard drive sharing.

The Linksys Max-Stream AC5400 has a total of eight Gigabit Ethernet ports.
The Linksys Max-Stream AC5400 has a total of eight Gigabit Ethernet ports. Linksys

Mesh networks are the future of home networking and nothing in this realm is as approachable yet as Netgear’s Orbi Wireless AC3000 ($549 at Best Buy, Staples). The standard Orbi kit comes with a base and a satellite router. It covers up to 4000 sq. ft., doesn’t look like a typical router you want to hide in a closet and is very easy to set up and manage. The base router has three Gigabit Ethernet ports and the satellite has four. Both have a USB port for printer or hard drive sharing.

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Watch over it all

While the Ring Video Doorbell does a good job detecting and alerting you of motion at the front of your house, to truly keep your home secure you need a dedicated security camera. And there are two recent options on the market that are both great.

The Nest Cam Outdoor ($249 at Best Buy) is a weatherproof 1080p Wi-Fi camera that monitors your home 24/7, alerts you of motion and gives you two-way audio capabilities so you can talk to someone making a delivery or snooping around outside. With an added Nest Aware account you get a 10-day ($10 a month) or 30-day ($30 a month) video history stored in the cloud along with the ability to create and save clips.

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Unlike the Nest Cam Outdoor, which requires an outlet for power, the Arlo Pro is a completely wireless rechargeable outdoor camera. It’s weatherproof, has night vision capabilities, two-way audio, stores seven days worth of video in the cloud for free and also has the ability to store video locally to a USB drive connected to its base station. The Arlo Pro is available at Best Buy in a single pack for $329 or a double pack for $499.

Both the Nest Cam Outdoor and Arlo Pro are easy to set up and manage, but neither currently work with the Wink or Apple Home ecosystems. Wink says they are looking into both as other Nest and Arlo cameras work with them.

Smart doesn’t just mean connected

Having a smart home isn’t just about hi-tech connected devices. One of the smartest things in my home is my Moen Delaney MotionSense touchless kitchen faucet ($329 at Lowe’s), which is both a beautiful and functional kitchen upgrade.

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With two sensors, you can wave your hand over the top to turn it on (great for when you’re preparing chicken) or put a pot underneath to fill it. It’s also very easy for kids to use to wash their hands without making a huge mess trying to grab the handle (you can also control the faucet with the handle if you wish).

The Moen Delaney MotionSense kitchen faucet comes in a spotless stainless steel finish with a pulldown nozzle. It includes everything needed to install and because it only requires six AA batteries, installation is very simple. It also comes with a soap dispenser that can be mounted under your sink.

The Kohler Sensate touchless pulldown faucet is another stunning option in this area. Available on the Kohler website in polished chrome ($1044), vibrant stainless ($1252) and oil-rubbed bronze ($1319), it has one sensor and requires a power outlet located under your kitchen sink to work, making it a bit more difficult to install.

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SOUND OFF: Do you have a smart home product you want this holiday season? Plan to give someone one? Share your thoughts in the comments below or on our Facebook page.