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Your first apartment after graduation is probably not your forever home, but you can make it something you’re proud of with gadgets that do your bidding. You can automate your lights, keep an eye on your pets and clean up your floors more efficiently with relatively affordable devices that won’t eat up too much of your paycheck. We’ve tried out a lot of smart home tech over the years and here’s what we recommend for newbies and those with tight budgets.
Echo Show 5
Amazon’s Echo Show 5 is a diminutive smart display often marketed as a bedside alarm clock, but it works equally well in small kitchens. You can play music, watch shows, check the news and weather and make video calls. Plus, with Alexa’s help, you can do all of that hands-free. But more importantly, the Show 5 can act as a smart dashboard of sorts, from which you can control connected devices and see feeds from security cameras. The Show 5 also acts as a digital photo frame when not in use and the built-in camera has a physical shutter for your privacy.
If you’ve got pets or just want extra peace of mind when you’re away, you might want to get an indoor security camera. Amazon’s Blink Mini cameras are some of the most affordable options around and they easily sync with other Alexa-enabled devices. They can deliver video feeds to your smartphone, Echo Show, Fire TV or any compatible screen, and they’ll send you an alert when their motion sensor detects disturbances. You can hear and talk to whoever’s in the room via the built-in mic and speakers as well – handy for telling your dog to get off the couch.
Roku Streaming Stick 4K
Roku’s Streaming Stick 4K turns any screen with an HDMI port into a smart TV for under $50. Our commerce writer, Nicole Lee, likes Roku’s straightforward interface and the fact that it supports universal search so you can find out which service a given show is playing on. Unlike some streaming sticks, Roku works with all the major voice assistants: Siri, Google Assistant and Alexa. You can even control your TV by saying “hey Roku” to the included remote or through the Roku app. The same app turns your phone into a second remote and enables private listening through your headphones as well. The 4K dongle is made for high-resolution screens, but if you don’t have a 4K TV and want to save more money, Amazon’s Fire TV Stick Lite is our favorite budget option.
Kasa Smart Bulbs
Connected bulbs might be the easiest way to turn your analog home into a “smart” one. A single smart light can ensure you never walk into a dark apartment again. You can set schedules for your daily routines or make it look like you’re home when you’re not. Being able to turn things off with just your voice or via an app can save you from getting out of bed when you’re ready to crash. Our senior commerce editor, Valentina Palladino tested a number of bulbs for our guide and thinks TP-Link’s Kasa Smart Bulbs give you the best value. Installation will be easy, even for those new to smart devices, thanks to Kasa’s clean and simple app. It’s worth noting that voice control is only available with Alexa or the Google Assistant; Siri is unfortunately incompatible.
Wyze Smart Plug
Like smart lights, smart plugs are affordable gadgets that can help you automate simple tasks around your home. You could program a fan to turn on before you get home from work or run a humidifier just before bed. If you have a basic on/off coffee maker, you can fill it with water and grounds the night before and wake up to a fresh pot of joe. Commerce writer Nicole picked Wyze’s Smart Plug for our smart home guide because it’s cheap, has an easy-to-use app and doesn’t hog the other outlet thanks to its thin profile.
iRobot Roomba 694
Senior commerce editor Valentina has tested more than a dozen robot vacuums and recommends iRobot’s Roomba 694 to anyone looking to keep their floors clean without spending too much money (or time). The company’s companion app is simple and probably the 694’s biggest selling point, guiding you through installation and programming. The vacuum can handle hard floors and carpet, and it runs for about 45 minutes on a charge, which should be enough for most smaller apartments. You’ll have to help it out when it gets snagged on a cable and empty the bin when it’s full, but other than that, it’s a fairly hands-off way to get cleaner floors.
Govee M1 RGBIC smart light strip
Nobody’s knocking Christmas lights as decor, but strip lights are a slightly classier way to add flair to your space. You can use them to light up bookcases, create ambiance for your streaming setup or turn your bedroom into a color-coordinated haven. Govee makes many different smart LED strips, but the one senior commerce editor Valentina recommends in our guide is the M1 RGBIC. She was impressed by the light’s brightness and wide spectrum of available hues. You can control different segments independently and the app has an “effects lab” that offers pre-programed lighting presets like sunsets, starry nights and movie-themed color palettes.
The Sonos Roam is both a smart and portable speaker, packing a decent amount of utility into a $180 package. While not the cheapest around, it’s relatively low-cost for Sonos, a brand known for quality audio. The Roam will play whichever music service you prefer, delivering clear highs and impressive bass for its size. Alexa is built in and you can access the Google Assistant too, which means you can use the speaker to order around your compatible smart home devices. And when it’s time to relax, you can ask Roam to play just about any song you can think of.
TP-Link AC1200 RE315 WiFi extender
Thick walls, weird layouts and other factors can make home WiFi reception spotty. If you’re experiencing dead zones in your apartment, a WiFi extender might help. TP-Link’s AC1200 RE315 is our favorite budget pick: it covers 1,500 square feet and delivers speeds of up to 1,200Mbps – plenty fast for streaming and working from home. It also has a built-in Ethernet port, which should provide an even more reliable connection to essential tech like your TV or game console.
Instant Pot Duo (3-quart)
Cooking for yourself is one of the bigger adjustments of adulting – it certainly was for me. Luckily a big batch of beans and rice can keep most humans alive for much longer than you’d think. The Instant Pot Duo cooks beans without soaking and makes fluffy rice; add a jar of salsa and you have a fairly well-rounded meal. Of course, it can cook more elaborate stuff too: search for Instant Pot recipes and you’ll get a lifetime’s worth of ideas. We recommend a larger version in our guide to kitchen gadgets, but this three-quart model is both more affordable and a better size for just one or two people.
Aria Air smart scale
Smart scales offer a more comprehensive view on your overall health, by presenting information like your body mass index and trends over time instead of just your weight. Our top budget pick is Fitbit’s Aria Air. It’s not as advanced as other options out there, but it tracks weight changes and gives you BMI metrics based on profile information. For $50, it’s a good entry-level scale that syncs nicely with an app that our senior editor, Daniel Cooper, says is very polished.