Amazon's Echo Plus proved that it can be easy to set up Home Automation in 2017
WINNER: Amazon Echo Plus
There are quite a few break out stars in the home automation or smart home market in 2017, but we have to give the award to the Echo Plus. While the Echo Plus may look a lot like the original Echo from 2014 on the outside, it is definitely not the same on the inside. Amazon did quite a few changes with the Echo Plus from the original Echo, but the biggest one is the built-in hub. This is specifically for smart home products. Seeing as a number of products need a hub to connect to each other and be used together, like Philips Hue' lights, and that hub is about $70, having that hub built into the Echo Plus makes things easier and cheaper. So users can pick up the Amazon Echo Plus and gain voice functionality as well as a working smart home hub. It also works with Z-Wave, so products that are Z-Wave compatible will work with the Echo Plus, without a Z-Wave Hub, which is nice to see. Even if you have lights or plugs that don't need a hub, maybe a pair of LIFX bulbs or a Wemo smart plug, you can still take advantage of the Echo Plus' hub functionality. When you plug in the smart plug, a light bulb or anything else, the Echo Plus will also look around for new products and walk you through the setup process, so you won't need to open up and download several different apps to get things set up. Making it much simpler to get your smart home setup and going.
The Hub functionality is the big differentiator from the second generation Echo as well. But that's not all that the Echo Plus does well. It also has improved audio. Now the original Echo did already do some pretty good audio, but the Echo Plus has its audio tuned by Dolby Atmos, so you're getting some incredible audio out of the Amazon Echo Plus, which is going to sound great when you're listening to music at home or at work. Audio is still 360-degrees, so it's pretty easy to fill up an entire room with the Echo Plus' music capabilities.
Of course, you can't talk about the Echo Plus and not speak about Alexa. Echo Plus does indeed have Alexa inside, and she has definitely improved over the past year, both in terms of what she can do, and how she understands your commands. Alexa has over 10,000 skills available that you can enable and get different functionality from Alexa. It can do basically everything from answering simple questions, to reading the latest news headlines and even ordering you a ride with Uber, total Home Automation. Alexa can do a ton of things, and has really gotten a lot more useful. And with the Echo Plus, it's hard not to use Alexa for just about everything, including using Alexa to set a timer when you're cooking or looking up a recipe.
Runner-up: Google Home Mini
Google, this year, decided to launch a couple more Google Home options, debuting a larger version in the Google Home Max and then a smaller one in the Google Home Mini. The Google Home Mini made our runner-up pick this year due to a few reasons, but the biggest one being its price. The Google Home mini retails for about $49 normally. Which is a great price for this smart speaker that has the Google Assistant built-in and will help get their foot into your Home Automation plans. It comes in three colors, and is actually fairly small. So you could easily place it on a shelf or on a table somewhere in your home. The Google Home Mini, as you'd expect, has Google Assistant inside and it can do basically everything that the Google Home can do already. That means that it can answer questions you might ask it, it can also control your smart home and so much more. All you have to do is say "OK Google" to get started. Now the Google Home Mini is not going to be the best option for streaming music, but for such a small speaker, it actually works really well. You can stream all of your favorite music on here like Spotify, Google Play Music, Pandora and many more.
Honorable Mention: Nest Secure
Nest actually held its first launch event this year, in San Francisco, and announced the Nest Secure for Home Automation. Now this isn't just one product, Nest Secure is actually a system made up of three products: Nest Guard, Nest Detect and Nest Tag. But it's an ecosystem that Nest is selling that will allow you to keep your home safe. The Nest Detect works on windows and doors and will alert you to a window or door being opened. The Nest Tag works to let you into your home without setting off the alarm, and the Nest Guard is basically the alarm system. With the Nest Tags, you won't need to worry about remembering the pin code to get into the home. You can also opt to remove someone from the Nest Guard, even if they have a Nest Tag. So for instance, if you have someone watching your home while you are on vacation, you can remove their access as soon as you get home, so they aren't popping by when you're asleep or something. Given how easy Nest products are to get setup and use, it's no wonder why the Nest Secure is getting an honorable mention this year in our awards. It's a great system that is going to keep everyone safe, and not give anyone a headache in setting up.