Control your brightness with smartphone

OK, switches aren't exactly the most exciting thing to buy. But these Lutron Caseta switches only look like regular dimmers — they actually have superpowers to turn on and off via app, remote or voice command.

That's useful for safety: You can program your porch light to come on after sunset, or set lights to random when you are on vacation. They are also a convenience — like when your bed is just too warm and comfy to leave, so you just say "good night" to Siri and watch the whole house turn off at once. I have programmed mine to wake me by slowly making the room brighter.

The downsides: While possible for some to do themselves, others may find the need to hire an electrician to install my Caseta switches, though it's certainly possible to do it yourself. Caseta also requires a hub (included in its starter kit) attached to your home router.

The Lutron switches require more effort up front than stand-alone connected bulbs like Philips Hue. But Lutron's tech is rock-solid reliable — and allows you to still turn off lights the old-fashioned way, with a light switch. It also plays well with Apple HomeKit, Alexa, Nest, IFTTT and more.


This thermostat is smarter than the Nest

Thermostats measure the temperature in one place (usually the hallway). The Ecobee 4 thermostat uses sensors to keep track of which room you are in and what the temperature is there — and then makes adjustments accordingly. It's smart enough to proactively compensate for a cold snap.

Google-owned Nest makes the most well-known learning thermostat, but the Ecobee 4 beats it with the room-sensing tech and a few other features. It has Alexa built into a speaker and microphone on the thermostat, so you have one more spot in the house to chat with a your favorite virtual friend. And Ecobee works with lots of different smart home software, including Apple HomeKit, Google Home, and (of course) Amazon Alexa.

The downside is that you get one room sensor in the box, and extras cost $80.

Your installation experience also may vary based on how old your heating system is.