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Smart home tech made easy: practical gadgets for beginners

If you haven't jumped on the smart home trend yet, the new year gives you a new opportunity to do so. While smart home tech can be intimidating, if you are not particularly tech-savvy, there are gadgets that are both easy to set up and use, and are practical. No bridges required, no complicated installations - just your new smart home device, a Wi-Fi connection and your phone. Let's get into it!

Many lists aimed at beginners include a huge variety of smart bulbs, locks or security cameras, but often enough they are not particularly easy to use or set up by the average consumer. Not only that - most potential users are concerned about their privacy and security, especially when they are inexperienced with this new technology. This is why you won't find any cameras or smart locks on this list.

Google Home Mini

Yes, we had to include a smart speaker on the list. Although many online call them 'spies' and have reasonable privacy concerns, these devices can make your life easier in numerous ways. Our speaker of choice is the Google Home Mini, a discreet and affordable smart speaker.

What can you use it for? Checking traffic and weather forecasts in the morning, while getting ready is one of the best features it provides. However, my personal favorite is listening to podcasts or audio books - the ability to pause or change the speed of playback with your voice is incredibly useful.

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Google Home Mini is quite small, as the name suggests. / © tink

Besides, the Google Home Mini is super easy to set up. You only need the Google Home app - it will automatically detect your Home Mini when it's plugged in. After that you can choose the room where the speaker will be located and connect to your Wi-Fi network.

At only $50 (currently on sale for $29), the Google Home Mini is not a huge investment or risk. If you do find yourself liking it, it will be quite helpful in your daily life.

Google Chromecast 3rd Generation

If you have considered buying a smart TV but were dissuaded by high prices, Chromecast might help you make your current 'dumb' TV much smarter. This Google device allows you stream content from your smartphone or tablet to your television - be it Netflix movies, Hulu shows or YouTube videos. It is also one of the simplest to use smart home devices on the market.

You control the playback directly from your phone. However, this isn't screen-mirroring, so you don't have to worry about accidentally using up all your mobile data. You can even use Chromecast to stream websites onto your TV via your Chrome browser or mirror your Android phone/tablet onto the bigger screen.

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Chromecast 3rd generation is available in Chalk and Charcoal colors. / © Google

The best part, however, is that setting up Chromecast is incredibly easy. You only need a TV with an HDMI port, a Wi-Fi connection and the Google Home App (which you can use even on an Apple device). After connecting the Chromecast to your TV and Wi-Fi, all you need to do is tap the Cast button in your browser or compatible app. That's all!

Finally, Google Chromecast is a smart home gadget that won't set you back a huge sum. At the moment of writing, the device is available for only $35. It will also soon have the ability to join speaker groups with other Google Home products, if you decide to expand your smart home gadget collection.

Eufy RoboVac 30C

Automating mundane tasks is one of the main reasons to get into smart home technology. This is why robot vacuums had to make an appearance on this list. Not only do they take care of a tiresome chore, they also pose little to no security or privacy risks. Yet, until recently most available devices were quite pricey, making them a luxury purchase for most. This isn't the case anymore.

Chinese electronics company Anker and its Eufy brand offer a variety of budget smart home tech, including robot vacuums. The Eufy RoboVac 30C is one of the best in terms of price-to-quality ratio.

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Eufy's robot vacuum is inexpensive and practical. / © AndroidPIT

It can clean up to 100 minutes per charge, according to its manufacturer, and it's controlled via the EufyHome app. It's compatible with both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant as well. If you want to go the old school route, there's also a remote control included.

The Eufy RoboVac 30C is available for around $300, making it quite attractive compared to the competition, whose products rarely falls below the $400 mark. An overall great budget smart home gadget for beginners.

BoxLock

Porch pirates are a phenomenon that has recently cropped up in the US and other parts of the world thanks to our love of online shopping. Yet, there isn't much you can do when your packages disappear. You could install a security camera, but wouldn't it be better if you could prevent the theft entirely? This is the idea behind BoxLock. It's a smart locked designed to protect your deliveries.

How does it work? According to the company, BoxLock automatically collects tracking numbers for anything delivered to your household or business. When it's set up, a delivery person simply needs to scan the barcode from your package to open it. Of course, you will also need a box, which is offered on the BoxLock website, but you can also use your own.

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BoxLock is a practical defense against porch pirates. / © BoxLock

The company also ensures potential buyers that thieves can't fool the lock with old barcodes or labels: "Every package scanned goes through a two-step verification: first, BoxLock Home verifies that the package is out for delivery with one of the major shipping companies that day and second, that you are the package’s intended recipient. If it does not meet both of these requirements then BoxLock Home can't be opened without your permission."

Finally, all you need for it to work is a storage container, a Wi-Fi connection and the BoxLock app. The device also has a battery life of around 30 days. It retails for around $130, which seems costly for a lock, but it can definitely save you a lot of money, if you order other expensive items online. Great even for those that are not home automation enthusiasts.

This is our list of practical smart home gadgets for beginners! Did we miss something you think is essential for a smarter home? Let us know in the comments.

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