Stylish and essential smart home tech additions for the modern home

Creating a smarter home doesn't require ripping your walls open or spending your life savings. Modern smart devices make home automation a virtual breeze.

Want your lights to go on every night at 6PM and turn off every night at 12AM? No problem. Need more control over your home's heating and energy habits? We've got you covered. Looking for a sassy robot maid to clean your home and cook your meals? Cool your heels, George Jetson, we'll get there someday.

However, in lieu of Rosie the Robot, we've pieced together a starter guide to 5 of our favorite living room devices to smarten up your home.

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1. Nest Smart Thermostat: $249.99

The Nest thermostat blasted onto the market in 2011 and was a serious disruption to the status quo in home temperature control.

The basic premise of the device is simple: control and program your home heating and air conditioning system based upon how you actually live. There have been 3 versions of Nest since 2011. The current third generation device comes stock with a number of energy saving features designed to cut down on energy costs, such as seasonal savings1 and rush hour rewards2.

The Nest also integrates with other smart home devices and third party control applications - such as IFTTT. The customizations for Nest are many and varied. But, if you're looking for a place to start, check out our article on 3 ways a Nest thermostat helps optimize your energy usage.

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2. Amazon Echo: $179.99

Speaking of talking robots, the Amazon Echo smart speaker is just about the closest thing you'll find to a sentient being on this list.

At the core of this home automation hub is "Alexa", a sing-songy female robot voice that serves as the device's "personality." The Echo uses voice recognition technology to respond to various commands. The Echo can play music, read the news, order items from Amazon, and wake you up in the morning.

The Echo integrates with almost every other smart device on this list, allowing you to activate your whole home or apartment without pushing a single button.

The list of commands that Alexa responds to is ever expanding. If you're looking for a few of our favorite starter integrations, get started with the Amazon Echo here.

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3. Sonos Play 3 Wi-Fi Speaker: $299

Bob Marley once said, "one good thing about music, once it hits, you feel no pain" and he was right.

But that was in the 70's, when a bulky 8 track player was the top tech of the day. These days music is a portable and omnipresent experience of modern living. And the Sonos Play 3 is one of the top wireless players on the market. These days music doesn't just dull pain, it is a bona fide happenstance of joy.

Oh Bob, we wish you could have lived to see this.

Sonos puts a high premium on user experience. Once you plug your Sonos player in, the app that you use to control it is intuitive and well designed. The app itself pairs easily to most major music streaming services including Spotify, Pandora and Rhapsody.

Sonos works on your wireless network so you can pair multiple speakers to each other for a full stereo effect, or play separate music on each one. The sound quality of a Sonos is excellent. In spite of its size, it does not sacrifice any low or high end fidelity. All musical genres played well through the Sonos when we tested it.

As of now there are a limited amount of third party integrations with Sonos. However, in addition to the Echo integrations we mentioned, Sonos has been hinting at new tech strides on the horizon3. Stay tuned.

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4. Philips Hue Smart Light Starter Kit: $149.99

When you think of your home's lighting system, the word "fun" probably something pops into your head.

Most of you probably think of how often the bulbs burn out or how much needless energy they use. Well, Philips is trying to change lighting's stuffy image forever and make lighting exciting with their Hue smart bulbs. And they're doing a pretty good job at it, too.

This Philips Hue starter kit comes with 3 energy efficient LED bulbs, as well as the bridge that allows you to link them to your wireless network. The bulbs themselves use anywhere between 8.5 and 9 watts of power. However, the illumination they provide is easily comparable to a 50 watt incandescent bulb. The Hue bulbs can also change color to an almost infinite combination of color schemes, which is one of the coolest parts about owning them.

You can control Hue bulbs from an app on your phone. Select from pre-programmed lighting schemes including a deep red and pink "Savanna sunset" and a cool blue "Arctic array." Custom integrations with both Echo and IFTTT give you even more control over your color choices. The app also lets you easily program the lights to turn on and turn off at certain times of the day.

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5. August Smart Lock: $229

There are a number of smart locks on the market today, and they each have their individual merits.

However, what may set the August smart lock apart from the pack right now is the number of integrations with other devices that it is capable of. The August device itself attaches to the deadbolt on the inside of your door, making installation relatively easy. The device pairs through bluetooth with your mobile device, and makes keyless entry possible.

If you want to take it a step further you can purchase the August connect and sync your door lock to your home WiFi. This little addition opens up the device to all sorts of new integrations.

The Verge published an - admittedly funny - piece about the August's integration with the Amazon Echo4. We'll spare you a click and tell you that the gist of the article was "For hundreds of dollars, you too can lock your door with your voice."

Is it really that useful to be able to lock your door with your voice? We must admit, it is likely not. However, what is useful is August's suite of features that allows you to track activity at your door, make virtual keys for guests, and lock itself behind you as you leave.

Smart home technology has grown by leaps and bounds just over the past 5 years, and it is showing no signs of slowing down. Stay tuned here at Inspire for more reviews on some of the most user-friendly devices we've tested.

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