These are the most essential smart home devices to give you a headstart with smart home living without breaking the bank. These smart home devices we hand-picked are all affordable, requires no technical know-how, and an absolute joy to use.

Unless you’re in a cave in the past few months minding your own business, skipping all the smart home technology headlines, you probably have heard of Internet-of-Things (IoT) and connected smart home devices.

Internet-of-Things (IoT) explained

The easiest definition of Internet-of-Things (IoT) I can think of is that it’s just a network like an internet where all your smart home devices are connected. IoT typically operates on top of your existing home WiFi network, so you can just simply imagine of IoT as a network of home devices within your existing home network.

Forbes predicts that by 2022, people would spend $1.22T on IoT devices and a global market that will continue to burgeon each year. No wonder the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) continues to surprise us with cool and bizarre IoT gadgets, ranging from robotic cleaners, smart locks and pet food dispenser.

Smart home technology or IoT devices - what are they?

At the heart of IoT network are your connected home devices that able to send and receive commands at a swipe of a finger or by your voice, giving you:

  • the ability to automate routinary tasks like preparing your morning brew, starting your heater, turning on your cooling system at home while driving from work, turning off virtually any appliance at a certain time (and save money in the process), etc.

  • the ability to secure your home from burglary and unwanted entries inside your premises while you’re away from home

  • the convenience and efficiency, saving both time and money (later we’ll tell you how some IoT devices can cut your electric bills)

One popular notion of having connected home devices setup is that it’s going to cost you a fortune and it’s bloody rocket science to set up. That’s plainly wrong. While some well-promoted IoT devices can be costly, that doesn’t mean you need to follow the herd and just buy what other people buy.

We can just start off with the basics, the least costly ones, to give you the feel what it’s like to have IoT at home. And in this guide, we’ll even skip using smart home hubs and controllers like Amazon Echo or the highly recommended Wink Hub 2. Hubs and controllers are all optional.

Below are essential smart home devices you should start using for smarter homes

IoT on a Budget: 5 Surprisingly Cheap, Essential Smart Home Devices to Automate Your Home

  1. Smart Plugs (~$15)

    No must-have smart home devices list is complete without smart plugs. Also known as Wifi Smart Sockets or Smart Wifi Outlets, smart plug essentially lets you wirelessly control nearly every single home appliance using your iPhone or Android device. This magical device gives your home appliance wireless connectivity so you can remotely turn them on or off right at your fingertips or schedule your appliance to be automatically turned on or off at a certain time.

    I have an old window-type aircon which unfortunately doesn’t have a timer, but with Wifi Smart Sockets, I can easily put a timer and let it automatically turn off at 3 am without interrupting my slumber.

    How To: Make Any Wired Speaker Into Wireless Bluetooth Speaker for Less than $7

    Do you want to wake up from the smell of freshly brewed coffee in your kitchen? Simply prepare the beans/filter a night before and plug your coffeemaker in a smart plug. You can get it to automatically brew your coffee the next day or brew it using your iPhone while you’re in bed scanning your emails.

    Of course, the fun doesn’t stop there. You can plug in your other home appliances like electric fans, water heaters and control them wirelessly at your fingertips.

    There are a plethora of smart wifi sockets to choose from, some even have nifty features like energy usage tracker, Amazon Echo, and Google Home integration so you can simply control them with your voice. The most important Wifi Smart Socket feature to look for is a timer, where it completely cuts power after a timer expires.

    You can score a decent smart plug at Amazon like the Orvibo S25 Wi-Fi Smart Socket which starts at $15 as of writing or from your local online store.

  2. Smart Bulbs and Lighting (~$34)

    What if you can dim your light or control your ambiance within your iPhone or Android device or by simply asking Siri or Alexa to do so?

    That’s exactly what smart lighting is all about. You get a smart bulb and a special device (bridge) acting as a connector so you can remotely control the bulb wirelessly.

    In smart lighting category, Philips Hue Smart Lighting Kit is definitely king. But it comes at a price. However, there is decent Philips Hue alternative you can try like the cheaper, all-white version Philips Hue White. Or if that’s still expensive, Eufy Lumos Smart Bulb is a good Philips Hue line alternative.

  3. Sound and Motion Sensing Device (~$25)

    Another welcome addition to your home security system, this category of the internet-connected device lets you monitor your home away from home. This top-rated monitoring device Wyze Cam Pan for instance alerts you when there are possible intrusions within your premises. It has a night vision capability, can track moving object and can detect sounds.

    Most smart motion-sensing devices usually work with Alexa so you can simply ask Alexa to show your front door, kid’s room, or anywhere else you have your Wyze Cam Pan.

  4. Smart Smoke Detector (~$120)

    Smart smoke detector? Why not!

    I’m extra paranoid when it comes to fire so I don’t mind forking out a few bucks for smart smoke alarms. Smart smoke detector essentially alerts you when there’s a fire even if you’re miles away from home. This special type of device connects to your iPhone or iPad over wifi or cellular so you’ll be quickly alerted when there are smokes detected.

    Nest Protect is always a good one you can invest in but there is also excellent Nest Protect alternatives you can check in. Just search for it on Amazon or eBay.

  5. Robotic Vacuums and Cleaners (~$179)

    Just when you thought IoT can’t be any cooler, I’m ending this list with smart home cleaners. This category of a connected home device can do all the dirty work of keeping your room dust-free. Robot vacuums normally come with a smart app where you can schedule or initiate cleaning session or you can simply ask Alexa or Google Home to start the job.

    Ecovacs Self-Charging Robot Vacuum Cleaner is a popular option under this category, but feel free to explore more that works for you.

That’s it!

Again, smart home hubs and controllers like Amazon Echo are all optional. The above-mentioned smart home devices will continue to work without Amazon Echo or Google Home unless you’re willing to spend more and take your home automation game to the next level.

5 Surprisingly Cheap IoT Devices to Easily Upgrade Your Home for Less

As what ultra-minimalist Steve Jobs famously once said, we “improve by removing more”. That's one of the guiding maxims of Apple that helped propel its way to greatness in the techno-wizardry scene.

Now, if you're convinced with that guiding principle of Apple, why not apply that same ethos into how you consume your music and movies?

I'm talking about those classic wired surround speakers & subwoofer systems sitting on your desk right now and all its tangled wires glory. While this wired speaker system works just fine, why not free yourself from all these clutter and get that simple joy of wireless you deserve?

How To: Remotely Control Apple Music on Computer, Mac Using iPhone, iPad

If you have a good old non-wireless loudspeaker lying around in the corner, don't throw that just yet. The truth is you can make it "cool" again by repurposing and turning it into a wireless Bluetooth speaker so you can wirelessly fire up your favorite Spotify playlist from the comfort of your fingertips.

Play Music On Your Wired Speaker System Wirelessly from Your iPhone, Android

Step 1 Get your preferred Bluetooth Audio Receiver from your favorite shop like Amazon. I scored a decent Bluetooth Receiver from Lazada for only Php 330.00 ($7). Sweet.

Step 2 Do the one-time setup. These Bluetooth Stereo Receivers usually have this simple setup:

  1. Plug in your speaker's 3.5mm stereo jack into the Bluetooth device
  2. Pair your Bluetooth Audio Receiver with your iPhone, Android or any Bluetooth-enabled devices

You're done!

You can now listen to your favourite music from iTunes or Spotify while you can freely move around.

Image source: nerdtechy.com

How To: Make Any Wired Speaker Into Wireless Bluetooth Speaker for Less than $7

Since its debut, Apple Music has seriously got some mixed reviews both from critics and fans alike. Some discontented Apple fans called it “a nightmare” while others lauded it as a refreshing and a nearly perfect music app.

And if you are one of those Apple fanboys who are convinced that Apple Music is the best music app in the planet, then, you don't want to miss out this one cool interoperability feature of iOS and OSX: wirelessly control, play Apple Music on your PC/Mac using your iPhone or iPad as a remote.


DokRemote: Remotely Control Your iPhone, iPod Music Player Via Web Browser

Spotify Connect is one sought-after, premium-only feature of Spotify that lets you control the music from any phone or tablet using the Spotify app. And if you're looking for Spotify Connect alternative for Apple Music, then, good news is you too can have the same wireless convenience at no cost!

Play Apple Music Through Your Speakers, Mac or Apple TV Using iPhone, iPad as Remote

Follow this step-by-step guide on how to remotely control music playback active on your PC, Mac using your iPhone or iPad as a wireless remote.

Step 1 Download and install Remote on your iPhone or iPad

Step 2 Once installed, enable Home Sharing on your iPhone. You'll be asked to login using your iCloud account. You should see something like this:

Step 3Turn on Home Sharing in iTunes on your computer or Mac. Go to File > Home Sharing > Turn On Home Sharing. Once enabled, your Remote app on your iPhone should automatically retrieve all your music collection and display them on your iDevice.

Use IFTTT As A Spy App: Secretly Copy, Collect iOS Photos on iPhone, iPad (No Jailbreak)

Step 4 Let's test it. Browse through your iTunes library on your Mac and play whatever playlist/albums you've got. As soon as you hit the play button, your iPhone should automatically pick the track actively playing your Mac, as seen on the video below:

You're done! You can keep the music flowing on your Mac from anywhere in your house using your iPhone or iPad as remote.

Works flawless on my iPhone 5 (iOS8.4) and Mac (Yosemite).

Caveats

Apple's official Remote app for iOS only allows you to choose music you've added on your library. The app can't let you search for new songs in the cloud just like what you normally do on Spotify Connect.

How To: Transfer Large Files Between iPhone and Other iDevices Over Existing Wi-Fi Network

How To: Remotely Control Apple Music on Computer, Mac Using iPhone, iPad

If only iPhone had the option to attach multiple images all at once for a single email message, then, I wouldn't take the moment to look for apps similar to Software Data Cable, which I absolutely fell in love with for my Android.

Yes, there's no way for you to attach multiple files for a single email message on the iPhone. So for people who constantly need to send photos from iPhone to someone, this can be a pain.

Transfer Large Files Between iPhone and Other iDevices Over Existing Wi-Fi Network

Part of my job as a web ninja is to grab iPhone/iPad screenshots of websites we developed and send them off to our QA guys. And the process cannot be any simple: you've got to plug in your iPhone with a cable to your computer -- and that's so primitive, less cool.

Thankfully, there is this tiny iOS app called Wi-Fi Photo Transfer (FREE) that lets you transfer photos from iPhone to your computer without the need of a data cable.

Wi-Fi Photo Transfer: Access Your Photos Via Wi-Fi From Any Computer With A Web Browser (link)



Wi-Fi Photo Transfer makes it easy to access, browse your iPhone photos from your computer so long as both devices are of the same Wi-Fi network.

Here's how it works:

1 Download and install Wi-Fi Photo Transfer HERE.

2 Once installed, launch the app. You should see something like this:


3 On your browser, plug in the given web address (e.g. http://192.168.0.106:15555)

4 That's it! You can start moving your photos from your iDevice to your computer (you can even download them in zip).

Sure, Wi-Fi Photo Transfer interface definitely needs a face-lift but it's free and gets the job done quickly. If you want to wirelessly transfer your photos from your iPhone, iPod or iPad to your computer, well, then Wi-Fi Photo Transfer is what you need.

How To: Browse, Access Your Photos From Your iPhone, iPad To Your Computer Over Wi-Fi

I am writing this post not to encourage privacy intrusion, hijacking, Facebook account hacking, or anything of that sort. I am writing this post to demonstrate just as how easy it is for almost anyone to break into your Facebook account (and other online services) using only an Android phone. This post also explains how you can essentially shield yourself from any form of intrusion attacks when online.

The controversial Android app is called Faceniff, a truly clever session hijacking app that allows you to sniff and intercept web session profiles over Wi-Fi network where your phone is connected to. Think of Faceniff as Firesheep, but for Android.

Use Existing Wi-Fi Network To Transfer Files From Android To PC (and Vice Versa)

Faceniff uses the method called Session Hijacking, a good old process of exploiting valid web sessions, which enables attacker to gain unauthorized access to your account and private information. With Faceniff, you can intercept web sessions from web services such as FaceBook, Twitter, YouTube, Amazon, Tumblr, MySpace, and even Blogger. And worst, web sessions established via HTTPS can even be cracked. Alarming isn't it?

Share Your Internet Connection Without Using Ad-Hoc

Well, the more disturbing part about it is that almost anyone with a "rooted" Android phone can do it, and even gradeschooler can dot it. Faceniff doesn't have a special requirement to run except that you have a "superadmin" privileges on your Android phone.

Faceniff Lets You Hack Facebook Accounts With Ease

I had the chance to install the app and see things in action on my phone. Below is a quick rundown on how I make Faceniff work, and browse through my friend's Facebook accounts without them knowing:

Step 1 Download and install Faceniff HERE.

Step 2 Once installed, launch it. You should be prompted for a Superuser permission. Just hit "Allow" or "Yes" (depending on your phone).

Step 3 There are a couple of instruction that pops up especially if you open the app for the first time. Just follow them carefully...until you arrive into the start-up screen.

Step 4 Toggle "START" and optionally enable SSLStrip to start Faceniff. If valid web sessions found, it will be displayed like this:


Step 5 Click on any of those "hijacked" accounts. Android should then prompt you for a list of browsers currently installed on your device. In my case, I used Opera Mobile as I wasn't able to make it work with default browser, Skyfire and even Opera Mini. Just make sure to set "Mobile" as Opera Mobile's User Agent configurable in the Settings > Advanced menu.


And Voila...

If you constantly connect to a wireless public network like in cafes or malls, recognize that your communication online can anytime be sniffed by almost anyone. Wireless network is notably vulnerable to packet sniffing as the exchange of data is done wirelessly. This vulnerability gives bad guys the opportunity to steal information exchanged over the air.

So, how to stay safe online? 

Whenever possible, don't connect to already congested public Wi-Fi network. Rather use the 3G/4G services offered by your ISP. And Virtual Private Network (VPN) applications would also help.  

New Android App Lets You Sniff Internet Sessions, Hack Facebook Account

Psiloc iRemote was able to turn our infrared-enabled mobile phone into a real remote control allowing us to control our TV and other appliance sets. Psiloc Connect was then released allowing us to control our PC and other bluetooth devices with our phone via bluetooth. And Psiloc seemed to have forgotten to turn every phone into a mouse - a wireless computer mouse.

The idea came to flash in my mind when I found out that every working optical mouse has a property that is closely similar to that found in most native phone cameras. Of course, optical mouse works with a laser, but phone as mouse should still be possible and programmable using the imaging property of the phone or the built-in accelerometer.

Here's my idea on how to make phone a mouse:

Using our phone's native camera, you need to position your phone properly (with camera pointing to the ground/mouse pad). Mobile Mouse should communicate your PC via bluetooth. Movements or irregularities detected on your phone should update the current position of your mouse pointer. That is, everytime your phone is moved, Mobile Mouse should send signals or digital position to your PC alerting that the phone is moved.

Accuracy and responsiveness could somehow be a concern. But hey, isn't it cool to navigate through your computer using your phone as pointing device? I suggest, the "Call" and "Exit" key should be where left-clicking and right-clicking should be carried out.

Implementing Mobile Mouse using the imaging tools of Nokia could somehow be a very tedious job. Imagine, the device has to capture bits of data (image) and transport it to PC wirelessly using Bluetooth. Accelerometers and all sensors that come in most Nokia handsets should simplify the problem.

Again, turning your phone into a pointing device is a possibility.


Mobile Mouse - Phone As A Mouse