Smart Devices Make Great Gifts. Or Do They?

by Steve Secor

Human Connection

As you’ll see in every big box retailer’s post-holiday ads right now, smart home gadgets are everywhere. You can find deals on smart speakers, smart bulbs and smart doorbells. Still, gifting someone a smart home product can feel intimidating because there are a lot of factors at play. Are they team Amazon, Google or Apple? What devices do they already have?

Which Smart Home Devices Make Great Gifts?
Smart home products run the gamut from sophisticated speakers and web-enabled displays, to simple countertop toaster ovens and even coffee makers.

Today’s most popular smart home products include:

  • Google Home Hub
  • Amazon Echo 
  • Philips Hue smart bulbs
  • August door lock
  • Ecobee Thermostat
  • Nest Hello doorbell

If your giftee doesn’t have any smart home products, start with a smart speaker, such as an Amazon Echo Dot or Google Home Mini. Both take up very little room, but come with all of the same features as their full-sized counterparts.

Amazon or Google?
Picking the right smart speaker to give starts with figuring out if it requires an account with Google and Amazon.

Does your recipient have an Android phone and/or use Google for their email, calendar, maps and more? A Google Home speaker is a great fit and set up will be easy because they already have a Google account. If you’re buying a smart speaker for someone who shops on Amazon frequently, the line of Echo speakers is a good choice. They can even use it to buy items from Amazon (plus a whole lot more).

The kind of smart home experience you get also depends on your phone. A particular connected home device might not work as well on an Android handset versus an iPhone. One version of a product’s app may have bugs galore, or missing features.

You can get pretty darn specific here. There might not even be an Android or iOS application at all. For instance, the Motif Mentor smart coffee scale lacks an Android app (iOS only). And the WinkBed smart mattress has an Android app that barely works, while its iPhone software is quite stable.

I recommend asking what type of phone the receiver of your gift has. Then confirm that there’s matching and problem-free software available for your smart home gadget. Like I usually am with many members of my family, be prepared to help set up, give tutorials and be ready to offer as much support as your life will allow.

What Operating System Do They Use/Prefer?
Maybe your giftee already has an Echo or Google Home speaker. Finding out what they already have can help you pick the right gift. For instance, say they already have multiple Amazon Echo speakers, and perhaps a Fire TV. Giving a Ring doorbell is the way to go. That’s because Ring is an Amazon brand and is plugged tightly into its platform of connected products.

The opposite is the case for people with various Google Home devices, including a Nest thermostat. In that case, the best smart doorbell for them is the Nest Hello.

Smart light bulbs are little more forgiving. The two most popular brands, Philips Hue and Lifx, work with systems in both camps. However, some lighting systems — Philips Hue and Lutron — require separate networking hubs to function. If a hub like this already sits at home, gifting a compatible light source makes the best sense. To learn more about which devices work with others, check out this nifty smart home product compatibility matrix.

It’s All About the Network
A smart home device linked to bad home Wi-Fi isn’t much use. Make sure that special someone you’d like to give to also has an adequate network. Even a basic Echo Dot or Google Home Mini can’t run on a slow internet connection out in the sticks. The same is true for weak signals in far-flung basements or upper floors.

As you can see, there are many factors involved in choosing the right “smart” devices to give to your family members or friends. But if you’re armed with the right questions and information, you’ll be all the wiser in your decision making.