Building a cheap smart home can be daunting, there are plenty of brands on the market that charge extortionate prices for their products (Looking at you Philips Hue). But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a fully functioning Smart Home at an affordable price with a little work.
Luckily, with each year that passes, Smart Home technology gets better and cheaper in general. For example, Amazon’s Echo (4th generation) is not only a fantastic sounding Smart Hub but it is also a Zigbee Hub, additionally, it’s at an affordable price and is regularly on sale.
This means you can purchase cheaper Smart Bulbs, Switches, Plugs, and any other Smart Home tech as long as it communicates over a Zigbee connection.
Note: Plenty of cheaper alternatives to the bigger brands are poorly built and can often break quicker, but there are some hidden gems that are a fantastic alternative.
Obviously, the best time to be looking is during a sale and I generally recommend Amazon for Smart Home Goods, whilst they do hold some cheap off-brand products, they also tend to be pretty good quality and more often than not, just reskins of other well-done products.
The best budget Smart Hub / Voice assistant is the Amazon Echo (4th Generation) which swept the Smart Home Market by storm.
This fantastic Smart Voice Assistant offers full Zigbee compatibility, fantastic sound quality, features from the prior Echo generations, and a sleek design all for under $100/£100.
This is the first of its new design and whilst it may seem odd or out of place, it’s very aesthetic and great to the touch, buttons are very responsive and I can’t see these wearing out any time soon.
If you use your voice assistant with another speaker you will need a 3.5mm audio cable, but honestly, with the quality of the speakers, this shouldn’t be necessary.
Due to being an Amazon product, this will likely be cheaper or have better bundles during the Amazon Prime Day & Black Friday Sales.
Aqara is a pretty good brand that has risen through the ranks, it offers great products from Smart Switches, Motion sensors, Cameras, and their M2 Hub.
All of Aqara’s products work with the Amazon Alexa, Google Home & Apple Homekit ecosystems which means this can simply be dropped in and work.
Whilst the Aqara hub boasts that it can have up to 128 “child” devices, you can only add 32 devices until you need to add additional Relays. These relays will add an additional 16 child devices to your hubs repertoire.
If you’re looking for something to work with your “dumb technology”, you’ll be happy to know the M2 Hub has an IR transmitter built-in which means you can control your old Televisions, Fans, and game consoles with your voice.
This was the best Smart Hub that we recommended prior to the 4th Generation Echo Dot and with good reason.
This Smart Hub offers Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee & Z-wave connectivity making it compatible with pretty much every device in the market. Whilst it still has the Samsung brand in its name it was actually taken over by Aeotec who now creates the hub. This means you may find it on the market as the “Aeotec Smart Home Hub”
Whilst slightly more expensive than the Amazon Echo Dot (4th Generation), it does offer more in terms of connectivity.
Sengled is the brand we dropped the Philips Hue for, it provides top-quality products at an affordable price. Most Sengled bulbs operate on a Zigbee network so it does need a hub. Luckily, you can use the Amazon Echo (4th Generation +) and the Samsung SmartThings hub & it is also compatible with both Alexa & Google Assistant.
It’s worth noting the Sengled bulbs don’t relay one another, as such you will not be able to continue the signal for the reach of your bulbs.
There are varying options for the Sengled Bulb, this particular option allows you to connect to your router and not a hub, but this changes based on the model you buy.
The Sengled Bulbs have a great color depth to them, whilst this isn’t as good as the Philips Hue bulbs color, they are incredibly good for their price range.
The Sengled App is incredibly sleek, although, not perfect. We did find occasional issues with interactivity delay, i.e pressing a button had considerable lag when loading another area of the app. Although, the response between the app and the bulb was incredibly quick.
If you live in the UK, the Sengled bulbs start at £10, in the US you can grab a pack of 4 for $24.
Xiaomi hit the western world by storm, they were pretty popular in Asia prior but no one would have seen this odd-looking branded bulb hit homes in the capacity that it has and with good reason. The Mi LED WiFi Smart Bulb isn’t as curvy as its competition but offers similar if not better results than some of the competition on the market.
One thing that grows on you is the weird pear-shaped design along with a majority coated finished that doesn’t let the light out, but don’t let this fool you. This bulb is incredibly bright and durable.
The Mi LED Wi-Fi Bulb is incredibly heavy, so if you are planning on grabbing one but need an adapter (For B22 to E27) definitely don’t cheap out at the risk of having the bulb become loose and drop.
Incredibly, you do not need a separate hub or bridge for this bulb, it’s entirely Wi-Fi & Bluetooth based which means you connect to it via your phone to set it up. Once you plug the bulb in simply download the app and connect to the Bulb with a new Mi Account.
The Xiaomi Mi LED has an interesting App, choosing colors is incredibly fun and setting rooms is very intuitive, I’ve not seen another app on the market that makes setting this up as easy as it is. An additional feature I’m incredibly happy with is that you can add presets for bulbs/rooms as home screen buttons on your Smart Phone, rather than having to open the app each time.
The Roku Express really shocked us, I hadn’t used one in a considerably long time until picking one up again a few years ago.
The Roku Express has near enough 0 adverts, this makes the User Interface incredibly speedy, sleek and very intuitive. Unlike the Amazon Firestick.
You can install varying apps such as YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, Disney Plus and also third-party apps like 123Movies if that’s your kind of thing.
Unlike the Amazon Firestick, The Roku Express has a fantastic Wireless Range (802.11n Single-band at least). In our bedroom through 2 concrete walls our Firestick fails to connect via 5GHz, however, the Roku stick has no trouble whatsoever on and off 5GHz.
Amazon’s Fire Stick is likely the one you’ve heard of most, it’s on sale regularly throughout the year and offers almost everything other streaming sticks offer.
With this being said, the Amazon Software will ram adverts down your throat regularly and this has become increasingly frustrating since moving to the Roku Streaming Stick (We’ll go into that shortly).
If you’re happy with Amazon Adverts, then this stick is probably one of the cheapest on the market with the features it offers. For example, you can get cheaper iterations like the Fire TV Stick Lite which offers a lot less in terms of features on the remote but is not too different software-wise.
If you’re looking for a native 4K resolution it won’t come with the Fire TV Stick Lite or the standard Fire TV Stick but the more expensive Fire TV Stick 4K. You don’t necessarily need a 4K Fire Stick just because you have a 4K TV, but it does help with the quality.
Blink has been a favorite camera brand from us, it provides great quality at an affordable price (Although not as cheap as the Ryze camera). On a budget, this camera works great outdoors and is incredibly weather-resistant (IP65 Weather resistant).
The battery life typically lasts two years on two AA lithium batteries, although this varies based on your camera’s activity or motion detection.
This does come at an additional addon price which is the Blink Subscription Plan for storing videos in the cloud, however, it doesn’t cost anything to keep the footage locally on the device.
Ring was extremely popular for their Doorbell but they’ve since branched out into further hardware and it has just as good quality across the board.
There are varying versions, one which is Plug-In, the other is battery powered and come in two colors; Black & White. Both of which are the same price so you only need to worry about your home aesthetics!
The motion detection is incredibly fast and will ping your phone in a matter of seconds (Assuming you have a solid connection), we’ve not tested this with more cameras on a network but given this is remote I don’t believe this should impact responsiveness.
If you wish to have recorded footage that you can share and review constantly you will need the Ring Protect subscription plan which is an additional fee, but everything is then kept on the cloud which is incredibly easy to obtain.